ambergris-ocean-balcony-view-3

San Pedro – Ambergris Caye – Belize – Information


NOVEMBER 2016:





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OVERVIEW:

I made my way from Merida (Mexico) to San Pedro (Belize) by public transport. I stopped off to see some ruins on the way in both Uxmal and Calakmul (Xpujil).

In Merida, I stayed in a GRANDPAcking Standard hotel: the Doralba Inn.merida-doralba-room-balconymerida-doralba-ensuite-entry merida-doralba-room-entry merida-doralba-room-beds merida-doralba-room-furniture

I got the Doralba at a discounted rate of MXP469 / night (US$26) including Buffet Breakfast.

It was time to leave Mexico behind and to head for Belize … the next country on my ‘around the world’ adventure.


XPUJIL TO SAN PEDRO:

I started the final part of my journey to Belize in Xpujil, Mexico (where I had stopped to see the ruins at Calakmul).belize-location-map

From Xpujil you need to get to Chetumal (Mexico). From Chetumal, you can either catch a Water Taxi to Belize or a Bus.

As I say in my post about Xpujil, considering it is on a main road there are surprisingly few buses servicing it. The buses to Chetumal leave at 2:00am, 3:00am, 2:30pm, and 5:30pm. I decided to catch a Colectivo.xpujil-calakmul-44

From my Xpujil hotel it was an 800m walk to the Colectivos: opposite the ADO Bus Terminal. There are Colectivos driving around but the Colectivo to Chetumal is, actually, a shared Taxi.

When it gets 4 passengers, the Taxi leaves. The price is MXP110 and it takes just under 1.5 hours.

I asked the driver to drop me off near to the International Maritime Terminal (where you catch the Water Taxi to Belize). He could have done so easily, we passed within 100 meters of it and I pointed that out to him. Instead, he stopped 1 km away where he dropped off the other passengers. I did not tip him.


LEAVING CHETUMAL, MEXICO:

It was an easy 1 km walk to the International Maritime Terminal.chetumal-international-boat-terminal-1 chetumal-international-boat-terminal-2It was 1:00pm. The next boat left at 3:30pm. The ticket to San Pedro (Ambergris Caye, Belize) was MXP950. They give you a number … mine was #32. I didn’t know what it was for … I assumed that it was my seat number.

We had to be ready at 2:00pm to start clearing Mexican Immigration.

Your main suitcases / backpacks are checked through and held in a visible holding area. You queue to clear Mexican Immigration and pay your MXP390 ‘Departure Tax’.chetumal-international-boat-terminal-2Your main luggage is checked by a ‘sniffer dog’ and so is all hand luggage.

We boarded on time and left for San Pedro. The journey takes 1 hour 40 minutes.chetumal-boat-to-ambergris-mxp950 chetumal-boat-to-ambergris-seating

Before we got onto the boat in Chetumal, one of the crew told us that we would get a better exchange rate for MXP on the boat than in Belize. I checked online in advance: MXP1000 was BZ$96. On the boat, they offered us BZ$105 for MXP1000. I changed MXP4,000 into BZ$s.


ARRIVING IN SAN PEDRO:

Everyone disembarks to clear Belize Immigration … even those continuing on to Caye Caulker or Belize City.

My bag was first off the boat, so I headed for Immigration and I was first in the queue.ambergris-immigration-terminal

But, the Immigration Officer told us to line up according to our given number. I was #32 and ended up at the back of the queue.

There were only 40 of us but it still took them 45 minutes to process everyone. You pay BZ$2.50 ‘Arrival Tax’.ambergris-view-from-customs


ABOUT SAN PEDRO:

San Pedro is a town on the southern part of the island of Ambergris Caye in Belize, Central America.ambergris-caye-location-map

According to 2015 mid-year estimates, the town has a population of about 16,500. The once sleepy fishing village was granted the status of a town in 1984.

San Pedro’s inhabitants are known as San Pedranos. Most speak both Spanish and English fluently.

