Ambergris Caye is the largest of Belize’s islands and the most visited. It is known for fishing, water sports, scuba diving/snorkeling and its beaches. San Pedro is the only town on the island and the hub for most things. In this post we share 14 tips to help you plan a trip to Ambergris Caye in Belize.
1) When to visit:
High season is from December to April and generally when the weather is at its best with sunny skies and less rain but accommodations are also at the most expensive. November and May, which are considered shoulder seasons are also good times to visit as you are outside of the main hurricane season, rain is less likely, and accommodations are more reasonably priced. The low season is from June to October with possible hurricane activity from August to the end of October and it rains more frequently. We visited in November just after Hurricane Lisa caused damage in Belize City but spared other places in Belize. Overall, we found the weather to be very pleasant! It was sunny and warm every day and we only experienced a few hours of rain on our first day but the rain came back on the day we left. We would come back in mid-November for sure!
2) How long to stay:
We spent 8 nights in Ambergris Caye: 3 just north of San Pedro at Matachica Beach Resort and Spa and 5 at Secret Beach on the lagoon side at Casa Nova Cabanas. We were happy with the amount of time we had to relax and explore. We were also able to spend the day in Caye Caulker, a quick 1 hour ferry ride away from San Pedro. On our next visit, we would consider spending 1-2 nights in Caye Caulker as well. More on that below.
At a minimum, we feel that one week is a sufficient amount of time to visit Belize and visit one spot or two. If you have 1.5-2 weeks, you would be able to do more things and explore various parts of the country. Check out our tips to visit Belize.
3) Where to stay in Ambergris Caye:
There are many options in Ambergris Caye to choose from and the places we mention are just a small sampling of options.
Where we stayed:
- Matachica Beach Resort and Spa: Matachica is a place of casual, barefoot luxury with sincere attention to small details and experiences. It’s a great place to lose track of time, connect with nature and enjoy the general peacefulness of being at an adults-only resort. The service is personalized, attentive and high-touch while also being low-key. It’s far enough from town to feel like San Pedro is a hundred miles away but also close enough that you can go to town and explore. They are a full-service resort that offers free transfers from San Pedro Airport along with a welcome cocktail ready for you at check-in, there are 2 restaurants on site (casual or upscale for dinner), provide golf cart rentals, there is a gym and a spa, a large pool, complimentary access to water sports, and an extensive list of tours and activities they can facilitate for you.
- Casa Nova Cabanas: In a way, we really don’t want to tell anyone how great this little place is. We think it would be better to not let everyone know how beautiful & quiet it is (yet close to the beach bars), how beautiful the view is, how it has its own little beach and dock, how fun it is to kayak out to the nearby sandbar, how delicious the food and drinks they make are, and how the staff (and owners..and other guests) are some of the most friendly and welcoming people we’ve ever met… There are 4 rooms at Casa Nova Cabanas: 2 beachfront rooms and 2 beach-view rooms. Each room offers good privacy and you will most likely meet new people and make new friends. The staff can help you book things like massages on the dock, fishing/snorkel tours, and recommend places to eat/drink. They also provide breakfast daily, lunch and dinner on certain days, and a bar with really good cocktails and local beer at very reasonable prices.
Places we considered staying at and others we discovered during our stay there:
- Mahogany Bay Resort and Beach Club, Curio Collection: We almost ended up staying here but decided not to in the end and after visiting the property, we were happy with our choice as it really was not the experience we were looking for. The resort is rather large with about 205 rooms in a mangrove area and you need to take a 15 minute boat ride to the beach club to access the water. The room types we were looking at were super cute but didn’t have outdoor space: the lower keeping suite had a screened it front porch at least. The location is convenient though: it’s only a 10 minute golf cart ride to San Pedro and the road is decent in this part. They tend to offer affordable rates but they do charge a $45 resort fee per day, something to keep in mind.
- Mangata Villas: We found Mangata Villas while having dinner at their restaurant, Moon Bar one evening. Managata Villas is a small adult-only beach front resort about 40 minutes north of San Pedro. They have a few beachfront villas and a few private casitas. The have a pool, complimentary beach activities (snorkeling, kayak, paddleboards), and they offer yoga classes and movie nights (open to the general public).
