For my 26th birthday, I took myself to Belize for a short 4-day trip after finding a $300 return ticket on a whim.
Since I didn’t have much time in Belize, I decided to stay in one place and make the most of it. After some Googling, the most idyllic place to spend a weekend quickly emerged: San Pedro on Ambergris Caye.
Although Belize is an expensive destination, there are ways to travel Belize on a budget – and the Cayes are some of the best places to do so!
I decided to spend my time in the small town of San Pedro, located on Ambergris Caye — the largest island in Belize, a short distance from mainland Mexico.
Nestled along the Caribbean sea, San Pedro boasts brilliant blue waters, incredible marine life (particularly along the Belize Barrier Reef, the second-largest reef system in the world), and plenty of cool things to do in San Pedro both in and out of the water.
Since my first visit to San Pedro, I’ve been back twice and also visited more of Belize, like Caye Caulker and San Ignacio. I just can’t seem to stay away from this part of the world!
This list of the best things to do in San Pedro is the work of hours of research planning for three trips to Belize — so I hope you enjoy!
PLANNING SAN PEDRO AT A GLANCE: Best Time to Visit: Dry season runs from November through April, which also coincides with colder temperatures up in North America -- bringing Americans and Canadians to Belize in huge numbers. Prices are higher and availability is lower, particularly over the winter holidays, but the weather is pretty much perfect. Best Places to Stay: I've stayed at three different places in Belize over three different trips -- all representative of very different budgets. For luxury, I'd pick Victoria House (boutique hotel with casitas and suites), for families I'd pick White Sands Cove Resort (mid-range bungalows), and for solo travelers or travelers on a budget, Sandbar (hostel with great amenities). Best Activities: Snorkeling in Shark Ray Alley and Hol Chan on a sailboat snorkeling tour, spending the day at Secret Beach, and taking a day tour to the mainland to go caving in the ATM Cave. Don't Forget to Pack: Bug spray and after-bite care for the inevitable insect bites. Reef-safe sunscreen (I like Sun Bum SPF 30 with Vitamin E) for snorkeling and swimming, to protect Belize's beautiful marine life. A large travel towel that doubles as a beach blanket without taking up space. Travel Insurance: I use and love World Nomads for travel in Central America! If you're diving, be sure to pick the Explorer Plan which includes coverage for dive-related incidents.
Where to Stay in San Pedro, Belize
LUXURY | I had the wonderful privilege of staying at Victoria House on my second trip to Belize on a hosted stay. It was absolutely marvelous and I can’t express enough how magical it was.
From the pool that looks out over the Caribbean Sea to the well-manicured grounds shaded with palm trees, Victoria House is an oasis of peace and quiet in San Pedro.
The Victoria House offers a private beach of sorts, with hammocks and loungers spread between the palm trees overlooking the ocean. While the water and marine life are stunning, the islands of Belize are not known for their sandy beaches. That said, Victoria House has created something out of nothing, with a sandy ‘beach’ giving way to a seawall.
We stayed in the Infinity Suite, a two-story apartment-style suite with a full kitchen, en-suite bath, outdoor shower, patio, upstairs balcony, and a massive master suite. It was the definition of luxury and I miss it terribly.
But there are also more reasonably priced statehouses and casitas, so there is something for all along the budget spectrum.
MID-RANGE | On my third trip to San Pedro, I was traveling with family and we wanted a mid-range place to stay, and we ended up at White Sands Cove. It was an extremely beautiful location and the amenities were fantastic for the price.
We stayed in a bungalow-style two-story house with a patio and small kitchen, and it was a really beautiful place. It’s not quite as luxe and fancy as Victoria House, but you do get a lot of space for the price.
The staff was really kind and wonderful and we loved the pool and restaurant (seriously, their food — especially their breakfast — was so good we found it hard to leave!).
The only downside is that it is a little bit far away from town, so it is a golf cart ride, taxi, or a long bike ride to town, which can add up over time!
BUDGET | I stayed at the absolutely wonderful Sandbar Hostel on my first solo trip to Belize, and it was a great place to stay. I don’t think I’ve ever been more pleasantly surprised by a hostel experience.
It had all the little details which make a good hostel great. I’m talking privacy screens, outlets and small shelves next to each bed, and personal luggage lockers beneath each bunk bed. The cleaning staff seemed to come in almost hourly to sweep up any sand on the ground, always with a friendly smile. The bathrooms and showers were clean, and — a real bonus in this part of the world — had excellent water pressure.
The hostel had its own bar and restaurant, which was a great way to socialize and meet other travelers. Luckily, it never got too rowdy to make it hard to sleep.
