58km (36 miles) N of Belize City; 64km (40 miles) SE of Corozal Town
San Pedro is Belize's principal sun-and-fun destination. The compact "downtown" area is a jumble of small hotels, souvenir shops, restaurants, dive shops, and tour agencies. Though San Pedro continues to attract primarily scuba divers and fishermen, it is today popular with a wide range of folks who like the slow-paced atmosphere, including an increasing number of snowbirds, expatriates, and retirees. While certainly not akin to big city traffic, golf carts and automobiles are proliferating on Ambergris Caye and constantly force pedestrians and bicycle riders to the sides of the road. In fact, the ongoing boom here has actually led to gridlock. During the busy parts of the day, the downtown area of San Pedro is a jumble of golf carts, cars, bicycles, and pedestrians all moving at a rather slow pace. As a separate byproduct of the boom, wooden Caribbean houses are giving way to concrete and cinder-block buildings, and even a small strip mall or two. Development has reached both ends of Ambergris Caye, and steady construction appears destined to fill in the blanks from north to south. Still, for the time being, most of the resorts located north or south of San Pedro are isolated and tranquil retreats, set on the shores of crystal-clear waters.
Long before the British settled Belize, and long before the sun-seeking vacationers and zealous reef divers discovered Ambergris Caye, the Maya were here. In fact, the Maya created Ambergris Caye when they cut a channel through the long thin peninsula that extended down from what is now Mexico. The channel was cut to facilitate coastal trading and avoid the dangerous barrier reef that begins not too far north of San Pedro. Ambergris Caye is 40km (25 miles) long and only .8km (1/2 mile) wide at its widest point.
San Pedro reflects the dichotomies of Belize’s identity. Yes, the tourism boom has led to construction projects that displace mangroves, negatively effecting the nearby coral and other wildlife, but in turn this has driven conservation awareness, with the caye’s population of some 20,000 leading the charge when the Belize Barrier Reef was threatened with the possibility of oil drilling in late 2016. More and more San Pedro businesses are getting involved in cleaning up trash, investing in eco-friendly buildings, and relocating crocodiles instead of just killing them. It’s a remarkable time to witness the evolution of this community, all while enjoying the bright sunshine, sparkling sea, and maybe a Belikin beer or two.