Latest update: 6 March 2023
Hello Caribbean! White sand, turquoise water, open-air bars, stingrays that you can see swimming by from the pier… What more could one want? Welcome to Ambergris Caye in Belize. Sung to by Madonna, thoroughly enjoyed by me.
Ambergris Caye has the best street names
Rumor has it that Madonna’s world hit La Isla Bonita is about the island of Ambergris Caye, specifically about the former fishing village of San Pedro. San Pedro is the largest town on the island and the base for most tourists. There are many restaurants and hotels in the center. North of the toll bridge, you will find the resorts. The street names on this island of Belize capture your imagination: Pelican Street, Laguna Street, Jewfish Street, Coconut Drive, Barrier Reef Drive, and Coral Street. Sounds better than 2nd Street and Main Street, right?
I fell in love with San Pedro
I still have to go to Ambergris Caye when I stay on Caye Caulker. Many backpackers advise against it: it’s too crowded, too many Americans, mostly older people, hardly any hostels, too busy, too much traffic… But I won’t be discouraged because I want to experience the Carnival in San Pedro. So I stubbornly book five nights at the Sandbar Beachfront Hostel & Restaurant. Immediately upon arrival, I feel that five nights are not enough. Sometimes you get that with a place: love at first sight.
I enjoy walking through San Pedro. I gather many miles walking up and down the main street and exploring the side streets. Although San Pedro is touristy, I think it’s great to see that the islanders’ daily life runs through it. For example, children in school uniforms buy sweets on the street and maneuver effortlessly between the tourists. Meanwhile, shopkeepers get ready for Valentine’s Day. In this region, much attention goes to the day of love (also in Cuba, for example).
I also regularly come across the dogs of Pampered Paws. After all, the dogs in Belize also need to be pampered! The employees go out with many dogs for their daily exercise. A long walk, which also goes over the beach. On the beach, I meet fishermen cleaning their catch and people trying to rid the usually beautiful beach of seaweed. The wind has been in the wrong direction for ages, so the beach is full of seaweed. Equipped with a rake and wheelbarrow, the men do their best in the hot sun. In the meantime, I chill on the beach with a drink at the beautiful Ramon’s Village & Resort.
Stay in San Pedro
If I had a lot of money in the bank, I would have stayed at Ramon’s Village & Resort. Although we Dutch might experience the interior of the rooms as a bit old-fashioned, it is very atmospheric here. Ramon’s is directly on the beach, but there is also a beautiful swimming pool surrounded by many plants and a spacious restaurant.
I go for a budget option that suits me very well. The Sandbar Beachfront Hostel & Restaurant is an outstanding deal. A bed in the dormitory costs about €15 per night. There are also private rooms if you like. With the bracelet from the hostel, I get a discount on the restaurant bill. Drinking water is free.
It is definitely the most modern hostel I stay in, in Belize. The dormitories are spacious and air-conditioned; everyone has a bed with a curtain for privacy and their own light and socket. The shower is nice and warm, and my dorm room crew is friendly. A new group of friends is quickly made.
Opposite the hostel is a pier with beach chairs and beds where guests like to gather for a beer in the evening. The only thing I really miss is a common chill area. There are some benches in the restaurant, but that’s also accessible to non-guests.
Eating on Ambergris Caye
I eat at Sandbar Hostel restaurant a few times. The menu is very American oriented – just like the whole island actually. You can pay with US dollars almost everywhere. So at Sandbar, I mainly eat pizza and burgers. Fortunately, they also have some healthy things like some vegetables with hummus.
Diagonally opposite Sandbar is the Palapa Bar. Again, it’s typical American and then some. Still, I take a chance because the Palapa Bar is on a pier on the water. They have cleverly created a terrace with an easy entrance to the water where you can float on large swimming rings. Beers are even served in a bucket IN the water. While enjoying an ice-cold beer on the terrace, I literally see the stingrays swimming by in the water. Wow!
Photo by Wandering Translator
There are many street food stalls (follow the locals for the best) and at least as many coffee cafes and smoothie bars. Some you can almost call hipster-like. There is Lavish Habit Cafe (good wifi), Chill ‘n cruise (where you can also rent bicycles), Juice Dive (health food), and the world-famous French bakery in Belize: Delices de France. People on Caye Caulker rave about it and ask each other to bring back croissants from a visit to San Pedro.
My favorite place is The Midtown Coffee Bar. Not hip, not styled down to the last detail, but good coffee and friendly and homely. The guys behind the counter are nice and joyfully create latte art. It’s a sweet raid of friends at The Coffee Bar. I come there almost every day for a chat, coffee, a waffle, and wifi, and I always see the same faces: tourists and Belizeans. It’s just highly casual here. Love it!
What to do on Ambergris Caye?