- Victoria House Resort and Spa: Victoria House is conveniently located 2 miles south of San Pedro town. There are 42 rooms and many different room types to choose from (thatch roof casitas to beachfront villas with private pools, plantation style rooms and ocean view villas). This is a full service resort that can accommodate families and is not adults only.
4) Getting Here and Getting Around:
For Canadians, it is not as easy to get to Belize as other destinations, like Mexico or other places in the Caribbean. Non-stop seasonal service is available from Calgary (WestJet) and Toronto (Air Canada).
Once you arrive in Belize City, unless you are staying there, you will need to take another flight or ferry. Tropic Air and Maya Air are both small airlines that offer service in the region. We really enjoyed our 15 minute flight on a Cessna Grand Caravan from Belize City to San Pedro as it was quite scenic and added a sense of adventure to our trip! There are also ferries that can take you to Ambergris Caye for cheaper but it will make your transfer more complicated as you will need to take a taxi from the airport to get to the ferry terminal.
For our first night, we were staying at Matachica and they picked us up in a golf cart and took us to the boat that would take us to the resort. As Belize is near the equator and they don’t follow daylight savings time, the sun sets early: it was dark by the time we landed in San Pedro at 6:00PM.
If you are planning to rent a golf cart and drive to your accommodations in the dark, it might be a little intimidating but it is doable. Google Maps works well and make sure to drive very slowly to watch for potholes. If possible, you may want to pick up your golf cart the morning after your first night. We do highly recommend renting a golf cart due to how easy it is to rent one and drive around to explore. We reserved and rented our 3 weeks prior to arriving online.
5) Take a Day Trip to Caye Caulker:
It is an easy ferry ride to Caye Caulker for a day trip by taking the San Pedro Belize Express ferry from San Pedro. We were on the 10:00 ferry and came back on the 15:45 ferry. The cost per person is $36.50USD per person. In Caye Caulker, we enjoyed walking around the island and appreciated how even quieter and more chill things are than in San Pedro (it is hard to explain but you’ll know what we mean when you do the trip!). We spent some time swimming, enjoying the beach bars, and had an amazing jerk chicken lunch plate from Chef Kareem’s UnBelizeable Lunch cart. The Sip N Dip Beach Bar is a good spot to have a beer in the water, and the Lazy Lizard has some really good ceviches. If you explore off the main roads, you can also find really good banana bread being sold by locals. Before you know it, you’ll have to get back to the ferry terminal and head back to San Pedro! We would stay in Caye Caulker for 1-2 nights next time.
The local currency is the Belizean dollar and it is pegged to the US dollar, which makes it somewhat expensive for Canadians. In general, we found the price of things to be similar to Costa Rica. It is definitely more expensive than Mexico but not as expensive as Hawaii.
In Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, the going rate for a local beer is usually $5-$6 Belize ($2.50-$3.00US), a ceviche is about $25-$60 Belize ($12.50-$30) and depends on size and ingredients, cocktails range from $10-$30 Belize ($5-$15 USD) depending on where you are. Meals at mid-range restaurants range from about $50-$100USD depending on what you order. For us, a couple of beers and ceviche was usually $30USD and fancier meals about $75USD (with tax and tip).
Our accommodations in Ambergris Caye were in the $200USD-$250USD per night range + taxes and fees, which was quite reasonable compared to places like Hawaii. It is very hard to find accommodations in popular beach destinations for under $200USD anymore unless you want to stay in a hostel.
We also recommend having a look at the activities and their pricing to determine a budget. Private charters are definitely more expensive than group tours. Some day tours where you go fishing and snorkeling can cost about $500USD-$700USD or more per person for the day. A diving/snorkeling trip to the Great Blue Hole is about $400USD for the day. Other snorkeling tours to Hol Chan can range from $10USD-$100USD. Prices vary and they do seem to be negotiable. You can find out more by talking to tour providers in San Pedro by the ferry terminal or doing your research online.
For our flights on Maya Air between Belize City and San Pedro, it was $175USD return per person for the cheapest fares. Fares appear to stay similarly priced throughout the year and by carrier for this route.
Golf cart prices also vary but it always a better deal to book for more than one day at a time. We paid $175USD for a one week golf cart rental and $30USD to fill up the tank twice.
