about the island
Belize, a confusingly not-very-Latin-feeling place in the middle of Latin America, only gained its full independence from Britain in 1981. For this reason, you'll find English, the official language, spoken more than Spanish, and it has a distinctly different vibe from most of Central America. San Pedro on Ambergris Caye (nicknamed "Isla Bonita" or "Beautiful Island"), has been a haven for Brits for decades, and you'll still find many coming here to get some sun. Once you arrive in Belize City, you can take a long boat ride or a short little Tropicair propeller plane ride over to the island and escape the chaos of the city.
San Pedro hasn't brought in any cars to to the island except for old falling apart minivans used for taxis. Everyone else scoots around town in golf carts. Yes, golf carts! You won't go fast, but what are you rushing to? In San Pedro, the only thing you need to wake up for is reading in the sun, kayaking out to the reef, and drinking rum punch that seems to unlimitedly flow everywhere. If you're seeking more adventures, there are plenty of day trips to be had. However, feel free to just live the island life. Kick back and put your feet up while munching on some plantains and coconut-crusted shrimp. Don't worry about packing shoes- they're not needed anywhere.
Before you go
As mentioned, it was not long ago that Belize was under colonial rule. It also has seen a terrible history of slavery. With such a recent history of being under colonial rule, it's crucial to read up on some of the things that happened on this island. Here is a brief history.
where to stay
There are many hotels that dot the Eastern edge of the island, and walking past them all, they're all pretty similar. Here are a few I saw and recommend:
Isla Bonita Yacht Club- This is where I stayed, and I can't recommend it enough. For me, it's in the perfectly location, halfway into "town" where most of the shops local restaurants are and halfway to the resorts with nicer beaches. The rooms are large, the staff is extremely friendly and helpful, and the pool is pleasant. It's a mix of folks who have their own (nice!) apartments there and some rooms that are rented out. Downside: there is not its own beach right in front, but you can quickly walk over to a place.
Ramon's Village Resort- This place is more of the typical "resort" feel, but it's fun! When you walk int he entrance, you find yourself winding down a path completely surrounded by tropical tress, and you feel as if you're in the jungle. There is a good restaurant and its own beach with beach chairs. It's a fun little paradise.
Xanadu Resort- Okay, paradise. I went to a wedding here, so I got to take advantage of the grounds (the picture you see on the background of this page). This place is more expensive, but if you're looking for a complete resort escape, this is it. You'll have your own little bungalow and a full kitchen and living area. This isn't a hotel but a bunch of suites. The pool is dreamy, and the beach is large. This is one of the nicest place on the island and well worth it!
Beyond this, they start to all look and feel the same. I think it's hard to go wrong. Let me know if you have any other suggestions!
what to do
There aren't a whole lot of "to do's" in San Pedro because, honestly, just chill and enjoy island life! Wander the streets, eat slow meals, and relax beachside all day. This is a place to be slow and chat with the friendly locals. But there are a bunch of day trips if you're wanting to get more adventurous.
Kayak out to the reef- The ocean water can actually be a little murkier close by the beach, so rent a kayak from Le Roi at Tuff E Nuff, and he'll point you to where you can go kayak to the reef, hook up your kayak, and jump out and snorkel. You'll pass over the clear blue waters on your way to the reef.
Snorkel at Hol Chan and Shark Alley- Consistently voted one of the best places to snorkel, go with Lil Alphonse's tour company. The guide knows his stuff. It is so much better to snorkel with someone who is knowledgable of what you're seeing and can point out things you never would've noticed on your own. He also extremely cares about protecting the environment and will yell at people that are destroying the coral, which I'm personally all about. ;)
Day trip to the ATM caves- I didn't do this, as I decided to say on the island, but I have heard many good reviews of the ATM caves, where you travel deep into caves and spend hours wandering through the dark caves to discover remaining relics from the Mayans and see where they performed rituals. Your hotel can help set up a full trip for you that will take you back to the mainland. There is nothing like this!
Day trip to go cave tubing and visit Altun Ha- Again, your hotel will be able to set up a trip for you. Spend a full day tubing through various caves, where you will be in and out of the sun. Along the way, you will be able to see Mayan relics. Afterward, you'll explore an ancient Mayan settlement. This is first on my list of things to do next time I go.