For more on what brings us to Belize for a year, read The Belize Move.
Lori and I spent her holiday break traveling around Belize and Guatemala for 17 days with her brother, Dan. Dan and I spent his first afternoon in Belize taking a drive up the Old Northern Highway to Altun Ha and attempting to reach Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary (which didn’t turn out quite as planned). After meeting up with Lori in Belize City the following day, we caught a water taxi to our next stop, Caye Caulker.
On Day 3, we took a day trip to San Pedro, about a 30 minute water taxi ride north. The weather was fantastic and Lori and I (and Dan) had never been to Ambergris Caye and were all looking forward to it. Lori and I, more than anything, were just curious what the fuss was about. After all, San Pedro is perhaps visited by more tourists than any other place in Belize. Needless to say, we had high expectations.
Of course, San Pedro and Ambergris Caye are beautiful, I’m not about to dispute that. But what struck me upon our approach was how much it resembled Caye Caulker…or at least Caye Caulker in an alternate universe where Belize has four times the population. I didn’t expect to see so many piers jutting out into the water. Caulker, after all, is known for their rickety and picturesque palapa-tipped docks dotting the coastline around the island. Nobody ever talks about San Pedro’s docks, but San Pedro certainly has more.
Holy mother of pearl IT’S PAVED! We had not expected the main drag to be in such fine condition, considering the rest of the country. The cobblestone, we’ve been told, is a relatively new addition to the main drag in San Pedro.
It seems, on Ambergris, that everyone has a golf cart. On Caulker, a handful of people drive around golf carts, but it seems a tad bit necessary for the size of the island. Ambergris, by comparison is huge, so it really does make sense if you live outside of town.
We took an early water taxi from Caye Caulker and made it to Ambergris in time to enjoy a relaxing breakfast on the beach at Estel’s Dine-by-the-Sea. I love this place. The vibe is a nice mix of funky local (though the clientele on this particular morning was decidedly not local). The entire menu is written on a huge chalk board as you enter, and it takes a while to take it all in — they’ve got a little bit of everything. The floor is all sand. There are three dining area options: Inside, out on the covered deck and down on the beach. The place was packed so we didn’t have much of a choice, but we ended up down on the beach which was pretty cool.
After breakfast, we headed down the beach for a stroll in the morning sunshine.
Call it ignorance (or perhaps wishful thinking) but, at least in town, we were hard-pressed to find a proper sandy swimming beach along the lines of elsewhere we had been in the Caribbean. I guess we had assumed that folks came in droves to Ambergris over Caulker…for the beaches…and maybe there are wonderful sandy beaches — where people can actually be seen lounging, sun-bathing, reading a book, perhaps — farther north of the island (we went as far as Palapa Bar, which is decidedly outside of San Pedro), but we just didn’t see them.
We had read (and had been told) that Ramon’s Village Resort had the biggest and best beach in town, so we were anxious to catch a glimpse. The biggest and best beach in town is a 100-yard long stretch of sand wedged between two active boat docks. The swimming area is covered completely in sea grass. Honestly, I’ll take the Split at Caulker over San Pedro “beaches” any day.
Walking north along San Pedro’s long expanse of sandy waterfront, we did happen upon this tiny little beach, which looked inviting given the relative lack of seagrass and boats motoring about.
I think part of the issue with Ambergris’ beaches is related to erosion. Like the rest of Belize, Ambergris is storm (and hurricane) prone. Hurricanes don’t make landfall often here but when they do, they’re incredibly destructive. Erosion, in general terms, is something that the entire coastline of Belize has been increasingly grappling with over the past few decades. Some folks use tires or make-shift dredging to try and preserve their beachfront. Other seaside communities have gone ahead and constructed hearty seawalls (as pictured above), which is somewhat effective in stemming future erosion, but eliminates any hope of having a traditional beach…not that these communities have any other option.
The best place to take a swim that we found was toward the very far north end of town (before the bridge). We got a good twenty minutes of swimming in before the skies turned dark and threatening and we decided to best be moving on.
We were trying to reach Palapa Bar, which judging by our map, was just north of the bridge. We got about fifty yards up the road when the sky broke loose and sent us running for cover. The nearest place happened to be this burger joint, DJ’s Burgers. We didn’t have any burgers (we were saving ourselves for Palapa Bar), but got to try Kubuli beer (the special — from Dominica) for the first time, which weren’t bad…weren’t bad at all. Finishing our Kubulis coincided nicely with the rains letting up, at which point we settled up and got back on the road.
So, Palapa Bar did not end up being just over the bridge, but rather over a mile north of the bridge. We took the inland road up, past condos and resorts, trying to reach this place. It was a long and arduous journey on an empty stomach in the midday heat, but we persevered.
Now, if you’re familiar with Ambergris Caye north of town, you may have noticed that these last few pics were from the stretch north of Palapa Bar (not south). Yeah…basically I was too hungry to snap any photos along the way, so you get to enjoy these photos here, instead.
Finally, the mirage in the desert turns out to be real. We were starting to question whether this place actually exists — after all, having a bucket of beer lowered down to you while floating lazily in the Caribbean sounded too good to be true!
To be continued…