How to Get To San Pedro
I’ve traveled to and from San Pedro three times, so I’ve done it all! I’ve traveled overland to San Pedro from Mexico (and vice versa) and I’ve also come straight to Belize City from the United Sates.
On my first trip, I flew into Belize City International Airport and took a taxi into the city followed by the boat, which all together ended up being about $50 USD since I was traveling solo.
On the way back, I was a bit crunched for time so I decided to take the plane back to Belize City for about $75, and I was so glad that I did – the views are absolutely stunning!
So if you’re planning on heading straight to San Pedro from the Belize City airport, you need to factor in some extra costs for either airfare to San Pedro or for a taxi to the ferry plus the water taxi rate.
Honestly, unless you really need to budget down to the last dollar, I’d just take the plane – it saves you hours and gives you amazing views to boot!
Return tickets on Maya Island Air are about $90-120 per person if you book in advance, vs. around $60 using the water taxi (not counting the taxi from the airport).
17 Best Things to Do in San Pedro Belize
Rent a golf cart and zip around town.
One of the most fun things to do in San Pedro is rent a golf cart like the locals do! Golf carts are a big part of the San Pedro culture, and it’s how locals get around the island.
You’ll want to rent a golf cart if you are visiting places like Secret Beach, the Truck Stop, and checking out the beaches in the southern part of the island!
Tip: It’s cheaper to pre-book a golf cart rental online than to book once you arrive — I suggest these golf carts which you can book via Viator.
Take a food tour.
On my last trip to Belize, I did a food tour where we got to sample our way around some of the island’s most famous eats!
It includes seven stops and 11 tastings — I was stuffed by the end of it, and I had a much better understanding of the delicious mix of cultures that created Belizean food by the end of the tour!
Spend the day on Secret Beach.
The lively, not-so-secret Secret Beach is a great place to spend a day in Belize.
Beach bars, delicious Belizean food restaurants, picnic tables in the clear water: what else could you need to pass the time on a beachy vacation?
Secret Beach is a little out of the way of the main San Pedro town, but it’s about a 30-minute drive by golf cart on an unpaved road. It is totally worth it, though!
While it’s popular and touristy, it’s also one of the best places to visit in San Pedro, so don’t let the hype scare you off.
Sample chocolates at the Belize Chocolate Company.
Who doesn’t love chocolate? No one I know, at least.
The Belize Chocolate Company creates delicious artisan chocolate, “from bean to bar” in their words! They take delicious cacao grown in Belize and see it through every step of the transformation into delicious organic chocolate.
You can grab some chocolates there or even take a chocolate-making class!
Snorkel with sharks and rays in Shark Ray Alley
There’s plenty of adventurous things to do in Belize — but snorkeling in Shark Ray Alley probably takes the cake!
You do have to take a day tour, because in Belize, you can’t just swim out to a reef. The water in San Pedro is very shallow for a long, long way out. You do have to go out in a boat a fair amount to get to the snorkeling destinations.
Shark Ray Alley is basically a place where all the snorkeling companies in Ambergris Caye have decided to feed sharks and rays off the side of the boat so tourists can snorkel alongside them.
The practice of chumming waters to attract marine life is not one with an easy answer. Mar Alliance believes it can be key to building bridges where humans understand that animals like sharks and rays are not to be feared, and that it builds more compassion and conservation.
Others believe chumming can be dangerous if it makes sharks dependent on humans for food. The sharks in Shark Ray Alley are nurse sharks, which are very docile creatures — very few nurse shark bites have ever been recorded, and never fatally.
It was exhilarating and only slightly scary to be 10 feet in the water, completely uncaged, from huge sharks about 10 feet in length!
I kept myself calm by telling myself I was much more difficult prey than the fishes being fed to them off the side of the boat. Huge sting rays undulated alongside the sharks, trying to get their fill too.
Go diving or snorkeling in Hol Chan Marine Reserve
Booking all the different diving and snorkeling tours in Belize can get expensive, but oh, is it ever worth it!
Hol Chan Marine Reserve is probably one of the best places to snorkel in all of the Americas, and it’s certainly the best place in Central America.
The reef is teeming with brilliant color, and its coral reef restoration projects have been wildly successful.
I’m terrible with identifying fish (which is something I actually really want to work on, because I’m a nerd like that) but they really ran the gamut: I saw everything from electric blue tiny fish to sea turtles to spotted eagle rays and clownfish.
Honestly, I’ve been to the Great Barrier Reef back in 2012 and I found Hol Chan to be just as exciting and colorful in terms of marine diversity!
This full day sailing tour covers both Shark Ray Alley and Hol Chan Marine Reserve, so it makes it easy to hit two of San Pedro’s top attractions in a single day trip.
