History of Ambergris Caye

by McNab Editorial Team

In the 1500s, the pirate invaders used Belize as a region to stockpile their spoils. Ambergris Caye, because of its proximity to Mexico, was so convenient that the pirates dredged the Bacalar channel to expedite transportation of their valuables to the mainland. Unassumingly, the pirates paved the way to one of Belize’s top destinations.


At 25 miles long, Ambergris Caye is the largest of Belize’s 200+ islands off the coast. Fringing just offshore about half a mile. The UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System. Local hotspot, ‘Rocky Point’, at the northeast tip, boats a collision of reef and land. Many Maya settlements were still active when the Europeans came. One of the most remarkable achievements of the Maya was a trade route through Central America, utilizing Belize to Honduras and Mexico. The Maya dug a narrow channel a mile long and less than a few feet wide. Here, at the northernmost tip of the “Caye”, is the end of the Yucatan Peninsula. This channel separates Ambergris Caye from Mexico and cuts the Mayans’ travel time in half. As a result, they no longer had to travel all around the island to get to the northern mainland of Belize, Corozal, and Chetumal Bay. Today, this channel is known as Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve.


In the days when logwood was king (1700-1800), there was a robust trading system throughout the north. Canoes traveled south from Yucatan with fish, cloth, clothing, and other items. However, they also brought slaves. At the time, there was an exchange for cacao from Belize. Ambergris Caye served as a rest stop for the traders hereby going back and forth. The island proved as a strategic military position, given its location at the mouth of the Bay of Chetumal. It is confirmed that later, Ambergris Caye served as a hideaway for the ships attacking the invading Spanish fleets.

San Pedro Village

The village of San Pedro was first occupied legally by Mestizos fleeing the Caste Wars in Yucatan. The then-British rulers welcomed them with the ulterior motive of putting them to work to help feed the laborers in the logwood camps. As the British achieved more wealth and power, they formed a company to acquire title to the land. After several failed attempts to cultivate Sea Island Cotton, the land was sold in 1942 to two men – Welsh and Golf. There were bitter disputes over possession between the British and the Mexicans, with the British finally allowing the Mexicans legal entry. Subsequently, Welsh and Golf sold the island and it changed hands several times. Later, an Antonio Mathe purchased the caye for $900.00. He later died, bankrupted, with the Bank seizing his assets for auction. Subsequently, James Humes Blake, a magistrate in Corozal, bought the island for $625.00. Lucrative in the logwood and Chicle (gum) industries, the Blake family of British descent, lived on the mainland.

In the 1870s, Mr. Blake and his wife from the Alamilla family, moved to Ambergris Caye to start a coconut business. This continued for decades, with exports to the United States. And so, the primary landowners were three families: Blakes, Alamillas, and later, the Parham’s. To the turn of the century and throughout the 1940s, laborers and settlers developed the fishing industry and continued the coconut plantations. By the 1960s, San Pedro was still a quiet seaside paradise. Later, there was a boom when the spiny lobster came into demand. This forged local co-ops and tourism began to take the island in a new direction. Today, Ambergris Caye stands as Belize’s most popular destination.

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