No-see-ums and mosquitos are a killer in some parts of Latin America. We bought 98% DEET and 30% DEET to spray on our bodies 30 minutes after applying sunscreen.
When we’re out during the day, each of us usually carries a bag. We bring our Lowpro camera bag that holds our Nikon, Canon and phones, and a “gear bag” which is mostly for snacks. Just kidding– we carry water, sunscreen, sunglasses, Bonine, hair products, bug spray, a knife, binoculours, a flashlight, a fire-starter, and a small amount of cash (10$) in case I need to buy a snack. We used to carry Mace, but I accidentally left it in my purse trying to board a flight and it was confiscated. Neither of our bags are water-resistant, so we carry Duck’s Back to quickly cover the bags.
The top map is a general Ambergris Caye Map that shows North of Town, Town, and South of Town. To the north of town over the bridge, you’ll find the popular resorts of Las Terrazas, Cap. Morgan’s, Portofino, and Mata Chica. This is an easy ride into town, and many people choose to stay in these hotels because they’re gorgeous, and in a good location relative to town and popular diving spots. Many of the hotels have great restaurants too, like Rojo Lounge and Mambo.
Further north and not pictured in this map, are the hotels of Tranquility Bay and Sueño del Mar. If you’ve read my previous posts, you know that I’m in love with TBR because it’s serene, private and beautiful. To me, it’s worth being so far from town for the views, great stretches of beach and snorkeling right off the hotel.
The middle of the first picture is the heart of town. The second picture magnifies this area. The bottom part of the map is where most of the restaurants and shops are and is the busiest part of San Pedro. Personally, I rather not stay close to this area because I like a quieter vacation with less people. I rather come into town at night for dinner and spend my days away from it all. The two major streets are Front Street (closest to the beach) and Middle Street (in the middle). There’s a giant glowing clock tower in the middle of Front street. When you go into town, make sure to try Estelle’s, Elvi’s Kitchen, Caliente, and Wild Mango’s for dinner. They’re my favorite restaurants.
South of town, just a short taxi away, you’ll find some popular hotels like Victoria House, Banyon Bay, Xanadu, Ramon’s and The Palms. Look how close some of these hotels are to Hol Chan Marine Reserve for snorkeling and diving! It’s really just a 5 minute boat ride. I recommend any of these hotels. They all have a different feel though (island chic vs. luxury, family vs. couple oriented, etc), and offer different amenities (restaurant vs. no restaurant, etc) so read up on them before booking so you can choose what style best suites you.
I know I over-plan for my trips, but I suggest that before you go that you take a look at these maps and orient yourself. Save these maps to your iPhone. Choose some restaurants that you definitely want to try, and maybe some bars too. It’s helpful to know your bearings and surroundings when you’re away.
Maps courtesy of ambergriscaye.com
After diving or snorkeling, Tori and I get back on the boat and talk about what we saw. We have these three laminated cards that we put in our gear bag to refer to on the boat and back at the hotel on dry land. When I’m diving or snorkeling, I can usually remember the names of a few fish and say, “Hey, that’s a blue tang / barracuda / sting ray!” Besides those three, and also sharks, moray eels, and rays, I can’t remember the name of the fish that I’m looking at.
You can buy these cards online, at some dive shops, or in town in San Pedro. I like knowing what I’m looking at and being able to name and describe what I saw on each of my dives and snorkel trips. Having a laminated reef I.D. card lets me check it real quick when I get back on the boat before I forget what I saw.
I posted a little bit late today because it’s beautiful out here in NYC and I’ve been laying by the pool, swimming and reading.
Today I wanted to write about travel photography. I have a few cameras that I take on vacation. I always bring my iPhone and use a few apps (Hipstamatic, Camera+, etc) to snap pictures on the go. I use it like a point and shoot camera. If I’m sitting and reading, I take a picture or two with my iPad for fun. Have you ever seen people take pictures at events with their iPads? Don’t they look stupid? Anyway.
If I’m underwater, I use my Canon with underwater housing. I bring my Holga toy camera for day trips for stylized shots. My clearest and crispest shots come from my Nikon D5100 with a 55-200mm lens. I upgraded from a point and shoot to a digital SLR camera with an attached zoom lens for a better picture quality. This type of camera is more expensive than a point and shoot, but in my opinion it’s worth it for the incredible results.
The first picture below is from my iPad. Pictures 2 & 3 are from my iPhone. The rest are from my Nikon.
Check out the picture quality and clarity below. What cameras do you use when you travel?
Okay, back to Perú! After leaving Colca Canyon, we traveled to Puno. Puno is a large city in southeastern Perú that is right on the edge of Lake Titicaca. This lake is the world’s largest highest navigable lake at 12,421 ft above sea level. Because of its profound art and culture, Puno has been named the folklore capital of Peru.
