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Ambergris Caye is a small island located in the Caribbean Sea, off the coast of mainland Belize. This once hidden gem is becoming more and more popular each year, and remains one of my favorite vacation destinations in the world. Ambergris Caye, Belize offers the perfect combination of relaxing, Caribbean vacation with adventurous once-in-a-lifetime activities.
Ambergris Caye has yet to reach the level of commercialization that you find on other Caribbean islands, instead offering a much more laid back, authentic experience to visitors. I have visited Ambergris Caye the past two years in a row and would absolutely live there if I could. Read on for your ultimate guide to Ambergris Caye, Belize.
How to Get to Ambergris Caye, Belize
Getting to Ambergris Caye can be a bit of a trek, but it is absolutely worth every mile/minute/penny. Once you see the bright, glittering, turquoise water of the Caribbean Sea, you will forget all about any travel woes!
First, you will need to fly into Belize International Aiport (BZE), which is located on Belize’s mainland in Belize City. Southwest, Delta, American, and United Airlines all fly into Belize City. From Belize City, you will continue to Ambergris Caye, which is a relatively small island located 35 miles east of mainland Belize. There are two options for getting there, and depending on your budget, you can either fly or take a boat known as the water taxi. Both options have pros and cons, and the decision you make will likely come down to whether you want to spend more time or money.
Flying to Ambergris Caye
Flying is the easiest and quickest way to get to Ambergris Caye. The flight only takes 15 minutes via a small Cessna plane that holds around 10 people. There are great ocean views the entire flight since the cruising altitude is only around 1,800 feet. Last time I took this flight, I saw a manatee swimming in the water below!
Once you land at Belize International Airport, proceed through customs and security to access the Domestic Flights area of the airport. A representative from your airline (Tropic or Maya) will be there to assist you in getting your bags checked and making sure you know when your flight is boarding.
You can book your flight online at either airline’s website. I recommend checking both airlines to see where you can find the cheapest fare. Give yourself approximately an hour and a half between the time your international flight is scheduled to land and when the flight to Ambergris Caye is scheduled to take off. This will ensure you have enough time to get through customs and security at BZE.
Roundtrip flights on either airline range between $100-200 per person. The price fluctuates based on the season and time of day. Booking farther in advance will help you get the lowest possible price.
I have flown both Tropic Air and Maya Island Air and found no real difference between the two. The planes were identical inside, the gate attendants were friendly and helpful, and the prices were comparable. Both of their airport terminals are located in downtown San Pedro right next door to each other. Maya Island Air just opened a brand new terminal with a very nice interior full of mahogany and chandeliers. The downstairs boarding area has outlets available and plenty of comfortable seating. They also have an upstairs “VIP Lounge” which features table seating, a full bar, and a cafe.
While the Tropic Air terminal did not offer those amenities, it was still perfectly fine. Chances are, you won’t be waiting there long enough to have much use of the nicer amenities, anyway. The airport is so small that you can’t even check in more than 30 minutes prior to your flight departure!
Taking the Water Taxi to Ambergris Caye
My first time in Belize, I chose to take the water taxi to Ambergris Caye simply because it was much more affordable than it was to fly. Rather than paying $100-200 per person, the water taxi is a much more budget-friendly option at $35 roundtrip, per person! This is a great value, but it does come with some downsides.
Exit the airport to the street to hail a regular taxi for transportation to the water taxi terminal. Once you walk outside, taxis will be waiting to take you. The price is fixed at $25 USD or $50 BZD, so make sure you have enough cash on hand for this. Without traffic, the trip takes around 20 minutes but can take up to 45 minutes if there is traffic, so plan accordingly.
You can purchase your water taxi ticket ahead of time online or just buy it in person once you arrive. There are departures throughout the afternoon (usually leaving every 1 to 1.5 hours) but you may have to wait around a bit. There are basic snacks and drinks available for purchase inside the terminal along with plenty of seating. I don’t recommend leaving the terminal to walk around the neighborhood as it isn’t the nicest and there’s really nothing to see or do.
Once you get on the boat, settle in for a 1.5 hour journey to Ambergris Caye.
Between taking the taxi, waiting for the boat, and then making the actual sailing, it could be 3 hours between landing in Belize City and arriving on Ambergris Caye. It’s a very affordable option, but it’s important to consider how much time you will lose. For a one week trip, I definitely recommend flying. If you’re backpacking or are otherwise in no hurry, the boat is probably the best option. Also, make sure you buy roundtrip tickets rather than two one-ways, as you get a discount this way.
Getting Around Ambergris Caye
There are two forms of motorized transportation on Ambergris Caye: golf carts and boats. The only vehicles you will see are overpriced taxis or airport shuttles ran by the resorts. For locals and tourists alike, golf carts are the way to go when you need to get around town.
