Favorite thing: Since I don't bother with owning a cellular phone, I find that it is always handy to have a local phone card to avoid the hassles of having the correct change on hand should you need to make a call for some reason. Not knowing how often we would use the card, while on Caye Caulker, I bought the lowest denomination possible (BZ$5 or US$2.50) and, in the end, we actually used it up and bought another one which ended being half-used. They are the typical scratch the back strip and use the PIN on the card in conjunction with an '800' number. The cards can be purchased at various convenient places anywhere in Belize and, since the whole country is in the same area code, there are no long distance charges. This was very useful the morning we left Ambergris Cay because I used it to phone from there looking for accommodations for that evening at the Belize Zoo and on another day made calls from Belmopan to Hopkins for the same reason.
Located off the northern coast, Ambergris Cay is the largest cay in Belize and also it's 'hottest' tourist spot (even if it is not quite as relaxing as Caye Caulker!). Lying only 35 miles from the International airport at Belize City, it is not difficult to get to Ambergris by either local flights or water taxis. The 24-mile long Cay itself was originally part of the 'yellow' peninsula sticking down from Mexico, but those enterprising Mayans became tired of paddling all the way around the point where San Pedro is presently located, so they cut a canal through the peninsula around 500 AD. Today, this 'cut' marks the boundary between the two countries and makes Ambergris an island. The largest town of San Pedro is also an island, because the lower tip is also cut by the San Pedro River. We arrived by water taxi from Caye Caulker, which is located at the 'n' in 'Midwinters' Lagoon.
The total population is about 9000 people, most of whom live in San Pedro.
Favorite thing: We only spent part of one day on Ambergris, but wished we would have at least spent a night there. We did enjoy the time we got to stay there. The water was a beautiful color and this picture doesn't do it justice. The area where we were had some snorkeling equipment available, but there didn't seem to be a lot of fish or things to see underwater in this area. So, if you plan to snorkel, do more research than we did so you will find the best place for snorkeling!
Favorite thing: This is Patrick. He was on the snorkeling excursion we went on with his parents and their friends. Part of this trip included lunch prepared by our guides and consisted of typical Belizean fare. Being the picky eater that I am, I brought peanut butter, crackers, and cookies in case I couldn't eat the food that was offered. Well, I couldn't eat the food that was offered.....and neither could Patrick. He brought easy cheese, crackers, and pretzels. We decided to combine our meager rations and turn it into a three course meal. He was happy about the cookies and I was happy about the easy cheese! Too bad he couldn't have any of the rum punch! It made the easy cheese palatable! I wonder what Patrick is doing these days. He's from the Minneapolis-St. Cloud area.....
The people of Belize are extremely friendly, warm and genuine. You will definitely meet new friends while you are here.
On one of our trips into San Pedro for an evening of partying and just hanging out we met Ann Marie. A wonderful Italian women who hailed from NYC then Palm Springs who works in one of the Condo's here in Ambergris Cay.
Althought she isn't a local, she definitely filled us in on the culture and people of Belize along with funny stories and places to eat, hang out and things to do.
She decided to hang out with us at Fido's for a few drinks then took us to a Latin Club and then finally to Jaguar.
We had such a great time with her that we invited her to join us at the Beach BBQ the next day and exchanged emails and phone numbers so we can keep in touch.
Favorite thing: There are no windows in the cabanas on the beach...only screens and shutters. To be awakened by the sun peeking through the wooden slats and the gentle lapping of the waves upon the shore sets the mood for the rest of the day. Natures alarm clock shakes you gently from your sleep to enjoy the peaceful sunrise over the reef!
If you travel during the evening on the Island Ferry there are a few things you should know. At the end of each pier north of San Pedro are switches for a red and green lights.
The Island Ferry does have a schedule of pick-up times, but during the evening will only stop at the pier if the red or green light is on.
If you would like to travel north, turn the red light on and wait at the scheduled time of pick up at the pier. If you travel south the green light should be switched on.
