Is Ambergris Caye tops? You’d better Belize it!


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Published: August 31st 2022
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Note: This is a rerun of a previous blog published a week ago that had formatting problems and to which I was unable to add any photos. Many thanks to Ali for resolving both problems and restoring my faith in the TB platform!

So, here we are ‘back on the horse’ of international travel again after a frustrating three year hiatus. Joan and I have just completed three weeks with the grandkids in Virginia/Washington DC, with a number of visits to the latter, but I haven’t bothered to post a blog about it as no one wants to see pics of the White House, apart from Donald Trump, who wants to live there again!

Now the six of us, three generations in Damon & Sarah, Elliott & Layla, Joan & myself have ventured over to Belize for a 10 day break. Our flights from Dulles to Belize City via Houston were fortunately uneventful and we in fact arrived 30 minutes early on both flights. That time was wasted on arrival BC however as it took Immigration there over half an hour to set themselves up. The good news was that we were issued free visas on arrival, contrary to the advice of United Airways that it was a USD50 charge each for Aussies.

First stop was 5 days at San Pedro on the island of Ambergris Caye (pronounced ‘key’), a 90 minute water-taxi trip from Belize City. The island is around 40km long but not very wide, so apart from in San Pedro, there is only one road the length of the island. Virtually all transport on the island takes the form of golf carts (literally hundreds of them), and they must have pretty rugged suspensions as once you are out of San Pedro, the roads are dirt and heavily pot-holed, with the surrounds mainly marshlands and mangroves. We have been amazed at how many people were building new shacks in this most inhospitable environment, so they must be banking on a future real estate boom!

The main attraction on the island is the barrier reef, just a short distance offshore (5 minutes by speedboat) and second in size only to our own Great Barrier Reef in Queensland. We visited the two main outlets there, Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley. We did around an hours snorkelling at the former, taking in a wide range of coral formations, along with sea turtles, rays, and a multitude of tropical fish. The latter location was a bit more for show, with our guide throwing into the water some feed (called 'chum') which was immediately set upon by a frenzy of a couple of dozen nurse sharks, most of them around a metre or so long. We had an added bonus with a frigate bird wanting to compete for the scraps too and dive bombing us every time some chum went in the water. We were also able to snorkel there briefly but obviously had to give the shark pack some space.

You would think that on an island in the Caribbean you’d be spoilt for choices on beaches. But in fact there is hardly any sand on the island as in most cases the water comes right up to the built up areas and in any case it is very shallow and generally full of sea grass. So it is no wonder that the (not so) Secret Beach attracts huge crowds of tourists, despite the need to drive your golf cart for over 45 minutes along the potholed road through the swamps and mangroves mentioned earlier. As well as having some sand, the water there was free from sea grass and very shallow, making it easy to avoid the heat of the day. Complete with restaurants, bars, table settings in the water, and loud music, it has all the similarities with an oasis in the desert.

There were certainly no shortage of eating options on the island. One of our favourites was the Truck Stop, which contained five stationary food trucks serving up a range of cuisines, including pizza and ice cream, as well as the requisite bar. Out the back was a deck overlooking a lagoon and a swimming pool was available for customers too. Speaking of food, I reckon I had one of the best meals I’ve ever had at a local restaurant called the Black Orchid. So good was their Seafood Alfredo that I had it for three of the four nights we were there!

Almost every tourist destination has an attraction they can claim as their own. In the case of San Pedro, it is their Chicken Drop that has become something of a tradition. In this game, a sectioned-off area is divided into 100 squares and spectators can place bets on any of the squares. A chicken is then shaken up and dropped into the square and wherever it drops it’s first poop takes the jackpot. Not quite as gruesome as cockfights, but I’m sure it’s not for everyone.

Our final visit in San Pedro was to the Iguana Eco Center. This place is a refuge that provides safe haven for these endangered reptiles that are still hunted in Belize and can even end up on dinner plates. While we see plenty of the smaller version of lizards and goanna back home, the size and colour of some of the iguanas we saw was quite amazing. A number of them were up to a metre long with spikes up their backs, and there was a colour range from brown to green and even orange.

Just a final comment as we take our leave from Ambergris Caye. Joan and I had both thought that Belize would not be dissimilar to Bermuda, where we had our last big family holiday three years ago. But outside of the strictly touristy areas, Belize is still very much the developing country. The standard of living is still very low and the waste management practices are very poor, with rubbish strewn beside the roads once you move out of the centre of San Pedro. That is not meant as a criticism as the country clearly has its own unique culture and the locals are incredibly friendly and hospitable, so we are certainly looking forward to the next phase of our visit in the rain forest close to the Guatemalan border.


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