Ambergris Caye is a world apart. San Pedro, also known as the Isla Bonita, is the only town in Ambergris Caye. An old and colorful fishing village with only three sandy streets. There are no hotel chains, brand stores or fast-food restaurants. Just a bunch of small houses, gift shops and restaurants by the sea, in a totally decontracte atmosphere.
San Pedro, Ambergris Caye by cloud2013
remember Madonna and “Last night I dreamt of San Pedro……………………..”,
PLANNING THE TRIP
One morning walking along the beach began to plan a one week trip to some island in the Caribbean. We had heard of San Pedro in Ambergris Caye, Belize. I began a research and I liked what I found. Ambergris Caye is Belize´s largest offshore island, and the most popular, located 35 miles northeast of Belize. A narrow island, 25 miles long (40km), the official language is english, although it also speaks Spanish and Creole. The dry season runs from January through May, the heaviest rain occurs in September and October, during the hurricane season. The barrier reef that stretches the length of Belize is the Caribbean’s equivalent of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. We wanted to lay back on the beach, rest and discover the surroundings. We packed our own masks and fins, sunglasses, sunscreen, camera, a few beach and outdoor wear and off we went.
We flew round trip from Miami to Belize on American Airlines. After clearing customs at the Belize City Airport we connected a domestic Tropic Air flight, (one of the local airlines) to San Pedro. Although not necessary, it is better to make a reservation that coincides with your international arrival. Flights to San Pedro leave every hour.
Getting off the A.A. plane and getting on the small, six-seat, single propeller plane of Tropic Air was a challenge. What am I doing here? I dislike to travel by plane, the smaller the worse, although someone told me that the small planes were safer. But the good point was that immediately after the take off I was not afraid anymore. The good mood of both the pilot and the flight attendant was contagious, once in the air, the reggae sound came off the speakers and we were bewitched by the clear turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea, dotted with small islands. Sit back and relax. Picture yourself sunbathing on the powdery white beaches and enjoying the wonders of underwater world.
Twenty minutes after the plane landed on the single runway of the tiny San Pedro Airport. It was a funny situation, although we felt a bit lost. IT WAS RAINING!! There were no longer clear skies, the sun had disappeared, we had no idea where or how to go, for we had no reservations. In addition, we had trouble with our rolling suitcases. Have you ever tried to maneuver a carry on bag on a sandy road? We encouraged ourselves to leave the Airport and face the sandy streets of San Pedro. After ten minutes of struggling with our luggage, we decided to look for a cab. There were no cars within sight, but we saw some golf carts bumping along the dusty street. There are almost no cars in San Pedro. The main mode of transportation are golf carts, bicycles and ….feet. So, we stopped a man who passed by on a golf cart and asked him for a lift. We picked up our bags and climbed on the white-blue golf cart, heading for the unknown, in the rain. This man, the driver, was charming. He did not bother about time, or weather. We crossed the town, and beyond, from hotel to hotel, and after three hours of hoping on and off our vehicle and soaking wet, we found a room in a hotel located ………………. directly across from the airstrip!!!!
San Pedro street scene by Deanna Keahey
The sound of the island is the sound of nature. The waves breaking in the barrier reef, the trade winds swaying the palms, the howl of monkeys in the tropical forest and local music. Unfortunately, I must say that San Pedro also can get very noisy because of the sound of motorboats leaving the docks. But, far from town and relaxing in your hammock you will have a great time.
Walking along the Barrier Reef Drive, a sandy street along the coast you will realize a number of things.
- That you won’t find the terrific beaches you expected in San Pedro. There is plenty of sand, but the water is shallow and the bottom is overgrown with sea grass and there is also a thick concentration of bars, restaurants, gifts shops and hotels along the waterfront.
- That for good swimming you will have to walk out to the end of one of the many wooden piers and jump off, but must look for a less busy dock because heavy boat traffic can be dangerous.
- That during the day people arrange snorkeling or diving trips and disappear underwater.
- That you must put away laptops, watches, forget TV and walk barefoot, go slow. You are about to discover paradise.
Belizean cuisine is a blend of several cultures, fresh, hot and spicy. My favourites are fresh fish and seafood, grilled and especially if eaten at the beach, ceviche as appetizer and Johnny cakes to add some extra pounds. Hard to avoid: rice and beans.
SUNBREEZE 7, Coconut Drive. The fist night we stayed at the Sunbreeze Hotel, downtown, directly across the airstrip, Is a two story U shape building, beachfront located. Our room was the only one with a balcony facing the Caribbean and we enjoyed a beautiful sea view from our bed. We opened the window and we saw a postcard of San Pedro. Along the waterfront, long docks with motorboats and skiffs, dockside sheds fluttering red and white dive flags. Beyond, the Caribbean Blue and the barrier reef.
