The Best of Ambergris Caye, Belize

Stay in a beachfront suite. Dine on seasonal seafood dishes like conch ceviche. Drink Belikin beer. And jump into the festivities that take place throughout the year on this party-loving reef island.

Beachfront, Ambergris Caye, Boca del Rio Drive, San Pedro, Belize
This understated beach bar is one of Ambergris Caye’s best-kept secrets that is quickly getting out. Owned by “Wayo from Cayo”, Wayo’s has become my regular hang out spot over the past two years. Wayo and his wife Dee can be found at the bar every day, often sharing a drink with many of the regulars. They’ve developed longstanding relationships with countless locals and a number of tourists, many of whom come back every few months to see Wayo and the crew. The main bartenders, Ruby and Archie, will not only serve up some great drinks, they are a wealth of information on what to do and see in San Pedro. You’d be hard put to find a more chill spot to relax right on the beach. Be sure to try a local specialty — the Michelada. Made with beer and a mix of spices, this is Belize’s version of the Bloody Mary and the best cure for a hangover! Open daily, 10am to midnight.
No visit to Ambergris Caye is complete without an afternoon at the Palapa Bar. Situated at the end of a dock surrounded by turquoise waters and cool breezes, Palapa Bar attracts a mix of locals, travelers, and some of the coolest bartenders on the island. On a warm day, eschew the barstools and opt instead to float in inner tubes beside the dock; you can even have cold buckets of Belize’s Belikin beers lowered down to you. In addition to beer and standard cocktails, fun creations like Scotty’s Palapa Punch (three different types of rum, triple sec, mango, pineapple, and a squeeze of lime) offer some island-inspired refreshment. Up in the palapa, recommended items from the menu include sausage dip, pulled pork sandwiches, and the immense half-pound burger. Palapa Bar is 1.5 miles north of town and easily reached by golf cart, taxi, bicycle, or water taxi, which drops you right off at the dock.
A short boat ride north from San Pedro will deposit you onto a portion of Ambergris Caye that feels worlds away from any town or city. Once ensconced in a private bungalow on a private beach, there isn’t much to distract the guest from complete enjoyment of the charms of Caribbean water, sunshine, and the slower pace that characterizes day-to-day life in the North Islands. Massage therapists are available, as are spa services, and a full range of excursions and activities can be arranged via the concierge. Thirteen exclusive villas are available, one of which includes a steam room and private infinity pool, while other villas either feature beach access, jacuzzi tubs, private outdoor showers, or decks that stretch over a saltwater lake. El Secreto’s full-service restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and a bar is poolside in the main lodge. Rates begin around $3,000 for a three-night stay, and more information is available at www.elsecretobelize.com.
San Pedro, Belize
Hol Chan Marine Reserve, located just a few minutes’ boat ride from San Pedro, is the place to go for snorkeling in Northern Belize. This small, protected area (Hol Chan means “little channel” in Mayan) is home to part of Belize’s barrier reef, which is the second largest in the world (after Australia‘s reef), and the largest healthiest. There are many tour operators out of San Pedro that can take you out for a half-day of snorkeling the reef, and you’ll see colorful coral, rainbow fish, and manta rays, among other marine life. Make sure your guide brings you to Shark Alley, where nurse sharks come to feed on the fish scraps boats leave behind. There, you’ll be able to swim mere feet—or even inches, if you dare—from the creatures.
Barrier Reef Dr San Pedro, Belize, San Pedro, Belize
The Phoenix, a little slice of paradise on the edge of San Pedro, features more modern architecture than most buildings in town, as well as modern amenities. Rooms are one-bedroom, two-bedroom, and three-bedroom condominium suites that feature luxurious eat-in kitchens, bathrooms with walk-in showers and Jacuzzi tubs, large living rooms and laundry facilities. Each suite also has a balcony or patio, and almost all suites are just steps away from one of the pools which are the focal point of the resort. The larger main pool cascades into a shallower lower pool and is saline chlorinated, as is the 55-foot-long lap pool. A pool bar is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Red Ginger restaurant is open daily for breakfast lunch and dinner as well as brunch on Sunday afternoons and serves a tapas menu on Sunday and Wednesday evenings. There are also business services, an on-site spa, and fitness and yoga centers. Rates begin at $325 per night during low season for a one-bedroom beach view suite.
