Belize is located on the eastern coast of Central America, with ties to both Caribbean and Latin America. Once known as British Honduras, before gaining independence in 1981, Belize borders Mexico on the north side, Guatemala on the south and west and the Caribbean Sea on the east.
Belize is renowned for its natural beauty and adrenaline pumping activities, which draw visitors in from all over the world. But in addition to the magic of Belize’s mainland, the Belizean islands (cayes) dotted along the east coast, are intoxicating. With the island’s white sandy beaches, ever green palm trees, hearty Caribbean dishes, friendly locals and a self-professed mantra of, ‘no shirt, no shoes, no problem”, you can’t help but fall in love.
As Belize’s largest island, Ambergris Caye (also known as San Pedro) is 36 miles long and well known for its water sports, scuba diving and pristine beaches. Off the eastern shore of the island, you will find the worlds second largest barrier reef and the Great Blue Hole; a giant sinkhole with a depth of 124 meters, that tantalises divers from all around the world.
San Pedro is the only town on Ambergris Caye. Here you will find restaurants, artisanal shops selling local produce, cute cafes, tour companies, hotels and a vibrant selection of bars and clubs. After living in Belize for 3 years and spending most, if not every weekend, on San Pedro, I can highly recommend the following activities to leave you wanting more of this Caribbean paradise!
Go Travel and Talk Top Tip: The explore San Pedro and the island in its entirety, hire a golf cart for at least half a day! There are plenty of tour companies in San Pedro Town.
Ambergris Caye offers some of the best diving experiences in the world and all within 10 to 25 minutes from the island! If you are a certified scuba diver or looking to learn – this is the place for you. You will likely see dolphins, sharks, turtles, rays and a whole range of beautiful fish. If you are interested in organising diving experiences, head to Sea Star Belize and ask for my friend Chino who is one of the dive masters there – tell him Cj sent you.
To give you an idea, here are some of the best dive sites to look out for:
Famous for its ship wrecks and drops. Lots of marine wildlife and well known for black groupers, eels, nurse sharks, loggerhead turtles and its colourful fauna. Great visibility. Depth can reach 70ft (21m)
Tackle Box Canyons:
Deep and narrow canyons with vertical walls with excellent visibility. Marine life can be sparse in the tunnels, but you can see alot on top of the coral reefs. Most likely to see parrot fish, eels, lobsters and turtles.
Highlight is a coral cavern called The Chapel where apparently two underwater weddings have taken place. Depth is 85ft (25m) with excellent visibility. 25 mins from San Pedro.
Pescador Canyons / Carvern:
You can explore under the reef here and swim through a long tunnel where spiny lobsters and spider crabs like to hide. At the end of the tunnel there are deep drops where you will see Cubero snappers who come up to hunt.
The Great Blue Hole (55 miles away from Ambergris Caye):
The Great Blue Hole is a world renown destination for scuba divers and the holy grail of dive spots in Central America. At over 3000m across and 124m deep, you will see lots of marine life and beautiful coral formations here. You are also likely to see nurse and reef sharks (black tips) and large Groupers. The Great Blue Hole is 2.5 hours from San Pedro Town and Ambergris Caye.
Hol Chan Marine Reserve:
Hol Chan Marine reserve is located approximately 8 miles south of San Pedro 20 minutes by boat. Great for divers who have just arrived to Ambergris Caye as an introduction to the Belizean waters. Max 30ft deep with excellent visibility. Lots of species of fish, eels, spider crabs, nurse sharks. You can do night dives here too.
Mexico Rocks Reserve:
Mexico Rocks is located 6 miles north of San Pedro, about a 15-minute boat ride. You will see Caribbean reef fish, grouper, nurse sharks.
Standing in shallow crystal-clear waters whilst being surrounded by nursing sharks, sting rays and turtles is a pretty surreal experience. Shark Ray Alley offers this once in a life time experience and only minutes from San Pedro's shore.
As one of the activities San Pedro is very well known for, Shark Ray Alley has been created by dive guides as a petting area and place for snorkelers to get up close and personal with the marine life. It is not far from San Pedro (10 minutes by boat), and you will find plenty of people to take you out here. It is a very well-known spot with tourists and locals - particularly for its famous resident three-legged turtle! Trip costs around €40 (90BZ) for half a day.
As an addition, San Pedro offers great snorkeling opportunities elsewhere. You can rent gear easily on the island from any one of the hostels or tour offices and head out for a day in the crystal-clear waters. The Hol Chan Reserve and Shark Ray Alley are popular spots for snorkeling, offering experiences with brightly colour parrot fish, moray eels, stingrays and nurse sharks.
The Crocodile Education Sanctuary is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the conservation of crocodiles and their habitats. They rescue, rehabilitate and release crocodiles back into their natural habitat, as well as offering educational and community outreach programs to ensure crocodile conservation on Ambergris Caye.
A friend of mine, Chris Summers, is a Crocodile Behaviourist and the Sanctuary Operations Manager. Chris oversees all the expeditions and community outreach projects, as well as taking visitors on crocodile expeditions where they cruise through the mangrove habitat on the lagoon side of Ambergris Caye. The expeditions depart when it gets dark, which can be anytime between 6pm-7pm and cost $50 USD. Departure locations vary depending on where people are staying and where they have surveyed recently. Some nights they pick up on the north end of the island by Cocotal Inn and some nights they leave town from the Office Bar and Grill, or in the south end of the island at Mohogany Bay.
