Ambergris Caye is Belize’s largest island, just south of the Mexican Yucatán mainland and stretching southward for 24 miles into Belizean waters. Ambergris (AM-bur-giss) is 35 miles east of Belize City and about 0.75 mile west of the Belize Barrier Reef. The island 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, bars, 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.
The town is increasingly more populated and traffic more intense as a result, as more expats move here and more businesses open, particularly with the new paved road north of the bridge, which has opened access to a previously remote area of the island.
Whether arriving by air or sea, your trip to Ambergris begins in San Pedro Town—the heart of the island’s activity, where most of the restaurants, bars, nightlife, shopping, and hotels are clustered. Three streets run north-south and parallel the beach on the island’s east side. Residents still refer to them by their historic names: Front Street (Barrier Reef Dr.), Middle Street (Pescador Dr.), and Back Street (Angel Coral St.). Another landmark is at the north end of town, where the San Pedro River flows through a navigable cut. This spot is often referred to as “the cut” or “the bridge,” referring to the toll bridge that replaced the hand-drawn ferry.
Past the bridge are some exclusive resorts, hotels, and lounges. You’ll also hear the term “south of town,” referring to the continually developing area south of the airstrip and south of San Pedro Town, accessed by Coconut Drive and starting past Ramon’s Village Resort, where more upscale retreats can be found, along with some casual and lively outdoor bars.
Getting To Ambergris Caye By Air
The 2,600-foot-long runway of San Pedro Airport (SPR) is practically in downtown San Pedro. Belize’s two airlines, Maya Island Air (tel. 501/223-1140 or 501/223-1362) and Tropic Air (tel. 501/226-2626, U.S. tel. 800/422-3435) 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; there also are 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$125 round-trip. Flying in and out of Belize City’s municipal airport is much cheaper (US$25 each way, not much more expensive than the water taxi), although you’ll need to catch a taxi from the international airport to get there.
Getting To Ambergris Caye By Boat
Two companies provide scheduled water taxi service between Belize City and the islands: Ocean Ferry (across from Cholo’s Sports Bar, tel. 501/223-0033) and the San Pedro Belize Express Water Taxi (close to Spindrift Hotel, tel. 501/223-2225), with the latter offering more daily departures between Belize City and Ambergris Caye, a 75-minute ride that costs US$14.50-20 one-way, or Caye Caulker, a 45-minute ride costing US$9.50-15. Both carry free Wi-Fi on the boat.
In Belize City, the Ocean Ferry Water Taxi Terminal is on North Front Street next to the Swing Bridge, with boats leaving between 8am and 5:30pm daily. The San Pedro Belize Express Water Taxi departs from the Tourism Village in Belize City. Boats depart San Pedro from the pier across from Doc’ks Tiki Bar, 6am-5:30pm daily. Always check the schedule before making plans; usually there are extra boats on weekends and holidays.
Thunderbolt Travels (tel. 501/610-4475, email@example.com) runs a once-daily trip to Corozal from San Pedro at 3pm (US$22.50 one-way, US$42.50 round-trip), and from Corozal to San Pedro at 7am. The trip takes two hours in each direction. The departure pier in San Pedro is by the old football field; ask anyone to direct you to Thunderbolt. The newer Isla Norte Ferry (tel. 501/637-3757 or 501/610-4757, US$25 pp one-way) offers a daily run from San Pedro to Sarteneja and Corozal Town, departing at 7:45am from San Pedro and arriving in Corozal at 9:30am, and from Corozal to San Pedro, departing at 3pm from the municipal pier and arriving in San Pedro at 4:50pm.
Getting Around Ambergris Caye
Walking is feasible within the town of San Pedro; it’s about a 20-minute stroll from the airstrip to The Split. Once you start traveling between resorts to the south or north, however, you may want to go by bicycle, golf cart, taxi, or boat. At one time, cars were a rarity, but together with golf carts they are taking over the town streets and even the north side of Ambergris. Most of the electric golf carts have been replaced by gas-powered ones, and hundreds ply San Pedro’s rutted roads. Cobbled streets mean less dust and fewer potholes downtown.
The toll bridge connecting San Pedro Town with Ambergris’s north side is free for pedestrians. From 6am to 10pm, bicycles pay US$1 to cross, and golf carts pay US$5 round-trip.
Usually the smoothest and quickest way to travel up and down Ambergris Caye, water taxi service is available from Coastal Express (tel. 501/226-2007). Boats share a dock with Amigos del Mar Dive Shop, in front of Cholo’s Sports Bar, departing for points north and south 5:30am-10:30pm daily, with special late-night schedules on big party nights (Wed.-Sat.). Daily scheduled runs are posted online. The fare, usually US$5-14 each way, depends on how far you are going, all the way up to El Secreto, the farthest resort at press time. Most restaurants will radio the ferry to arrange your ride back to San Pedro Town. Coastal Express also offers private charters starting at a minimum of three people.
Minivan taxis (with green license plates) run north and south along the island at most hours; just wave one down and climb in. Expect to pay about US$4-7 to travel between town and points south. Within town, you’ll pay around US$4. There are several drivers that you (or your lodging’s front desk) can call as well, including Island Taxi (tel. 501/226-3125), and Amber Isle Taxi (tel. 501/226-2041). But I highly recommend Manuelito Contreras (tel. 501/627-0177), easily the best on the island—the kind you can call any time of day or night, and he also knows all the doctors in case of emergency.
Many resorts have bicycles that their guests can use for free, and others have them for rent, as do a handful of outside shops. Try the new wheels at Beach Cruiser Bike Rentals (Pescador Dr., tel. 501/607-1710, 9am-7pm Mon.-Fri., 9am-9pm Sat., 10am-5pm Sun., US$11 per day, US$47.50 per week), where you can also grab ice cream and smoothies. Up north, Lisa’s Kayaking (Mile 1 North of Bridge, between Ak’bol and Truck Stop, tel. 501/601-4449, US$8 per day, US$40 per week) also rents beach cruiser bikes.