Pescador Dr, San Pedro, Belize
Before I went to Belize, anyone I spoke with who had already been told me that I had to have a meal at Elvi’s Kitchen. What started out as a take-out burger window in 1974 eventually became a sit-down restaurant serving lovingly prepared Caribbean dishes such as conch soup and fritters, mojo de ajo, fried green plantains, and street corn. During high season you might have to wait in line to eat dinner at the restaurant, but most of the time, there isn’t much delay. Save room for dessert. Elvi’s Kitchen is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Saturday.


Barrier Reef Drive, San Pedro, Belize
Jo and Chris Beaumont are expats from London who moved to Belize, to open a windsurfing and adventure sports business. They now own the Belize Chocolate Company, which produces the luxury chocolate line, Kakaw and numerous other cacao-based skincare, healthcare and cooking products. Their small shop on Barrier Reef Drive just steps from the beach in San Pedro seems like an expat’s dream. They certainly exhibit the kind of easy happiness that comes from providing a product everyone wants. The Belize Chocolate Company is a café and a store, so visitors can stop in and stay a while. When you do, make sure you seek out Jo or Chris. They are wonderful people, and their chocolate isn’t half bad either!
Beachfront, Barrier Reef Dr, San Pedro, Belize
Blue Water Grill is an open-air restaurant right on the beach in a quieter end of San Pedro. Simple and rustic in its decor, with wood walls and colorful paintings, it’s a space that allows the food to be the star of the show. Breakfast features good, predictable Belizean favorites such as fry jacks and scrambled eggs with beans, but dinner is the real attraction. The crispy fried pork dumplings with hoisin peanut sauce, served over an arugula, hearts of palm, and daikon radish salad, was my favorite dish, though the Mongolian-style ribs, the bacon-wrapped filet mignon, the key lime pie, and the crème brûlée were also delectable.
1657 Laguna Dr, San Pedro, Belize
Tucked in a condo complex just north of the bridge, Coco Loco’s is a cozy little pool and beach bar. On hot days, take advantage of the swim-up bar stools or hang out on the picnic tables closer to the beach. What Coco Loco’s lacks in size, it definitely makes up for in personality. Owners Sue and Steve have done a wonderful job with fostering a community spirit, especially with many of the expats on the island. Look for a number of weekly activities like trivia and cribbage that keep the bar hoppin’ pretty much every day. Open daily noon to 10 p.m.
South of San Pedro is the award-winning luxury resort of Victoria House. The plantation style property is unlike any other on Ambergris Caye, offering some of the best views of the Caribbean Sea. Despite being one of the larger properties with 42 rooms spread out over 10 acres, Victoria House is one of the most intimate resorts. A majority of the staff at Victoria House have been there for years and it shows. Their love for Victoria House and its guests is genuine and evident throughout every part of the resort. Look for several dining options on property, including the more casual Admiral Nelson Bar, perfect for daytime dining, and the more high-end Palmilla, an ideal spot for a romantic dinner. Meal plans are available for guests looking for a more all-inclusive experience. Victoria House offers a range of room styles, from staterooms and plantation rooms to private suites and villas. Rates start at $195 for staterooms all the way up to $1,775 for a five-bedroom villa.
San Pedro, Belize
Mid-June kicks off lobster season, and celebrations take place in Caye Caulker, Ambergris Caye, and Placencia. One of the biggest events is Ambergris Caye’s Lobsterfest. The weeklong festivities include daily specials, drinks, and musical performances—all culminating in a Saturday block party celebrating everything related to this beloved Caribbean crustacean. Restaurants and bars have booths selling lobster-themed dishes and signature cocktails, while partygoers enjoy open-air live musical performances.
