San Pedro, located near the Barrier Reef, is on the southern tip of Ambergris Caye, some 35 miles from Belize City. Ambergris Caye, is Belize’s most popular island destination. The island is a very flat, twenty-five mile long slice of limestone with mangrove on the west and narrow beaches on the east. San Pedro streets, in an area six blocks long and four blocks wide, are white sand and in addition to walking in your bare feet, accommodate bicycles and golf carts.
Once a fishing village, San Pedro has within the last twenty years become the nation’s major tourist destination. With a population of 1,200, San Pedronians as they call themselves, are mostly descendants of the Mestizos and some French and British buccaneers. They speak both English and Spanish.
Ambergris Caye was formed from the accumulation of coral fragments, which formed a shoal patch, by building up in long lines parallel to the mainland. This formation is said to have been formed by submarine geological strata instead of by the flow of the sea currents.
The first inhabitants of San Pedro were the Mayas, the caye being a stopover for the Maya traders. Pirates also settled there in the 17th century. In the 1840’s, during the Caste War in Mexico, Mestizos fled Mexico, settling on Ambergris Caye. By 1851, Mexico wanted control of the territory, but after the locals protested, the dispute was settled by a treaty in 1893. In 1874, James Blake purchased the entire island. A century later the Belizean government forcefully purchased the island and sold lots to the locals.
The economy of San Pedro originally depended on logwood. Then chicle and coconuts and in 1920 lobster became the most valuable export. The earliest tourists began arriving in San Pedro in the 1920’s, with the first real hotel being established in 1965. By 1979, flights were available to the island by Tropic Air.
San Pedro is the perfect place for swimming, diving and snorkeling which is probably the reason why most tourists come to Belize. The structure of the Belize Barrier Reef is such that in the northern part of Belize, the reef actually touches Ambergris Caye, while in the south the reef lies almost 40 miles from shore. Close by San Pedro lie the Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve. Mexico Rocks, a beautiful collection of coral heads also near San Pedro, is slated for protection status soon.