Picture an island, snugly tucked away in the dazzling Caribbean Sea just below Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Picture reefs blazing with color and sea life, palm trees rustling in the trade winds, dolphins playing offshore, a hammock strung in the shade– with you in it.
The motto of this island is “no shirt, no shoes, no problem”. Welcome to Ambergris Caye (pronounced “am-BER-gris key”).
Twenty-five miles long, its width ranging from a only few hundred feet to over four miles, Ambergris Caye is the largest of the 200-plus cayes (islands) located off the coast of Belize, a small Central American country formerly known as British Honduras. The island’s northern tip is separated from the southernmost tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula only by a narrow channel (called the “cut”).
Belize is the only country in Central or South America where English is the native language. And it is heaven for the adventurous, the ecologically-minded, the water and nature lovers.
The amazing coral reef system– the second largest in the world– that made Ambergris Caye famous among divers lies only half a mile east of the shoreline and runs the entire 25 mile length of the island. This makes it also extremely enticing for snorkeling– or you can take a glass-bottom boat ride to see its glory if you don’t feel like getting wet.
The major activities here– if you don’t count lazing the day away in a hammock with a good book– are water related. There is swimming, fishing, scuba, snorkeling, sailing, windsurfing, jet-skiing, parasailing– you name it, if it has to do with being in, on or over the water you can find it here.
Not all that water-oriented? Then how about nature hiking, bird-watching, bicycling or visiting a Mayan ruin site? With only a small part of Ambergris Caye being developed, there is an abundance of bird life to watch (over 200 species): egrets, herons, roseate spoonbills, flamingos, pelicans, cormorants, frigatebirds, white-eyed vireo, Yucatan vireo, great Kiskadee, chachalaca, cinnamon hummingbird, parakeets, black hawk, yellow-bellied elaenia, laughing falcon, white-collared seed-eater, golden-fronted woodpecker, black-headed salator, toucans and the hooded oriole… OK OK OK– you get the picture. Besides the birds you might seen margays, and ocelots have been in the northern part of Ambergris. There has even been an occasional jaguar.
About a mile north of San Pedro, the island’s only “real” town, an 80 foot channel, the San Pedro River, separates the southern part of Ambergris from the rest of the island. A ferry operates most days to take people back and forth across the river, and your chances of spotting exotic wildlife increases as you head north. You can arrange for a tour up here in the north if you like– who knows what kind of critter you might spot!
Alternatively, you can just spend your day relaxing in the sun, shelling, and combing the beach. Or you can take an excursion to the mainland and visit Mayan ruins, jungle streams and native woodcarvers’ primitive dwellings.
A day trip might include a river cruise, picnic lunch and visit to the Altun Ha ruin site in the Belize District; or a trip to the Cayo District for a visit to the Belize Zoo and a canoe trip down the river. Many different one, two or three day excursions are available, including trips to the famous Mayan ruins at Tikal in Guatemala.
San Pedro Town, with its sandy streets and come-as-you-are attitude, is located in the south part of Ambergris Caye. It’s about a mile long and only a few blocks wide and no buildings are taller than a coconut palm (three stories). The streets are great for walking around barefoot (no pavement) and the main modes of transportation are by foot, bicycle and the standard golf cart. Golf carts are available for rentals for traveling the island, which has about five miles of sand streets (there are only ten streets). There are no automobiles available for rental, and there are only about 25 taxis on the island (these are actual autos). Most of the activity in town is centered around the waterfront.
There are lots of restaurants specializing in fresh seafood (lobster and conch are plentiful and inexpensive when in season) and the Belizean national dish (spicy stewed chicken, served with a delicious rice and bean combination cooked with coconut juice.) There are also several bars available, and a couple of discos if you need to get in some fancy footing. And sometimes musicians from the mainland come to town for Saturday night beach parties, where everyone is invited; no-host bars are set up on the beach for these events.
A happy place to stay is at the Villas at Banyan Bay, an RCI-Gold Crown resort just south of town right on the beach. With over a thousand feet of beach front, the beach at Banyan Bay is one of the best beaches on the island. There are water sports activities on one area of the beach and another section of the beach is a little more private for the person who is looking for peace and tranquility. This being a family-oriented resort, it is a wonderful beach for the kids and they even have a salt water wading and snorkeling area for children. There is also a good pier from which you can swim.
The three-level pool has a large wading and play area exciting and safe for young children to play in. Children splash about, have loads of fun and never want to leave. The deep end is perfect for splashing and playing games with your older kids. Attendants also serve drinks and food at the poolside.
The onsite dive shop will take you on snorkeling tours, or their excellent dive instructors will get you certified to scuba dive if you want.
All rooms are two-bedroom units available with a king or queen size bed in the master and either a double or twins in the guest ?bedroom. All units come complete with a kitchen fully equipped with all the amenities you’ll ever need including, refrigerator, stove, microwave oven, flat ware, plates, cups, coffee maker, blender, pots and pans etc. In addition at your request they can stock your kitchen with essential food items and even have that case of beer chilled pending your arrival.
Each unit has a television in the living room. You will get over 90 channels including HBO, STARZ, CINEMAX, CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX NEWS, DISNEY, CARTOON CHANNEL and many more. That’s for if you can pull yourself away from everything else long enough to actually watch TV…
AND they have a full staff of in house certified Massage Therapists with a range of massages techniques and people to choose from. Nothing like a massage on the beach!
For those of you who have to be connected while on vacation, the resort has a full service internet station with several computers available in the lobby with high speed internet service for a minimal charge. Wireless is also available if you’ve brought your own laptop. Phone service is provided in each room but we suggest you keep your long distance calls to a minimum because phone service is expensive in Belize.
In short, this resort has everything you would expect at a Gold Crown property, and a vacation on enchanting Ambergis Caye will be memorable. Try it! You’ll have a good time!
--by InsideTheGate.com staff