Guidebook: Fifty Big Experiences on Ambergris Caye, Belize

Ambergris Caye Fruit Stall Lady holding Rebecca's book
Reading Time: 7 mins

If you’ve ever searched online for what it’s like to live or visit San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, it’s very likely you’ve come across the San Pedro Scoop. The blog is a part travel guide, part daily journal of Rebecca Coutant, an ex-pat from New York that moved to Belize about 12 years ago. Initially, Rebecca only wrote about her experiences in Ambergris Caye, but as time passed, she expanded to covering travel around Belize. This has been a treat since it’s always interesting to see Belize through her eyes.

See also: 10 things YOU MUST do in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye

For her latest project, Rebecca has written the travel guidebook: Fifty Big Experiences on Ambergris Caye. As it says on the title, the guidebook is about what she considers some of the best experiences to have when you’re on vacation in Ambergris Caye. Today, I’ll be asking her a few questions to get to know her better and unpack some of what’s in her guidebook.

Interview with Rebecca Coutant of San Pedro Scoop

Lorenzo: Before all the questions, to break the ice, can you start by telling us something about yourself that your readers may not know.

Rebecca: Ahhh… That no one knows? OK. After 12 years of living on an island in the Caribbean, I probably go in the ocean – swimming or snorkeling – like once or twice a year. Max. I also do not enjoy fishing and I don’t even know how to flyfish.

Lorenzo: Ha. That’s great. It reminds me of me living in Toronto for several years and yet never climbing the CN Tower. It happens. Perfect, now let’s get this interview going.

1. Why did you write this guidebook? Aren’t there a lot of travel books about Belize already? What makes your guidebook different?

secluded beach in san pedro belize
Searching for secluded beaches in San Pedro

I wrote this book because I have spent the last 8 years writing about my life on Ambergris Caye (many many MANY blog posts) and I get questions every single day from people planning a trip to Belize.  My goal was to write a book with all my favorite suggestions (my “inside scoop” that I give friends and family when they visit). Things to look out for, quirky facts and trivia and questions to ask…

I really wanted to convey what makes Belize so different from other beach destinations. The small experiences like visiting a local fruit stand or noticing the birds while you are driving in your golf cart or picking up hitchhikers on your golf cart that might not be on the normal beach vacation itinerary. Experiences that can MAKE your vacation.

There definitely are a few Belize guidebooks out there but they mostly cover the entire country. Belize is a small country — really small — but man is it diverse. Diverse in food, culture, landscape, experiences and even the language you will hear while walking around. Those books often start from a very high level – and can be very useful to help you choose the part of the country that you want to visit. Or help you choose jungle or reef or both.

I want to focus on the small things, the people, the food, the breakfast tacos, that many find are BIG experiences –  the ones that made their trip to Belize so special.

My book is ALL Ambergris Caye – a handbook that you can carry with you on your trip, taking notes…adding your own highlights. I’m already getting lots of messages from people telling me how many experiences they tried (e.g. 12/50) and even someone who got the book signed by the business owners highlighted everywhere they went.

2. A lot of what you’ve written about is based on your personal experience. Do you think most of the experiences that you recommend are typical of a local or expat? What does living like a local mean to you?

Hudut Garifuna Food
Hudut with Fu-fu and Casava bread

That’s a good question – and it’s one I didn’t think about at all before I moved to Ambergris Caye 12 years ago. The distinctions between tourist, expat and local. I just knew that I felt so good – so happy visiting Ambergris Caye. Everyone was so friendly. Wouldn’t it be awesome to feel that good all the time?  

It’s also hard because I’ve lived in a tourist hotspot before – in Manhattan in New York City. Home to the Empire State Building! The Museum of Modern Art! Times Square! And I never ever visited those things…ever.  Well…I worked near Times Square but avoided the main intersection like the plague.  

I think that you want to do touristy things when you visit but you want to be the type of tourist who gets a real taste of the local culture. Luckily, Ambergris Caye is bursting with it – the caye is not an all-inclusive, sequestered at your resort, cruise-ship 8-hour drop-off destination and I hope it never is.

And as for what does living like a local mean to me… I think the BEST and easiest way to “live local” is the food. Try the local delis for breakfast or lunch. Take a risk on a place that looks busy but you’ve never heard of. Order conch instead of shrimp. Stewed chicken instead of a hamburger. Try rum drinks instead of your usual gin & tonic. Mix it up. You are in another country! I talk about this a bunch in my book – I think it highlights the best of both worlds.

3. You highly recommend day-tripping to Caye Caulker. Why is that? And if the case is that Caye Caulker is such a cool island, why wouldn’t someone just stay in Caye Caulker instead of Ambergris Caye.

caye caulker the split
Playing corn hole at The Split in Caye Caulker

Ambergris Caye is the most visited location in Belize – and the island has been my home for the last 12 years. Every day I get emails and questions asking about my favorite beach or my favorite restaurant – and almost everyone wants “an authentic experience”. It made sense to put together a book with all my favorite recommendations in one spot.

Caye Caulker – just 15 or 20 minutes away – has been considered the “little sister” to Ambergris. The smaller, somewhat cheaper, less developed neighbor frequented by European travelers and backpackers. I love it for a day trip or sometimes for the weekend — especially when I have friends visiting — because you can walk and see a bunch of the top sights on Caye Caulker in just a few hours.

But like Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker is growing and developing. The north side of the island, which for years didn’t have electricity or much development, is now seeing a boom. There is so much more to see there and I do think it is very much a stand-alone destination for those looking for a few days on a sandy caye or a  longer “go-slow” vacation. Stay tuned for my Caye Caulker guide before the end of this year. Or at least that’s the plan. Caye Caulker, Little Sister No More. 🙂

4. Since you moved to San Pedro it has changed a lot over the years. Like they say, the only thing that is constant is change. Please tell us what are the changes that you like and changes that you dislike.

San Pedro's downtown
Downtown San Pedro

Everyone who visits wants Ambergris Caye to be the place they first saw…the magical island where they fell in love with Belize. If that was 40 years ago, you remember sand roads and walking the beach picking up conch for dinner. Even 12 years ago, when I moved here, San Pedro had much more of a small town feel. But as you said, the only thing constant is change.

Belize has SO much potential…it’s almost ridiculous how much natural beauty this tiny country has been blessed with. And it is becoming more and more popular for visitors.

But, on Ambergris Caye, I think we really need to pump the brakes on this “open season” for any and all developers. Our island has limited water, sewage and electricity. We are seeing traffic jams of big trucks and golf carts clogging the narrow roads in town.

Sure, development brings jobs. But so does leveling a Maya site like Xunantunich on the mainland to make way for a mega-casino. Allowing resorts to build 5 stories or 6 stories or 10 stories, brings jobs but what if we don’t have enough power or water for them in the busy season? Or enough room for the visitors to drive around to explore? So yes, I am worried about our infrastructure…or lack of it.

On the positive side, it’s wonderful to have more and more choices all the time. We now have a French bakery – real crusty baguettes are life-changing! The Belize Chocolate shop is amazing. So many great restaurants and pizzerias. Things to do at night like Movies over the Water at Truck Stop or Hermit Crab races at Crazy Canucks. We have a new food delivery service.

We also seen a HUGE increase in internet speed and decrease in price and that only helps everyone – from bloggers to visitors that are looking to vacation but stay in touch with their businesses.

5. OK, let’s end with a two-part question. Do you think Madonna really wrote the song La Isla Bonita after San Pedro? And if Madonna would visit today, what are five experiences she must have.

I just can’t picture early-mid ‘80s Madonna – in her tumultuous marriage to Sean Pean and her lingerie, spiky hair, heavy eye make-up and fingerless gloves – visiting the then sleepy barefoot fishing village of San Pedro in Belize. So I’m going to say no…she didn’t write it about Belize but she did have two co-writers. So who knows?

Thirty-plus years later…what would I recommend for Madonna to do on Ambergris Caye…hmmm.  She is in her early sixties, a vegan and mother to kids between the ages of 7 and 22. No problem!

I think Madonna would love to fly over the Blue Hole – she may be jaded from decades of being one of the world’s most famous people – but I think she’d still be blown away by the natural wonder. No one can come to San Pedro without snorkeling at Shark Ray Alley and Hol Chan Marine reserve. Not even Madonna – it’s amazing.

Madonna would most certainly like to sip a cocktail at Rojo Lounge – an incredible view, great food, a luxe feel and plenty of shade to keep her pale skin from burning. I think she would love yoga over the water at Ak’Bol Eco-Resort – perhaps she can book a private session?

And her kids – in fact ALL kids would love the Truck Stop. Games, pizza, ice cream and a great pool.



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