You can rent a golf cart from your resort’s front desk. Depending on your needs, you can reserve one for your entire trip or just grab one as needed – by the day or half day. Prices range from $40 USD for 4 hours to $100 USD for 24 hours, including all gas you will need. The golf carts are very simple to drive and give you plenty of flexibility because you go can go wherever, whenever without having to rely on a schedule.
The only town on Ambergris Caye, San Pedro, is very walkable due to its small size. Although there are a few smaller hotels located right in town, most of the resorts are located “north of the bridge” and will require transportation. There is only one road leading north out of town, so it’s impossible to get lost. The road is paved for the first few miles and then becomes a very bumpy dirt road. Many gorgeous resorts are located along the dirt road, so don’t let it deter you. Just watch out for pot holes in the golf cart and you will be just fine!
Another option for getting between your resort and the town is to take the Coastal XPress boat, which makes scheduled stops at the resort docks along the road north, bringing people to and from town. The boat runs every two hours or so with a final run at 8:00pm. If you are planning to stay in town later than this, you will need a golf cart. You can purchase tickets for the boat at their dock terminal, located in town. Your resort may offer cheaper tickets when purchased at the front desk, so be sure to ask about that.
Where to Stay on Ambergris Caye
San Pedro and South of Town
Ambergris Caye is 25 miles long and just 1 mile wide, so everything is laid out in a north-south orientation based around the town of San Pedro. South of town you will find smaller guesthouses and hotels mixed in with houses and shops frequented by locals. The south side of town is much more residential.
Located next door to the Blue Water Grill, a restaurant full of delicious island cuisine, this cute hotel is in a great spot in town. The large, central pool offers great ocean views and plenty of seating options. This hotel is located directly in town, so you can easily walk to anywhere you need to go and forgo more expensive transportation costs.
The rooms are fairly simple but clean and stocked with everything you need.
Rates currently start at $199 per night.
For the budget traveler or backpacker, this is the place to be. The Sandbar Hostel is located right on the beach in front of two of my favorite places: Palapa Bar and the dock for Island Dream Tours! This highly-rated hostel offers private rooms and dormitory style rooms. There is an on-site restaurant and a very popular bar which always seems to be full of people. You will need to book as far in advance as possible in order to secure a room here.
Rates currently start at $18 per night for a bed in a dormitory.
North of San Pedro
On the north end of San Pedro, there is a small bridge which costs $5 USD roundtrip to cross and must be paid in cash. Pedestrians and bicycles are exempt from the tax. If you stay north of the bridge and plan to take a golf cart into town, you will have to pay the toll each time you cross. Although it’s not a huge expense, it’s something to keep in mind when deciding where to stay.
The road north is lined with resorts, beach houses, and condos for several miles on the Caribbean (east) side. There are options for every budget and style of traveler, and everything seems to be well-kept and modern.
I have personally stayed at this resort for the past two years in a row — the first time for my honeymoon and more recently just for a relaxing getaway. I LOVE this peaceful, adults only resort (the only one on the island) and highly recommend it. I wrote a full review of the resort, which you can read by clicking here.
Costa Blu is located 6.5 miles north from San Pedro, so it takes about 30 minutes to get into town via golf cart or 20 minutes via the Coastal XPress. This is a small resort with about 30 rooms total, and they are all the same: 600+ sq ft rooms with expansive decks, ocean views, and a King bed.
The star amenity of Costa Blu is their gorgeous pool which overlooks the ocean. The pool is huge for such a small resort with more chairs than I have ever seen filled, even during the busiest week of the year (Christmas). The pool has 2 levels plus a separate heated area with a swim-up bar.
Costa Blu also has one of the best stretches of beach right in front of the resort. There are hammocks strung between coconut trees, a volleyball net, and cornhole games set up. You can walk right down to the water to watch colorful fish flit about in the water or search for a crab in the rocks.
Costa Blu is perfect for a romantic and relaxing couple’s vacation. It can be a bit of a hassle to plan and pay for transportation into town every day, so this resort is best for those looking to spend their days lounging by the pool with a drink in hand.
Rates currently start at $127 per night.
Ak’Bol Yoga Resort
Ak’Bol is an eco-friendly yoga resort located one mile north of the bridge. This unique accommodation offers twice daily yoga classes in a palapa right on the beach. I love the idea of starting each day on vacation with yoga! The classes are not included with the regular room reservations, but would make such an easy add-on activity.
The classes are also available on a drop-in basis ($15 per class) to anyone not staying at the resort. Check out their website for the upcoming schedule!
Rates currently start at $115 per night. For budget travelers, there is an option for a private room with a shared bath for just $35 per night!
Belizean Shores is a family-friendly resort located 3.5 miles north of San Pedro and is right along the beachfront. This resort offers one bedroom suites or a one bedroom plus separate loft area, making it a great choice for couples and families alike.
