• Photo: Brandon Bourdages / Shutterstock

Ambergris Caye and San Pedro

At 25 miles (40 km) long and 4.5 miles (7 km) wide at its widest point, Ambergris is the queen of the cayes. Here the Northern Barrier Reef is just a few hundred yards from shore, making access to dive sites extremely easy—the journey by boat takes as little as 10 minutes. On early maps it was often referred to as Costa de Ambar, or the Amber Coast, a name supposedly derived from the blackish substance secreted by sperm whales—ambergris—that washes up on the beaches. Having never seen any ambergris in Belize, or a sperm whale, we’re not sure we buy this explanation.

In addition to great diving, there's snorkeling, fishing, sailboarding, as well as just splashing in the sea or just lazing on the beach until it's time to sample one of the dozens of restaurants on the island. The island's friendly and prosperous population is around 16,000, has one of the country's highest literacy rates, and maintains admirable level of awareness about the reef's fragility.

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