San Pedro, Belize
If ghouls and goblins are your thing, mark the last Saturday in October on your calendar and pack your best costume! Head to Ambergris Caye for one of the biggest and most entertaining parties of the year—Holiday Hotel’s Halloween Bash. Drawing a fun crowd of both locals and tourists, the outdoor decks at San Pedro’s Holiday Hotel are packed to capacity with some of the most ingeniously costumed partygoers. The celebration kicks off around 10 p.m. as guests head in on the “red carpet” to the delight of many neighborhood kids and families lining the street. Dance until nearly sunrise, enjoying drink specials and vying for prizes for costumes in a variety of categories.
Beachfront, Buccaneer St, San Pedro, Belize
Good breakfast spots are on the rise in San Pedro, but one of the most beloved places to grab a bite will always be Estel’s Dine by the Sea. Aside from its perfect beachfront location where you can eat with your toes in the sand, the food is pretty darn good as well. At Estel’s, you won’t find menus on the table; you must walk inside to check out the board. Don’t be surprised to find a crowd on the weekends, especially Sunday mornings. Just follow the smell of Charles Jr.’s famous BBQ specialties cooking on the grill, and you’ll understand why people are ordering plates of ribs first thing on Sunday! Aside from some impressive barbecue, Estel’s has a number of dishes that might leave you feeling the need to return once or twice more for breakfast. Personal recommendations include the Mayan Eggs, which is scrambled eggs with tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, and sausage, served with a side of refried beans and fry jacks, or try the breakfast burrito. Don’t forget the Marie Sharps hot sauce on top! Breakfast is served all day. Closed Tuesdays.
Belize City, Belize
Belize’s liveliest time of the year comes in September, when the entire country celebrates independence for three entire weeks leading up to Sept. 21. The major towns and cities host various events, and a countrywide calendar is published on Sept. 1, allowing you to follow along with the fun wherever you might find yourself in Belize. The most popular events are a steel pan concert called Pan Yaad, held in Belize City, and two full-blown carnival parades. Belize City Carnival, with soca and Caribbean music blaring, is held in mid-September, while Orange Walk Carnival takes place on Independence Day and celebrates Mestizo heritage. Take advantage of low-season fares to get a unique culture-filled experience in Belize in September.
Ambergris Caye, Belize
“The Hol Chan Marine Reserve. You can swim with sharks and stingrays at Shark Ray Alley and you are pretty much guaranteed to see a huge variety of fish and other sea life. All of our guests are excited when they come back from a day there after seeing the many shades of the sea, which is 82 degrees and crystal clear, while the skies are usually blue and the sun bright, bringing out all the colors below. Huge fish, sharks, sting rays, sea turtles — you never know if there is going to be a dolphin or manatee joining everyone. The sea is our playground.” Kirsten Miglio, owner Ak’boL Yoga Retreat
San Pedro, Belize
From the first time I set foot on the island of Ambergris Caye, Caramba became my favorite restaurant in San Pedro. And that’s not changed, even ten years later. Rene Reyes, Sr. and his wife Patty have done a remarkable job with the restaurant. Every season brings something new and exciting – whether it be décor changes, menu enhancements or even new cocktail creations. The Reyes’ sons Jonathan and Renesito are now involved in day-to-day operations, keeping Caramba one of the long-standing family-owned and operated businesses on the island. Personal recommendations include Conch Fritters (seasonal), Sopa de Lima, Fish Tacos, Pibil Pork Sub and the Coconut Shrimp. Any of the seafood dishes are spectacular – go for the Maya or Tour Guide cooking options. Be sure to try one of bartender Charlie’s cocktails, like the Strawberry Beerita, King Margarita, or a special mojito. Not a drinker? Caramba has some of the best fruit smoothies on the island. Closed Wednesdays. Check Foursquare for current specials.
Black Coral St
If you’re in San Pedro on a Tuesday or Thursday night, head over to Wahoo’s Lounge on Front Street for the weekly Chicken Drop. It’s definitely one of the most unique experiences you’ll have on your Belize vacation. Place your bets, watch the lucky person who gently blows on the chicken’s butt and sets him loose on the bingo like board. As you can probably gather by now, expect the chicken to wander around until he finds some lucky person’s number to poop on. Join in the festivities by yelling for your number, as the pot can easily get up to several hundred dollars (Belize). However, before you are quick to run up and claim your winnings – guess who has to clean up the chicken poop?
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