Belize 101 – Ambergris Caye for First Timers

Belize Feature Image 2

Ambergris Caye is the largest island in Belize. It’s about 25-miles long and a mile wide. It has a 190-mile long barrier reef which makes it’s the second largest “living” reef in the world. If you’re traveling to Belize (San Pedro on Ambergris Caye to be exact) and you’re not sure where to start, let me help you!  Belize 101 is a handy guide for first-timers. On my first trip to Belize, I had no idea what to do or how to get there but I figured it out and now I’m sharing that information with all of you!

A Quick Guide to Ambergris Caye & San Pedro 


WHERE IS BELIZE?:  Belize is located in Central America on the western edge of the Caribbean Sea. It’s south of Mexico, east of Guatemala, and north of Honduras. Ambergris Caye is one of the hundreds of islands, or cayes, off the coast of Belize.

WHEN TO GO: Traveling to Belize in the high season from April through May is the most popular. It may be a bit hot and humid during the early part of the season but it’s still pleasant. The wet season, from June to November, is also the hottest period so not as popular.

CURRENCY: Belize is pretty affordable as 1 USD = 2 BZD! However, USD are widely accepted. You can utilize the numerous ATMs on the island to withdraw local currency. Budget Tip: Some restaurants overcharge for drinks but those places are usually tourist traps anyway. Keep an eye on your costs by choosing the drink special or a Belikin Beer with is the tasty, local beer. Also, check out my post on saving money while traveling to help keep your budget in line.

SAFETY: Overall, San Pedro in Ambergris Caye has safe areas and not so safe areas like any city. You should always be mindful of your surroundings as always and do more detailed research on the best areas. Don’t walk around alone at night, keep an eye on your belongings at all times, lock your hotel room doors and patio, and utilize the safe in your room. Most importantly, don’t get sloppy “schnockered” and don’t put yourself in a situation you might not be able to get out of.



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GETTING TO THE ISLANDS: 

There are two ways to get to Ambergris Caye/San Pedro or Caye Caulker from Belize City Philip S.W. Goldson International airport. Whichever way you choose to get to the island, please factor in the time it takes to get back to the international airport (airplane/ferry and taxi) so you don’t miss the cut off to check in for your international flight home.

By Airplane:  

To get to Ambergris Caye/San Pedro or Caye Caulker you can fly from Philip S.W. Goldson International airport but it will cost you. The average price for 2 round-trip tickets from BZE to San Pedro was about $400.  However, there is another airport in the city.  Take a short $25 taxi ride from the international airport to Belize City Municipal Airport and purchase a ticket on Tropic Air or Maya Island Air and it will save you $200 or more.

We flew on Tropic Air and 2 RT tickets to San Pedro cost $180.  Most flights take off from Municipal and stop in Caye Caulker on the way to San Pedro but a few that circle back to the international airport to pick up passengers. Either way, the flight lasts about 20 minutes and you should be on the island sipping cocktails in no time. Book your ticket ahead of time online because the planes only hold 12 people!

tropic-air Belize - Travel with Mia - Ambergris Caye

By Ferry:  

Taking the ferry is a much cheaper option, I’m talking $35usd round-trip per person! When you arrive at the international airport, take a taxi to the ferry terminal and purchase your ticket. Unfortunately, there are a few drawbacks when it comes to taking the ferry and saving all that money.

The ferry ride takes 90 minutes from Belize City to San Pedro and if you miss it you’ll have to wait at least an hour for the next one.  On a busy day, it could take you hours to get to the island.  If you’re in a time crunch, this is NOT the way to go.  Another factor you need to consider when choosing the ferry is bad weather.  If you get seasick, don’t opt for the ferry!  Also, boats can be delayed or canceled if the water is too rough.  Just something to consider.  If you have time and good weather, the ferry would be a great way to ease into the island life!

WHERE TO STAY: 

There’s no shortage of hotels, vacation rentals, and hostels in Ambergris Caye. From budget to luxury, the island has you covered. You’ll probably spend more time finding the best location than you will on choosing a place to stay. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the areas:

San Pedro Town: This is where the action takes place and has most of the bars, restaurants, and nightlife. It’s just 3 blocks wide so it’s very walkable and impossible to get lost. For mid-range hotels in the city center, check out the SunBreeze Hotel or Mayan Princess.

North of Town: About 5 miles north of San Pedro, you’ll find more upscale resorts and a number of bars and restaurants. For a luxury stay, check out Matachica Resort & Spa and book your own Bungalow, Casita, or Villa.

South of Town: This small community is mostly residential but there are a few stores, bars, and restaurants.

