Belize: An Insider's Guide to Ambergris Caye

by  Teresa Bitler | Jul 16, 2013
Ambergris Caye, Belize
Ambergris Caye, Belize / zimmytws/iStock

Just an hour’s water taxi ride from Belize City, Ambergris Caye serves as the gateway to snorkeling at the world’s second largest barrier reef and diving at the infamous Blue Hole. While on the island, enjoy delicious seafood in the fishing village of San Pedro, incredible wildlife, and more. Here’s a guide to where to eat, what to do, and where to stay on "La Isla Bonita."

Where to Eat:

It’s impossible to mention all the great restaurants on Ambergris Caye. Let’s start with Waraguma, though, because I can’t stop thinking about their lobster burrito – stuffed with rice and lobster meat, drenched in a rich broth and topped with more lobster. The small restaurant does seafood right and at some of the most reasonable prices you’ll find in Belize.

Elvi’s Kitchen is a San Pedro institution. The restaurant serves a mix of seafood, Belizean standards like stew chicken with rice and beans, and American favorites, including cheeseburgers and buffalo wings. If you're in San Pedro on Friday night, don’t miss the Mayan feast, featuring traditional Mayan dishes such as pibil (pork), mole, and handmade corn tortillas.

For a unique experience, make the effort to find El Fogon, tucked along a side street near the airport. You’ll sit at picnic tables under a thatched roof as local fare and fresh seafood are prepared in the open air. Opt for the three-course dinner in the evening, which includes an appetizer (try the fish balls), entrée, and key lime pie for dessert.

What to Do:

Ambergris Caye is known for its diving and snorkeling. If you dive, the Blue Hole is a must. This limestone sinkhole, made famous by Jacques Cousteau, spans approximately a quarter mile and stands out as a dark blue circle against the bright waters of the reef. Near the surface, you’ll see coral, shrimp, angelfish, and grouper; deeper inside the hole, you’ll find stalagmites, stalactites, and maybe even a few sharks. The reef around the Blue Hole also makes for an outstanding snorkeling experience.

The Hol Chan Marine Reserve, though, is by far the most popular destination for snorkelers. Located just off the coast, the reserve teems with sea life. Expect to see sting rays, sea turtles, grouper, snapper, and scores of vibrantly-colored fish. Most tours combine a stop here with a trip to nearby Shark Alley, where you can photograph and swim with nurse sharks.

If you’re not into diving or snorkeling, you can try your luck deep sea fishing for grouper, snapper, marlin, sailfish, and shark. Or, spend an evening on a CSI (Crocodile Scientific Investigators) tour with the American Crocodile Education Sanctuary. Boats can also be chartered for a day of sailing the nearby islands.

Where to Stay:

Ambergris Caye has a mix of luxury resorts and budget accommodations. For a five-star experience, book a stay at Victoria House. The 42-room, plantation-style resort boasts white sand beaches, incredible views, and meticulously manicured grounds. Staff can arrange for diving, snorkeling, or fishing trips, or you can rent golf carts to explore the island on your own.

Brightly colored casitas with thatched roofs dot the powdery beach at Matachica Resort & Spa, located five miles north of San Pedro. For an adventurous getaway, combine your time here with a few nights in the jungle at the resort’s sister property, Gaia River Lodge. Other package options include jungle time at Chaa Creek and Chan Chich Lodge.

You don’t have to spend a lot, though, for quality lodging on the island. Conveniently located in San Pedro, Blue Tang Inn features air-conditioned rooms with fully-equipped kitchens. What sets Blue Tang apart, though, is its staff, all of whom grew up on the island. Ask them anything. They can direct you to the best restaurants, arrange any adventure you can dream up, or fill you in on what’s going on nearby.

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