The 25-mile strip of white sands known as Ambergris Caye, or Isla Bonita, “Beautiful Island,” is the largest of about 200 cayes located off the northeast coast of Belize in the Caribbean Sea, south of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. Having been separated from the rest of the peninsula by a Maya-dug canal since around 600 A.D., it’s no surprise the majority of the inhabitants are of Mexican descent today – the Hispanic influence evident in the spoken language, customs and dishes.
Once a laid-back village, Ambergris came to resemble more of a tourist town starting in the early 1970s. Today, with a population of some 20,000 inhabitants, Belize’s top destination boasts the country’s most expats and most sophisticated style of living – pairing a casual beach life with the luxury of upscale amenities. While the island’s outer limits remain relatively remote, you will find a number of small villages and resorts, friendly mom-and-pop stores, dozens of restaurants and an entertaining nightlife. And, with the island’s greatest attraction, the Belize Barrier Reef (the Western Hemisphere’s longest barrier reef, and the world’s second largest after Australia’s Great Barrier), only a 10-minute boat ride from shore, Ambergris – with its crystal-clear waters and almost always sunny weather – is a welcoming paradise for divers, snorkelers and fisherman. Dive shops – many attached to hotels, experienced dive masters and the needed equipment and facilities are found by the dozen. Although, the majority of visitors just spend their time snorkeling, fishing, sailboarding, swimming, or sunbathing poolside.
San Pedro Town, with a population of around 4,000 full and part-time residents, is the island’s main settlement. There you will find hotels and nightlife in the old fishing village, which boasts the most inspired, appetizing dining scene in Belize. The reef only a half-mile off shore, San Pedro makes for an excellent base for dive tours to more than 35 local sites and beyond, as well as for mainland adventure including jungle river expeditions, cave tubing, visits to Maya temples, and wildlife adventures to Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary.