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SanPedro Town is the major settlement on the island. San Pedro's populace has grown to 10,000 plus year-round inhabitants, with many newcomers from the mainland and from abroad as well. The original "San Pedranos" (from the 1800's til the 1970's or so) are Mestizo, and and speak both Spanish and English. The island has the largest concentration of visitor accommodations in Belize and its hotels, fishing and diving facilities are some of the best in the country.


The town is a picture postcard setting beside the clear turquoise sea. Coconut palms sway and rustle in the gentle cooling trade winds. Low rise hotels, guest houses and boutique style resorts & condos, from modest to magnificent, are nestled along the coast and throughout the town.


If you want a comfortable, shorts-and-sandals seaside vacation, at a moderate price, just a bit off the beaten path but not too far, where the seafood is fresh and beer is cold, where the water won't make you sick, an island with most of the modern convienences without the plastic tackiness, with great diving, excellent snorkeling, beautiful water and beautiful white sand beaches, where local folks are mostly friendly and hablan English (though they may speak Spanish at home), with dependably beautiful weather most of the time, then I guarantee you'll enjoy Ambergris Caye.


Yes, tourism is the number one industry in what was once a fishing village. Now, fishing is still most excellent, but tourism has far surpassed it as a contributor to the local economy. This is not, however, the edgy tourism of Cancun, with millions of package tourists hitting the beach. No building is higher than a tall coco palm, or three stories.


Golf carts and bicycles are the principal mode of transportation. The streets are home to local and visiting barefoot strollers, casually making their way through the shops and restaurants or just relaxing and chatting with the locals who are friendly and tolerant. To see the many faces of the island, see the Kay Scott FACES & PLACES OF SAN PEDRO online photo gallery.

A few taxis, trucks and private vehicles are in service in the growing community, and the newly formed traffic committee is hard pressed to create an equitable policy regarding importation of future vehicles.


Ambergris Caye has much to recommend it. Away from the center of town there is an abundance of birds and other animals. Much of the island is covered with a broadleaf forest that attracts wildlife. The yards of the houses and the hotel grounds all bloom with tropical flora. The sea abounds with adventure for fishermen, divers, snorkelers and sailors. Some of the best outfitters for fishing and diving trips are found here, along with plenty of charter boats. San Pedro makes a fine base for excursions to nearby attractions and the more distant islands and atolls. The stores are well stocked with a wide variety of food and some of the country's best cooks take pride in their seafood specialties.


Getting to Ambergris Caye is easy, the island is serviced by hourly scheduled flights. A short twenty minute flight from the international airport brings one to the San Pedro airport, which is walking distance to town. Ferry service is also available. San Pedro's warm friendly casual atmosphere insures a perfect holiday. A familiar sign in town states, "Welcome to San Pedro where you won't be a stranger for long."


San Pedro is the town you will land at, boat to, eat at, shop in, meet people; in short, San Pedro Town will be a large part of most visitors' experience of Ambergris Caye. It is the transition point between dives and Maya tours (we use the new accepted standard - "Mayan" only to refer to the language, and "Maya" as a noun and adjective).


If you're new to the island, leave about two thirds of your clothing at home, bring swim suits, sun block, sandals, and a hat. I struggled hard to find a single evening I could wear long pants in an entire two week stay. This is one very relaxed place. Most people step off the plane, and struggle for about three days to slow down. It's hot and fragrant and moist, the wind is cooling, and, well, things just don't seem so urgent.


You'll walk, rent a golf cart, taxi, or bicycle mostly to get around. There are only ten streets, and NO pavement! Most people go barefoot or sandals, everywhere. You can swim in the warm clear Caribbean Sea, protected by the reef. The color is beyond description. Many people just stare at it for hours. The water is really warm, averaging about 82 degrees year round.

Diving off San Pedro and Ambergris Caye

You'll find pages from resort owners throughout this site, and restaurants too. Check those out for specific menus and specials, but as a rule, fish and lobster will be cheaper and wonderful because they just caught them. Almost everything else came from somewhere else. Still the fruit is wonderful, and the local beer, Belikin is delightful.