One of the primary industries in the town is tourism, most notably SCUBA diving. So many divers come that there is a hyperbaric decompression chamber in San Pedro town.

The new north road is over 10 miles long and this has greatly expanded resort and beach house development north of the bridge.


COMMUNICATIONS:

This is my first time in Belize. I don’t know what to expect yet.

I imagine that there will be free internet available in the big towns and main tourist areas; but, I intend to get off of the ‘beaten track’ now and again.

The main supplier in Belize is BTL. For the widest coverage, I decided to go with them. On my first day, I found the BTL Shop in San Pedro. It is next to the Fire Station and Police Station north of town center on the road to the bridge.ambergris-town-fire-police-btl

I wanted a 1 month plan with 2GBs of data (my ‘usual’ in S.E.Asia). Alas BTL only have 3 options and only 1 of those is a 1 month plan: BZ$30 for 1Gb of data. I believe that it includes free calls within Belize. It terminates when either the 1 month or 1Gb elapse (whichever comes first).

I bought my new BTL SIMcard for BZ$22.50 and completed all of the paperwork. She took passport details and signed me up on the computer system. The new SIM came with BZ$10 of credit. So, I paid the additional BZ$20 and bought the 1 month plan.

I will let you know how I get on in future posts. I had no problem with a signal in San Pedro.


BEACHES:

From my first hotel (Pedro’s Inn – see below), I walked the beach heading south.ambergris-beach-south-1 ambergris-beach-south-2 ambergris-beach-south-3 ambergris-beach-south-4 ambergris-beach-south-5

The beach closest to Pedro’s is said to be the best beach in San Pedro.

However, much of the beachfront is now secured by retaining walls to prevent beach erosion. August 2016 saw a lot of damage from the latest hurricane and you can see that most of the old piers have been destroyed. New ones are being built.

About 2 kms south of Pedro’s the beach gives way to expensive Resorts … these are out of GRANDPAcker price range.ambergris-beach-south-6

If you cut back inland to the main road you will find a dirt track.

This dirt track gets swamped in the rains.ambergris-beach-south-7 ambergris-beach-south-8

The road proper starts about 1 km south of Pedro’s (about 2 kms south of the town center).ambergris-beach-south-11ambergris-beach-south-12ambergris-beach-south-13ambergris-beach-south-14

Along the way you get a glimpse of the western coast and a few houses for sale.ambergris-beach-south-10 ambergris-beach-south-9

A walk north from town to the bridge reveals some more good beach spots as well as the famous Sandbar Backpacker Inn.ambergris-beach-north-1 ambergris-beach-north-2 ambergris-beach-north-3 ambergris-beach-north-4

North of the bridge, you are in ‘Resort Land’ with fewer public access paths to the beach. Most of he beachfront has a retaining wall with the odd spot with open beach.ambergris-beach-north-5 ambergris-beach-north-6 ambergris-beach-north-7 ambergris-beach-north-8

I walked back down the main road to town.ambergris-beach-north-9 ambergris-beach-north-10 ambergris-beach-north-11 ambergris-beach-north-12


WHERE TO STAY:

I nearly didn’t come to Ambergris Caye at all. For GRANDPAckers, accommodation is very expensive. I couldn’t find anything that I could afford.
san-pedro-map

I kept my eye on Corozal, San Pedro, and Caye Caulker hotel costs for several weeks. I waited for last minute ‘specials’ in any of them without success … the cheap options had been booked out weeks (if not months) in advance. I saw some of them online but did not book early enough.

In the end, the prices in Corozal were no different than those in San Pedro … so I gambled on the latter.

In San Pedro, most (if not all) of the budget accommodation is in or close to town. GRANDPAckers should look for accommodation between Pedro’s Inn (south) and the bridge (north).

