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Snorkelling at Hol Chan Marine Reserve
Snorkelling at Hol Chan Marine Reserve (Credit: www.flickr.com by andydenovo)

Visiting Ambergris Caye, Belize

With a spectacular Caribbean coastline and a tropical climate, Belize is an increasingly popular getaway spot for a blissful vacation enjoying the relaxing haven of beaches and palm trees. Situated between Guatemala and Mexico, Belize includes many cayes (islands) off its shore, the most well-known one being Ambergris Caye. A beautiful island populated by an easy-going, friendly people, Ambergris Caye offers an indulgent vacation for all – whether you prefer lying on the beach or diving into the warm, turquoise waters for some of the world’s best scuba diving and snorkeling.

Arial View of Ambergris Caye
Arial View of Ambergris Caye (Credit: www.flickr.com by GrandBaymen)

Here, you can be pampered to your heart’s content at one of the many friendly Ambergris Caye hotels, experience the vibrant and buzzing nightlife in the laid-back town of San Pedro, take organized dive trips or fishing excursions, and enjoy world class cuisine at the island’s great selection of restaurants.

This is the second largest barrier reef in the world and provides some of the best snorkeling and diving opportunities found anywhere on earth. This makes Ambergris Caye a top choice of vacation destinations for diving enthusiasts where the vast and spectacular array of marine life never fails to impress. The local people add to the Belize experience, friendly, unhurried, and delighted to befriend visitors to their country. It all makes for a relaxing, exciting, and unforgettable   vacation!

Attractions

Ambergris Caye hotels are well situated to provide easy access to all of the island’s main attractions. Of course, most of those attractions are in warm, clear waters – you’ll find numerous dive trips and fishing excursions to choose from, with visits to the barrier reef, the Great Blue Hole, Hol Chan, and other spectacular natural attractions.

Belize barrier reef

Belize barrier reef is the second longest in the world and the longest in the Western Hemisphere. It is Ambergris Caye’s pride and joy, with its limitless snorkeling and diving spots making it a truly spectacular natural attraction.

Belize Barrier Reef
Belize Barrier Reef (Credit: www.flickr.com by dronepicr)

Seen from the air, Belize barrier reef looks like a golden dividing line between the deep, royal blue water outside the reef itself, and the shallower, pale turquoise water inside. A vast natural aquarium filled with breathtaking tropical marine life, the reef is one of the most awe-inspiring natural structures on earth. It is actually a protective barrier between the caye and the sea, shielding the island from wave erosion, and forming a truly remarkable underwater structure.

Visibility is excellent underwater at Belize Barrier Reef. Divers can see for up to 165 feet, the maximum underwater visibility anywhere in the world. And there’s plenty to see! The coral provides a colorful living landscape, which is populated by an incredible variety of tropical marine life. Shoals of brightly colored fish create a constantly moving kaleidoscope, and divers are often treated to the sight of bigger underwater companions, too, like various species of sharks, and Loggerhead Turtles.

Most Ambergris Caye hotels can help you to find a dive trip that suits your expectations and level of experience, and there are plenty of dive operators and scuba instructors to choose from. Try some snorkeling in the shallower waters of the reef, check out the awesome Great Blue Hole, or go on a special “wreck dive”. It would be a shame not to experience the underwater delights that Ambergris Caye has to offer.

Beach atSan Pedro, Ambergris Caye
Beach at San Pedro, Ambergris Caye (Credit: By Areed145 at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Hol Chan

Hol Chan is a popular attraction of Ambergris Caye, a marine reserve not far from San Pedro (about 4 miles). It became a protected sanctuary in the 1980s, and since then has experienced the fascinating return of all kinds of fish no longer seen in the rest of the reef.

A “cut” in the barrier reef, Hol Chan was once a rather depleted fishing zone and is now swarming with a more plentiful marine life than any other part of these waters. The name is Mayan for “little channel”, and the water here is only 20 to 35 feet deep. It’s perfect for snorkeling and diving, and well worth a visit to see the thriving underwater life it has to offer.

