story and photos by Susanna Starr
Belize’s Ambergris Caye is a destination for those looking for the ambiance of a small Caribbean Island within easy distance from most large cities in the U.S. Flying into Belize City, the small town of San Pedro in the center of Ambergris Caye can be reached either by air (Tropic Air) or water taxi. It has a magnificent barrier reef second to none but the Great Barrier Reef outside of New Zealand. Obviously, this makes it the perfect spot for snorkeling, diving and fishing.
But, there is more to this island to attract tourists. Both the extensive accommodations ranging from modest to expensive, from basic to totally luxurious are readily available. So is the proliferation of condos designed to provide comfort and convenience for longer stays. Pelican Reef Villas is one of these. The accommodations range from two to three bedrooms and all are completely equipped with large refrigerator and full size stove with oven as well as the smaller kitchen appliances many visitors have come to expect.
Not only is Pelican Reef Villas beautifully located on its own stretch of pure white sand with a long dock, often visited by pelicans, but it’s just far enough from the center of town to provide a feeling of complete quiet and privacy. The rooms have been designed to maximize the view of the beautiful waters of the Caribbean with palm trees along the shore swaying gently in the ocean breezes.
Inside, the rooms are not only large and airy but beautifully furnished, including local art and hand made wood touches in a country famous for its hardwoods. There is nothing smacking of sterility or mass produced décor. Each villa feels as if the owner has left it just the way they expect the next guest to feel welcome and at home. Touches like the towels folded into swans as well as large bars of good soap indicate the care and thought provided for the guests.
In addition to the water sports including kayaking, fishing and snorkeling, the town of San Pedro is small enough to be completely walkable but provides a wide variety of wonderful dining places to explore. The food in all the restaurants we tried was superb and beautifully presented. All the more upscale restaurants also have outstanding chefs with fine, fresh food, beautifully presented in a tropical atmosphere and the opportunity for outdoor dining readily available.
Dinner at Blue Water restaurant in the center of town is a dinner as well as lunch destination. The food, such as the pan seared lightly breaded grouper served with grilled carrot and squash strips as well as camote cakes or creole chicken with diced, spiced vegetable topping (not to mention the outstanding coffee crème brule for dessert), is wonderful and the location, directly on the beach, is easily accessible either by entering on one side through the main street or by walking along the beach under a starlit (and sometimes moonlit) sky. For lunch, among the many great choices, you can try Caliente with its outdoor deck built over the sand facing the boat landing. While having lunch there, you can also stroll just a few yards away and find vendors selling some of their crafts, including magnificent bowls carved out of mahogany and other exotic hardwoods. At Wild Mango we had a beautiful dish of coconut coated shrimp with a fresh side salad while at Caliente we ordered the rum ginger chicken with rice, salad and fried banana. The food is beautifully prepared by talented chefs and the owners who are very involved take great pride in fresh, healthy food that is appealing to the eyes as well as the appetite.
Since Pelican Reef Villas provided all the comforts of home, we decided to take home some of the appealing fresh fruit from the stand of Maria and Jose and have breakfast one morning on our own terazza overlooking the ocean. Fresh papaya and freshly squeezed orange juice accompanied by a banana bread we also purchased there, as well as a cup of leisurely coffee made it a lovely and relaxing experience. Just the luxury of taking our time to enjoy the arrival and departure of the visiting pelicans reminded us that this was truly the kind of vacation often suggested in magazine ads.
If on the island with some time for visiting what’s available in town and not far out of it, you might want to stop off at the wine shop run by the husband of Kelly Kanabar ne McDermot. Like all of their enterprises such as the stunning Phoenix Resort and Blue Water Grill restaurant, this is another example of the care and personal involvement that goes into their businesses. It is fully stocked with wonderful wines as well as cheeses, all carefully selected by the owner. Another worthwhile visit, a short distance away is the Kawkaw Chocolate company, a small business created and run by two former wind surfing and sailing instructors, Jo and Chris who loved chocolate and now run a successful business on their own property where they go through every step by hand, producing fair trade and organic chocolate bars while supporting local cacoa growers.
Victoria House continues to be an outstanding resort with its beautiful grounds, pristine beach, several pools, hand made tropical furniture, delightful décor and, yes, a wonderful restaurant. For dinner we had to sample the pecan crusted grouper with cream sauce on a bed of mashed potatoes as well as the shrimp shiskabob. To provide the final touch we had to have the molten chocolate dessert along with a cup of decaf coffee.
If you’re the kind of person who enjoys the relaxed easy pace of the Caribbean in a destination that has not yet become over run with lots of tourism, San Pedro on Ambergris Caye could be the place for you. Condos such as Pelican Reef Villas provide a perfect situation for families. Lots of adventures can be found out on the ocean. And…..its abundance of fine dining makes it a culinary adventure as well.
How to get there:
Ambergris Caye is located approximately 15 minutes by air from mainland Belize. Hourly flights from the Philip Goldson International Airport as well as the Belize City Municipal Airstrip to Ambergris Caye are provided by the local airline Tropic Air. Visitors to the Caye can also travel from Belize City and Chetumal, Mexico by local water taxis. These are open speedboats with outboard engines with the ride lasting between 45 min. and 2 hours depending upon whether there are stops at the other islands in between.
San Pedro Water Taxi
For more information:
Pelican Reef Villas
Susanna Starr is an entrepreneur, photographer, speaker, artist, writer, and traveler and holds a degree in philosophy from Stony Brook State University of New York. Susanna has over twenty years experience in the hospitality business as owner of Rancho Encantado, an eco-resort and spa in Mexico. She has lived in Northern New Mexico for more than thirty five years and has lived in and traveled throughout Latin America. Susanna is the author of the book: Fifty and Beyond: New Beginnings in Health and Well-Being. Her blog is here. Her new book can be seen here.