Belize - Travel with Mia

Best Advice:  If you’re only in town a few days, the best thing you can do is pick a hotel or vacation rental that’s centrally located so you can maximize your time. You don’t want to spend your days trekking back and forth across town. If you’re traveling alone, stay in a hostel where you’ll meet other solo travelers. If you’re traveling as a couple or group, try a hotel or vacation rental as you that fits your travel style (budget, mid-range, or luxury).

GETTING AROUND:

Ambergris Caye may be 25 miles long but the areas where you’ll be staying (as a tourist) are quite small. So, the best way to get around is on foot, in a golf cart – which you can rent relatively cheaply, and by water taxi.

WHAT TO DO: 

While there are plenty of things to do in Ambergris Caye, it’s a good idea to get out and see more of Belize (as a whole). Look for tour operators that offer the best prices and have the best reviews.

Hol Chan Marine Reserve & Shark Ray Alley:  I, highly, recommend booking this tour if you’re not a diver.  We spent a little more than an hour snorkeling in Hol Chan Marine Reserve as our guide pointed out vibrant fish and impressive coral.  The next stop was Shark Ray Alley where we snorkeled and swam next to massive, 4-7 feet nurse sharks, stingrays, sea turtles and other big fish.

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Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve, UNESCO World Heritage Site: This is part of The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System (BBRRS), which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. It’s one of seven protected areas along with:

  • Blue Hole Natural Monument
  • Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve
  • Half Moon Caye Natural Monument
  • Laughing Bird Caye National Park
  • Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve
  • South Water Caye Marine Reserve

Mayan Ruins at Lamanai: This is one of the largest Mayan sites in Belize and the tour is said to be one of the best in town. Check with the locals for the best tour operators as not all tours are the same. 

Blue Hole: While we didn’t visit this site, I hear it’s beautiful to fly over during a tour.  This is one of the main attractions in Belize so it’s pretty pricey. You’ll have to decide if it fits your budget but if you can afford it it’s worth the money.

Festivals:
  • Carnival
  • San Pedro Lagoon Reef Eco Challenge
  • San Pedro Lobster Festival
  • Dia de San Pedro
  • International Costa Maya Festival
  • Tres Pescados Slam Tournament
  • Belize Independence Day
  • Holiday Boat Parade

Side Note: depending on the time of year you can take a bioluminescence tour to witness the natural phenomenon. The tour takes place in Hopkins which is quite a trek from San Pedro but worth your time and efforts.

WHERE TO EAT:  

There are dozens of places to eat but these are just a few of the places that were recommended to us by the locals. Be sure to try everything from the local seafood joints to the fancy fusion spots.

Travel with Mia - Belize Ambergris Caye

Belize Chocolate Company: Chocolateria, Gift & Specialty Shop

Blue Water Grill: American, Caribbean, Seafood

Casa Picasso: International, Central American, Fusion

Elvie’s Kitchen: Mexican, American, Caribbean

Fido’s Restaurant & Bar: American, Caribbean, Bar – While this is more of a tourist spot, it has a great location right on the beach with an open-air dining room. On weekends, they have a live band that plays from 9pm-12am. The prices were very good here so don’t miss the grilled shrimp bruschetta appetizer and the shrimp or conch ceviche.

Fidos-shrimp-belize Ambergris Caye = Travel with Mia

Lily’s Treasure Chest: Caribbean, Bar, Seafood (local hangout)

My Secret Deli: Caribbean

Robin’s Kitchen: Caribbean, Barbecue, Jamaican

Rojo Beach Bar & Lounge: Caribbean, Bar, Seafood

Waruguma: Caribbean, Latin, Seafood

*Be sure to ask your tour guides or other locals for recommendations on local restaurants serving authentic food.

Wrap Up: 

I hope you enjoyed my advice on traveling to Belize. The country has a lot to offer and you should try to see as much as you can. On my next trip, I plan to visit Ambergris Caye and San Pedro but I will branch out to other islands! If I’ve forgotten anything, please let me know in the comments! Also, I’d love to hear about your experiences.

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Have you been to Belize?  Are you planning a trip?  Tell me about in the comments!

[Note: This post was originally published in 2015 but it has been updated as of 2018. Some images via Pixabay]

 

 

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Comments

    • BTS
    • July 23, 2015
    Reply

    Great article, Mia! Very informative with excellent tips for a fantastic trip. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Reply

      Thanks, Brian! I think the hardest part for most people, when they want to travel to a new place, is figuring out where to start. A little overview of the city/country can jump start the planning process. Thanks for reading! 🙂

  1. Reply

    Never been to Belize but I heard so many good things about it. Your article is very helpful and informative!
    I think if I had to pick I would go for a ferry ride! Not that I’m cheap (alright, maybe a bit) but I just love that kind of ride, makes you enjoy the landscape and the arrival feels so much more exciting!

