Caye is the name of Belize's largest island. The history of the island goes back to the days of the Maya, European Pirates, and Mexican Refugees who fled during the Caste War. The descendants from Mexico make up most of the island's population today. The economy of the island was once dependent on the coconut industry, followed by the fishing industry, but it is now dependent on tourism.
Click here for a colorful two page (166k) Adobe Acrobat brochure on the island.
Ambergris Caye (pronounced Am-BUR-gris or Am-BUR-grease Key) is the largest of some 200 cayes that dot the coastline of Belize. Ambergris is 25 miles long and a little over a mile wide, in some places, and it is located in the clear shallow waters of the Caribbean Sea just off the tip of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.
Her coastline is protected by the 190 miles long Barrier Reef, the second largest living coral reef in the world. In Mayan times, Ambergris Caye was a trading post. The Marco Gonzalez ruins at the southern tip of the caye and the Basil Jones site to the north, as well as the many recently excavated "home sites" in the heart of San Pedro Town give evidence to a former Maya population of 10,000. The narrow channel that separates Mexico and Belize was dug by the Maya to provide a trade route from the bay of Chetumal to the Caribbean.
Following the Maya came the whalers and buccaneers and the ancestors of present day residents who were fishermen and workers in the coconut plantations. Today tourism has replaced fishing as the major source of income for the islanders although the mahogany skiffs are still in service for charter fishing and diving.
San Pedro Town is the only inhabited area on the island. It's atmosphere is that of a small bustling, fishing village but with "hot spots" of events, restaurants, and entertainment.
The town is clustered with wooden houses, some with Mexican decor, others Caribbean, and some still remain with the English colonial architecture. Gift shops, boutiques, bars, cafes, and restaurants adorn Front And Middle streets (now named Barrier Reef Drive/Pescador Drive). A short walk in town and you'll feel the friendliness of the people and witness the ease of their lifestyles as they go through daily life. Barefeet, tee-shirts, and shorts is the typical island dress code.
The people of the island are called "Sanpedranos" and speak English, Spanish, Creole, and Maya all at the same time, making it their own island dialect. They are proud of their heritage and are willing to share it with tourists. Before tourism picked up in the eighties, the islanders were mostly Mestizos (Maya-Spanish). Today they share their island with the Creole, Maya, Central American refugees, and Americans that have made San Pedro their new home. To see the many faces of the island, see the Kay Scott FACES & PLACES OF SAN PEDRO online photo gallery.
The island's biggest tourist attraction is the Belize Barrier Reef that runs parallel along the entire coast of Belize. The reef is only a quarter mile from the beach of Ambergris Caye making diving easily accessible. The island's seaside is jammed with jetties and dive shops which offer trips to the different dive sites and to the Great Blue Hole. There are also certified scuba lessons in NAUI, PADI, and SSI. One of the most popular dive sites is the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, which is only a ten-minute boat ride from town. The reef's beauty and richness has put Belize among the top ten dive destinations in the world.
The evenings on the island are a social event. You will find tourists and islanders at different bars and restaurants listening to reggae and latin music and sharing the day's adventures. For those that like to take a day off from diving, the travel agencies in town arrange day tours
(click here) to the Maya archeological sites and Belize's lush rain forest. For those who just want to relax, a day on the sandy beach will certainly do.
When planning your next vacation to one of those exotic islands that offer everything but crowds, remember my name is . . . . . Ambergris Caye!
Geology, Plant and Animal Life
Ambergris Caye was once a part of Mexico and therefore its wildlife is vastly similar to that found in northern Belize and southern Mexico. Plant life for the most part consists of White, Red and Black Mangrove, Buttonwood; littoral forest plants such as black poison wood, red and white gumbo limbo, sapodilla, ziricote, wild sea grape, fig,copal, coco plum, coconut, saltwater palmetto, and several small shrubs.
Fauna include over 200 species of birds including endangered birds such as the black cat bird. Common sightings include the white-eyed vireo, Yucatan vireo, common tody flycatcher, great Kiskadee, black and gray catbird bird, chachalaca, cinnamon hummingbird, parakeets, black hawk, yellow-bellied elaenia, laughing falcon, white-collared seed-eater, golden-fronted woodpecker, black-headed salator, blue herons, egret birds, roseate spoonbill and the hooded oriole.
Less frequent visitors to the Caye include green-breasted mango hummingbirds, yellow-backed oriole eastern kingbirds, scarlet and summer tanagers, regal white-crowned pigeons and the rose-throated becard.
The northern end of Ambergris Caye is also home to many other terrestrial wildlife such as peccaries, racoons and white-tailed deer. Some locals have even reported seeing jaguars!
For more on the plants and animals of the island, see the Ambergris Caye Field Guide and our column "Caribbean Critters".
Ambergris Caye is a food lovers paradise. Local cuisine is abundant featuring the Belizean favorite of rice and beans, stewed chicken and potato salad. Local foods are influenced by the Spanish and Mexicans with dishes such as Chimole, Escabeche, Panades, Salbutes, Garnaches, Tacos, Bollos, Tamalitos, Tamales and Burritos.