Complimentary kayaks and stand-up paddle boards are available for all guests. A large pool is available with a lovely swim-up bar, in addition to hammocks along the beach, a tennis court, and a basketball court.
Rates currently start at $157 per night.
Restaurants and Nightlife on Ambergris Caye
The Truck Stop
Located one mile north of the bridge, this is one of the most fun spots in San Pedro. This bar/restaurant offers food-truck-style eateries created out of transformed shipping containers and the food is SO. GOOD. They offer a pizza shop, an ice cream stand, a South American food truck, and an Asian food spot. I had the pad thai and my husband ordered a pepperoni pizza last time we were here, and both were fantastic. I also spotted some tacos that I want to try next time.
The bar is fun and friendly and the bartenders provide excellent service. There’s tons of seating available and even a gorgeous pool in the back which you might miss if you don’t go looking for it. One of the most fun aspects of the Truck Stop is their themed events. Check out their Facebook page to see what’s coming up for the week you will be in town — their rotating events include family-friendly movie nights on a huge projector screen, trivia night (I did this one and came in at a measly 19th place), and Family Feud. They also do a pig roast every Sunday with a pool party. Their events are so much fun that it wouldn’t be unreasonable to attend more than one during a trip.
If you ask a local for a restaurant recommendation, at least 50% of the time they will point you to El Fogon. This traditional Belizean restaurant is located right in San Pedro (near the Tropic Air terminal) and is one of the highest-rated restaurants in town.
They cook their food with a fire hearth, a traditional Belizean style of cooking that is held in high regard. This is a great place to learn more about the Belizean culture! Their menu changes daily and is listed on a chalkboard inside, but common items include lobster, blackened seafood, stew chicken, and some of the best conch fritters you will ever have.
The Hungry Grouper
This is a true hidden gem that I am so lucky I found on my last trip to Belize. Tucked away on Back Street, in an area of town full of locals, is an open-air restaurant with sandy floors. If you like seafood, you must try the Surf n Surf special. I saw this menu item listed in several reviews before I visited and am so glad I decided to order it. You get a spiced, blackened snapper filet topped with creamy shrimp and a side of coconut rice for $26 USD. It was the best meal I had on my entire trip! Other menu items that piqued my interest were jerk chicken, coconut cream shrimp, and garlic butter lobster. I’m drooling just thinking about it.
Prices were higher than I anticipated for a tiny, local joint but it was well worth it for the high quality seafood I was served. The owner is very friendly and takes a lot of pride in his restaurant. This restaurant is strictly cash-only, so please keep that in mind before arriving.
Estel’s Dine by the Sea
Far and away the best breakfast spot on the island, Estel’s is beloved by locals and tourists alike. Estel’s sits beachfront on the corner of a building and its open-air style offers ocean views from anywhere you sit. This is one of the only places in San Pedro where you might have to wait a few minutes for a table, but it’s worth it. Their menu is listed on a huge black chalkboard and everything is very reasonably priced – breakfast for two will run you about $15 USD. There are traditional Belizean and American breakfast options, plus seafood, sandwiches, and burgers for later in the day.
One thing you must try here are the fry jacks – large pieces of puffy, fried dough that you can add jam, honey, or even breakfast meats to create a delicious Belizean breakfast. Healthy, no. Delicious, YES.
Palapa Bar is one of my favorite places on Ambergris Caye. This huge, over-the-water bar is so much fun, especially on a nice sunny day. They have a fairly large menu and there is truly something for everyone here. I am a huge fan of their conch fritters and the fried snapper with coconut rice. Belikins are $6 USD here, which is actually less than many bars in town.
One of the best things to do here is to head out to the dock beyond the bar and either lay out to enjoy the sunshine, or get in the water and float around in an inner tube. The staff will lower down buckets of beer to you via a rope system, so you never have to leave your spot to keep the drinks flowing. Nurse sharks, spotted eagle rays, tarpon, barricuda, and other fish all frequent the area and will swim around beneath you. It’s magical and exciting and fun. Oh, and safe. There’s nothing to worry about with these creatures.
Things to Do on Ambergris Caye
Diving and Snorkeling
Belize is widely considered to have some of the very best snorkeling in the world, and it’s one of the main reasons tourists visit Ambergris Caye. Snorkel and dive shops line the beach in San Pedro and most resorts either have their own dive shop or partner with a local shop to offer tours right from the resort dock.
The world’s second largest coral reef runs along the eastern edge of Ambergris Caye, just 25 miles off shore. You can easily see the waves breaking along the reef from anywhere along the beach. This makes the actual beach calm and crystal-clear without any waves at the shore.
Common sightings include nurse sharks, sea turtles, eagle rays, and an array of colorful, tropical fish.