7) Cash or Card:
Cash and card are widely accepted. Smaller places access cash only. You can pay with US dollars and you will often get change back in Belize Dollars. Unlike Mexico, you can add the tip to the card in many places but cash is always preferred. We ended up taking US dollars as it was not possible to buy Belize Dollars easily in Canada. We were also unsure if Canadian Dollars would be easy to convert and wanted to avoid converting twice.
If you are renting a golf cart, cash is the preferred method of payment for gas.
You also need to make sure your US dollars are in pristine condition of they may not be accepted: we had no issues but read that some places did not accept bills that looked old. Thankfully, the bills we took out from a Bank of America ATM at the Los Angeles airport were brand new.
Overall, we found Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker to be very safe and recommend taking normal precautions to prevent and discourage petty crime. For example, if we had valuables with us at the beach, we each took turns going swimming to let one person watch our belongings. We also did not leave any items in our golf cart as there was nowhere to lock them. We also made sure to keep our belongings in eyesight and nearby at all times.
As for the driving, the roads in Ambegris Caye were rough and bumpy due to the massive potholes, but you can’t really go that fast and cars are few and far between on the roads. If you are not paying attention and being very careful, you could tip or crash your golf cart.
One thing that people often overlook is ocean safety. We always encountered calm and mostly shallow waters swimming, kayaking and paddleboarding but you should take precautions when out on the water, like bring enough water, bring a life vest, and only swim in designated areas to ensure boats can see you.
9) Is it worth visiting the Great Blue Hole?
The Great Blue Hole is a giant marine sinkhole off the coast of Belize. It lies near the center of Lighthouse Reef, a small atoll 70 km from the mainland and Belize City. The hole is circular in shape, 318 m across and 124 m deep. It has a surface area of 70,650 square metres. It’s a very popular day trip for people and from our research, some people think it is a must visit and worth the time and money and others are disappointed. Realistically, your expectations of an experience will impact your enjoyment. As we do not dive, we decided to skip visiting the Great Blue Hole. One option we considered was taking a flight to see it from the air which costs about $300USD per person for a 1 hour flight tour.
10) Where to eat and drink:
You will run out of time to try all the restaurants and bars in Ambergris Caye! Here are some of our favorites and some recommendations:
- The Truck Stop is a small food truck village with a full bar, a pool, movie nights, and other events. It’s really hard to drive by and not stop in for a beer, especially to watch the sunset over the mangroves.
- Moon Bar at Mangata Villas for pizzas and drinks on the beach.
- Elvi’s Kitchen for a nice lunch or dinner and (in our opinion), the best coconut mojitos. Reservations for dinner are recommended.
- Maxie’s Restaurant and Lounge for some local and international food and drinks in a more modern setting. We loved the calamari, ceviche, and tacos.
- Tipsy Lobster for ceviche. This was probably our favorite ceviche of all the ones we tried.
- Blue Bayou in Secret Beach to enjoy ceviche, tacos, and whole fried fish with some drinks, in the water.
- Aurora’s Bar and Grill in Secret Beach for ceviche and drinks on the beach. If you are staying in Secret Beach, we recommend a beachside dinner (book in advance!).
- Roadkill in Secret Beach for burgers and drinks. Most things close around 5:00pm in Secret Beach but Roadkill stays open later.
- Stella’s Sunset Wine Bar and Restaurant for a romantic sunset dinner. We were expecting more seafood on the menu but enjoyed the burgers, the black bean dip and drinks. Service was excellent! Reservations highly recommended.
- Sandy Toe’s Beach Bar and grill for ceviche, conch fritters and cold beers. More of an open air sports bar setting but we enjoyed it!
- Matachica Mambo for Taco Tuesday.
- Juvinie’s Sport Bar and Cevicheria for ceviche and drinks.
- Robin’s Kitchen for jerk chicken.
We also recommend walking around San Pedro at night and just trying what looks good. There are lots of places that only open in the evening.
11) Fishing in Belize:
Many people on our flight were heading to Belize for fishing: Belize is a renowned fishing destination due to its abundance of marine life. If you are between the ages of 16-65, you will need to get a fishing license online. For more information about fishing in Belize and to purchase a fishing license, click here.
Compared to other places we visited, Belize is one of the easiest from a language perspective: English is the most spoken language. Yes, the official language in Belize is English due to the country being colonized by the British. Spanish, Belizean Creole, Garifuna and Indigenous Mayan languages are also spoken. We did not struggle at all from a language perspective, unlike our trip to Colombia where we were not prepared to speak Spanish as much we had to. If you have never been to the Caribbean or Mexico, Belize is a good place to start as it is much less intimidating, especially when it comes to being able to speak English everywhere.