Go scuba diving.
If you’re PADI Open Water Certified, go even deeper under the water with a dive led by a divemaster!
Have a beer on the water.
If snorkeling or diving isn’t your jam, and you’d rather just take in a beer and enjoy the scenery, Palapa Bar & Grill is a great place to enjoy a beer over the water and relax. You can imagine you’re in your own private overwater bungalow for a fraction of the cost!
They also have a bunch of floating inner tubes at the back of the bar, where you can float with a beer and enjoy the sunshine.
Belikin beers – the local beer of Belize – are about $2 USD and go down a little too easily! Perhaps that’s why they’re often sold in a bucket?
Part of that is because they’re the thickest bottles I’ve ever drank out of. Seriously, they’re practically weaponized. Each presumptive “bottle” is probably actually half glass, half beer. Still, when in Belize, you gotta at least try a Belikin!
Take a spin on a bike.
If the weather’s nice and you fancy a spin on a bike, you can rent a bike from Joe’s for the day for $15, which is a fun way to see more of San Pedro!
The town of San Pedro is small and pretty walkable, and you really get to see just how small it is on a bike!
I enjoyed biking towards the northern area of San Pedro, and seeing a more wild and less developed side of the island as well.
Relax on the beach.
Of course, the best thing you can do in San Pedro on a budget is relax in the sand and take in the views!
San Pedro’s beaches aren’t your typical ocean beach. There aren’t really any waves to speak of, and the water is very shallow. There are some sandy beaches, but they are scattered around the island.
Mar de Tumbo is probably the prettiest beach near San Pedro town, with lots of sandy shore line to stroll on and beautiful palm trees.
Another pretty beach is Boca del Rio, which is right at the mouth of where the river passes between San Pedro town and Northern Ambergris Caye. The water here is electric blue and super beautiful!
Take a helicopter tour over the Great Blue Hole.
One of Belize’s most impressive sites is the Great Blue Hole, a natural sinkhole that spreads over 1,000 feet in diameter.
It’s a brilliant, well… deep blue hole in the middle of a bright turquoise sea, ringed by a coral reef in the shape of a question mark.
You can dive in it, but you should be at an advanced level to do so. However, people I know who did dive the Blue Hole said it wasn’t as impressive as they hoped it would be, and that approaching it by boat, it was impossible to see the deep blue phenomenon.
Better yet is to take a helicopter if you really want to experience the beauty of the Great Blue Hole! This helicopter tour will take you right over it on a scenic 80-minute helicopter flight.
Catch a beautiful sunset.
Most of the developed side of San Pedro is on the east side of the island, not the west, so sunsets aren’t as big of a thing in San Pedro (they’re better on Caye Caulker, to be honest, if you want to take the boat ride over!).
Find a place on the lagoon (west) side of the island if you want to see a spectacular sunset, with mangroves and calm water.
The Truck Stop is a good place, with a boardwalk around the back where you can walk out and watch the sunset.
Another good spot to see the sunset is the area by the docks, near where the water ferry to Chetumal departs from. Type in Chetumal Express Water Taxi into Google Maps and head over to that general area for a sunset view!
You could also go for a sunset sail on a 40-foot sailboat for a more romantic and unique way to catch the sunset!
… but better yet, wake up for sunrise.
Listen, I love a good morning sleep-in just as much as the next person, if not more.
But due to the geographic positioning of San Pedro, with most of its hotels and attractions on the east side of the island (since this is the side that faces the reef), sunrise is actually way better on San Pedro than sunset!
Every time I’ve been to San Pedro (three times now!), I make sure I wake up for sunrise at least one morning of the trip. It’s always been worth it.
Take a day trip to the ATM Cave.
The ATM Cave is located on mainland Belize, but it’s absolutely possible to visit the ATM Cave as part of a day trip from San Pedro.
If you are visiting other places in Belize, such as Belize City or San Ignacio, as part of a longer Belize itinerary, then there is no reason to make this day trip as it is a bit out of the way and you will be much closer at another point in your trip.
However, if you’re only visiting San Pedro on your Belize trip, definitely save a day to visit the ATM Cave. It’s absolutely worth the journey — it was the most magical thing I did in Belize!
Stalactites and stalagmites form an incredible cave system, and there are all sorts of Mayan artifacts such as pottery in there…. as well as the skeletal remains of several human sacrifices which were left in the cave hundreds and hundreds of years ago!
If I haven’t scared you off with that tidbit, it’s absolutely worth the trip. There’s nowhere else like it.
Eat some tasty food at the Truck Stop.
One of the coolest places to hang out in San Pedro is at The Truck Stop, which is located north of the bridge in Northern Ambergris Caye.