This is what the town streets look like.ambergris-town-2 ambergris-town-3 ambergris-town-4 ambergris-town-5 ambergris-town-6 ambergris-town-7 ambergris-town-8 ambergris-town-9 ambergris-town-10 ambergris-town-11 ambergris-town-1

Accommodation-wise, this is typical of what you find … this is still Shoulder Season (mid November) … the rains have (literally) only just stopped …

HOTELS & HOSTELS (Nightly Rates):

BOOKING.COM:ambergris-booking
AGODA.COM:ambergris-agoda
EXPEDIA:ambergris-expedia

PLEASE NOTE: Hotel and Hostel search sites display prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. You, usually, have to add 9-12.5% to the displayed price to get the final price.

VACATION RENTALS (Weekly Rates):

If you plan to stay a week or more, another good option is to use AIRBnB or TRIPADVISOR.COM to book a Holiday Rental / Vacation Rental.

Holiday Rentals are usually rented by the week. A comparable search reveals the following … please note that these prices are in US$s …

TRIPADVISOR:ambergris-tripadvisor
AIRBnB:

AirBnB had no listings within GRANDPAcker price range for this period. What had been available a few weeks before was already booked.

Vacation Rentals are, usually, displayed INCLUSIVE of TAXES but EXCLUSIVE of any Security Deposit (if required). BUT, the displayed price may be EXCLUSIVE of the host site’s Service Fees (which can add as much as 16%).

In S.E. Asia I wouldn’t touch AirBnB with a barge pole … in my opinion and experience the accommodation that you find is an absolute rip off. However, in Mexico they are definitely worth a look. I am, yet, to discover how they compare in Belize.

IN SUMMARY:

As you can see, there are almost no accommodation options available to GRANDPAckers who only have a budget of US$55 / day.

There are other options not listed on the internet search engines; but, I walked past a few and none of them look any good. Judging from their exteriors, they are unlikely to meet GRANDPAcking Standards.

The usual Hotel Search Engines tend to list the same hotels and tend to compete very little on price … but, now and again, one may ‘stick its head up’ and offer a ‘member only special deal’ … I wouldn’t bank on it though … Ambergris Caye is very popular and gets so full that no-one needs to discount. Even when they are not full they don’t need to discount as they expect to be fully booked soon.

Vacation Rentals are a good way to go … as long as you can get one at a good price close to town … you don’t want to be stuck out in the ‘wop wops’.

The cheapest accommodation that you can get on the waterfront is US$50 / night for a basic Double room. GRANDPAckers cannot afford to be on the waterfront … GRANDPAckers will be in a hotel in town or in the back streets.


MY ACCOMMODATION:

I booked the day of my arrival.

I used BOOKING.COM to book 4 nights in Pedro’s Inn. I booked a Twin Room with Shared Bathroom for US$20 / night.

Pedro’s is an enigma. It comes with 2 dipping pools and nice communal areas where you can meet other guests. There is also a nice bar.ambergris-pedros-balcony ambergris-pedros-pool-2 ambergris-pedros-pool

But, my Twin room was unacceptable. It was tiny. They didn’t clean it until the morning that I left. The floor was dirty and dusty (which was a pain when you’ve just had a shower). The fan was noisy. There was nowhere to put your clothes. It was a box.ambergris-pedros-rooms ambergris-pedros-room ambergris-pedros-bed

The Shared Bathrooms weren’t much better. The showers were cold. The water pressure was poor and sometimes the water disappeared completely in the middle of your shower. They were run down and needed a really good clean and tidy up.ambergris-pedros-shared-bathroom ambergris-pedros-shared-showers ambergris-pedros-shared-toilet ambergris-pedros-shared-shower

The closest beach was about 200 meters away down and across the main road. The beach was fronted by a retaining wall. You needed to walk 200 meters more to get to a proper beach.ambergris-pedros-beach-view-north ambergris-pedros-beach-view-south

Having said all that, I liked Pedro’s … it had a good feel about it … and had a nice group of regular expats staying there.

