Ambergris Caye, Belize / February 2018
Belize was on my bucket list of destinations for the last decade and for some magical reason tickets dropped to only $300 round trip, locking in Ambergris Caye for our 2018 winter vacation. Sitting on the 2nd largest barrier reef, any ocean lover knows that the reason you travel here is to get under that turquoise water and see what’s living there. On this caye, the reef is less than a mile off shore, an easy kayak on a calm day to tie off to a buoy and snorkel on your own. You can also hire a boat to take you out and live your nightmares like snorkeling with sharks or night diving. Actually, it’s a dream because the reef is well protected, healthy and so clean. As far as accommodations, you may have to adjust your expectations a bit as Belize is not known for being a luxurious oasis with 5 star resorts lining white sandy beaches. Unfortunately, this is one vacation I will re-do because of an overwhelmingly stinky seaweed issue the week we traveled there. At our resort the view of the ocean included workers raking up nasty piles on the shoreline all day and in town you had to keep your nose plugged. There’s nothing you can do about that except get out past the shore and onto the water. Despite this, it was still amazing.
If you like to explore your surroundings, you’ll love the fact that no one drives cars around San Pedro and golf carts are the standard form of transportation. This makes for a bumpy but fun way of getting around. We stayed at the Coco Beach Resort in a bungalow studio and it was amazing. A next level swimming pool is one of the highest priorities for me on an Island where there aren’t classic beaches because of surrounding reef. I can highly recommend this place and would stay there again, but if you’re not as pool-obsessed as me, Matachica or Portofino Resorts have amazing vibes.
Secret Beach. A 30 minute ride from San Pedro over dirt roads on your golf cart will land you at a beach destination for the books. This is the place to swim in the ocean. While it’s not a snorkeling spot, bring your gear because there’s still some things to see in the water. Look for the smaller dock at the end of the beach away from all the people and you can float with tons of tiny needlefish in what feels like bathwater. There’s a couple of beach bars and massage places and you’ll need to arrive by 9AM if you want a lounge chair. Picking up hitchhikers is definitely not my style but we somehow ended up towing a retired hippie couple one way and enjoyed hearing about their adventures around the world. I was only nervous of being murdered for about the first 5 minutes. This is common both ways from Secret Beach so you might just want to speed on by if you don’t want to be put in the same position. *In my opinion the best restaurant on the beach is the one furthest away from the entrance. I had a really decent bacon cheeseburger there. You can rent kayaks and paddleboards there as well.
Shark Alley at Hol Chan Marine Reserve. It is what it sounds like - snorkeling with nurse sharks. My advice is to get in the water with them ASAP because once the food supply from the boat is gone the sharks will leave in a hurry. You’ve got about 10 minutes to take it all in. It’s only scary for the first few minutes and attracts some other big fish to the scene so don’t forget to look behind your back and get out of the way as other fish approach. A frenzy of an experience. Bucket list material.
Palapa. Hurricane Earl had completely destroyed this beloved pier restaurant but it came back better than ever after being rebuilt in 2016. Not it’s first time being weathered by a tropical storm. It’s hard to beat the ambiance as stingrays swim by the LED-lit pier, high top tables line the edge of the open air dining room and floating tubes in the water allow you to have your drink delivered on a rope during the heat of the day. At a place like this the food doesn’t need to be incredible in my opinion. Stick to the apps, burgers and fries.
Melt Cafe. Along the same road is a great beachfront breakfast spot. Get your huevos rancheros and omelettes here when other joints aren’t open that early in the morning. The melts are great and there’s live music most evenings.
Fido’s Restaurant & Bar. Great location and a rustic feel make this place worth a try if you’re already downtown San Pedro wanting an open air experience. The drinks were delicious and their large stage has great music at night.
Paco’s Tiki Bar. A bit more off the beaten path and between resorts this place only has tables in the sand. Cornhole game, dogs that lay close by but not too close, a good buffalo chicken sandwich - all things I love and relaxed as things can get.
PUR Taco Bar. (Formerly Youcan Toucan). An adults only spot overlooking PUR resort, this small 2 story bar makes an amazing burrito. We were driving around hungry, stopped here on a whim and loved the chic vibe. We sat upstairs in the loft where a few tiny lizards kept us company and the table side guacamole was fresh.
Hol Chan Cut. This is a cut in the reef at the Marine Reserve where you feel a bit more power of the ocean. We saw large eel, octopus and some bigger barracuda, but take note that only guided tours are allowed here so you will feel rushed and crowded. I also surfaced to find a big gnarly piece of wood with nails on it right in my face so that was pretty exciting, too.
Mexico Rocks & Tres Cocos. These are less structured snorkels with more room to spread out and plenty to see. You can kayak out from some of the resorts although bring some cash to pay the marine park officers because everything is protected. We hopped on a boat from our resort and enjoyed this snorkel more than any other spot because of its laid back feel. Our boat captain had made friends with some local stingray over the years and when they hear the motor they approached followed us like a dog for the whole snorkel. Highlights were seeing a sea spider and lionfish hiding in the coral.