There are a few different places to eat here, ‘food truck style’ (though actually run out of shipping containers, painted in bright colors!).
Options include pizza, tacos, Asian food, and cocktails! I personally love the food at Rasa and Sol Fresca best.
They also host a movie night every Wednesday!
Try some tasty salbutes.
Belize and Mexico are neighbors, and a lot of the tastiest food of the Yucatán peninsula can also be found in Belize!
I had these delicioussalbutes, which are a famous Mexican antojito that’s also popular in Belize, at Sandbar, but you can find them in other places in San Pedro Town as well.
I would compare it to shredded chicken tostadas (if the tostada was a little thicker), topped with tomatoes, guacamole, sour cream, and lettuce.
Go to the “Chicken Drop”.
One of the more… unique things to do in San Pedro, the Chicken Drop is a bizarre weekly gambling game that takes place at Wahoo’s Lounge and involves betting on where a chicken will sh*t on a board full of numbers.
That’s literally the game.
The Chicken Drop takes place at 7 PM every Thursday and involves a lot of drinking and raucous cheering and yelling to try to coax the chicken to crap on the number you bet on.
It’s a very strange, very uniquely San Pedro thing to do at night!
Have dinner at Elvi’s Kitchen.
I’ve eaten at more restaurants in San Pedro than I can count, but my favorite has to be Elvi’s Kitchen… I’ve been twice and would go back in a heartbeat!
My favorite dishes are the esquites (street-style roast corn) and the fish steamed in Mayan adobe in a banana leaf. I could eat that over and over again and never get bored!
Eat some delicious pupusas.
In the main town, I took advantage of Belize’s proximity to El Salvador by indulging in one of my favorite Latin American foods of all time: the humble pupusa.
Made of masa and stuffed with delicious bits like pork, beans, chicken, cheese, squash, you name it, pupusas can be vegetarian or meaty depending on your tastes.
Once stuffed and griddle-cooked, pupusas are then topped with cabbage slaw, a mild tomato sauce, and as much Marie Sharp’s habanero hot sauce as you can stand!
7 Things You Must Pack for Belize
I’ve written an entire Belize packing list but if you just want the essentials, here’s what I think you must pack!
- Mosquito repellent & after-care: Belize has a tropical climate with mosquitos year-round, particularly in the rainy season. Zika, dengue fever, malaria, and chikungunya have all been reported there. While there’s no reason to cancel your trip on account of it, protect yourself with mosquito repellent (as a back-up, I carry around a few mosquito repellent wipes with me in my purse in case I forget to apply spray before leaving or that I can apply after swimming). It’s also inevitable that you won’t leave without a few bites, so bring some after-bite relief too (this is hard to find in Belize).
- Full-size travel towel: This travel towel is full-size so it’s big enough to use as a beach towel, thin enough to pack up super small for your luggage, and it dries super quickly in Belize’s humid climate.
- A guidebook: I use travel blogs a lot when I’m on the road but I also love having a guidebook to give me more specific, thoroughly researched information. Lonely Planet is my go-to guidebook and Lonely Planet Belize is no exception. I usually buy the Kindle version, but paper versions are also great fun to peruse.
- Reef-safe sunscreen: If you are planning to do any water activities, such as diving or snorkeling or even swimming, please use a reef-safe sunscreen like this one. The active ingredients in sunscreen are killing off coral in huge numbers. The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest in the world and is under threat. So please don’t use normal, chemical-laden sunscreen in Belize’s fragile ocean ecosystem!
- Filter water bottle or Steripen: Belize’s tap water is not drinkable anywhere in the country. I recommend traveling with a water bottle with a built-in filter that filters out nasty bacteria and viruses like this awesome LifeStraw bottle so you can reduce your plastic waste. Alternately, you can use a Steripen which sterilizes water using UV light. A great investment if you travel frequently and want to reduce your plastic bottle consumption!
- GoPro: If you go snorkeling or cave tubing or ziplining, you’re going to want a way to capture all of that action! A GoPro Hero 6 is currently the highest-quality option, but if you’re on a budget, the GoPro Session is also an excellent choice. Be aware that you need to buy protective casing if you want to take either of these cameras diving. They are only waterproof to 10 meters, and you’ll exceed that if you dive (most dives are at least 15 meters or so).
- Finally, don’t forget travel insurance! Whether you’re scuba diving, caving, ziplining through the jungle or just relaxing on the beach, don’t forget to purchase travel insurance! It’ll protect you in case of accident, injury, lost luggage, theft, or any other disaster that could befall your trip. I have been a paying customer of World Nomads for two years and recommend them highly!