I highly recommend doing a full-day snorkeling excursion with Island Dream Tours. You will go to the two best snorkel locations plus either a trip to Caye Caulker or a sandbar in the middle of the sea to hang out and drink. They also serve food onboard (included with your ticket) that was excellent. We were served jerk chicken and fresh ceviche on our tour.
Hol Chan is located at a break in the reef and offers great visibility and tons of marine life. The coral is plentiful and bright and you will see tons of marine life here. I was lucky enough to see a bright orange starfish, sea turtle, and an eel here! Shark-Ray Alley is a must-see destination for snorkeling. Nurse sharks and huge manta rays will surround you in the water, making for an absolutely surreal experience to see these creatures up close.
Day Trips to Mainland Belize
Resorts and excursion companies throughout San Pedro offer day trips to the Belize mainland for some adventurous and exhilarating activities.
There are several to choose from, but one of the most popular is known as Lamanai. This word means “submerged crocodile” in the Yucatec Mayan language. Lamanai is one of the largest Mayan sites in Central America and was the longest continually occupied site. You will reach your destination by taking a plane to the mainland and then a canoe ride up the New River until you reach the ruins. Explore temple ruins and the surrounding jungle during your trip.
Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave
The Actun Tunichil Muknal, which means “Cave of the Stone Sepulcher” in Mayan, is one of the coolest things you will ever experience. The cave features the fully in-tact skeleton of a girl who was sacrificed to the Mayan gods (and it SPARKLES), along with ceramics, pottery, and other Mayan relics. This is a challenging adventure not for the faint of heart, but it will leave you feeling like the most badass, Indiana Jones version of yourself you never knew existed.
To enter the cave, you will first have to do an easy hike through the jungle, and then swim through a shallow pool that surrounds the entrance to the cave. Once inside, you will make your way through the caverns and will at times walk through rivers, squeeze through boulders, and climb up ledges. This day trip absolutely requires a level of physical fitness and mental strength, but you will be rewarded with an experience unlike any other in the world.
My friend Ashley from My Wanderlusty Life wrote a great (and hilarious!) post about her experience with the ATM Cave in Belize.
Grab your golf cart and get ready for a bumpy ride! Despite not quite being a secret anymore, the so-called Secret Beach is definitely worth a few hours of your time while in Belize.
Drive up the road north for about four miles until you come to an option to turn down a long road west. There are tons of signs at this intersection and you can’t miss it. You will head west for about three more miles, with signs along the way to guide you. Secret Beach is located at the end of the road, so you will not get lost.
There are a few docks with palapas to sit under as well as bars and restaurants along the beach for Belikins and snacks. There are plenty of chairs in the sand as well, but I recommend visiting on a weekday rather than a weekend, and definitely not during a local holiday as it can get quite crowded with tourists and locals alike.
The water at Secret Beach is calm, cool, and crystal clear. It’s perfect for wading out as the water does not get high for quite a ways.
Day Trip to Caye Caulker
Caye Caulker is a perfect day trip from Ambergris Caye. Everything on the tiny island is within walking distance, and with a motto like “Go Slow”, you can’t help but relax! Take the water taxi or book a five minute flight from San Pedro via Maya Island Air or Tropic Air. The water taxi is cheaper and only takes about 30 minutes.
Once you make it to Caye Caulker, take a deep breath and let yourself wander a bit. There’s no need to rush or set a planned itinerary — you can rent bikes to explore the picturesque island, grab a cheap lunch from one of many street food vendors, or sit along the beach.
For a cheap and entertaining activity, head to the lagoon side of the island to find Purnell’s Property. Purchase a big bag of sardines for $5bzd and head out to the pier. Just below you in the water, you will find a hundred or so giant tarpon swimming around. These fish grow up to 80 lbs each and will show off for you by leaping out of the water to catch the sardines you throw. If you’re brave enough, you can even hop in the water to swim with the tarpon. They’re perfectly harmless! Whether from the water or above it, it’s exciting to see so many huge fish all in one place.
The highlight of your day on Caye Caulker will probably be your time spent at the Lazy Lizard, the most well-known establishment on the island. It’s a bar/restaurant/adult playground right on the beach and it’s tons of fun. A bucket full of Belikin beers will run you $25bzd. They have a simple food menu along with margaritas and cocktails. With plenty of seating both under the cover and out on the beach, you’re sure to find the perfect spot to hang out for the afternoon. The Lazy Lizard is frequented by backpackers and young travelers and is a great place to meet people, too.
See the Blue Hole
The Blue Hole is one of the most iconic scenes of Belize and seeing it is worth adding to your bucket list. While you can dive the Blue Hole a la Jacques Cousteau, the best view is from the air. Book a charter with one of the local airlines and they will fly you over and around the most gorgeous spot in the ocean. It’s definitely expensive, but if the trip is in your budget, you won’t be disappointed. Charters currently run approximately $215 per person for a one hour tour.
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