When you board your ferry let the ferry driver know your destination and either pay as you board or on you departure.
We had done some initial research about usage of cash, ATM's and credit cards and decided that for us the best thing would be to take enough cash to cover most of our expenses and take along our ATM and Credit Cards.
Definitely happy we went this route. The Belize dollar is 2 to 1 American dollar and anywhere you go you can use them interchangably.
ATM's are located in San Pedro town and you should know that although it may seem the best idea, your bank and the one in Belize will charge you for withdrawals. Also note that these ATM's may be down or out of money.
Credit cards are widely used, but note that in such a small country, their "machines" will most likely be down especially during the evening and early morning times.
Fondest memory: GUIDELINE for US dollars - CASH - if you are paying in cash, many places will give you back your change in Belize dollars, even if the price is quoted in American Dollars, just note that the rate is 2/1.
ATM's - you can withdraw money but remember, money is given in Belize dollars, do try not to withdraw more than you really need or you'll be stuck having to spend those Belize dollars on stuff you really wouldn't.
CREDIT CARDS - All major credit cards are accepted but note that the rate will probably be less favorable (less than the 2/1), you'll also have to pay foreign fee on the transaction and you can all find yourself in a situation where the "machines" are down.
On our last night in Belize we had dinner in Capricorn, we didn't count on the machine being down and we each tried to us our cards to no avail, the machines were down. Thank goodness we had cash with us and we were able to pay our tab, if not, I guess we would have had to wash dishes, lol!
My advice - Take plenty of cash, use the ATM or Credit Card only as a last resort :)
Take a side road to the backside of the island and dine at the wonderful Casa Picasso restaurant or just sit down and have a coffee with Paul who runs "Caye Coffee" or watch the fishermen bring in the catch of the day and buy your own fresh fish.
Fondest memory: I find myself already missing the warmth of the Belizean people,the smiles of happy children, the mesmerizing green water and a thirst for more knowledge of the Mayans.
There are a number of resorts along the beach at Caye Ambergris that have open air bars that you can walk up to from the beach, but a lot of them are actually pushed back away from the water, which means they don't catch the cool sea breezes. We sat at several bars sipping frozen drinks and dripping with sweat.
But not at The Squirrel's Nest! This bar is close to the water, cool and breezy! We stopped here at lunch time for a hot dog and a banana daiquiri and it really hit the spot. I can't vouch for the liveliness of the place after dark because we were only there during the day, but I did enjoy it when we were there.
The Squirrel's Nest is south of San Pedro Town at Mata Rocks Resort, right next to Banana Beach Resort.
Snorkelling is one of the primary reasons why you came to Ambergris Caye. Most people seem to take at least one guided snorkelling trip out to Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Alley. I was not different. Hol Chan is situated 8km south of San Pedro and a boat will take you out to it. Here you can snorkel along the reef and see more fish than you can imagine. I was amazed by the size of some of them and how unafraid they were of humans. The reef life, flora and fauna, is quite beautiful and I regreted not bringing along an underwater camera to photograph what I saw. Your excursion is most likely then going to head to Shark Alley. Here you will be given an opportunity to snorkel along side sting rays and nurse sharks that can grow to a fairly large size. Both are apparently harmless as neither actually have teeth. I don' think that they should be fed by us snorkellers as this upsets the food chain.
I organized my excursion through Searious Adventures who are located just steps from hotel, the Sunbreeze, on the beach. The trip was for half a day and cost me $35US. The guide was pretty good and very knowledgeable regarding marine life. It is recommended by a sunburnt me, that you cover your torso up when snorkelling or you will regret it.
Favorite thing: If you're a beer drinker and your hotel room has a fridge, go to the Belikin distribution house by the airport and buy a case. I think it was about $20-25. And always remember to wipe off the top of the bottle. Bottles are reused and sometimes you might find a little rust from the cap. The distribution house is also a great place to buy your Belikin souvenirs. We got a bunch of small Belikin glasses for 25 cents apiece. They also have shirts and bottle koozies at much lower prices than the shops have in town.