San Pedro, Belize
Ambergris Caye

Or, La Isla Bonita.

Yes, just like the song.

"Last night I dreamt of San Pedro..."

 

If you've read anything else on this site, you know I'm all about Maui travel and pretty much no where else.  But, after going to Maui a dozen times (and still loving it), you do start to wonder if you're putting all your eggs in one basket.  After all, it's a big beautiful world out there and my philosophy is (at least now), not whoever dies with the most toys wins.  But, whoever dies having seen most places wins.  Don't get me wrong.  There is no way on Earth I'm going to stop going to Maui, or at least keep it in the regular rotation.

That being said, if you've already been to Maui a few times, or if you just can't see yourself enduring the long flight to Hawaii (for personal or health reasons), here's one alternative.  

San Pedro, Belize

This tiny town, located on Ambergris Caye, lies 42 miles NE of Belize City (the city you will fly into from the States).  You can take a 14 passenger prop plane for about a 15 minute flight into San Pedro.  Or, you can take an hour ferry ride for a fraction of the cost.  

It all depends on what you're comfortable with.

The moment you step into PGI Airport, in Belize City, one thing becomes apparent.

You're not in Hawaii.

Not unlike many airports throughout the caribbean, it's very small, hot and not particularly clean.  

Then, of course, is the slow slog through customs.  

I'm pretty sure all the planes from the US arrive about simultaneously everyday.

So, be prepared to stand in line for about 45 minutes, before you can start to get your island on.

After answering the obligatory questions, you'll grab your luggage and...

 

(PRO TIP: Visit the Duty Free in the terminal for your bottles of Rum, Vodka, Tequila, etc

that you will use during your stay.  WAY cheaper than in the local stores)

Each person can buy up to 2 bottles.  If you want to wait on rum, you could buy local rum in the supermarkets.  They are very good and cost around $15-16 US for a 1 liter.

($1 US = $2 BZ)

Following that, you will proceed through ANOTHER Customs and Security checkpoint

before heading to the small plane terminal.

 

While waiting for your flight, you can browse some of the shops or maybe introduce yourself to the local brew (Beliken), which you will become very familiar with during your stay.

 

When your flight gets called, try to position yourself first in line (not difficult). 

Being first on the plane gives you a chance at an experience you won't see often in your life.

You'll be able to sit next to the pilot!

If someone else already has their sights on this, no worries.

You'll have a view out of the windshield no matter where you sit.

Upon arrival in San Pedro, you'll most likely grab a cab or pick up Golf Cart.  Most people rent Golf Carts for the length of their stay and it's how most everyone gets around.  

Cart traffic can get quite heavy at times.

Shopping for groceries here is quite a bit different, if you're used to doing it in Maui.   Most meats are cheaper cuts and frozen.  You have to carefully watch expiration dates on dairy.  Bluntly, the places are not very clean.  Prices are not outrageous, unless you try to get American brands.  

I think we saw Oreos for $14 US.

For fruits and vegetables, you're much better off going to one of the local stands along the main roads.  Some of them sell meats also.  You can also purchase fresh made corn tortillas.  Great for making your own fresh tacos and fajitas.  Don't expect the monstrous sizes we're used to in the States.  

There are also some great bakeries here.  The one we liked the best (pictured below) had fresh made items unwrapped and on the shelfs for you to take with tongs and a pizza pan to carry to the counter.  The Bread Pudding was amazing.

The street food here is pretty good, also.

Breakfast tacos, BBQ on Sunday's, Meat pies are all worth sampling and easy on the wallet.

I found bar/restaurants here to be quite reasonable.  Especially when you consider the best ones are located right on the beach.  There are also a bunch of bar/restaurants on their own piers, right over the ocean.  Prices on those would vary, but you could almost always find a burger for $15 BZ, which equals $7.50 US.  Almost all had fresh fish sandwiches or tacos for $20 BZ.  Drinks at those places could be a bit pricey, if you chose to go with fancy beach drinks.  But, no more than what you'd spend at a beach bar in the states.

 

The best bargain in drinks are the bottles of Beliken Beer.

$6 BZ ($3 US) for Regular, Stout or Light.

Half that price in the markets, to take back to your condo.

Either bring or buy a bottle koozie.

Trust me, they get warm fast down here. 

Next, we'll discuss the absolutely gorgeous ocean and the equally abundant sealife here.

If you don't come here for any other reason, it should be the ocean.  

The water here is absolutely stunning.   The colors are amazing.  It's so clear.  

This is one thing this place has over Maui, and you know how much I love the water there.

It's warmer here.  It's generally shallow were you'll be snorkeling (3 to 15 ft).  

So, the mostly sunny days keep the air in the mid to high 80's and the water in the low 80's.

No shock factor when jumping in.

The problem here is access.

In Maui, you can virtually snorkel or dive off of any beach.

Here, there is very limited swimmable beach access and really not much to see if you did.

So, that means paying someone to take you to the barrier reef, about a half mile off shore.

There are plenty of dive/snorkel companies.  Prices range from $35 to $65 US for a half day tour, to around a $100 for a full day.  Not unreasonable.  

But, we miss the ability to get in the ocean every day, like we have in Maui.

I mentioned the reef before, and I want to give it the attention it deserves.

This is the second largest barrier reef in the world.

The dive sites just off the coast of Ambergris Caye could keep a diver busy for months.

For snorkelers, Hol-Chan Marine Reserve and Shark-Ray Alley are must sees.

You'll see 8-12 ft Nurse Sharks and Southern Sting Rays by the dozen.  They are perfectly safe to get in the water with.  The pristine water supports an abundance of sealife, including some of the most beautiful coral I've seen.  Plenty of Tangs, Wrasses, Jack, Permit, Triggers, Barracuda.  We also saw Loggerhead Turtles.  Green Sea Turtles and Hawksbill also frequent the area.  

Some of the companies offer a 

Snorkel/Fish/Dinner Combo.

We happened to hit the last day of Lobster season.  One of our guides snorkeled for Lobster and Conch (found plenty of both).  We fished for a good hour and caught a lot.  We then snorkeled Shark-Ray Alley before returning to shore, where they grilled all of our catch.

We took a chance on this tour from a tip given to us by a bartender.  It ended up being a very memorable day (minus the overly spicy dinner my wife couldn't eat).  Unfortunately, since the bartender set it up for us, I don't even have a phone number to give you.  Just go see Francisco at the Truck Stop.

We also did a half day snorkel tour with Ambergris Divers.  Our Captain and Guides were very knowledgable, and we got some nice pictures.  However, we didn't care for the way they wanted you to follow close to the guide and stay bunched up with other snorkelers.  

Too crowded, hard to see and novice snorkelers running into you.

So, even though the water is beautiful and sealife abundant,

I'd take snorkeling in Maui any day over here.

Now, there is one place you can get in the ocean from shore and experience these warm, friendly waters.

You won't see a lot of sealife there, and the only thing you're likely to catch are a tan and a buzz.

 

Secret Beach

(not such a secret anymore)

is the best place to get in the ocean here, without a boat.

Still, not an easy place to get to.  You'll feel like your golf cart is more moon rover, after you navigate the crater strewn dirt road leading to it.  About a half hour ride from where we stayed.

It is worth the trip, though.  We went twice.

We followed the advice of a bar owner we befriended, and made the left turn

just before the main entrance.  Good move.  

That led us to our favorite spot on the island, Blue Bayou.

Tables and benches right in the water, waiters wading out to bring you drink and food orders.

Unimaginable colors.  It really is a bit of heaven on earth.

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