The trip was pretty unBelizable. Okay, now that we’ve gotten that joke out of the way, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. Ambergris Caye is the most majestic mermaid-haven I have ever visited. From riding co-pilot on the flight from Belize City, to my departure with new puppy in tow, I was smitten with Ambergris Caye.
But let’s back it up a little.
What was I even doing in Belize?
A few months ago, a dear friend and grad program classmate and I had agreed if I could afford to join her on her global exchange, I definitely would. Last month, she decided last minute to change her global experience (basically a short international internship) from northwest India to Belize. Besides being a boss-ass bitch in general, Shell adores animals and runs her own non-profit for their benefit. As a vet tech, she would be working with Saga Humane Society in Ambergris Caye, the only humane society on the island. Taking care of dogs and kittens? I gladly offered my services. The deciding factor was the flights, which were less than $350 from San Diego. It would’ve been foolish to pass up the opportunity.
Things have been a little quiet on the blog, but there’s good reason! Y’all might know I’m pretty invested in education reform and passionate about chillren. I’ve been working on developing a non-profit that will allow caring individuals to support eager learners across the world. After visiting two schools in Ghana, which I briefly discuss here, I raised money to purchase school supplies and books to be delivered to them.Personally seeing the school and all the hard work that the teachers have put in warmed my heart like no other. Half of the money went as a scholarship girl who had recently lost her mother and couldn’t afford school. With Belize being so last minute, instead of raising money, I quickly ran to Target to stock up on supplies for a school (Holy Cross Belize) that keeps a running needs list online.
The school has been resourceful by establishing relationships that lead to things like a Dell computer lab, but that doesn’t fix all the issues. Education is far from free in the majority of the world, and schools are strapped for cash. They do not want to turn students away, so they have to cut corners elsewhere like snacks or even teachers. A big issue for donors is tax exemption, which cannot be done with most international donations. By having a U.S. Based nonprofit, gifts are eligible for tax exemption.
This is non-profit portion of my master’s programs final project—a mere portion. Which is why I’ve been so quiet on the web. Forgive my absence over the next few weeks, I swear to make it up to y’all.
Besides doing what I love most, traveling and promoting education, I took some time to get PADI certified! Having done Discovery scuba a few times and promising myself for years, I decided it was a necessity for the Belize trip. Thanks to the flexibility of the program, I chose the e-Learning option. Instead of sitting in a physical location for a few hours a week, e-Learning allows you to complete all the modules at your own pace online. After you display content knowledge, your instructor will bring you into a pool for two full days to practice skills in full gear. This is the perfect time to address any concerns or questions, like which brand the instructor prefers. To complete certification, your instructor will take you on four open water dives, reaching at least 30 feet deep. I had the luck of training in La Jolla, CA with leopard sharks and halibut, but my instructor requested I not take my GoPro during training. Getting scuba certified is the perfect way to upgrade your travel adventure, especially if you prefer warm places like I do. Not ready to take the plunge? Start with Discover Scuba through PADI on your next trip.
But let’s get back to the travels…
Where is Ambergris Caye?
Belize as a whole has plentiful types of terrain, from beach to mountains to farmlands. On the northern district, a few miles south of Mexico, lays Ambergris Caye. Besides the gorgeous beaches and pleasant people, Ambergris Caye is an underwater wonderland. The world’s second largest reef is located a short boat’s ride away, with rainbow parrotfish, stingrays, dolphins, and everything else you can imagine. Including black tip reef sharks, like this big boy that circled us while scuba diving.
Thrilling. I was scared shitless, but that’s another story for another time…
The main town, San Pedro, is surprisingly well-stocked. There’s stores for pet grooming, books, salons, and a host of restaurants. I was absolutely smitten with colorful architecture! Plenty of buildings, especially downtown, were a mix of tangerine, coral pink, and deep blue. Like this adorable pink hotel lined with conch shells!
Give me the details…
Maybe you’ve heard of the Great Blue Hole? You now, the massive underwater sinkhole that ends about 400 feet into the earth. It’s absolutely insane, and I had the chance to scuba dive in it! There’s also Shark Ray Alley for snorkling and free diving. Besides being a natural treasure, Belize is super easy to deal with.
Belize is the only country in Central America with English as the national language. This makes doing business and making plans a breeze. However, the majority of Belizeans speak Spanish in the home and personal affairs. If you know even a phrase or two, I highly recommend trying to communicate in the Belizean language of choice. Creole is also spoken, but Spanish might be a little easier to pick up with a translator.
Additionally, U.S. currency is accepted pretty much everywhere. There is a fixed rate of 2:1 for U.S. to Belizean dollar, which is pretty much the easiest conversion rate I’ve ever had to do!
True to a mermaid’s paradise, Ambergris Caye had amazing food. We’re talking fresh conch ceviche with limeade. Lobster caught 30 feet away from the restaurant. The most appetizing vegetarian refried beans and juicy chicken burrito for $2.50. Full fruit smoothies. These delectable shrimp tostadas for $3 USD. We were in heaven.
Getting Around The Island
Ambergris Caye is very thin and only gets about a mile wide. From the northernmost point to the very southernmost tip is 25 miles. The main roads are paved, including all of downtown San Pedro. However, if there’s a good chance you might be staying in an Airbnb, I have to mention the side roads get gnarly. The majority of streets are sign-less with numerous rocky potholes. Walking, taxi, golf cart, and biking are all viable options. Personally, bikes were a little rough for me. The golf carts are gassed up with off-roading wheels, and account for about 95% of all vehicles you see on the road. Instead of using blinkers, drivers are expected to use hand signals to help out the other drivers. The only issue with the golf carts were the illusive speed bumps. Every few hundred feet, sometimes less, sometimes more, there are unmarked bumps or dips in the road. After nearly breaking our necks a few times, we learned to pay very close attention to how fast we were going. Cabbies and policemen were driving the only true automobiles I saw.
…is extremely similar to the southern U.S., toasty, moist, with a bit of afternoon rain showers. Ambergris Caye has a wet (June-December) and a dry season (February-May). Tourists tend to flock to the island during the dry season, but we had a superb time even with the rain. I would not recommend taking a very short trip (less than three days) during the wet season. Give yourself enough time to have all the nautical adventures you came for. We can’t really blame a snorkeling tour for canceling when it’s pouring out. Sandals, yoga pants, and a t-shirt are perfectly appropriate attire.
Another option is purchasing an adorable sun hat! I snagged this one for about $20 USD. Sun hats are also great on travel days because it effortlessly jazzes up any outfit. Seriously got a dozen compliments including from the passport control people.
The Bad Stuff
Mosquitos. Our room was located on the ground floor, receiving no sea breeze. This allowed the mosquitos to post up outside of our room, patiently waiting to sneak in and harass us. Armed with coils, a mosquito net, and heavy-duty bug spray, we survived. Shell had gotten eaten up the night before I had arrived, but luckily she hadn’t contracted any illnesses.
Sun poisoning. As a Florida girl, I totally understand the power of the sun. It’s not to be f****d with. We reapplied sunscreen constantly on the boat and any time after getting out of the water. This allowed me to come home with a lovely tan instead of pealing burns.
Liquor prices. For being away from the mainland, Ambergris Caye is affordable, and pretty well stocked. The exception is liquor. Highly recommend grabbing what you need duty-free from the airport in Belize City.
Stay tuned for new posts on swimming with sharks, visiting a local chocolate factory, and bringing home the best souvenir ever. I’ll give you a hint on the last one– it has fur 🙂