Pedro’s had better rooms with aircon, double bed, and private bathroom across the road. These rooms had a rack rate of BZ$130 / night but were being listed online at a discounted rate of BZ$90 (ex tax). I went to reception and offered them BZ$65 / night for 14 nights. It took them 2 days to get back to me … it was the morning that I was due to leave. They said that their best price was BZ$90 / night.

I had already had a good look around town and I had one alternative: the Hotel Ocean Paradise. Online, they had discounted their rooms down to BZ$90. He had offered me BZ$80 (but suggested that he could discount further). I went quickly to see them again and offered them BZ$65 / night for 14 nights … cash up front. He ‘wriggled’ a little bit but accepted. Deal done.

I moved into the Ocean Paradise Hotel.ambergris-ocean-frontage

My room was a Queen with hot water ensuite, cable tv, aircon, wardrobe, and in-room wifi. It was a better room than the one offered to me at Pedro’s Inn.ambergris-ocean-balcony-view-3ambergris-ocean-balcony-view ambergris-ocean-balcony ambergris-ocean-room-entryambergris-ocean-bed ambergris-ocean-furnitureambergris-ocean-ensuite ambergris-ocean-room

It was a standard budget hotel.

Service was ‘average’ … you had to ask them to clean your room.

It didn’t have the communal areas offered by Pedro’s … but it was all that I could afford.

The Ocean Paradise is a 20 meter walk to the nearest beach.ambergris-ocean-nearest-beach-1 ambergris-ocean-nearest-beach-2

Pedro’s is a bit isolated from town. One of the pluses about the Ocean is that I could walk out of the door to find a wide selection of restaurants and bars to choose from.


ACCOMMODATION SEARCH:

Have a look yourself:


Booking.com






TRANSPORT:

By Foot:

You can walk around San Pedro on foot.

Trike / Tuk Tuk:

You don’t find things like Trikes or TukTuks in San Pedro, so those ‘supercheap’ options are not available to you.

Bicycle:

A bicycle is a good option but is expensive. The cheapest is about BZ$12 / day. Most want BZ$18 / day.

Golf Cart:

Golf Carts are everywhere and can be rented for about BZ$80 / day.

Taxi:

Golf Carts perform the role of taxis.


EAT:

Eating out in Ambergris Caye is expensive for GRANDPAckers. A typical ‘lower quartile’ meal in a budget restaurant will set you back BZ$20-25. Add another BZ$5 to that if you want to eat on the beachfront. The average price of a main meal on a menu is about BZ$30-35.

STREET FOOD / FAST FOOD:

Good street food can be found from 3:00pm onwards in the square near the clock tower. A ‘works’ hamburger will cost BZ$7.

Next to the Waruguma Restaurant you will find a stall selling rotisserie chicken meals. A quarter chicken with rice and tacos will cost BZ$5. They close at 3:00pm but tend to be sold out before then.

There are a couple of takeaways around town where you can get something like a Fried Chicken Fried Rice for BZ$8 and many other options for BZ$10.

Next to the Sandbar Backpackers Inn you find a little Hamburger place. Here you can get a 1/4lb Jalepino Burger with 6 Chicken Wings for BZ$13.

LOCAL RESTAURANTS:

There are a few cheap local restaurants around town.

At Neri’s Tacos you can get Fryjacks (stuffed with something like a slice of ham) for BZ$3.50 and a Breakfast Burrito (stuffed with egg and ham) for BZ$5.00.ambergris-neris ambergris-neris-fryjack-bz3-50

Another place worth a try for Breakfast is La Hora Taco where you can get a Mexican Breakfast for BZ$10 and a nescafe coffee for BZ$2. They close at 11:00am.ambergris-la-hora-taco-frontambergris-la-hora-taco-breakfast-bz10

Another option, and my ‘regular’ place for Breakfast, is My Secret Deli where their Belizean Breakfast is BZ$10.50. Brewed coffee is BZ$3. As a regular, I used to have this and 2 cups of coffee and he used to only charge me BZ$15.ambergris-my-secret-deli-belizean-bz11-50

IN SUMMARY:

If you budget BZ$10 on average per meal, you will be eating as cheaply as possible; any less than that, you will not be getting a balanced diet. Even at BZ$10, that would be debatable.