The experienced Caribbean traveler will recognize San Pedro Town immediately: In some ways, it's the Caribbean of 30 or 40 years ago, before the boom in international travel, a throw-back to the days before cruise ships turned too many Caribbean islands into concrete mini-malls hustling duty-free booze and discount jewelry. There are just three north-south streets, each hard-packed sand. Wood houses and shops, painted in bright tropical colors fading quickly in the sun, stand close together. Newer buildings are reinforced concrete, optimistically girded for the next big hurricane.


Foot and bicycle traffic predominate, though the streets are busy with golf carts - keep a close eye, as the electric ones sneak up behind you silently - and an increasing number of pick-ups and cars.


A couple of years ago, in a burst of efficiency, the town council made Front Street, whose name has been changed to the more romantic-sounding Barrier Reef Drive, one-way, with carts and vehicles allowed to go north only for most of its distance, to Caribena Street. Middle Street, or Pescador Drive, is one-way south from the intersection with Caribena Street.


Many of the hotels, restaurants and larger businesses are on Front Street. Just beyond the primary school and the bite-sized San Pedro Library (here, you don't need a library card, and even visitors can check out books, free, or a buy a used paperback for a dollar or two), you'll see Rubie's, Sea Gal, Celi's Deli, Holiday Hotel, Spindrift, home of the chicken drop, and then Jaguar Temple and Big Daddy's clubs, the venerable Belize Bank, and the Catholic church, cool and welcoming. Farther up on the right there's Fido's (FEE-dough's), the Mayan Princess, Manleys ice cream and Coconet for internet and phone use. As Barrier Reef Drive peters out, dead ahead is the Phoenix and Sunbreeze Suites.


To the east, beyond the line of buildings, only a few feet away, accessible through many alleys, is the Caribbean. There's a narrow strip of beach and seawall between the buildings and the sea, used as a pedestrian walk-way. A number of piers or docks, quickly rebuilt after Hurricane Mitch washed them away, jut out into the sea. The patch of white you see a few hundred yards out is surf breaking over the barrier reef. Even if you're a strong swimmer, don't try swimming out to the reef from the shore. There is a lot of boat traffic inside the reef, and over the years several swimmers have been killed or injured by boats.


SAN PEDRO: RETURNING TO THE WOMB

Space and time are revisited in a
ritual reaching for roots;
sunburned souls grasp at what was
and beg the green of the Caribbean
to take us back, back to that other time
when only the reef was old.
     And we cry out to
this sea, this reef, these sands--
     our mothers.--
to brand us with some ermanence,
to wave wands and chant/chants
and swirl skirts in a frenzy, sweat, fury,
in a mad dance to bring back the gone
and stop the going.
     But no.
Sea, reef, sands
stay on while we come and go --
we, our grandmothers, grandsons:
blood-multitudes ever returning,
dragging our years across the white beach,
searching it for bones or newborns.
The Source pulls and is,
and battered pilgrims return,
laying memories, dreams, wonder
at the feet of a warm sphinx-sea
and on the graves of the silent ancestors
who do not hear and whom,
like our sea-mothers,
have no chants to chant for us.

Mary Gomez Parham

Mary Gomez Parham received the Ph.D. degree in Romance Linguistics and Literature from the University of California at Los Angeles. She now lectures in foreign languages at the University of Houston, Texas.
Middle Street, or Pescador Drive, the other main north-south venue, is also busy. It's home to the original location of Rock's Grocery (a branch opened south of town in 1996), Elvi's Kitchen, The Reef and other worthies. Several budget hotels are also here, or on side streets nearby.


As you go farther north on Middle Street, San Pedro becomes more residential, and more local. You'll see the San Pedro Supermarket, electric and telephone facilities, a small high school, playground, and then the San Pedro River, or "the Cut" or "the Channel." This area south of Boca del Rio got a good deal of water damage from Hurricane Mitch, due in part to the illegal cutting of mangroves; it's not nice to chop Mother Nature.


