This was nothing like the beauty pageants I’d seen on TV. The Costa Maya Festival – which is held every August in Belize’s San Pedro town on Ambergris Caye – was alive with music, bedazzling costumes and a pervasive aroma from the food purveyors keeping everyone well-fed with stew chicken and fry jacks. The audience was just as hyped as the women on stage representing each of the Central American countries. Rather than the yawn-inducing polite, seated clapping I had always associated with pageants, onlookers' hips were swinging to the beat of a drum. Even though I was one of very few tourists in attendance, it was impossible not to be caught up in the rhythm alongside the Belizeans celebrating this expression of their unique culture.
Costa Maya Festival 2019 | The Belize Tourism Board
With bellies full of rum and ears still ringing with Belizean beats, my local friend Mary and I laughed the two blocks it takes to reach Havana Cigars after the pageant ended to say hello to our friend Carlos, a Cuban expat who runs Belize’s only cigar bar. Despite the fact that it was well past closing time, we were welcomed in and treated to the best mojitos in town, toasting to freedom and friendship before sneaking sips of Carlos’ formidable whisky collection.
Whether you spend one day on Ambergris Caye, or come back every few months like I do, Belize’s most popular tourist destination welcomes everyone with open arms in a way unlike places similarly sought out by travellers. The island’s history as a pirate hideaway has never really dissipated, maintaining an appeal for castaways and carousers to this very day. As long as you’re willing to get to know new people, Ambergris Caye will happily bring you into its fold.
San Pedro Beach
And fortunately, getting to know new people is simple: Ambergris Caye is a tight-knit community with most of its restaurants and activities centralized in San Pedro. It’s not usual to run into the same people multiple times during a visit, whether they're locals or other travellers. Figuring out where to go or what to do is as simple as renting a golf cart and asking anyone you pass for recommendations. Sometimes the best San Pedro memories are made while casually walking along the shore with no plan to speak of until a stranger invites you to drive out to Secret Beach with them.
Whether you want to help out ACES (the local crocodile rescue organization), dine on pizza with soon-to-be-friends at The Truck Stop north of San Pedro or simply sip tropical drinks along the Caribbean coast, there are endless ways to find yourself in good company on Ambergris Caye.
When You Go:
WHERE TO SLEEP: Beachfront accommodations meet phenomenal value at SunBreeze Hotel and SunBreeze Suites, two of the most conveniently located hotels in Ambergris Caye. Click here to book your Winter Escape at the best rate guaranteed or choose a 7-Night Adventure Package and save $100 USD per person (based on double occupancy) using the code Winter2020.
WHAT TO DO: While on Ambergris Caye, travellers should get wet. Snorkel with nurse sharks and tropical fish at Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley. Dive the Belize Barrier Reef, the second largest barrier reef in the world and a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. Reaching the reef takes just 15 minutes by boat.
Presented in partnership with SunBreeze Hotel and SunBreeze Suites