Snorkelling at Hol Chan Marine Reserve
Snorkelling at Hol Chan Marine Reserve (Credit: www.flickr.com by andydenovo)

You can only dive or snorkel in Hol Chan by signing up for an officially-run trip. Most Ambergris Caye hotels will be pleased to help you organize this, and hiring a boat with a guide should only cost around $12.50US (basic fare per person).

Great Blue Hole

The Great Blue Hole is the best known natural attractions that Belize has to offer. About 60 miles from Belize mainland, there is a large, almost perfectly circular hole in the Lighthouse Reef. It measures about a quarter of a mile in diameter, and viewed from the air looks like a dark blue circle in the midst of paler waters – this is due to the fact that the water in the “hole” is 145 meters deep!

The Great Blue Hole
The Great Blue Hole (Credit: www.flickr.com by Mr.Ice Gallano)

The Great Blue Hole was once the entrance to a huge system of caves and passageways, which were all high above sea level many eons ago, before the end of the last Ice Age. As the ice begun melting, the sea level rose, and as a result, the caves were flooded, meaning that what was once a land structure is now a fascinating underground cave network. The further down into the hole you dive, the more limestone structures and interesting stalactites you will see, and there’s a beautiful array of corals that flourish here.

You may also like: Diving the Great Blue Hole of Belize: Largest Sea Hole in the World

Marine life inside the Great Blue Hole is minimal because the reduced water circulation does not provide an ideal habitat for the creatures that live in abundance elsewhere on the reef. As a result, the hole is like a still, silent bottomless pit, marked by intriguing underground structures, and is a favorite dive spot for experienced and passionate divers. Daily trips leave from Ambergris Caye early in the morning, and are popular with enthusiasts – it’s known as one of the most unusual diving experiences anywhere in the world.

Fishing

The warm waters surrounding Ambergris Caye are full of game fish, because of the number of rivers which empty out into the Caribbean Sea. Fishing is a year round sport here, and you will find a great number of fishing trips to choose from. Some take you out to open waters for deep sea fishing, where masses of sailfish and bonito reside. Others will let you experience fishing in and around the coral reefs, for an abundance of snapper, jacks, grouper, and barracuda.

Fishing at Ambergris Caye
Fishing at Ambergris Caye ( Credit: By Pgbk1987 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)])
Fishing enthusiasts flock to Belize to indulge in this popular local pastime, and as a result, there are plenty of organized fishing trips to make sure that you get the most from your stay. All guides speak English, so you’ll know where you’re going and what you’re fishing for! The price of a fishing trip in Ambergris Caye varies, as there are so many different types of excursions. Check with individual trip operators, and let them help you plan an outing that includes everything you want, whether that’s coral reef fishing, deep sea fishing, or a combination of the two with lunch and drinks thrown in!

Dining

Dining opportunities are plentiful on Ambergris Caye.  At least a few visits to restaurants serving local cuisine are recommended because the Belizeans love to share their national foods with visitors! The staple meal of the country is a rice and beans mixture, sometimes served with chicken. The red beans and rice mixture is filling, comforting, satisfying, and inexpensive, and you’ll probably find several variations of it. It’s usually flavored with spices and coconut milk and served with stewed pinto beans on the side.

And of course, we can’t mention Belizean cuisine without talking about seafood! The busy fishing industry on Ambergris Caye means that fish is always on the menu, and it’s worth trying. Usually caught only a few hours prior to serving, this is fresh seafood at its finest! If you’re there during the lobster season, even better – it starts on June 15th, and the fresh, locally caught lobster is a real treat.

Mexican and pasta style dishes are also popular in Ambergris Caye restaurants, and there are a number of eateries serving familiar US fare too.

Belizeans pride themselves on their fresh produce, and you’ll find lots of little markets and vendors selling fresh grapefruits and oranges, thanks to Belize’s citrus fruit plantations. The locally grown habanero pepper is also popular with locals – if you’re a fan of all things hot and spicy, be sure to sample one of the sauces made from this potent vegetable! Marie Sharp’s sauces are great to taste and take a bottle home.

The local beer is Belkin, and the locally distilled rum is called One Barrel Rum. They are available everywhere on the island. Belizeans are also fond of wine, and varieties like blackberry, ginger, and sorrel are widely available.