The excursions take people around the lagoons of San Pedro searching for endangered American crocodiles. Whilst searching, they educate guests about crocodile behaviour, biology, habitat, evolution etc. The trips are their main source of funding as a self-sustainable organisation. The experience the Crocodile Education Sanctuary offer is unique, enlightening and insightful.A must do!
Set up by American expats, this place is super cute with a great atmosphere. Located just north of San Pedro town, The Truck Stop is a shipping container food park serving local delicacies, freshly shaken margaritas, beer, ice cream and so much more. Why not chill out in the ‘tree pit’ or play a game of giant Jenga?
Wednesday night is movie night, Thursday night is trivia and Saturday night is DJ night, but they often have live music throughout the week.
If you fancy something a little more lively, don't miss number 5 in this list!
If there is one thing San Pedro does well, it is PARTY. Start the night at Fidos Courtyard - a famous spot on the island and not to be missed for a true San Pedro experience. It is a bar/restaurant with nice little artisanal shops upstairs, located right on the beach front. It is the place to be in the evenings with live music from 9pm every night, lots of dancing and a great atmosphere. They often have a competition as to who can climb up the beams and sit on the saddle that is perched high on the ceiling. Fidos is a melting pot of tourists and locals alike, all joining together to share one thing: Island living.
Once you have max out at Fidos Courtyard, head to Jaguars Temple, one of the Islands late night clubs or Big Daddys Lounge (also known as Daddy Rocks), where the night gets late and loud! This is one of San Pedro's oldest beach front bars and whilst I have never had a problem here, it can get a little rough, so just be careful.
In any of these places, make sure you order a Pantiriper, a local concoction of Coconut rum and pineapple juice!
Not quite done with your holiday cocktails? Why not head to a floating bar and relax the day away in a rubber ring! The Palapa Bar and Grill is where you need to be! The staff are super friendly, the drinks go down rather too well (!), they offer great food and the carefree crowd will make you never want to leave. Sit on the top deck to admire the view, or float in a rubber ring. The vibe can be super chilled, but depending on the crowd, a fiesta may be on the cards!
Feeling slightly jaded from all the partying? Perhaps you need a hearty breakfast to perk you back up!
I can personally vouch for Estels Dine by the Sea as I spent many a morning here. Estels is the place where everyone meets in the morning with their sore heads and tales to tell from the night before. It has a great community vibe and delicious food. The restaurant opens at 6am and is the perfect place for divers and fisherman serving the best breakfast in town, banana pancakes! They are incredible! Estels is also a huge hit with tourists as it is based right on the beach and often touted as the best breakfast in town, especially when you are hungover from the night before and in need of either pure grease, a nice fruit bowl or a Michalada – the islands version of a Bloody Mary with extra spice!
Need some rest and restoration after all this partying?? Head to Ak'Bol yoga retreat. Located on the north side of San Pedro, Ak'Bol yoga retreat was set up in the 90s by a couple of expats. They have expanded their vision since and have created a beautiful sanctuary right on the beachfront, a short bike ride away from San Pedro’s main town.
You can drop in for yoga sessions daily from 9am ($15) or stay at the retreat and enjoy the full use of the facilities including massages and meditation courses. The yoga sessions take place in a pergola overlooking the ocean, it is incredibly peaceful and serene and one of the most beautiful ways to start the day.
The Saga Humane Society was founded in 1999, as a response to the animal control measures used in Belize. Founded initially by a small group of women, the Saga Humane society looks to promote kindness and prevent cruelty to all domestic and wild animals. They also run the only non-profit veterinary clinic on San Pedro.
The Saga Humane Society offer educational programs to the San Pedro community, help with preventative medicines and vaccinations for those who cannot afford it for their pets and take in unwanted and homeless animals, caring for them until they find a loving home and an adoptive family.
The society currently houses up to 40 animals at any given time. Run entirely on the donations of others, The Saga Humane Society relies on the generosity of others to continue in their mission to end animal suffering on the island.
You can volunteer with the charity in a number of ways, including dog walking, event support, educational assistance, adoption support, animal photography and so much more. Check out their website for more information and email them at: email@example.com
San Pedro is an excellent place for all levels of windsurfers. October through to March tend to be the best months for winds, although there is opportunity to windsurf all year round.
In addition to windsurfing, San Pedro is great for Kitesurfing. Check out KiteXplorer, a Belizean kite surfing company who offer a unique kitesurfing experience. Lessons with certified instructors or coaching with a Pro Rider can be arranged in advanced. Great place for beginners to advanced riders.
San Pedro is heart-warming and soul soothing. With its beautiful location, super laid back vibe, friendly locals, hearty Caribbean food, plentiful water-based activities and stunning beaches, it is no wonder why people get stuck here. If San Pedro isn't on your bucket list – it will be now.
TOP TIP: To be in the know about what is going on in San Pedro, check out San Pedro Scoop!