San Pedro and Ambergris Caye
Ambergris Caye is Belize’s largest island, just south of the Mexican Yucatán mainland, and stretching southward for 24 miles into Belizean waters. Ambergris (pronounced “AM-bur-giss”) is a waxy secretion that originates in the intestines of the sperm whale before it is regurgitated. Don’t laugh—this rare and valuable substance used to be a global commodity, used in the manufacture of perfume and going for top dollar.
The island is 35 miles east of Belize City and about three-quarters of a mile west of the Belize Barrier Reef. Ambergris Caye was formed by an accumulation of coral fragments and silt from the Río Hondo as it emptied from what is now northern Belize. The caye is made up of mangrove swamps, a dozen lagoons, a plateau, and a series of low sand ridges. The largest lagoon, fed by 15 creeks, is 2.5-mile-long Laguna de San Pedro on the western side of the village.
San Pedro Town sits on a sand ridge at the southern end of the island, the only actual town on the island and the most-visited destination in Belize. It is chock-full of accommodations, restaurants, golf carts, and services. San Pedro is also the most expensive part of Belize, with prices for some basic goods and foods double the mainland prices and sometimes even more than similar services and restaurants in the United States.
Getting to Ambergris Caye
By Air: The 2,600-foot-long runway is located practically in downtown San Pedro. Belize’s two airlines (Maya Island Air and Tropic Air) fly more than a dozen daily flights between San Pedro, Caye Caulker, and Belize City—and another five to and from Corozal. Tropic Air has a computerized system and offers more reliable service; they just started flights from San Pedro to Belmopan, offering quicker access to the Cayo District. Maya Island Air is good too, and sometimes gives 50 percent discounts on cash purchases; be sure to ask if a discount is available.
The flight from Belize City’s international airport to San Pedro takes about 15 minutes and costs US$120 round-trip. Flying in and out of Belize City’s Municipal Airport is much cheaper (US$35 each way, not much more expensive than the water taxi).
By Boat: There are three companies providing scheduled water taxi service between Belize City and the islands: Caye Caulker Water Taxi Association (San Pedro tel. 501/226-2194, Caye Caulker tel. 501/226-0992, Belize City tel. 501/223-5752, www.cayecaulkerwatertaxi.com) and the San Pedro Water Taxi Express alternate schedules, each offering four daily trips between Belize City and Ambergris Caye, a 75-minute ride that costs US$15 one-way.
In Belize City, the Caye Caulker Water Taxi Terminal is at the north end of the Swing Bridge, with boats leaving between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. The San Pedro Water Taxi Express departs from the Tourism Village in Belize City. Boats depart San Pedro from Wet Willy’s Pier from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Always check the schedule before making plans; usually there are extra boats on weekends and holidays.
Thunderbolt Travels (tel. 501/226-2904 or 501/614-9074, thunderbolttravels [at] yahoo [dot] com) runs two daily trips to Corozal (7 a.m. and 3 p.m., US$22.50 one-way, same schedule from Corozal).
© Joshua Berman and Avalon Travel from Moon Belize, 9th Edition