It occurs to me that perhaps a lot of people do not know anything about where we currently are. That what you have heard of Belize is the mainland and a city rife with crime where no one should ever be staying. Or perhaps you have never heard of it at all? I certainly had never heard of it until our good friends the Kings told us of how they lived here. When I heard their stories I knew I had to come.
Anyway we are not on the mainland of Belize we are in the (only) town of San Pedro on the largest island of Belize called Ambergris Caye, located in Central America. This town has a population of about 13,381 and it seems everyone knows everyone. The island is roughly 40 km long north to south and about 1.6 km wide (tiny, right?)
There is little Spanish spoken here. Most people speak English. My guess is that is influenced a lot by the amount of expats in the community as well as US tourism. The major tourism is divers as Ambergris Caye holds the second largest barrier reef after our one in Australia. My husband tells me it's actually because it's a British colony, I can't see anything British about it... What Brit eats beans and rice? :D
The Belize Dollar is pegged to the US at $2BZ to $1US. It's been that way for decades. Most places accept US dollars or Belize dollars. The bigger hotel restaurants also accept credit card. The Atlantic Bank in town will give out more money then the Scotia Bank, which only allows you to get out $250US at one time. Tour companies will accept creditcard, but you get better discounts if you pay in cash.
Everyone drives a golf cart
Golf carts are the island’s primary mode of transport. There are a few taxi vans for luggage transport, but apparently there is an 80% tax on cars so they are not overly popular. A golf cart is really all that is needed considering the length of the island and width of the roads. We were very generously donated an electric car from another travelling family and the novelty still hasn’t worn off.
Everyday we are excited to drive around in the golf cart, especially near the bridge where you can drive along the beach in the setting sun, I mean honestly, does it sound any better?
The airport is in the middle of town, I drive past it everyday - it's tiny. The only other form of transport is boat; a lot of people use a boat to get around too. Oh and bicycles. Bicycles are some times faster then golf cart and we enjoyed 2 days of bike riding when we first arrived.
The town only has three main roads, well not really main, just three roads. First Street, Middle Street and Back Street. There is not much in the way of street signs, letterboxes, etc. Front Street is on the beach and most of the restaurants are located there.
Food, glorious food
There is no McDonalds, Hungry Jacks (Burger King), etc. Just beach bars & restaurants. The only fast food is Chinese and it’s not really Chinese, as we know it and it’s not really fast. There are a few bakeries with strange coconut pies, fried jacks and other local delicacies. There are also a few small supermarkets which sell processed products for huge prices. A bag of chips (crisps) or pretzels $5, pasta sauce $5, 2 litres ice cream $20, etc. You can buy meat separately and fruit and veg are sold in tiny markets dotted along the roads. Fresh produce can also be expensive as most items are imported. Bananas and pineapples are very cheap, but an apple will set you back over $1.25 per piece. There is not much fresh milk, only UHT so ice cream & milkshakes are rare and expensive.
The food is mainly Mexican influence with rice and beans a typical meal, but without the spice. Restaurants are fairly expensive, like Perth Australia prices and generally set us back between $30 - $50 for the 4 of us. Supermarket shopping is just as expensive and I really miss being able to buy salad and vegetables. There are a number of great restaurants we have found on the beach with help from local bloggers and friendly chatterboxes in the bars. I’ll do separate posts on those once we finish eating our way through the island. :)
Everybody seems to know everyone here. You meet one person who knows one person who knows the other person. We have attended a local church called Sagebrush.cc just across the bridge leading to the North of the island. They meet at Paradise Theatre, which apparently was a cinema, but the projector has broken so is currently closed. We have met so many people at this Church just in the shops and through our housing complex that all ended up at this Albuquerque satellite church. Funny to be in a US Church on Belize singing Hillsong Australian music. Kids are loving playing with all the other kids and it’s nice to get to know half the island haha.
What else would you like to know?
Internet - slow & expensive
We spend most of our days at the beach, or in the pool. There’s no shopping or movies here. But we do have American cable TV and Internet. Speaking of Internet it’s real expensive here. The bottom plan for 128K speeds is $13 per month. If you want the highest 8Mb speed then prepare to pay upto $350 per month! CRAZY!
Not only will you pay that much for Internet, but the telephone company has a monopoly on the island and has banned Skype. They don’t want you making free phonecalls out of the country and insist you use their paid system. Of course there are so many ways around that these days with VPNs, facetime and facebook video.
There are so many places to stay on the island. If you are coming for a holiday then I would highly recommend Xanadu. It was a luscious piece of paradise that we will never forget.
If you are seeking more long term then have you plenty of choices from south like Royal Palms or north like Grand Caribe. We chose south and ended up at Ambergris Lake Villas.
Set on a lake complete with it’s own crocodiles, we also have full views of the ocean from all 4 balconies. The property has a pool too – all three water features and my first week I get swimmers ear and haven’t used any. Well, I don’t plan on using the lake with our friendly croc in there either.
After much negotiation we managed to a rate of $150 per night for the 2 weeks we are here (+ ridiculous 9% hotel tax). That is expensive. This is the most we have spent on any place in our travels. However there are several things to consider before you go "why, Erin, why?" A). It is high season. Out of the 7 – 10 places I called once we arrived to find a place everything was booked. When it is cold in the US they all come here for the hot weather B). It is a tropical island, can’t expect too many cheap prices.
There are several backpacker destinations on Ambergris Caye & Caye Caulker (the nearby island), but our style is not backpackerish, especially with children. We have a set of things we need when looking for a place & this place ticked all those boxes for a great price considering the rest of the prices we were quoted.
What to do
The island has plenty of water activities for those seeking more then beach and pools. We recently did a trip to Lamanai to see Mayan ruins, which was a massive full day adventure.
This week we have also organised a tour to Hol Chan Marine Reserve for some spectacular snorkelling, followed by a shark and ray encounter at Shark Ray Alley and then the rest of the day in Ambergris Cayes quaint sister island Caye Caulker. I’ll tell you all about it once I’ve done it.
Also nearby is the Blue Hole. We haven’t decided whether to do that yet, but that is this large sinkhole in the middle of the ocean. It looks simply stunning. People go for diving or fly over it for those classic once in a lifetime pictures.
After writing this I too have learnt all about San Pedro. The lifestyle is so laid back and relaxing here. The beaches are white and that beautiful blue water is great to gaze at. If you ever get a chance to visit this glamorous island, do it. I don’t know if I could live here like a lot of the other expats, food is pretty important to me and Josh is seriously missing ice-cream, but for a great holiday and relaxing to the max come to Ambergris Caye you won’t be disappointed.