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.
Despite the fact that much of the island is seasonally flooded mangrove forest, and despite laws prohibiting the cutting of mangroves, developers continue to clear cut and fill this marginal land. Indiscriminate cutting of the mangroves is already having an adverse effect on the nearby barrier reef: Without the mangroves to filter the water and slow the impact of waves, silt is formed and carried out to the reef, where it settles and kills the coral. There is still spectacular diving to be had just off the shore here, but local operators and long-term residents claim to have noticed a difference and are expressing concern.