Cedric Beust a software engineer with Google visited Belize and has kindly shared his trip report with us.
General Belize Information
We landed in Belize City and took a small charter plane from there to Ambergris Caye (pronounced “key”), an island off the coast of the main land where most of the scuba diving in Belize takes place. The charter we took contained about fifteen people and is a great way to get an overview of the area (and of the plane’s dashboard as well).
Two airlines connect Belize City (main land) to San Pedro: Mayan Island Airlines and Tropic. We used Mayan Island and they forgot to load one of my bags on the way back, which was quite unfortunate. The airstrip is pretty small so if you get a chance, make sure that all your bags get loaded on the plane to avoid this kind of problem.
Ambergris Caye is a small island whose main city, San Pedro, features streets that are covered by sand. The main transportation is golf carts and bicycles. It is quite underdeveloped although the modernity of some shops contrast starkly with the overall poor shape of the city. There are several Internet cafés there, which was quite a pleasant surprise (I recommend the Caribbean Connection, which is run by a couple of very nice Bulgarians. And they serve good coffee too).
The currency in Belize is the Belize dollar, which equals to half a US dollar. In Ambergris Caye, both dollars are accepted at that rate but you will usually get your change in Belizean dollars unless you ask otherwise. English is the prevalent language but natives typically speak between themselves in Creole (although Spanish also seems fairly popular). The cuisine is a mix of Mexican, American and Caribbean and the restaurants offer prices ranging from $10 to $25 per person. You can also find a few holes in a wall that will serve you delicious tostadas for $2 or just buy grilled chicken from barbeques on the street for about that much.
One note of warning: it is not recommended to drink tap water in Belize. I am just repeating what I was told and it’s probably exaggerated a bit, but why take the risk of ruining your entire trip when you can stay on the safe side for a few extra dollars per day… besides, this is an excellent excuse for cranking up your Margarita consumption.
The main city in Ambergris Caye is San Pedro and even though the distances are pretty small, I recommend making sure your hotel is within a ten-minute walk from downtown. It gets really hot during the day and you will only want to beat the scorching streets for so long to get where the action is.
The first hotel we stayed at, Sunbreeze, is at the Southern part of the downtown area and at a walking distance from the airport (note that the airport is so tiny that noise from planes was never an issue).
We went through three different hotels during our stay (Sunbreeze, Aquamarina and Banyan Bay, which is further South from downtown), all of them quite adequate.
Despite its pronounced American influence, Belize borrows more from the European/Mexican lifestyle than the American one, so shops typically close during lunch, on Sundays and at 8pm. Even our hotel lobbies were closed at night with no phone number we could call after hours, so make sure you keep your key with you when you walk out at night.
We were disappointed to find out that there is pretty much no beach front in San Pedro at all. It’s a short sandy area bordered by hotel limits and piers. You will find a couple of volleyball courts, though, but don’t expect to set up a football game. The shallow water doesn’t lend itself to aquatic games either since its bottom is mostly covered by sea grass right from the beach.
In spite of its isolated status, Ambergris Caye is very well supplied with all kinds of groceries and facilities, so you shouldn’t worry about finding basic items should you forget to have packed any. One glaring exception to this is underwater cameras: you will not find a disposable underwater camera capable of going under 55 feet on the island. Luckily, we had brought a 95-foot underwater camera with us, but if I had known, I would have bought a second one.
Once we settled in the hotel, we quickly registered with the dive shop to get an idea of what expects us. There are several packages you can get there, and the one we picked included ten dives (you are free to use them at your own pace; we typically dove twice a day to free our afternoon).
Some additional diving activities I recommend include:
Night dives, The Belize Blue Hole, Ray Shark Alley and Hol Chan, Lamanai ruins
I’ll address those in turn.