DRINK:

The standard price for a small, 300ml local beer is BZ$5. Everywhere. Cocktails average BZ$15.

You will find some places that do Happy Hour. Most end at 7:00pm. Some at 8:00pm. Most Happy Hours do not include beer and usually only cover drinks made from ‘local’ spirits.

There are a few exceptions:

The Roadkill Bar does 6 beers for BZ$20. There are a couple of others around town that do the same … they are all pretty ‘basic’.ambergris-roadkill-bar

Lily’s Treasure Chest does 3 beers for BZ$10 between 3:00pm and 8:00pm. Lily’s is on the beachfront near the Ferry Terminals.ambergris-lilys-beach-view ambergris-lilys-pier-view

The Melt do beers for BZ$4. the Melt is next to the Sandbar Inn. They also have karaoke on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday nights.


YOUR HEALTH & SAFETY:

There is no reason to feel unsafe here. But, as always, exercise normal levels of caution … don’t make yourself an obvious target.

The local boys are not shy of making a ‘smart comment’ or two and can be very rude – if not intimidating. You can expect to be on the receiving end of a nasty comment at least once per day.

In 2 years of travelling around the world, I have not come across this before. The perpetrators expect you to be a ‘good little tourist’ and just take their insults … they aren’t used to be challenged for it … but, on a couple of occasions, I found myself confronting them … probably not a wise thing for me to do … but I can’t stand unsolicited rudeness.

For me, it is just a matter of time before standing up to them results in something physical  happening … Personally, I can’t be bothered being in a place like that.

Expect to be offered ‘weed’ as you walk down the street. But, would you buy from someone on the street that you’ve never met in a country like Belize?

Don’t walk too fast … sooner or later a young local guy will tell you off.

A Common Scam:

One scam is for a good looking, reasonably tidy, young man (usually with a rucksack on his back) to approach you in a very friendly manner asking whether or not you remember him. This is very common on the beach. Different guys seem to patrol their own section of the beach. He will pretend that you have already met. You have not, but you may think that you have and/or you doubt yourself and do not want to seem impolite. After establishing a degree of ‘trust’ between you … he will, then, ask you for money so that he can get a meal.


WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO SEE / WHAT TO DO:

SCUBA and snorkel.

Otherwise, there isn’t really that much to do except ‘live the beach life’ and enjoy the various restaurants and bars. Some bar or other has something on each night of the week.

On a Thursday night you can go to the beachfront to see the famous ‘Chicken Drop’ where you can bet on which numbered square a chicken will poop on when thrown into the arena.

There are Trivia nights. Crazy Canucks run theirs on Friday night.

Most nights of the week a bar somewhere is doing karaoke.

SCUBA DIVING / SNORKELLING:

One of the main reasons why people come to Ambergris Caye is the Reef that sits only a few hundred meters offshore. The ‘Blue Hole’ is a particularly famous attraction.

Prices are high. A 4 dive day trip to the Blue Hole will cost US$300. I chose not to dive in Ambergris Caye.

I am lucky … I am travelling to many places and I can pick and choose where I SCUBA dive … missing the Blue Hole doesn’t worry me … there are plenty of great places around the world … I am happy to wait for one that I can afford.


MONEY / PRICES / SHOPPING:

There is a Dual Currency system operating in Belize where US$s and BZ$s are interchangeable at an exchange rate of US$1 = BZ$2.

But, because the exchange rate is slightly better than that (in favour of the US$), you will find that you only get small US$ notes back … the locals keep all of the bigger notes.

ATMs:

You will find several ATMs around town but be careful … some are known to dislike microchip cards … they have been known to eat them.

