Diving Near Ambergris Caye
Almost every hotel on Ambergris either employs local dive shops or has its own on-site shop and dive masters. They all offer pretty much the same thing: resort courses, PADI or NAUI certification classes, day trips, and snorkel trips. Some also offer things like night dives, and a few have Nitrox capabilities.
What really makes the difference is the experience of the instructor or dive master, the quality of the equipment, the size of the boat, and the size of the groups. Prices are pretty standard around the island: local two-tank dive US$60–75, plus rental fee and tax; resort course US$150; open water certification US$450–470; advanced certification US$380; three-tank dive to the Blue Hole US$250, to Turneffe US$185.
Amigos del Mar (tel. 501/226-2706, www.amigosdive.com), based on the pier near Cholo’s Bar, is a bustling place with top-notch gear and a solid reputation for safety. Many clients return year after year to dive with the same long-term and friendly staff. At press time, Amigos is the only San Pedro operation running trips to the Blue Hole in their 52-foot boat (important for the long journey to and from the famous site).
Other extremely reputable dive shops are Hugh Parkey’s Diving (at the SunBreeze Hotel beachfront in central San Pedro, tel. 501/220-4024, www.belizediving.com), Ecologic Divers (tel. 501/226-4118, www.ecologicdivers.com), and Patojo’s (tel. 501/206-2283, patojos99 [at] yahoo [dot] com), all with proven reputations for safety and service.
Snorkeling Near Ambergris Caye
You don’t need a license or a certification to snorkel; just put your face in the water and enjoy. Be sure to observe snorkel and reef etiquette. Expect to pay about US$40 per person for a 2.5-hour snorkel tour, or US$70 per person for a full day (9 a.m.–3 p.m., lunch included). You’ll save a few bucks if you have your own gear (rentals are about US$8/day).
For starters, grab your snorkel and mask for a swim around the dock at Ramon’s Village Resort. With an artificial reef that is home to a wide variety of small reef fish, this spot is a favorite swimming hole for locals. For live coral, book a half-day trip to one or all of the following sites.
Mexico Rocks is on the reef north of town and is the place to go to see a huge diversity of coral formations. Only 12 feet at its deepest, it offers an abundance of coral, and the channel nearby brings in a lot of marine life, especially small reef fish. There aren’t as many big fish here as in Hol Chan, but for some that’s a plus. Near the northern tip of Ambergris Caye, Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve is another incredible site with a stunning diversity of wildlife and coral — at least 187 species of fish and several important spawning aggregation sites, plus loggerhead, green, and hawksbill sea turtles.
A little bit south of this area is Tres Cocos, a site popular for spotted eagle rays.
The crown jewel of San Pedro snorkeling is the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, four miles southeast of San Pedro Town. Visitors are taken to the Hol Chan cut, a 30-foot-deep natural break in the Belize Barrier Reef. Snorkelers stay in the shallow inner reef area but can swim through the cut. Because of the movement between the ocean and the inner reef lagoon through this area, it is high in nutrients and allows for marine animals of all types to thrive and increase in size. Be on the lookout for spiny lobsters, black groupers, nurse sharks, moray eels, and a plethora of reef fish showing off their bright colors. Rangers patrol the area during the day and help ensure the safety of visitors. Listen to your guide, though — the current at Hol Chan can be strong!
A mile south of the Hol Chan cut, Shark Ray Alley is also part of the reserve and offers visitors the rare opportunity to snorkel alongside southern stingrays and nurse sharks that frequent the area in search of food (which is kindly provided by your tour operator). Large schools of horse-eyed jack and snapper also come here for the free handouts. There are spectacular coral formations on the back reef for snorkelers, and the fore reef gives scuba divers the chance to dive the Amigos Del Mar tugboat wreck.
When you step back onto dry land, stop in at the Hol Chan Marine Reserve office, on Caribena Street in the center of town. The interactive visitors center has information on the reserve, as well as displays detailing the various zones of the reserve and species. Not sure what you saw? First ask your guide, and if you still have questions, stop in and ask the staff — they’re happy to answer questions and give more details on the reserve.
Sailing Charters and Cruising
Explore the Caribbean the way it was meant to be traveled: by wind. Just go to www.ambergriscaye.com and click on “boat charters” to get an updated list of your options. Old standby boats include the Winnie Estelle (tel. 501/226-2427, US$55 per adult for day trips) and the “old-school sailing trip” aboard the Rum Punch II (tel. 501/226-2340), which offers snorkel tours, beach barbecues, and sunset charters.
Spend the day with the Rubio brothers, snorkeling, fishing, drinking, and relaxing aboard No Rush, a 36-foot catamaran that can be booked through Unity Tours (tel. 501/226-4551, www.ambergriscaye.com/unitytours). Other cat cruises can be found at Searious Adventures (tel. 501/226-4202, www.seariousadventures.com) and SEAduced by Belize (tel. 501/226-3221), both of which offer many different activities in addition to sailing. The Katkandu (www.belizecharters.com) is a 42-foot luxury cat that provides catered upscale cruises and multiday charters.
The area within the reef is a favorite for tarpon and bonefish. Outside the reef, the choice of big game is endless. Most hotels and dive shops will make arrangements for fishing, including boat and guide. Ask around the docks (and your hotel) for the best guides.
Serious anglers should consider Abner Marin at Go Fish Belize (tel. 501/226-3121, www.gofishbelize.com), one of the most qualified and reputable guides around. Or try Richard French at Belize Flats Fishing Expeditions (tel. 501/226-2799, www.belizeflatsfishing.com).
Ruby’s Hotel has a shack on the beach, and the guys working there are rumored to be excellent guides. Another sure bet is Fishing San Pedro (tel. 501/226-2835, www.fishingsanpedro.com), where half- or full-day chartered fishing trips are relatively affordable (US$295 full day for two people includes tackle, bait, soda, and water); a fish/lobster barbecue adds a bit extra.
Fitness, Massage, and Yoga
If your hotel lacks a proper gym and you’d rather pump iron than dive, the Train Station (tel. 501/226-4222, www.trainstationfitness.com) is 2.5 blocks south of the bridge. In San Pedro, you’ll find both scheduled yoga classes (US$15 drop-in) and private sessions at Sol Spa (Phoenix Hotel, tel. 501/226-2410, www.belizesolspa.com), which also offers a range of treatments and massages like Honeymoon Bliss, Solar Therapy, and Maya Abdominal Massage.
The Asian Garden Day Spa (Coconut Drive, across from Ramon’s Village, tel. 501/226-4072, www.asiangardenspasalon.com) is a family-run spa in a lovely courtyard, specializing in Thai massage, hot stone therapy, reflexology, facials, scrubs, and specials like sunset or starlight couples massage.
Tropical Touch (tel. 501/226-4666, www.tropicaltouchspaworks.com) is a full-service massage and day spa right on the water with all kinds of body treatments, including Maya Abdominal Massage. The Art of Touch (tel. 501/226-3357) is in the entrance to the Sunbreeze Hotel.
Not far north of the bridge is the Maya Secrets Spa (tel. 501/610-3775, belize5 [at] me [dot] com), where you’ll find a lovely, romantic setting for tropical treatments, massage, and facials, all using the owner’s own line of Tropical Secret products; this is a great spot for couples. A bit farther north, Ak’Bol Yoga Retreat (yogawithkirsten [at] gmail [dot] com, www.akbol.com) is one of the few places in Belize offering daily yoga classes (usually 9 a.m.) in a gorgeous wood-floor palapa on the beach. They also do full moon gatherings and host a 2012 discussion group.
© Joshua Berman and Avalon Travel from Moon Belize, 9th Edition