A bridge wide enough to accommodate people, bicycles and golf carts will take you across to the other side. A small golf cart and walking path wends its way north, mostly on the back side of the island, past the proposed site of Reef Village, expat homes, Sweet Basil deli, and Capricorn resort and restaurant. The cart path, badly washed by Mitch, is slowly returning to bumpy normality. It ends at Captain Morgan's, where the path is blocked by a barrier erected on the beach. You can, however, walk northward, following the narrow beach to a number of resorts, including the Essene Way, with its kitchy Biblical and bizarre black-face statuary, Journey's End, at 90 rooms the largest resort on the island, and Mata Chica, new and trendy.


Beyond the last hotel is a large, undeveloped area. Over the years, many schemes have been floated for this part of the island, once part of a private holding called the Pinkerton Estate. A large part of this area has been saved from Cancunization thanks to establishment of the Bacalar Chico national park and marine reserve. The park, which opened in 1996, comprises 12,000 acres of land and 15,000 acres of water. At present the park is accessible by boat from San Pedro, from the Belize mainland at Sarteneja and elsewhere and from the Mexican port village of X'calak. The park is home to a surprisingly large population of birds and wildlife, and there are a number of Maya sites. This northern tip of the island is separated from the Mexican Yucatán only by the narrow Bacalar Chico channel. Indeed, Ambergris Caye once was physically part of the Yucatán peninsula, the channel having been dug by the Maya.


Had you headed south from town rather than north, you'd be on Coconut Drive, another sandy little roadway. A cluster of hotels and other businesses are near the airstrip, SunBreeze, The Palms and Ramon's, among others. You'll pass Jade Garden restaurant on your left, then, quickly, Changes in Latitude B&B, the Belize Yacht Club with its new meeting and restaurant facility, the newly repainted budget Hideaway Sports Hotel, Playador with its thatch condo additions, Corona Del Mar, Coconuts Hotel and the Lalas' little paradise, Caribbean Villas. You'll pass soft-drink and beer magnate Barry Bowen's turf, which includes Island Academy (tuition US$250 a month), one of the better private schools in Central America, and his warehouse facility. Some of the buildings, you'll note, are painted Belikin-bottle green. Here, the little road veers sharply right, past the newer Rock's Grocery II and La Margarita, a Tex-Mex place, then back left. The area west of the main drag here, or to your right going south, is the San Pablo residential area. Considerable development continues along the sea, including the new Banana Beach condotel. Villas at Banyan Bay, now expanding, Tropica, the mushrooming Royal Palms timeshare, Victoria House and Caribe Island Resort are also in this area. By this point, you're some 3 miles south of San Pedro Town. If you continue farther south, by foot or cart, you're back in a residential area, with a number of upmarket houses including one owned by musician Jerry Jeff Walker, along with shacks and other assorted digs.


Speaking of digs, the Marco Gonzales Maya site is near the south tip of the island (it's not easy to find - ask at your hotel for specific directions), one of a number of mostly difficult-to-get-to sites on the island. Other Maya sites on the island, which you can visit on boat tours to the North End, include Chac Balam and Santa Cruz. As on the north end of the island, mosquitoes are often a problem once you leave the more-developed areas in the south.



La Isla Bonita
by Madonna

Como puede ese olvidar
[or Como puede ser verdad]

Last night I dreamt of San Pedro
Just like I'd never gone, I knew the song
A young girl with eyes like the desert
It all seems like yesterday, not far away

Tropical the island breeze
All of nature wild and free
This is where I long to be
La isla bonita
And when the samba played
The sun would set so high
Ring through my ears and sting my eyes
Your Spanish lullaby

I fell in love with San Pedro
Warm wind carried on the sea, he called to me
Te dijo te amo
I prayed that the days would last
They went so fast

Tropical the island breeze
All of nature wild and free
This is where I long to be
La isla bonita
And when the samba played
The sun would set so high
Ring through my ears and sting my eyes
Your Spanish lullaby

I want to be where the sun warms the sky
When it's time for siesta you can watch them go by
Beautiful faces, no cares in this world
Where a girl loves a boy, and a boy loves a girl

Last night I dreamt of San Pedro
It all seems like yesterday, not far away


San Pedro Town, Belize


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