Ambergris Caye Belize

The island of Ambergris Caye is the largest of the hundreds of islands in Belize, located in the northern part of the country. The only town on the island, San Pedro, has a population of only around 7,000 inhabitants.

Belize, which used to be a part of British Honduras, is a democratic nation. The official language is English, though Creole, Garifuna, Mayan, and Spanish are also spoken.

Named after the large amounts of ambergris (gray amber made by sperm whales’ digestive systems) that collects in the area, Abergris Caye is about thirty-six miles long. Caye comes from the Spanish word cayo that means island.

The island was supposedly once attached to the Yucatan Peninsula, but as legend has it, over 1,500 years ago, the Mayans separated the island from the mainland by tunneling a trench between the two. It is now the only detached part of the peninsula. The Mayans produced red ceramics in this area. Tourists can visit the Mayan ruin, Ambergris Caye villas.

Ambergris Caye’s largest industries used to be fishing and coconuts; however, over the last 30 years, the island has become a hub for tourism.

Most tourists visit Ambergris Caye for the Belize Barrier Reef, one of the largest in the world—second only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The reef is 190 miles long and almost touches the mainland at the northernmost part of the island, called Mexico Rocks. Scuba divers travel from around the world to get a glimpse of such a natural wonder, hoping to view tropical fish, turtles, sharks, and sting rays. Some consider this part of the Caribbean to be the diving capital of the world. Dozens of diving tours leave the beaches and head to the barrier reef every day.

Other activities include white sand beaches, skydiving, mangrove forests, and exotic lagoons and savannahs. The San Pedro Lagoon flows out to the Caribbean through a saltwater river.

The melting pot of cultures on Ambergris Caye attributes to the island’s dining scene. The Island Bazaar has local cuisine, featuring Spanish and Italian dishes. The island has three main seasons for fishing: the season to catch conch falls October through June, while shrimp are caught June to August. July to February is lobster season, and many visitors come to the island just to get a taste of the succulent crustacean.

Since the 1970s, developers have been moving in to Ambergris Caye. Concrete boardwalks have replaced beaches, and the colorful buildings have begun to be replaced by posh hotels and tourist apartments. Souvenir shops are as ubiquitous as the multitude of golf carts that zip around the island’s shores. Many of the buildings by the beach still have the thatched roofs that Ambergris Caye is known for.

Reaching Ambergris Caye is relatively simple. From the mainland, the island is only a 15-minute plane ride. There are also several water taxis that ferry visitors to and from the island, and the ride is only 45-minutes but could take up to two hours.

The small size of the island makes it difficult to navigate with a car, which is why the primary mode of transportation is by golf cart. Many of the roads on Ambergris Caye are not paved, which makes travel even more difficult. Most residents choose to walk, especially since most of the hotels on the islands are less than a mile from San Pedro.

The island’s nickname is “La Isla Bonita” and came from the popular Madonna song of the same name. Islands Magazine named Ambergris Caye one of the, “Top 10 islands across the world that are most desirable to call home.”


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