    1. Reply

      Marie-Carmen, I totally agree with you on taking the ferry! If we had more time we would have taken it! We took an 8 hour ferry from Athens to Santorini and it was just what we needed to slow down to island time.

  2. Reply

    Great article, although I would LOVE to see some photos from your diving or of the delicious food!
    I wonder, how did you find the Hol Chan Marine Reserve diving? Are you a diver? Because I am not, I am scared of open water BUT i would love to try it one day. Was it very deep? Did you feel safe?

    Thanks for the tips!
    Happy travels!
    Danka

    1. Reply

      Danka, thanks for the advice! I was planning on doing another “journal” post on my entire experience in Belize. However, I’ve added a few photos to this post to entice my readers to visit Belize. 🙂

      To answer your questions, HOl Chan Marine Reserve/Shark Ray Alley was the highlight of our trip to Belize. We are not divers but we do love to snorkle. Some parts of the reserve were shallow enough to stand but others were incredibly deep but you’re wearing a life vest if you need it. I felt safe the entire time and our guide was extremely knowledgeable and fun. If you ever make it to San Pedro, book your tour with Amigos Del Mar!

  3. Reply

    We’ve yet to visit Belize but this is a super helpful post for when we do! My Secret Deli sounds fantastic and we’ll be looking forward to visiting – even if it’s only a short time as well!

    1. Reply

      Belize was so much fun and I can’t wait to go back and visit the Mayan Ruins. Two days was not enough but I’m still glad we went. We packed a lot into those two days, lol!

  4. Reply

    This article is very informative. It serves as a good guide for those who want to visit Belize. Thanks for summarizing this one up.

    1. Reply

      Thanks, Karla! Sometimes all you need to plan a trip is a quick little overview instead of scouring the internet for each bit of info. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Reply

    Snorkeling in Hol Chan Marine Reserve is my idea of a great afternoon. Belize is still high on my list. Hopefully 2016. 🙂

    1. Reply

      Lesley, the Hol Chan Marine Reserve was seriously incredible. The water was so clear, so blue, and filled with vibrant marine life. I will definitely be going back to do it again one day!

  6. Reply

    The last time I was in Belize was in 2002. It looks shockingly similar. And the beauty hasn’t been diminished at all. Great tips!

    1. Reply

      Thanks, Karilyn! I loved every minute of my trip and I hope it’s just as beautiful when I return one day!

  7. Reply

    Thanks for this guide! Super helpful 🙂 We’re thinking about Belize but all the flights we were looking at were fairly up there expensive, good to know about Belize City Municipal Airport – super tip!

    You’ve got me really excited about Shark Ray Alley – can’t wait to get my snorkel on and take the GoPro underwater!!

    Thanks again!

    1. Reply

      Meg, you’ll absolutely love Belize and swimming with the sharks! I wish I had a GoPro for this trip but it was so last minute. Btw, if you go from April to June, you can snorkle/dive with the incredible whale sharks!

  8. Reply

    Great tips–thanks for sharing! I would love to go to Belize! I’ll definitely have to bookmark this for future reference 🙂 Shark Ray Alley sounds so cool!

    1. Reply

      We had such a great time at Shark Ray Alley! It was a highlight of our 36 hours in Belize. No matter how long you’re there, you shouldn’t miss it!

  9. Reply

    Sharks and Rays are right up my alley! I swam with them in Bora Bora and while i was totally freaked out about it, it was so cool to say i have done it! And i got some great shots since Hubby stayed on the boat hahah! Belize looks like a beautiful place that i plan to visit one day! thanks for the useful info!

    1. Reply

      Haha, Lindsay, I love that your hubby stayed in the boat! There was one girl on our tour that stayed in the boat but we’re glad she did because we got some great photos. Bora Bora is on my list so good to know we can do something similar there.

    • noel
    • August 2, 2015
    Reply

    Okay, I probably would go there for those yummy drinks and food alone. Looks like a fun place to hang out for a bit and discover nature.

    • Liz
    • March 9, 2018
    Reply

    Belize looks so gorgeous! I would love to go diving there one day and also enjoy some of those cocktails 🙂

    • Georgia
    • March 9, 2018
    Reply

    Great tips! I sadly skipped Belize on my central america trip, but I have always wanted to go back and visit. It looks stunning!

    • Louise
    • March 10, 2018
    Reply

    Very helpful guide! I’d love to visit Belize! Thanks for sharing all your tips.

    • Bader
    • March 17, 2018
    Reply

    I’m headed there next week. I noted the food places.

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