It’s quaint and quirky, with a Caribbean-Key West vibe and the requisite postcard-perfect beaches and palms of any tropical paradise. Often referred to as “La Isla Bonita” (the beautiful island), Ambergris Caye sits 56 kilometers (35 miles) east of Belize City and borders the world’s second-largest barrier reef, making it a haven for snorkelers and scuba divers. San Pedro is the island’s one and only hub, and its sandy streets are lined with colorful restaurants, tiki bars, souvenir shops, and golf carts—the preferred mode of island transport (after boats).
Originally from California, Vivian Yu has lived on Ambergris Caye since 2000, when she and her partner, Jeff, opened Casa Azul, a luxury beachfront property with two villas, north of San Pedro. She came to Ambergris for its diving, fishing, and turquoise waters and stayed for essentially those same things. After more than a decade of island living, she has a unique perspective on Ambergris. Here, Vivian shares a few of her tips and musings.
The most incredible sight I’ve ever seen was a four-meter (14-foot) friendly hammerhead. It used to live outside Shark Ray Alley, and people would jump in and swim with it.
You haven’t been to Ambergris if you haven’t bar-hopped in a golf cart.
It’s a casual town. Bring a nice sundress and your wedges—leave the spike heels at home.
Locals call themselves San Pedranos and are super nice. Drive by in a boat, and everyone waves like you’re old friends.
Two things I love about the island: The Caribbean views that I wake up to and the fact that I can go from hanging out on the beach to diving 24 meters (80 feet) underwater in less than five minutes.
On a beautiful, balmy night, you can’t beat the sushi sunset sail on the Lady Leslie. It’s a family operation, the boat has beanbags, and Ricky (the son-in-law) can roll sushi like nobody’s business.
For local eats in San Pedro, Vivian suggests… “the tortilla factory on Back Street, across from the Super Buy, sells the most delicious, melt-in-your-mouth pork breakfast tacos with mucho chile starting at 7:30 a.m. When they’re gone they’re gone! On Sundays, Estel’s Dine by the Sea serves up Fred Flintstone brontosaurus-size ribs. Get there early and be sure to order ice cold Belikins—to chase your spicy bloody marys. There’s a tamale guy who rides a beach cruiser with a cooler strapped to the handlebars from San Pedro to the northern part of Ambergris every single day. Talk about dedication! His tamales and burritos are delicious. At Carlos & Ernie’s Runway Bar, you can sit on little benches and watch the planes land at the San Pedro airport while eating beef nachos. For something sweet, don’t miss the recently opened Belize Chocolate Company on Front Street. And finally, while not in the town, Rojo Beach Bar at Casa Azul is a must. Try our grilled lobster poppers for sure. The key lime martini tastes just like the real thing and even has graham crackers on the rim!”