SAN PEDRO, BELIZE — I’ve just arrived on Belize’s island of Ambergris Caye, the country’s largest island, and although I’ve stepped off a puddle jumper flight over the vibrant blue-green waters of the Caribbean to get here, I’m more captivated by the scene I find in the town’s centre.
I’m standing outside the tiny airport on the corner of a busy intersection in the island’s only inhabited area, and I feel like I’m watching a parade - except that it’s real life. People riding bikes, often two or three to a bike, and passenger-packed golf carts are zooming by me in an endless stream.
Perhaps an attempt to quell climate change, I wonder?
Turns out, it’s simply the way of life.
Left: Sunsets on Ambergris Caye are breathtaking. Right: Golf carts are the best form of transportation.
“Unless you’re rich, you don’t own a golf cart, and nobody but construction and tour companies own cars,” says a local taxi driver who picks me up. “Most get around the island on their bikes.”
Soon, I’m one of them.
For the next four days, I base myself at the Mahogany Bay Resort & Beach Club, just a few minutes from San Pedro. It’s one of the Ambergris’ Cave’s newer arrivals, and it functions as its own village.
A main social hub, the Great House, encompasses the resort’s restaurant, bar and swimming pool while guests stay in cottages or townhomes just a quick walk, golf cart or bike ride away. The rest of the village is comprised of food shacks, sit-down restaurants, a coffee shop, chocolatier, even a wellness studio where I try aerial yoga and receive an ashiatsu massage. An artisan market sets up here every weekend.
Above: Some lucky visitors get to lounge on stilted cabins and enjoy the endless sunshine.
The resort does have waterfront access – I love sitting on the dock to watch the sunset, a local brew from Belikin in hand – but it’s not beachfront. Instead, Mahogany Bay has a private beach club, which it delivers guests to via boat, and there, you’ll find a white sand beach with clear blue water where you can kayak, go stand-up paddle boarding, play volleyball, eat and drink or just lounge. Numerous hammocks dot the water, and if you’re lucky, you’ll score an over-the-water hut.
Yet the above is just a prelude to the real deal, the Belize Barrier Reef. It’s the second largest living coral reef in the world at 280km long. From San Pedro, I take a 10-minute boat ride to a popular diving and snorkelling site on the reef called the Hol Chan Marine Reserve.
The current here is surprisingly strong, so much that some in my group quickly tire. But that doesn’t diminish the quality of the water. I see dozens of colourful fish I’ll never be able to name, sea turtles and nurse sharks, and although I’ve not yet been to the world’s largest reef, I can at least say I’ve snorkelled at this one.
While the water is one of the main draws for Belize tourists, I’m more of a landlubber, and when the bike beckons, I heed the call. I am, after all, only doing as the locals do, and for hours each day, I pedal the island.
Above: The awesome beaches, that stretch along the island's coast, are among the best in Latin America.
It’s not a difficult task, as the island is only 42km long and roughly one 2.5km wide, so getting lost isn’t an issue, and of course, car traffic isn’t a worry. In fact, because bikes are so much a part of the culture, cyclists are well respected, and every shop and restaurant has bike racks. Another bonus about visiting Belize is that it’s the only Central American country where English is the official language, although don’t be surprised when you hear locals speak Creole, too.
From the resort, I pedal into San Pedro. It takes me about 15 minutes to reach the city, which is awash in colour. Buildings are painted almost every colour of the rainbow, and they’re positioned to flow with the easy-to-navigate streets.
Everything here is local, and I enjoy several meals in San Pedro - beans and rice being a local staple, which I love slathering with a local hot sauce called Marie Sharp’s. Although you can buy it in the States and Canada, it’s cheaper to buy it here, so I stock up. I also stop at a roadside fruit stand to buy locally grown bananas and later, explore an artisan market.
Another day I pedal to the northern part of the island. A short bridge separates the two sides of the island, and once you cross it, the setting is more serene and country-like.
It’s never easy leaving a destination you love, especially one that makes you feel so welcome. But I know I’ll be back. After all, my supply of locally sourced hot sauce will someday run out.
JUST THE FACTS
Ambergris Caye may be small in size, but its restaurant options are numerous. Here are five to put on your radar:
- JYOTO Japanese restaurant: This is one of the sit-down restaurants in Mahogany’s Bay village, and when you see the dishes, you’ll know why they’re called works of art.
- Elvi’s Kitchen: Ask any islander their favourite restaurant, and this one will no doubt be tops. You can enjoy a Grand Mayan buffet on Friday nights.
- Mesa Cafe: This is the spot to go for healthy dishes that range from bean and shrimp burgers to sweet potato tacos.
- Juice Dive: When you need to cool off with a cold-pressed juice, stop here.
- The Truck Stop: Just north of San Pedro is this unique shipping container food park that serves everything from arepas and Malaysian food to ice cream.