SAN PEDRO TOWN
Ambergris Caye is the name of Belize's largest island. The history of the island goes back to the days of the Maya, European Pirates, and Mexican Refugees who fled during the Caste War. The descendants from Mexico make up most of the island's population today. The economy of the island was once dependent on the coconut industry, followed by the fishing industry, but it is now dependent on tourism.
Ambergris Caye (pronounced Am-BUR-gris or Am-BUR-grease Key) is the largest of some 200 cayes that dot the coastline of Belize. Ambergris is 25 miles long and a little over a mile wide, in some places, and it is located in the clear shallow waters of the Caribbean Sea just off the tip of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.
Her coastline is protected by the 190 miles long Barrier Reef, the second largest living coral reef in the world. In Mayan times, Ambergris Caye was a trading post. The Marco Gonzalez ruins at the southern tip of the caye and the Basil Jones site to the north, as well as the many recently excavated "home sites" in the heart of San Pedro Town give evidence to a former Maya population of 10,000. The narrow channel that separates Mexico and Belize was dug by the Maya to provide a trade route from the bay of Chetumal to the Caribbean.
Following the Maya came the whalers and buccaneers and the ancestors of present day residents who were fishermen and workers in the coconut plantations. Today tourism has replaced fishing as the major source of income for the islanders although the mahogany skiffs are still in service for charter fishing and diving.
San Pedro Town is the only inhabited area on the island. It's atmosphere is that of a small bustling fishing village but with "hot spots" of events, restaurants, and entertainment.
The town is clustered with wooden houses, some with Mexican decor, others Caribbean, and some still remain with the English colonial architecture. Gift shops, boutiques, bars, cafes, and restaurants adorn Front And Middle streets (now named Barrier Reef Drive/Pescador Drive). A short walk in town and you'll feel the friendliness of the people and witness the ease of their lifestyles as they go through daily life. Barefeet, tee-shirts, and shorts is the typical island dress code.
The people of the island are called "Sanpedranos" and speak English, Spanish, Creole, and Maya all at the same time, making it their own island dialect. They are proud of their heritage and are willing to share it with tourists. Before tourism picked up in the eighties, the islanders were mostly Mestizos (Maya-Spanish). Today they share their island with the Creole, Maya, Central American refugees, and Americans that have made San Pedro their new home.
The island's biggest tourist attraction is the Belize Barrier Reef that runs parallel along the entire coast of Belize. The reef is only a quarter mile from the beach of Ambergris Caye making diving easily accessible. The island's seaside is jammed with jetties and dive shops which offer trips to the different dive sites and to the Great Blue Hole. There are also certified scuba lessons in NAUI, PADI, and SSI. One of the most popular dive sites is the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, which is only a ten-minute boat ride from town. The reef's beauty and richness has put Belize among the top ten dive destinations in the world.
The evenings on the island are a social event. You will find tourists and islanders at different bars and restaurants listening to reggae and latin music and sharing the day's adventures. For those that like to take a day off from diving, the travel agencies in town arrange day tours to the Maya archeological sites and Belize's lush rain forest. For those who just want to relax, a day on the sandy beach will certainly do.
When planning your next vacation to one of those exotic islands that offer everything but crowds, remember my name is. . . Ambergris Caye!