Take a yoga class
At Zen Belize, you can join a yoga class for BZ$20. Instructor Tara teaches almost daily on a roof terrace (check the Facebook page for the current schedule). The American mainly teaches hatha and vinyasa yoga. I join two of her classes and notice that the group consists mostly of Americans who have settled on the island. The group is supplemented with travelers who just come to join a single class.
Zen Belize is behind the airport. You follow Coconut Drive, and just after Ramon’s Village & Resort, turn right and then left again. It’s a soft-blue house. You walk to the garden at the back to take the stairs to the roof. So it’s a bit of a search. 🙂
Rent a golf cart
The golf carts are popular on Ambergris Caye. The island is quite large, so it’s a great way to go exploring. A day (24 hours) costs US$ 50. You can rent them basically anywhere along the main street. I drive a long way south. Actually, there are no worthy sights here; I am mainly concerned with getting a feel for the island. Everywhere I see the traces of Hurricane Earl (2016): abandoned houses, dilapidated houses, and lots of construction waste. It doesn’t seem like the islanders were very aware of the environment in 2018, hopefully, that’s changed by now. The garbage, from bottles and bags to abandoned car wrecks, doesn’t do the Madonna song justice.
Tip! From June to the end of November is hurricane season. So you might want to plan your visit around that.
From San Pedro, I also drive a bit to the north. I have to cross a bridge where I pay BZ$ 10 toll for the golf cart; for walkers, the crossing is free. On the long road to the north, I drive past the luxury hotels and resorts and then get further and further from civilization. I visit Secret Beach, where I get to decapitate my own coconut. It is a beautiful stretch of beach with sufficient facilities to spend a few hours. The road to it is bumpy but so beautiful. There is water and mangrove everywhere. Pretty!
The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest barrier reef in the world after the Great Barrier Reef. That means a very (colorful) rich underwater world. So definitely go snorkeling or diving in this area. You can’t just get there, so book a tour. The world-famous Blue Hole is close by. Very expensive! Other beautiful places are Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley. You can visit all these places from Ambergris Caye or from Caye Caulker.
Visit the Carnival
Ambergris Caye, specifically San Pedro, is where Carnival is celebrated in Belize. Not much attention is paid to it in the rest of the country, so I make sure I book a bed at the Sandbar Hostel well in advance. In hindsight, I don’t think it was necessary, but I prefer to be on the safe side. Don’t expect fancy parades, beauty queens, or tropical music. What then? Check out the blog about my San Pedro carnival experience to discover why I was ‘suddenly’ covered in paint.
Tip! Carnival is usually in February. Please Google the exact dates for this year.
How do you get to Ambergris Caye?
You can get to Ambergris Caye by boat or plane. The flight must be breathtaking: looking out at the small islands in the beautiful water. Tropic Air and Maya Island Air fly to San Pedro. Count on about € 100 for a round trip from Belize City. At Skyscanner, you can get an idea of the prices of Tropic Air and Maya Island Air (airport code SPR).
By boat, you can take the San Pedro Belize Express Water Taxi between San Pedro, Caye Caulker, and Belize City. This company also has a water taxi to and from Chetumal in Mexico, including a border crossing. I didn’t book in advance; I just showed up at the water taxi and could board the boat immediately. The Ocean Ferry Belize is similar and runs between Belize City, Caye Chapel, Caye Caulker, and San Pedro.
Another option is the Thunderbolt boat from Corozal or Sarteneja. I do not recommend this one because the boat is tiny and uncomfortable. I sailed a short distance from Corozal to Sarteneja and was very happy to be back on shore alive. The boat reeked of oil and was wholly sealed, so I couldn’t see anything, it was way too crowded, and the boat was sloshing in all directions.
Tip! Need more information about which boats sail in Belize? Check: How do you get from A to B in Belize by boat?
More Belize travel inspiration?
Useful links for your Belize trip
- Travel guides. I love the practical guidebooks by Lonely Planet. You can buy them at Bol.com and Amazon.
- Flights. Compare all your options! For sure check Momondo, Skyscanner, and Kiwi.
- Bus. Book buses in Belize through Busbud, Omio, or 12Go.
- Accommodation. All-time favorite is Booking.com. Book hostels via Hostelworld.
- Money. Your bank cards may not get accepted everywhere. You could opt for a Revolut card as an additional card when you travel.
- Activities. You book the best tours and activities with GetYourGuide and Viator.
- Car rental. My go-to car rental companies are EasyTerra and Sunny Cars as they have all-inclusive / worry-free offers. You could also use Discover Cars to compare prices.
- Travel gear. Buy your gear at Bever or Decathlon, or simply at Bol.com.
- Package deals. Rather go on a catered trip? Not many Dutch travel companies offer trips to Belize: try Sawadee or Shoestring.
- Yoga retreat. Or, book a lovely yoga retreat in Belize!
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First published: August 2018. The article has been updated since.