Featured Restaurants

  1. Maya Beach Hotel Bistro
  2. The Secret Garden
  3. French Connection
  4. Hidden Treasure Restaurant
  5. Red Ginger
  6. Danube
  7. Blue Water Grill
  8. Lazy Croc BBQ
  9. Tutti Frutti
  10. Jambel’s Jerk Pits

Nightlife

For a night out in Ambergris Caye, San Pedro is the place to be. In terms of nightclubs, there are several to choose from, including Jaguar, Wet Willy’s, and the loud and buzzing Big Daddy’s. These establishments are generally packed with young, party-seeking crowds, and there’s always loud music, dancing, and late-night fun going on.

Lots of restaurants and bars provide live entertainment, with bands and solo artists, and often some local music, which is known as Punta, and involves lots of drumming! Fans of live music also enjoy great acts at Fido’s, or a local cultural event or concert if it’s a national holiday. Don’t forget that many Ambergris Caye hotels will also have their own entertainment arranged – many offer live music, games, DJs, or just cool lounges and beach bars where guests can hang out and relax.

San Pedro at Night
San Pedro at Night

Gaming fans will love the opportunity to play in a Vegas-style casino on Ambergris Caye, while the quiet romantics will enjoy a sunset cruise on a catamaran, complete with romantic music, cocktails, and a spectacular Caribbean sunset. Alternatively, take yourself off to one of the island’s “viewing points” and enjoy an unspoiled view of the clear night sky – or even sign up to go on a moonlit night diving trip to the waters of the Lighthouse Reef!

Shopping

From handicrafts and souvenirs to local spices and sauces, you’re sure to find just what you’re looking for during an afternoon’s shopping on Ambergris Caye. There are no vast mall complexes here, just colorful, individual shops with bags of character and plenty of bargains to be found lurking on the packed shelves. Specialist shops stock handicrafts from Guatemala and Mexico as well as from Belize, and there are lots of categories to choose from – jewelry, paintings, clothing, and all sort of ornaments and decorations.

Ambergris Caye hotels are mostly located within an easy walking distance of San Pedro’s cobbled streets, so it’s easy to take a short stroll into the lively shopping areas for a bit of a browse or some souvenir shopping. Street vendors are frequent, many selling tasty local snacks and fruit. Some shops give you a chance to continue enjoying Belizean cuisine even after you return home, with good selections of local spices, sauces, and cookbooks to choose from.

Transportation

You can reach Ambergris Caye by using the regular ferry service from the mainland, or by taking a short flight from Belize City airport. A water taxi or ferry from Belize City to San Pedro is another means of transportation.

Hotels

Ambergris Caye hotels perfectly reflect the island’s atmosphere. Relaxed and friendly, they provide an ideal home away from home, with a warm welcome and the trademark Belizean desire to help. You can often find accommodation in Ambergris Caye hotels simply by showing up, but it is better you book a hotel in advance for a guaranteed place to stay.

Many of the hotels in Ambergris Caye are located on the main street of San Pedro, near (and sometimes right on) the beach, and the location is perfect for access to both the water and the town. In the town of San Pedro, everything is within walking distance, and you will find plenty of shops, a huge selection of restaurants and bars, and a vibrant nightlife.  At the same time, you’ll be close to the beach, perfect for a relaxing swim in clear warm waters! Most hotels offer clean, quiet accommodation with ocean view rooms and all modern conveniences, and prices are quite reasonable. If you’re on a budget, hotels like Conch Shell provide a cheaper option without missing out on a comfortable stay, while others boast of unique features – such as Xanadu Hotel, with its tropical garden pool declared to be the best pool on the island.

For something different, many Ambergris Caye hotels provide resort-style living in individual casitas. The Mata Chica Resort, for example (located in the northern part of the island and reached by boat from  San Pedro), provides fully furnished thatched casitas situated right on the beach, for an idyllic tropical island experience.

Related Posts:
Welcome to Caracol: the largest known Maya site in Belize
Diving the Great Blue Hole of Belize: Largest Sea Hole in the World
Visiting Lamanai Mayan Ruins of Belize

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