Imagine a small, palm-shaded island, its sugar-white sands awash in some of the warmest, clearest water to be found anywhere. Offshore, is world-class snorkeling, diving, sailing, kayaking, and windsurfing in the turquoise Western Caribbean. On land, you're immersed in a friendly, laid back atmosphere that offers hotels, restaurants, and services to suit every whim and pocketbook. Your range of nightlife options includes bars, dance clubs, and a good-humored local oddity called "the chicken drop," in which bets are placed on where your chosen fowl will relieve herself!
Welcome to Belize's Ambergris Caye (pronounced "key"), a 20-mile-long, two-mile-wide tropical spit of sand covered with coconut and mangrove trees, cooled by trade winds, and protected by one of the world's longest barrier reefs. Golf carts, bicycles, and your own two feet are the main modes of transportation on the sand-covered streets of tiny San Pedro, the island's only town. But don't let the slow pace fool you. The locals, uncorrupted by the mass tourism and chain resorts that have invaded much of the region, are ready to welcome you with plenty of places to eat, drink, and be merry. Many San Pedranos are also experienced guides and recreation outfitters eager to make your daytrips picture perfect. English is the official language of this former British colony, independent since 1981.
For those who really want to get away from it all, north and south of San Pedro, the waving palm fronds shelter secluded resorts that specialize in diving, fishing, boating, or simply stretching out in a hammock with a cold drink and a hot bestseller. Parts of Ambergris are even more remote, comprising government-protected reserves where you can see endangered sea turtles swim ashore to lay their eggs, ospreys dive for fish in backwater lagoons, and archaeologists hunt for artifacts among ruins left by the ancient Maya civilization a thousand years ago.
Ambergris Caye is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Belize for good reason. Besides its ample amenities and restful ambiance, the island is ideally located for daytime excursions to the many offshore attractions for which this country is famous. Dozens of fishing, diving, and snorkeling sites are less than an hour away, including Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark/Ray Alley. The latter are underwater national parks that teem with tropical fish of every size, color, and description, along with exotic corals, sponges, and sea fans. Non-snorkelers can view this amazing panorama on a glass-bottom boat ride. The more adventurous traveler, particularly those with a serious interest in diving or fishing, will want to spend some extra time visiting the Turneffe Islands, Lighthouse Reef, and the Blue Hole, a 412-foot collapsed underwater cave made famous by Jacques Cousteau.
Visitor services on Ambergris include gift shops, banks, grocery stores, museums, and even a small casino. Surprisingly, a range of cosmopolitan cuisines are available at San Pedro restaurants, including the Jade Garden (Chinese), Fido's (Belizean, home of the chicken drop), Celi's (seafood), Elvi's (Belizean/seafood), and Little Italy (Italian). Memorable gourmet meals in elegant surroundings are served north of the village at Capricorn, Rendezvous, Mata Chica, and Mambo, south at Victoria House. For beyond-the-hotel nightlife, try the convivial music and dance scenes along the shoreline at Big Daddy's, Tarzan's, and Fido's. Movies and karaoke are also sometimes available at various locations.
Reproduced with permission from the Belize
Tourism Board ( travelbelize.org ).