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Picking Belize as our destination was the easy part because then the hard work of making all the other decisions began! Click here if you want to read how we chose Belize.
Traveling to Belize
While it has been on people’s radars for a long time, Belize has enjoyed a surge in popularity recently. The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest in the world and the largest in this hemisphere, making it a diver’s paradise. Diving friends responded to my destination announcement with no surprise – they discovered Belize years ago!
Major international airlines fly into Belize City. We arrived on American Airlines and left on Delta. Direct flights from several US cities, including Miami, Atlanta, and Houston, make Belize accessible. Canada features direct flights through Westjet from Toronto and other cities. The duration and expense of our flight equaled traveling to Cancun – so a bargain and convenient!
Getting to San Pedro
No one stays in Belize City! Belize’s beautiful coastline made narrowing down where to go difficult. (Disclaimer: The interior of the country features jungles and active adventures but we focused on the beach.) Choices featured LOTS of beautiful towns both along the coast and on islands, but Ambergris Caye (San Pedro) and Placencia received the most feedback. We probably took the easy way out and went with the more well-known of the two – San Pedro. Madonna even sang about San Pedro in “La Isla Bonita” back in the 80’s!
There are two ways to get to San Pedro from Belize City: by boat (ferry) or by air. We opted to take the short flight to San Pedro on one of the two local companies, Tropic Air and Maya Island Air, for the 15-minute flight. Transferring from the international terminal to the local terminal literally means walking a few yards into another lobby. Don’t fret!
A note about currency
The Belizean dollar is tied to the US dollar at a 2 to 1 exchange rate ($2 Belizean dollars for every $1 US dollar). DO NOT BUY BELIZEAN DOLLARS!!!! We forgot to order Belizean money ahead of time. Knowing the exchange rate, we realized that the airport rate was not great and hoped we would find a good exchange place in San Pedro. At the airport (when buying our tickets to fly to San Pedro) we discovered that everyone will happily take US dollars. We were also able to bargain some discounts by using cash (10% or more), so keep in mind that US dollars are perfectly fine and bring cash. ATMs conveniently located throughout Ambergris Caye provided an option to access more money. Just check with your bank prior to departure about any foreign transaction fees and ATM fees if you plan on using the ATMs.
Where to stay in San Pedro
No matter the type of accommodation you prefer, San Pedro will have it! The dizzying array of places listed on TripAdvisor fit every type of budget! Even more options were available on AirBNB. The island itself measures about 25 miles from north to south and about a mile west to east. Renting a golf cart is the most popular method of transportation if you don’t want to walk or ride a bike. If you’re mostly planning on taking tours, tour companies will pick you up at your hotel. Depending on your location and planned activities, you may not need a cart at all.
So where do you want to be? The town of San Pedro itself is where the action is but do you want your hotel to be in the middle of it? The north side is over the bridge and has lots of the newer, fancier and more expensive resorts. But the roads are not paved all the way and riddled with potholes. Full disclosure – we did not stay at one of these resorts, so any statements are based on observations or research. A $5BZ toll is charged every time you cross the bridge – so keep that in mind if you stay on the north side. We saw a lot of construction so additional resorts and better facilities will come that way soon.
Mata Rocks Resort
We chose to stay about a mile south of town – close enough to walk or bike to town but not in the middle of everything. We rented a golf cart for the week. The freedom the golf cart provided us was worth the cost. Shop around though because you can frequently get a discount, and discount codes are available on various blogs.
We picked Mata Rocks Resort as our home base. We like hotels that include free WiFi, a pool, air conditioning, and a good bar. Mata Rocks met all those requirements at a great price. Sadly, the bar was under renovations, since it was destroyed during the hurricane six weeks earlier. The good news: we watched a palapa roof being built. The bad news: construction started earlier than we would have liked most mornings!
This hotel only has eleven rooms and six junior suites, meaning that the attentive staff can respond to requests and the pool and beach don’t become overcrowded. The owners frequently checked construction progress and ensured guests had a great experience. The rooms contain journals in which prior guests wrote comments and recommended where to go – a nice touch and a source of information!
Annick, The Common Traveler