I used the Scotia Bank ATM where I was able to withdraw BZ$1,400 in a single transaction. I needed cash to negotiate a good discount at the Ocean Paradise.

These ‘friendly’ ATMs help to keep the cost of Travel Money down.

Shops:

The cost of goods can be as much as 50% more expensive in San Pedro than back on the mainland.

Supermarkets:

There are several Supermarkets around town and prices for the same goods vary significantly. Shop around. For the best prices, buy different things from different places.

Street Markets:

I didn’t find any Farmer’s Markets or regular Street Markets.

Typical Costs:

  • 4 small beers: BZ$10 (ex bottle deposit)
  • A cheap bottle of wine: BZ$26-32
  • Cheapest 1L bottle of local rum BZ$18
  • Cheapest 1L bottle of other spirits: BZ$27
  • Packet of 20 local cigarettes: BZ$6-7
  • Packet of American cigarettes: BZ$8-11
  • 1lb of laundry: BZ$2.25

Handy Hints:

A litre bottle of water will cost you about BZ$1.25. For BZ$3 you can by a gallon (3.7L).

However, the best way to get your water is to buy a 5 Gallon container. You can see them everywhere. This costs BZ$5 plus BZ$15 deposit on the container (which is refunded when you return it).ambergris-5-gallon-water-bz5


WHEN TO GO:

August through November is hurricane season in this part of the world, and the weather becomes more changeable and less predictable during these months.belize-climate

The rainy season is June through October.

I arrived on the 10th of November (2016) and my timing proved perfect … there were still puddles of water on the dirt roads from rain in the previous days (it had rained daily, to some extent, for at least the previous 2 weeks). Those rains stopped the day before my arrival.

The high season is December through June as these are the months with the most temperate and driest weather.

High Season prices generally ‘kick in’ on 1st December; some earlier. The place starts filling up from Thanksgiving. Christmas, New Year, March and April are particularly busy (and expensive).

GRANDPAckers have very few ‘windows of opportunity’ to come to Ambergris Caye. The best time for GRANDPAckers to come is early November. This means that you will miss the rains but still be able to negotiate a good price on accommodation before it becomes impossible to do so.

Come early November, hotels are eager to start filling up as Peak Season becomes imminent. This is when the ‘deals’ can be found. All GRANDPAcking standard accommodation is listed on the internet … there are no ‘hidden gems’ to be found walking the streets.

HINT: Get on to internet Hotel Search Engines at least 2 months before your planned arrival date. Plan to arrive in the first half of November. Monitor those sites regularly. Wait until someone offers a ‘deep discount’. Book 2 nights. Once here, go to all of the hotels offering big discounts. Offer them BZ$60 / night, cash up front, for your longer term 28 day stay. One of them will take it.


GETTING AWAY:

I was planning to go from here to Caulker Caye … but, as December approaches, Caye Caulker seems to be getting more and more expensive. The affordable accommodation that I saw online several weeks ago has been booked. Those that remain are increasing their prices.

I have done another ‘Pedros Inn’ and booked 3 nights in a box on Caye Caulker. I will use that time to try and do an ‘Ocean Paradise’ type deal in an acceptable hotel.

If not, I will go to the mainland instead and head towards Hopkins.

I will tell you more about that in a future post.


CONCLUSION:

Sorry Ambergris Caye! Ambergris Caye seems to be benefiting from the fact that it is close to the USA & Canada and is English speaking.

But I have to tell my readers that there are much better places to go that offer the same (if not better) at half the price.

Those who like plenty going on and a lot of choice should look to:

Those looking for great beaches with some peace and quiet should look to:

I was going to follow up this post with another on ‘How to do San Pedro on a Budget’. There is no point. GRANDPAckers can’t. The best that GRANDPAckers can do is to minimise their costs by coming early November and leaving before mid December.

GRANDPAckers will struggle here in San Pedro and Ambergris Caye per se. I suspect that this will also be true of Caulker Caye.

As for the rest of Belize?

TTFN


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