San Pedro, on the island of Ambergris Caye, Belize (Madonna’s ‘Isla Bonita’) is stunningly gorgeous with epic snorkelling and perfectly spiced food. No wonder this was where the Material Girl longed to be. I travelled in March with my family and the kids were given a rare look at a country whose scenic beauty rivals it’s poverty.
The pride exuded by the islanders was life-altering. I watched a woman and her son shovel seaweed into wheelbarrows on her day off. The houses in the poor community of San Mateo are mostly nestled in water and the seaweed is dumped into the pools in hopes of eventually producing earth. We watched men wrestle goats onto a golf cart as the animals wouldn’t cross a bridge on foot. We saw unprotected ruins in the wilderness where there are still artifacts lying around. Iguanas, crocodiles, BBQ to die for and several encounters with sea life made the two week jaunt the memory of a lifetime for the whole family. The trip begins with a flight from the mainland on Tropic Air over turquoise water and islands that dot the ocean. It’s almost as if someone has written calligraphy using tiny islands.
20 Tips for a Family Trip to Ambergris Caye, Belize.
1. Wahoo’s is a must to witness the Tuesday night chicken drop. You bet on a number and sprinkle lots of feed on the desired area of a square board covered in numbers. If the chicken defecates on your number, you win. Endless giggles from the kids. You can also purchase T-Shirts that say ‘Chicken Security’.
2. Check out Coco Locos on Monday for the cribbage tournament and every night for bocce on the beach overlooking the ocean. Marlon became the most popular bartender on the island for the splash of grenadine he swirled on the kids’ pina coladas.
3. Bring school supplies from home to the Holy Cross Anglican School. There is a list of needed items on their website and the kids are eternally grateful. The students will teach your kids some pretty cool games during recess.
4. Buy wood carvings on the road and make sure they are wrapped well for the trip home. Fins of the beautifully carved sharks tend to break.
5. As the only sports bar, Feliz is a hoot and has the most gorgeous candy-coloured stools. Ask to play the dice game.
6. Fidos has great burgers and if you’re lucky you will catch some local dancers practicing on the beach.
7. Head to Wild Mangos early for lunch if you want a seat. Save me some armadillo eggs. I went back over 4 times to devour them.
8. Brunch at Estel’s is fab, and the whole restaurant has sand on the floor for barefoot enjoyment. The town playground is also next door so you can sip a Belkin while watching your kids play.
9. If you’re a McDonald’s fan, the Road Kill Cafe has managed to duplicate the taste of the famous burgers – using mostly organic and free range beef I might add. (As a McDonald’s All-Access Mom I saw the natural beef and burger processes with my own eyes and giggled to see the taste replicated with Belizian organic ingredients). Karaoke on Thursdays is a blast.
10. Crazy Canucks is the place to be on Sunday, if only to witness the weekly horseshoe tournament. You’ll want the boneless wings. Locals will scamper up trees for you and bring you fresh coconuts. They will also make you a helmet out of a coconut shell. Crazy Canucks is right.
11. The Hol Chan Marine Reserve and shark/ray alley are must-dos. You pay a fee as you enter the reserve by boat and the reef is so shallow that the fish life is the best I have ever seen. My son saw sharks, turtles and a 7-foot moray eel in the first 4 minutes of his first foray into snorkelling!
12. Rent a golf cart – it’s so fun!
13. Have your kids play with locals in the park at the town square. You’ll be shocked at how language and economics make no difference in the games.
14. Belize Zoo/Western Belize: This trip usually begins with a flight on Tropic Air to the municipal airport, where you connect with a shuttle bus which takes you on the Western Highway for a visit to the wonderful Belize Zoo, maybe a quick peep at Belmopan, Belize’s mini-capital, lunch and perhaps a tour of Xunantunich, a Classic Period Maya site.
15. Altun Ha Ruins: You go by boat across to the mangrove cut, where you transfer to a van to visit this Maya site, which dates back some 2,000 years, on the Old Northern Highway. There is an abundance of wildlife, such as monkeys… for the more leisurely who would rather see the jungle, cool off, enjoy swinging like Jane and Tarzan, and perhaps get mood mud treatments and lunch at Maruba Spa.
16. Caye Caulker: A day trip to Ambergris Caye’s “little brother” island can be done by air or boat. If the latter, the trip is usually packaged with a snorkeling tour. One of the best trips to Caulker is on the Winnie Estelle, a classic island trader. Several catamarans also do this trip.
17. Lazy Croc BBQ is a north of the bridge must. Eat your BBQ as you watch the crocodiles swim in the lagoon. The cuisine is authentic and the atmosphere totally relaxed. Just keep your feet out of the water..
18. The Palapa Bar is a two floor palapa attached to the mainland by a long dock. Tied-up innertubes are serviced by a bucket that is sent to you filled with Belkin, and kids are able to draw all over the furniture, floors and walls with sharpies.
19. The sand is extraordinary for castle building. But beware – the tide will rise and you may have some disappointed kids the next day.
20. Finally? Hop on a catamaran and ask the crew to jump in and make you fresh conch cevice straight from the ocean.