I’ve been to Belize twice as a tourist, but not this time. This visit to Belize isn’t exactly for fun, sun, and diving this time. Instead, I went to San Pedro to help a longtime friend, who is currently a Belize resident. Here are a few tips and observations from my latest visit to San Pedro in Belize.
Arriving into Philip Goldson International airport in Belize City (BZE,) all visitors are subject to customs inspections. My friend had asked me to purchase some Southern Comfort from the duty free at Dallas Fort-Worth Airport. Belizean customs ended up charging me customs because visitors are only allowed to bring in one bottle of alcohol. I had purchased a twin pack at DFW, so I was subject to 50% tax on one of the bottles. So my $14 bottle of booze was subject to $7 tariff. If you’re going to bring booze, the first bottle is free, everything past that is subject to tariff
A round trip ticket from BZE to San Pedro’s airport on the island of Ambergris Caye (Caye is pronounced KEY, like Key West,) is $120 USD on Tropic Air. Before my trip, I asked about taking the boat from BZE to Ambergris Caye. The boat ride itself is cheaper, perhaps $20 USD, but it takes off from the Water Taxi terminal in downtown Belize City. The cab ride to downtown Belize City can cost around $40 and take 30 minutes. The boat ride to Ambergris Caye is a little over an hour. Since the cost would be around the same for a round trip regardless of boat or airplane, I opted for the quicker route via air.
San Pedro is the only town on the island of Ambergris Caye, and it’s a popular destination for tourists. Most of the tourists end up staying in the downtown area, as there are many hotels and resorts there. San Pedro is a relatively small town, with around 12,000 residents, so it’s easy for the locals to spot tourists. As a visitor, I found that whenever I’m in the downtown area, and I’m approached by the locals, it’s usually because they want to sell me something. I hate to generalize, but every time I’ve been approached a Rasta looking person, it’s to see if I wished to purchase marijuana. I politely said no and was on my way. They seem to respect that fact and continue on their own way. I have no problem with those that do wish to partake in the weed, but it is illegal in Belize, and I don’t relish the fact of being a foreign national in another country’s jail. For informational purposes, the dealers tend to frequent the beach areas and main streets around Central Park.
My friend told me that Belize requires prices to be in Belizean dollars. Belizean currency is directly tied into the United States Dollar at $2 BZ to $1 US. Just remember 2 to 1, so a menu entrée in a restaurant is $22 Belize is actually $11 USD. Plus tax is supposed to be fully calculated, so it’s harder to cheat tourists on such things.
The local beer is Belikin, and it’s fairly good and cheap, usually around $5 to $7 Belize. The Belikin brewery is visible from the runway at BZE. Most reputable restaurants and bars will serve bottles of Belikin, or anything else in a glass bottle to you with a napkin around the top. The reason for this is that Belize is quite humid, and also susceptible to the salt air from the ocean. This sometimes rusts the metal bottle caps to the beer and soda bottles. If it’s not served with a napkin, kindly ask for one and wipe the mouth of the bottle. I'm not kidding about this.
The beach on San Pedro is mostly made of coral sand, so it can be gritty, abrasive sand. The beaches in San Pedro aren’t your typical beaches you’d lay out to sun yourself. A good portion of the east facing beach has a large concrete seawall to prevent the beaches from eroding into the ocean. There is also a lot of sea grass in the water, which is legally prevented from being removed due to erosion. You could still find a nice spot to lie out on the beach, but the actual beach is quite narrow, and there’s a lot of traffic on the beach. There are a lot of piers, with tourists and workers going to and from the piers and along the beaches. There is a legal principle called the "Queen’s Beach," which allows people to walk along the beach or seawall. Beachfront property owners cannot block passage to people walking along the beach. I found that a nice thing to do is walk along the beach during the early morning and late evenings. An observation I noticed is that there are a lot of unfinished luxury condos along the beach, mostly further away from the downtown area. These ended up being unfortunate victims of the recession, as people can’t afford to buy second homes, which impedes their construction.
It’s quite easy to get around San Pedro. As a visitor, there are taxis, and bicycle and golf cart rentals. The roads in San Pedro are narrow, made of rough paver stones, and there are large speed bumps and dips all over the place. It’s hard to keep a nice car in San Pedro, as they get gritty and have their suspensions overworked from the bumps and dips. I had a chance to drive my friend’s golf cart on trips to the hardware store. It’s almost impossible to go past 20-25 miles per hour due to road and traffic conditions. There are also pedestrians and bicyclists everywhere. There are traffic police too, speeding around on little motorcycles with flashing blue lights.
Since San Pedro is a small town, walking around San Pedro isn’t very hard, although it can get sweaty, as it’s quite humid in areas. Walking along the beach is quite nice, although slower due to walking on sand. The beach offers nice views and a cool ocean breeze to keep the humidity down. The beach is also a good reference point, as when you’re walking north or south on the beach, there’s no mistaking where you’re going. One caution during the night though, lighting is sparse along the beach, and it is advisable to bring a flashlight for certain parts, as the seawall has abrupt changes of direction or ends in some areas and then continues. There are a few bars around my friend’s house, and it was quite easy to walk home, we took the opportunity to visit a few bars and enjoy ourselves. From my friend’s house, it’s three-quarters of a mile to Central Park in downtown Belize, and about 12 minutes walk via the beach or a few minutes less via surface streets.
There are mosquitoes in San Pedro. They’re small little bastards, difficult to see, and mostly come out at night. I got bit around 40-50 times during my visit, mainly due to the fact that I was helping my friend with several projects. If you’re visiting San Pedro, it’s advisable to purchase some mosquito repellent with DEET back home to bring with you. The mosquito repellent is quite expensive in San Pedro, usually around $8-10 US for a spray can of Off. For that matter, drugs are a bit more expensive, so you might want to bring a little bit of cold medicine or something for your allergies if you need, rather than buy them in San Pedro.
Hopefully these tips and observations will assist those wanting to visit San Pedro, and not drive them off. Despite the fact that I was there to help my friend, it was still a good vacation for me. I had timed my visit around San Pedro’s Lobsterfest, which has a large street party on Saturday, June 19, 2010. The Lobsterfest street party had lots of lobster in every form imaginable, as well as lots of fun entertainment. I plan to time my next visit to San Pedro to coincide with Lobsterfest again, if possible. All in all, I really enjoyed my time in San Pedro, and it’s my pleasure to share it with others, hopefully they will visit and have a good time as well.