We stayed in a hotel right on the lake. Our first morning, we traveled very early by boat to the floating islands of Uros. It was cold on that speed boat! Remember, although there’s beautiful weather during the day in Perú during July, it’s cold during the morning and at night. Bring a jacket and boots.
There are over 40 floating islands made of reed in Lake Titicaca. They’re made by hand by the local people living on the islands. Here are two videos that I took on the islands. You can get a feel for the people and what it’s like to walk on the reeds.
It’s mostly moms, dads, older people, and small children still living on the islands. These people (about 2,000 Uro people) continue to live right on these reed islands like their ancestors did many years ago. As you can see, they wear a very distinctive type of clothing to protect them from the wind, cold and sun. The Uros people make a living by fishing in the lake and selling their catch on the mainland, and occasionally planting potatoes and selling them if necessary. Make sure to buy something hand made while you’re visiting to support their people and way of life.
Even though some people hate it, I really enjoy looking for travel deals and planning out the week’s itinerary. We are still deciding where to go in late August, and I have about 10 travel plans to choose from. We’re waiting for this one hotel that I’ve fallen in love with to confirm the plans, but for some reason, they’re not calling us back! Is that a sign to choose someplace else?
Anyway, for all you guys looking for a last minute vacation this summer, I’m going to be posting some deals that interest me.
The Phoenix Resort is one of the nicest (if not the nicest) hotel in San Pedro, Belize. I’ve wanted to stay there the last few times that we’ve traveled to Ambergris Caye, but they’ve been booked. I’ll be there one day! Check out the deal and what they’re offering. How many hotels do you know of that lend out iPads, Kindles and Wiis? They’re also including discounts on some of the most popular San Pedro restaurants. Take a look! If you need a travel buddy, give me a shout. :)
The Phoenix Resort is offering 10% off low season rates and a complimentary bottle of champagne in suite upon check in for all new direct bookings of 5 nights or more for travel from July 7th to August 30th, 2012.
Continued from Part 1: FAQ about Planning a Trip to San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize
Can travelers book their tours and activities when they arrive or should they pre-book prior to travel?
I would read trip advisor and some local travel blogs so that you can get a feel for San Pedro and what activities are offered. Some popular tour companies are Seaduced by Belize and Searious. Have some tours in mind that you would like to go on, but it’s not necessary to pre-book prior to travel. If your hotel has a dive shop or a tour organizer, they will have a white board that posts the daily activities that other hotel guests have booked for that week to give you some options.
If you had to pick a budget, midrange and luxury hotel to stay at, which three would you choose?
Victoria House or the Phoenix would definitely be my luxury choices. Tranquility Bay and Xanadu are still pretty luxurious, but they would be my midrange hotels. My budget pick would be the Conch Shell Inn.
Are tours too packed during the high season?
No, they’re not. Dive boats usually have 5-8 divers per dive master. Snorkeling excursions and inland trips can have between 4-12 people. Boats are big enough for people to sit comfortably.
Does the wet season really mean wet?
Every year is different, but usually the wet season means a short shower during the day (15 min – an hour) followed by sunshine. During the wet season, it mostly rains at night. Although you cannot predict the weather, it usually won’t rain for days at a time.
Are there tons of bugs?
It depends on the wind. On windy days in the spring, you won’t notice the bugs. On hotter summer days, the mosquitos and no see ums can be bad. Bring bug spray with DEET. Try to be DEET-free when you’re snorkeling or diving because it has been said that DEET damages the reef. Bugs are worst at dinner time, so spray yourself at night and shower it off before going into the ocean the next morning.
How do I get into town from my hotel?
Take a taxi! A taxi is $5 US from your hotel to anywhere in town. Your hotel will call and arrange a driver.
Should I rent a gold cart for the week?
It’s expensive, around $300 for a weekly rental and $32 for a tank of gas plus insurance. But think about it…are you really going to be driving all over San Pedro all week, or are you going to be spending your time in the water? Also, most tourists drive their carts into town for dinner. If you’re planning on having an alcoholic drink with dinner, you can’t drive you and your loved ones home. I’d suggest renting a cart for two hours one afternoon to explore San Pedro, and not a week.
Do I need a wetsuit?
Some people never use a wetsuit when diving off Ambergris Caye. If you usually get cold though, it would be smart to bring your 3 ml.
What other tours or activities do you recommend?
- Check out the Belize Zoo
- Have a massage at your hotel or go the Sol Spa or Black Orchid Spa
- Go cave tubing and zip-lining
- Take a trip to the mayan ruins of Altun Ha Maya
Should I dive the blue hole?