13) Bugs and Other Creatures:
We will put this bluntly: if you don’t want to encounter bugs or other critters, you may want to avoid tropical destinations in general. They are less common in some places but not entirely avoidable. From our experience, Barbados and Hawaii are the places where you will encounter the least amount of bugs and creatures but they still exist. Compared to other places we have been, like Indonesia, Costa Rica, and Koh Samui, the bugs in Belize were easy enough to handle. The amount and type of critters also vary: in Costa Rica last year in the Playa Conchal area, we encountered large grasshopper creatures called “langostas” that are common at times during dry season and not others. Belize is somewhat similar and it also depends where you are.
In Ambergris Caye, the most common bugs are mosquitoes, sandflies, sea roaches/lice, fire ants, different types of flies, and some snakes, and scorpions. On our trip, we encountered mosquitoes, sandflies, sea roaches/lice, and we did see a small scorpion. The most annoying were the sandflies (AKA no-seeums) and the sea roaches/lice.
As for the sea roaches/lice, this was a new occurrence for us and while annoying, it was manageable. We spend a lot of time checking out TripAdvisor forums about this and people had very mixed opinions and experiences. They are mostly only found on the lagoon side of Ambergris Caye, including the stunning Secret Beach. “Sea roaches” aka “sea lice” are basically translucent doodlebugs that get on your skin in the water if the sand gets kicked up too much. They are actually jellyfish larvae that live in the sand in very calm waters and look like little white crawfish. We applied lots of oily sunscreen to try to deter them from sticking to us but we did encounter a few. We also decided to use a standup paddleboard to get further away from shore to swim to avoid kicking up the sand near the shore and mangrove areas. They are also more common at different times of the year from what we have read. The lagoon side of Ambergris Caye should not be avoided due to these little creatures and we recommend being aware and taking precautions to minimize encountering them and if one does get stuck on you, it is easy to remove it and we did not end up with rashes.
We highly recommend reading the San Pedro Scoop’s blog post about the bugs for tips on how to handle them. Spoiler: natural insect repellant doesn’t work for mosquitoes or no-seeums!
14) The beaches:
As many of Belize’s beaches are east facing, they do experience sargassum seaweed at various times. During our visit, the amount of sargassum seaweed was minimal and did not keep us out of the water.
Some of the beaches in Belize may not look like the pristine white sand beaches and bright blue aqua water you find in the Caribbean as many do have seagrass. The seagrass makes the water look brownish yellow and is a little unpleasant to swim in but can be avoided during high tide. The seagrass is often linked to or adjacent to mangroves and reefs and plays an important part in preserving marine life, hence why it cannot be removed. We also experienced seagrass recently in Fiji and while it took some getting used to, it should not deter you from swimming or visiting Belize.
If you are in Ambergris Caye and there is a lot of sargassum seaweed, you can head to the lagoon side and enjoy the water on Secret Beach thankfully. All the beach clubs offer water access and some even offer paddleboards.
We loved being able to enjoy ceviche almost everywhere with a cold beer or cocktail as well as other treats: the coconut mojito at Elvie’s Kitchen, the black bean dip at Stella’s Sunset, pizzas and caipirinhas at Moon Bar, craft beer and satays at the Truck Stop, taco Tuesday at Blue Bayou, and a bonfire dinner with other hotel guests at Aurora’s on Secret Beach. We also enjoyed our day trip to Caye Caulker to experience an even slower pace of life.
We really want to come back to revisit familiar favorites and also explore more of Belize as it offers travelers tourist infrastructure that makes you feel comfortable but without the mass tourism effects of other popular destinations nearby.
We enjoyed our trip to Belize even more than we expected we would! For us, getting to spend hours enjoying water activities, the ease of getting around on a golf cart, and the overall “no shoes, no shirt, no problem” vibe really suited us!
Ambergris Caye was a place where we didn’t look at the time: we just enjoyed the passing of each day from sunrise to sunset. We also met so many lovely people, both locals, and other tourists, and enjoyed the friendly and convivial atmosphere.
Have you been to Ambergris Caye? What is your favorite place for ceviche? Did you enjoy driving around in a golf cart?