Ambergris: Diving in Belize with Ease

Scuba by Day, Drink by Night: This is Tropical Paradise
By Laura Boswell
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Blue-water bliss: Skimming over the largest barrier reef in the western hemisphere.  (courtesy, Belize Tourism)
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I first became familiar with Ambergris Caye in the seventh grade, during my bangle bracelets and lace half-gloves phase, carrying a Walkman the size of a cinderblock and listening to Madonna croon about La Isla Bonita. I didn't realize it was an actual place. (I also didn't realize that Boy George was a boy.)

Twenty-some years after that awkward—if endearing—phase, as I sank my feet into the sand of that beautiful island, I still questioned whether or not it actually existed. Places as beautiful as Belize's Ambergris Caye (pronounced "am-BUR-griss key") invite those kinds of lazy, metaphysical quandaries. The largest of the country's chain of 200 cayes and atolls, the 25-mile-long, mangrove-scrubbed island is a little strip of Central American paradise floating in the Caribbean Sea, formed by an accumulation of coral fragments, separated by a narrow canal from Mexico (which has periodically staked its claim to the island), and covered in swamps, lagoons, and sand ridges. It's also the country's top diving destination. Lolling a half-mile east of the country's famed barrier reef (the largest in the western hemisphere), the island is uniquely situated for all types of diving at more than 40 of the best local and offshore sites.

Ambergris is not as pristine as counterparts like Caulker or Half Moon; tourism is Belize's most lucrative industry, so you'll hear more English on Ambergris than Spanish or Creole, and see plenty of high-voltage tropical shirts and white legs in black socks. But Ambergris boasts the salty little jewel of San Pedro, a town of 5,000 or so mainly mestizo-descent residents; streets made of sand; friendly, free-roaming dogs; and open-air bars that will make even the most tone-deaf want to grab a guitar and start strumming. (It also has the only hyperbaric chamber in the country—never a bad thing for a diver to locate.)

Published: 24 Jul 2003 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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