MATA CHICA BEACH RESORT I didn’t resign in staying all week downtown, so we took a water taxi and went to the Northern part of the island, where the resorts are, looking for my ideal beach. I kept looking towards the coast searching for the place I was looking for and five miles north I found Mata Chica.
Next day we went back, this time to stay as long as we could. The first thing we saw while we approached the pier was a series of beachfront thatched roof bungalows built on the sand, painted in different colors and a lot of tall palm trees. We took our luggage down and walked by the dock towards the hotel lobby. At our sides we had the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea, in front of us a panorama of white sand beaches and lush tropical forest behind, a few hammocks under the shade of palms and a huge “palapa” which happened to shelter the hotel lobby and the dining room. Rounding off the scene, clear bright skies and a slight breeze that freshened the air.
Mata Chica is a mix of rusticness and luxury, elegant simplicity, good rest and good music, and offers one of the best restaurants of Ambergirs Caye, Mambo. The rooms are private villas spread on the beach, painted in the shades of mango, pink, watermelon and blueberry. On the beach, a few chaise lounges , hammocks, and the beachfront hotel bar. Less than one kilometer away, the spectacular coral reef. The hotel lobby is an enormous palapa, very well decorated with comfortable sofas just to lay back to read and listen to good music. The hotel offers also a small pool with Jacuzzi and a spa. You may also arrange any day trip you like from the hotel: diving, snorkeling, fishing or a visit to the inland Mayan ruins. The advantage is that Mata Chica is just a few minutes away from San Pedro, if you feel compelled to leave the resort and go shopping or dining. All you need is to walk to the end of the pier and wait for the next water taxi.
by Honeymoon in Belize
We stayed in a private beachfront thatch roofed casita. Very spacious and comfortable, decorated in Central American style with Belizean handcrafts. It featured a spacious sitting room and a charming full bath with an interior garden shower surrounded by bamboo. Soft pillows and luxurious towels and linens. The outdoor hammock under the thatched beachfront porch, is perfect for a day or night nap. Fifty meters away, the sea. We asked ourselves something to drink and collapsed on our chaise on the beach. The sand is powdery white and soft, and the turquoise warm water invited us to go for a swim. But, same as in San Pedro, the water is shallow and don´t expect a white transparent sandy bottom, for it is overgrown with sea grass, not a nice feeling. So, we took advantage of the private swimming dock, walked to the end and jumped off again and again. The hotel also offers complimentary sea kayaks and you may snorkel the coral reef within a mile away. Just like Seaworld, but for real. At that very moment we fell in love with San Pedro, to the point that when we were leaving the island, we wanted live there and never return to reality.
Cabana at Mata Chica by ambergriscaye.com
OTHER HOTEL RECOMMENDATIONS
VICTORIA HOUSE 2 miles south San Pedro. A romantic, casual, elegant resort on he beach.
CAYO ESPANTO A private island three miles from San Pedro, in the Caribbean Sea, charming, sophisticated and secluded.
ELVIS KITCHEN Pescador Drive. One of the most recommended places in town, always full. But if you manage to find a table you won’t regret. We began with a fish ceviche and as main course we shared some grilled squids with garlic butter and wine. Fortunately we shared, because each dish comes accompanied with the Belizean favorites rice and beans (which is not the same as beans and rice, for rice and beans are cooked together), coconut rice, French fries, baked potatoes (or pasta) and fried plantains (which is not the same as banana, for we usually eat the bananas as a dessert). After this overeating we finished with a key lime pie, excellent.
FIDO 18, Barrier Reef Drive. If you are still on the mood you may end the night in some of the bars along the beachfront. The best, the palapa at Fido’s. Fido has everything, restaurant, sushi bar, gift shop, art gallery and live music on the beach from 9 am till midnight. Reggae, acoustic, punta rock, rock blues, whatever, sooner or later, day or night, you will end up there.
CELI´S DINNER AND DELI On the beach at the San Pedro Holiday Hotel
BLUE WATER GRILL Waterfront at the Sunbreeze Hotel
During the day we were “on tour”, that means, we left the hotel at 7 a.m. and returned late in he afternoon. So we had lunch breaks any place. At beach barbecues we tasted the grilled shrimp sticks (with rice and beans of course), conch ceviche, lobster with garlic butter (when season is open). We bought the Belizean “fast food” to the street vendors, some Johnny cakes (delicious flat bread cut open and covered with melted butter or filled with ham and cheese, tacos, tamales and fried chicken.
At night, we usually had dinner at Mambo, in Mata Chica, where we stayed the following days. Mambo is one of the best restaurants in the country, if not the best, because of the scene, décor and food. Tables are nestled under the huge palapa, next to the hotel lobby and a few around the pool. The ambience is elegant and exquisitely decorated. Top dishes: paella, home-made pasta (and bread), seafood and fish. The beachfront bar lounge is the perfect place to relax after dinner sharing a cup of coffee or some drinks. Good company, the moon showing above the palm trees, and the sound of waves breaking against the reef will do the rest.