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Of Pirates and ‘Whale Vomit’ How Ambergris Caye Got its Name

The story of how Ambergris Caye got its name is both captivating and somewhat elusive.

Spanish maps from the mid-1600s refer to the area as the “Costa de Ambar,” or “Amber Coast.” Literally, Ambergris means “grey amber.” Yet amber – the fossilized, hardened resin of the pine tree – is mostly found in the Baltic. To what, then, could those early Spanish explorers have been referring when they christened the caye with a name like “the Amber Coast”?

It turns out that the namesake treasure associated with the phenomenal beaches surrounding our resort development property on Ambergris Caye was a highly unusual suspect. A mysterious substance with rumoured mystical properties and hotly debated origins – no one actually knew where it came from in the pre-scientific era – ambergris is a fragrant, volatile organic compound of a dullish grey marbled color.

Highly prized in the production of perfumes before the advent of modern synthetics, ambergris was a chief ingredient in oriental scents and was also in high demand in the parfumeries of Paris.

Where ambergris comes from, though, is the best part. Perhaps to the disappointment of those who once championed the substance’s mystical properties, we now know that ambergris is a secretion produced in the intestines of sperm whales. It’s often (erroneously) referred to as “whale vomit.”

Nice, right?

Incidentally, it’s been speculated that Ambergris Caye owes its name in no small part to the pirates who hid out here in numbers during the 1600s. To supplement their raids on Spanish galleons – the wrecks of several of which can be found off Ambergris’ shores – these pirates are said to have cashed in on the natural bounty that washed up on Ambergris’ beaches, selling ambergris oil to the perfume merchants of Europe.

Today, the Daily Mail estimates that one pound of ambergris, sometimes called “floating gold,” is worth approximately $10,000.

Want a better way to cash in on the natural bounty of Ambergris Caye than hunting for whale secretions? Check out our resort development property for sale in Belize.

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