Of course Seafood is a common delight, with feasts of succulent lobster, conch, and a delicious array of fish, squid, mussels, scallops and even shark. Most restaurants specialize in seafood dishes, however, lobster and conch are seasonal so be sure to check what is in season before ordering.
Added to this array are the exquisite taste of seasonal tropical fruits such as pineapples, bananas, star fruit,cantaloupe, soursap, water melons, oranges, grapefruits,tangerines, may plums, figs, blackberry, mangoes, craboo, and much more.
Or, if you're in the mood for something different there are several restaurants that feature European, Cajun, Indian, Chinese, and Jamaican cuisine.
Ambergris Caye has many small settlements on the north and south of the main town, San Pedro. People who acquire land on Ambergris Caye and make it their home tend to give names to their pieces of paradise and as more people move into the area the names are often adapted by all. Each area has its unique features that both visitors and locals have come to love and enjoy.
San Pedro Town
Saint Peter Town - the only town on the island of Ambergris Caye is about one and a half-miles long and in some places about a mile wide. This is home to the majority of the island's population as well as a majority of the restaurants, bars, clubs and hotels on the island. Visitors will most likely find what they need within walking distance.
North of San Pedro
San Juan or St. John, is a community located directly north of the center of San Pedro Town. The area is home to majority of the work force on San Pedro and has its own unique mixture of people from all over Belize, Central America, North America and even Europe. The Zaak Ba Ajo Lagoon is a great spot to snorkel, boasting unique aquatic life and the lagoon's own little blue hole.
Boca Del Rio or Mouth of the River - is a settlement in the north of the island located directly after San Juan and just before the river. A bridge wide enough to accommodate people,
bicycles and golf carts links Boca Del Rio Area to other areas in the far north of the island. Visitors to Boca Del Rio can enjoy swimming where this salt water river meets the sea as well spending time at the Boca Del Rio Park. The water slides in the park are especially fun for small children.
South of San Pedro
San Pablo - Saint Paul is a small community located just over a mile and a half southwest of the center of San Pedro Town and facing the lagoon. Visitors often take bicycle or golfcart rides up Avenida Del Sol which stretches to the Lagoons edge - in San Pablo to watch to sparkling sunsets over the glossy surface of the lagoon. Swimming and snorkeling can be enjoyed along San Pablo
Mar De Tumbo or the Tumbling Sea is the only spot on the island where the waves tumble to the shore through a break in the reef instead of first breaking on the reef like the rest of the island. This is a popular swimming area located just over a mile south of San Pedro.
Other communities include the Escalente Sub-division in the south, San Miguel near San Pablo, San Telmo in the south near Mar De Tumbo, Sunset Coves in the south, San Pedrito located along the San Pedro Lagoon, Tres Cocos in the north, Las Palmas, and the Basil Jones area both also located in the north.
Lagoon side (or western coast) of Ambergris Caye
Ambergris Caye is known for its beautiful coastlines overlooking the Belize Barrier Reef- longest living reef system in this side of the world. But if you are looking for untouched, pristine and isolated marine environments, then the leeward side is the place to be! Where the sun sets on crystal clear waters, the western coast of Ambergris Caye is truly glorious!
Here you can find several sand bars that are only accessible through boat and appear only during low tide- the minute the high tide rolls in it disappears just like Atlantic City. Not to mention all the secret beaches! This prime beach spot is located at the western entrance of Grand Belize Estate and go you can get there through both land and sea.
This place was once considered the top secret destination, as only a few local knew about it. But today, this white sand beach is no longer a secret! As hundreds of locals and visitors flock to the site every week to get their healthy dose of sun, sand and sea!
But donít fret, if you are more into the exclusive spots there are several isolated beaches that can only be accessed by boat! So pack up a cooler of drinks, great eats and a couple friends into a boat and head out and find your own secret beach. I personally have some fav spots- but I ainít sharing their location!
The leeward side of the island is also dotted with some of the most beautiful islands! From the super luxurious Cayo Espanto to the celebrity owned Blackadore Caye- which is owned by one of my favorite actors, Leonardo DiCaprio- to the untouched Isla Rosario, the western side has a bounty of islands. Oh! Did I also mention this is a great spot for fly fishing, fishing, snorkeling, bird seeing and even spotting dolphins and manatees?
For an incredible wealth of information on the geology and the plant and animal life of Ambergris Caye, see the Ambergris Caye Field Guide.
The 1/2 mile from the beachline to the reefline has an abundance of wonders. Click here
for detailed information about this area. Click here for information showing
the main points of the Outer Reef Lagoon, San Pedro and South, and the main
cuts through the reef east of the island.
A detailed list of the various mammals, invertebrates, fish, birds, and other creatures that inhabit these waters
can be read by clicking here.
Click here for a thorough examination of the plant life on and around the island. The tree, bushes, underwater grasses, a botanical sweep of the