From Swing Bridge in Belize City, I caught a ferry to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, the largest of the Belizean cayes, or islands. There are two main ferry lines—the popular Chinese-owned Belize Express and the older Belizean-owned Caye Caulker Water Taxi. Belize Express is definitely the way to go, given its online ticketing, express taxis, onboard wifi and modern decor. Although, if time had been of the essence, I would have forgone the hour-long water taxi and chosen the 10-17 minute flights through Tropic Air or Maya Island Air.
San Pedro is the highest trafficked spot on the cayes, judging by the fact that it’s an actual built-up town with paved roads. It’s common for mainland locals to come to San Pedro to party. This caye located close to the aquatic Mexican border. I read that some travelers choose to save money by flying into Cancun (instead of Belize City) and taking a combination of bus plus water taxi down to San Pedro.
My reason for visiting wasn’t the town or the party, but rather to be close The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is the largest in the northern hemisphere and has a unique geological feature called the Blue Hole which can be seen from outer space. The Blue Hole is best enjoyed on a multi-day diving trip. (While snorkeling trips are available, the true wonders lie deep the ocean.) Since I’m not yet PADI-certified, I opted for a number of half-day snorkeling trips. Although I did a lot of research before arriving to try and choose a top tour company, the reality is tour companies punctuate the entire eastern coast of San Pedro. While I can’t speak for peak season, the best strategy during off-peak season is to just walk out of your hotel to the closest shop until you find space. That’s how I found Chuck & Robbie’s. During my stay, I was happily situated in a private room at Sandbar Beachfront Hostel…which included a balcony and hammock! Plus it had a restaurant and Ice ‘n Beans coffee bar that offers free samples of ice cold coffee shots and sugar deep fried donuts to all passerbys.
I brought along a snorkel mask in hopes to go exploring on my own as I did in Vieques, Puerto Rico; but no such luck. The entire eastern coast is a swamp, and the only place to swim is the bay, several miles northwest of San Pedro. Although I looked into taking the CoastalXpress water taxi to get around Ambergris Caye, it wasn’t useful for snorkeling since entry into every marine reserve requires a tour guide license. I didn’t see officers policing the reserves, but it seemed like the tour guides knew each other well enough to know who belonged.
Mexico Rocks, north of San Pedro, is not the most popular snorkel spot, but it was actually my favorite because it was undisturbed and the colors were the most vivid of my three snorkel trips. I saw a puffer fish, green moray and baracuda!
My weekend took a turn for the best when my friend Purani decided to surprise me and show up in San Pedro! Without wasting a moment, we rented a golf cart, paid our toll to cross the bridge and went north to check out the resorts that line the coast—many of which welcome day guests. I wish our little golf cart could have driven us north all the way to El Secreto! But the paved road only goes so far. Nevertheless, we had a great time exploring and made sure to return to San Pedro by dusk.
Sunday morning began with an epic sunrise.
Through another Chuck & Robbie’s tour, we headed four miles south of San Pedro to the must-see destination: Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Here the ocean floors were deep, schools of fish were plenty, and I even saw my first spotted eagle ray. And at our second stop, Shark Ray Alley, the guides fed chum (bits of fish) so nurse sharks and sting rays would come close enough for us to pet them. After they cleared out, I even swam beside a Loggerhead Turtle!
Since shops are closed on Sundays, the most popular activity are Sunday beach BBQs, which are plentiful—some pop-up, some at restaurants. Belizean BBQ is delicious!
Other highlights from my whirlwind weekend including tasting a lobster burrito and enjoying the pool at The Phoenix—where I would undoubtedly stay if money were no object. But memories of a wonderful Belizean weekend with Purani are treasures enough for me!