Ambergris Caye Belize
Made famous by the hit 1986 Madonna song “La Isla Bonita,” the island of Ambergris Caye is a world-renowned destination for fly fishing, scuba diving, snorkeling, windsurfing, and other sports. But this beautiful island and its capital of San Pedro have much to offer on dry land as well.
Measuring approximately 25 miles from north to south and about one mile wide, Ambergris Caye is the largest island in Belize. Situated on the northern end of the vast Belize Barrier Reef, a collection of nearly 200 island and coral atolls, Ambergris Caye is just a short boat ride from top diving and snorkeling spots such as Shark Ray Alley, the Belize Blue Hole, Lighthouse Reef, and the Hol Chan Marine Reserve.
As one of Belize’s top visitor attractions, Ambergris Caye has a medley of different accommodations options ranging from budget hotels to luxurious beachfront resorts. Visitors can also rent houses, villas, and apartments for longer stays or for family vacations and group events.
Ambergris Caye can be reached via its airport in San Pedro or by boat from Belize City, a journey that takes approximately 30-45 minutes.
The capital and only residential zone on the island is San Pedro, which still retains its idyllic seaside charm. Ambergris Caye is renowned for its many different restaurants that serve up a mouthwatering array of dishes, including fresh-caught seafood, traditional Creole fare, American classics, and even Chinese, Jamaican, and Thai food. Popular seafood choices include scallops, lobster, conch, squid, mussels, grouper, and snapper.
In San Pedro, you can easily find a wide variety of entertainment venues, nightspots, bars, clubs, and cafes. Automobiles are generally prohibited on the island, but it’s easy to get around on foot, by bicycle, or via electric golf cart, the most popular form of transportation. Approximately 17,000 people live on the island and most locals speak both Spanish and English fluently.
San Pedro is also home to several exciting festivals, including the La Costa Maya International festival that combines live music from top acts and a beauty pageant, riotous and colorful parades during Carnival, and the ever-popular lobster festival held to commemorate the opening of the lobster season in June.
Despite its popularity as a visitor attraction, Ambergris Caye is still primarily an undeveloped island with lots of pristine nature. Just a short walk north of San Pedro, visitors can see an abundance of wildlife, including peccaries (a kind of wild pig), raccoons, white-tailed deer, and even the occasional jaguar. Ambergris Caye also offers fantastic bird watching opportunities with more than 200 avian species recorded on the island, including chachalacas, laughing falcons, parakeets, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, and roseate spoonbills.
Whether you’re traveling to Ambergris Caye for the exciting adventures available offshore or looking for the ultimate romantic getaway, Ambergris Caye has something for everyone. The island’s refreshing sea breezes, balmy temperatures, and festive Caribbean atmosphere make it a great place to visit for families, couples, and singles alike.
Quick Facts About Ambergris Caye
Ambergris Caye has been continuously inhabited by the ancient Maya people for more than 3,000 years, and archeologists have recovered many ceramic artifacts from the island that are uniquely red in color and highly polished.
The “capital” of Ambergris Caye and the only inhabited built-up area on the island is San Pedro, which was initially settled by Spanish-speaking refugees from Mexico in the early 19th century. San Pedro officially became a town in 1848. Administratively, the entire island is part of Belize District along with several other nearby islands such as Caye Caulker, Caye Chapel, and St. George’s Caye. In terms of distance, however, the closest part of the mainland to AmbergrisCaye is actually Corozal District.
For most of its modern history, Ambergris Caye was primarily inhabited by fishermen and coconut farmers. Tourism on the island only began to develop in the early 1970s, partly sparked by the arrival of Jacques Cousteau and his famous ship Calypso that spent months cruising and documenting the waters offshore of the island, including the Belize Blue Hole, which Cousteau declared to be one of his top 10 favorite dive sites in the world. A submarine expedition to map and film the depths of the Belize Blue Hole is planned for 2018 that will be helmed by Fabien Cousteau, the grandson of Jacques Cousteau.
San Pedro Town officially celebrates its name day on June 27. San Pedro also hosts an annual Carnaval celebration officially called the El Gran Carnaval de San Pedro which has taken place every year for the past 150 years the week before the Lenten season begins.
San Pedro’s Carnaval celebrations last three days and involve lots of street dancing, live music, and face painting. Its most iconic element is face painting each day with one of the three national colors, beginning with white on the first day, then red and blue on the second day, and black on the third and final day. Originally, the colors for the face painting were made out of household items like charcoal and detergent.
Caves Branch Lodge has partnered with select Ambergris Caye resorts to offer visitors complete Belize jungle and sea packages.