Downtown San Pedro on Ambergris Caye — Photo courtesy of Hevan Chan via Flickr
Tucked away on Belize’s largest island along the Caribbean, Ambergris Caye attracts adventure seekers and beach bums alike from around the world to its 25-mile long oasis.
A short flight from Belize City to San Pedro - the major settlement on the island - through regional airlines Maya Island Air or Tropic Air (imagine an 18-passenger van with wings), this British Commonwealth boasts a bustling tourism industry while maintaining an authentic community of locals.
Here, golf carts and bicycles outnumber vehicles on the narrow, busy streets. Stroll or pedal through the colorful downtown lined with brightly painted gift shops, restaurants serving the catch of the day, and waterfront watering holes perfect for slinging back local Belikin beers.
With a world-renowned barrier reef that rivals Australia, both scuba and snorkel fans can jump head first into the awe-inspiring underwater world amongst precious coral reef, at ease sea turtles, and even sharks (gulp). But whether you dive into excursions or plant yourself on the sandy coast, life is sure to be a beach in Belize.
Stay: Las Terrazas Resort
The 37-unit resort feels like a West Indies hideaway, with its crisp, white stucco façade that shines like a diamond next to the indigo oceanfront waters.
Las Terrazas - Spanish for “verandas” - arranges water taxis to pick up guests from San Pedro and cruise to the resort where a welcome cocktail greets them the second their feet touch the shore.
Each townhouse feels like a home away from home, thanks to amenities like an in-room washer and dryer and fully-equipped kitchen (but there's no pressure to cook - room service is just a phone call away.)
The intimate resort is centered around the dip-worthy infinity pool surrounded by breezy cabanas and enticing lounge chairs, just steps away from the white sandy beach with its blue water and shady palm trees. (Be sure to ask jack-of-all-trades staffer LeRoy to open a fresh coconut!)
For a decadent meal, look no further than onsite restaurant O. Sample inventive dishes by American expat Chef Papy (his seafood risotto is a must). And if you take a fishing excursion, bring back your catch of the day and have the kitchen prepare it for a dinner - it’s sure to get wave reviews.
Eat: Elvi’s Kitchen
Just a block from the waterfront and water taxi dock, this popular San Pedro restaurant is unmissable - in part thanks to its bright lime green façade, but mostly because it has the best local fare on the island.
Try their Grand Mayan buffet for dinner on Friday nights and feast on traditional regional cuisine like tamales, cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork), and brazo de reina (cake roll).
Don’t miss a cup of their café de olla–a robust and flavorful Mayan coffee infused with cinnamon and allspice.
Belize Barrier Reef — Photo courtesy of Den Asuncioner via Flickr
Altun Ha Mayan Ruin — Photo courtesy of Ealasaid via Flickr
Explore: Belize Barrier Reef and Altun Ha Mayan Ruin
Belize is a playground for young-at-heart explorers.
Scuba dive or snorkel in the Belize Barrier Reef, the world's second-largest after Australia. A popular spot is the Hol Chan Marine Reserve that’s bustling with sea grass beds, protected coral, and colorful marine life or - if you dare - venture to Shark Ray Alley and swim amongst friendly sharks and sting rays.
Don’t want to go overboard? Tour the Mayan ruin Altun Ha that dates back to 200 B.C.
It takes a full day of travel, first by boat through the mangrove-lined Northern River to Bomba Village, then by bus through several local villages.
Most resorts work with companies to seamlessly arrange both water and historic site outings. Trips will generally include knowledgeable local tour guides, meals, and cold Belizen beers.
Cheers to that!