San Pedro in a nutshell

SAN PEDRO, Belize -- With more than 85% of U.S. first-time visitors to Belize heading straight for San Pedro on Ambergris Caye -- the jumping off point for the country's barrier reef 400 feet offshore -- the little town (and the only town on the island) sees plenty of action.

The island's name is a holdover from colonial days and refers to a waxy substance found in sperm whale intestines that was used in making perfume.

Fishing was once the main industry on the caye (pronounced "key," -- a corruption of the Spanish word "cayo," which means little island), but tourism has taken over within the last 20 years.

The island caters to visitors, and its motto of "No shirt, no shoes, no problem" accurately reflects its laid-back feel.

San Pedro's accommodations range from shack to somewhat chic and from motel to condominium. Most of the 700-plus rooms fall into the basic category, offering minimal amenities with terrific beachfront locations.

Ramon's Village, one of the island's largest resorts and a two-minute walk from the airstrip, attracts U.S. groups who come on weeklong packages to dive, snorkel and fish. The 61 thatched-roof, air-conditioned cabanas also attract families and singles.

Facilities include dive boats, a lagoon pool, a restaurant and the Purple Parrot Bar, a favorite of Jimmy Buffet's.

Across the sand road are four tropical-hued cottages, called Steve & Becky's Cute Little Hotel, now owned by Ramon's.

Bikes and electric golf carts are San Pedro's main modes of transport; customers to Drive-Up Daiquiri can order a drink without leaving their golf carts; Belikin beer is the other beverage of choice; the San Pedro Sun publishes once a week; and experienced tour guides and outfitters are easy to find and reasonably priced. -- G.M.

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