You should definitely dive the blue hole if you’re an advanced diver. The blue hole is not an easy dive for beginners. The Blue Hole dive is not recommend for beginners, or those who are lacking buoyancy control (there’s nothing to hold on to while ascending and descending, and you don’t want to plummet (400 ft) or or surface (150 ft) too quickly. Dive boats leave early from San Pedro, around 6 AM. It takes 2 hrs to reach the Blue Hole, and the first 45 minutes of the trip is in open waters and choppy. The first divers there usually see sharks and have the best visibility because silt dislodges as bubbles ascend. Divers usually descend the 130 ft. in 8 minutes.
I’m only interesting in diving / fishing. Where should I stay?
Look at Turneffe Island Resort which is located on the Turneffe Atoll and much closer to the Blue Hole and Lighthouse Reef than San Pedro. It’s pricey, but offers unbelievable diving and fishing.
I’m interested in a multi-sport adventure vacation. Where should I stay?
Check out Slick Rock, a private island resort that specializes in multi-sport activities. They offer sit on top surf and whitewater kayaking, fishing kayaking, surfing, stand-up paddle boarding, windsurfing, kiteboarding, rafting, snorkeling and PADI scuba diving.
How do I get to San Pedro?
Unfortunately, you can’t fly directly to San Pedro. You can fly international from the US via nonstop or connecting flights to (BZE) Belize City, Belize. From there, you can take a short 15 min puddle jumperon Maya Island Air or Tropic Air to San Pedro. Check out this post for a video of the flight. Your hotel should arrange the short domestic flights and also be there to pick you up at the San Pedro airstrip.
Where should I stay?
Well, that depends on what you can afford and where you want to be. The most luxurious hotels with the best reviews are Victoria House, The Phoenix, Mata Chica, and Las Terrazas. If you’re looking for a secluded hotel up north that offers the only snorkeling from the beach in San Pedro, then check outTranquility Bay Resort. If you can afford your own private butler, chef, and island, check out Cayo Espanto. We also recommend Xanadu and El Pescador. Remember to check if your hotel is close to town, has a restaurant, has a dive shop, what’s included/not included, tips, etc.
When should I go?
February – June are the dry months while July – January are the wet season. Although any time of year is a good time to visit, the spring months have the most sunny, windy and clear days.
Should I stay in San Pedro or Caye Caulker?
Definitely stay in San Pedro. Take a day trip to Caye Caulker. San Pedro offers better hotels, more excursions and tours, more restaurants and nightlife. Caye Caulker has a backpackers feel, if that’s what you’re looking for.
What restaurants are a must?
Even though you’re tired at the end of the day, go into town and try some local restaurants. Don’t eat at your hotel every night! Here are some recommendations:
- Elvi’s Kitchen
- Wild Mango’s
- Victoria House — Palmilla
- Hidden Treasure
- Rojo Lounge
- Casa Picasso
- Blue Water Grill
How’s the beach in front of San Pedro hotels? I’ve heard you can’t swim off the beach.
The beaches are beautiful, but they’re different from the sandy beaches in other parts of the Caribbean. There is sea grass in front of some hotels. Visitors swim off the end of hotel docks or kayak out to snorkel. Tourists come to San Pedro for the diving and snorkeling and get their swimming in on daily tours and excursions.
What is the number one thing that every traveler should do in San Pedro?
Snorkel the Hol Chan Marine Reserve.
What should I do all week?
- Sail to Caye Caulker
- Take a day trip to Lamanai Ruins via Tropic air
- Snorkel Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve and have a beach BBQ
- Go deep sea fishing
- Go reef fishing and have a beach BBQ
- Scuba Dive
- Get your Open Water Diving Certification
- Take a manatee spotting trip
- Take a two person speed boat tour of the Southern Mangrove
Any tips for staying safe?
Check out these 7 Ways to Avoid Crime on Vacation in San Pedro.
What should travelers bring home as gifts for loved ones?
Marie Sharp’s Hot Sauce!
If you were going to write a travel itinerary to Belize, what other hot spots would you suggest besides San Pedro?
I would split my time between the rainforest and the reef. Take a look at Chaa Creek, Ka’anna, andBlack Rock Lodge for the inland part of your trip. Check out some hotels in Placencia. Definitely stay somewhere in San Pedro (north of town or south) on Ambergris Caye!
Black Rock Lodge and Ramon’s Village
8 days / 7 nights $1389
The package includes:
Roundtrip airfare on American Airlines
3 days car rental Suzuki Jimny or Similar ( Rental insurance not included)
3 nights Black Rock Lodge, near San Ignacio – Deluxe Cabana
Roundtrip Local Air from Belize to Ambergris Caye
4 nights Ramon’s Village in San Pedro, Belize - Garden View
When July 5–Aug. 30, 2012 (from $1,269).
Book By No deadline; subject to availability.
*Budget Travel readers receive a $100 discount.