The Island Paradise of Caye Caulker, Belize
The motto of "go slow" is easy to follow once your bare feet touch down on the island of Caye Caulker. Both residents and tourists stick to a laidback rhythm set to palm trees swaying in the breeze.
Caye Caulker is located approximately 20 mi (32 km) northeast of Belize City and accessible only by water taxi or plane. Measuring 5 mi (8 km) long and 1 mi (1.5 km) wide, the Caribbean island is next to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef (second-largest coral reef system in the world).
The off the beaten path island is an affordable destination for travelers looking to experience the Kriol culture and spectacular ocean life of Belize. Enjoy fresh seafood, reggae music, and chill vibes in between snorkeling and scuba diving excursions.
Brad and I spent a week hanging out in Caye Caulker. The friendly people, delicious cuisine, and vibrant atmosphere made it hard to leave. So dial your mindset to R&R and discover below why this little slice of paradise is in a league of its own!
Luckily Caye Caulker has a variety of accommodations to fit your needs. We opted for a mid-range stay at Colinda Cabanas on the southern end of the island. I highly recommend this boutique hotel if you desire peace and quiet. The cozy blue and yellow bungalows are right off the water!
Each unit comes with a pair of bikes perfect for cruising on the sandy streets. Kayaks, paddle boards, and snorkeling gear are also available for guests. The pier is a great place to take a dip, sunbathe, read a book, or simply listen to the waves.
Even though our room didn't have air conditioning, we were plenty comfortable with the two fans provided. Housekeeping was immaculate, hammocks were easy to come by, and the kitchenette even included a blender for homemade cocktails. Dirty monkeys anyone?
Anytime of the year is great to visit Caye Caulker, but there are several annual festivals which may influence your travel dates. Fortunately, Brad and I were around for Lobster Fest (June/July) and had our fill of the succulent crustacean as often as we could!
Explore the Streets
Caye Caulker has a no-frills attitude. Tourists stroll around in swimsuits, street food vendors offer cheap nibbles, and dogs nap in the shade. Homes are weathered from salty air and vivid hand-painted signs are in every direction.
The island is walkable, but a bike is a fun alternative. We used ours from the hotel every day! Road hazards include the occasional golf cart, pot hole, or iguana. Check if your accommodations offer bikes or rent one in town.
Looking for a souvenir? Head to the east side of the island for unique craft stalls. One of my favorite stores was the Little Blue Gift Shop. The black and white "go slow" signs are adorable!
Inevitably you will discover The Split on the north end. The narrow channel, expanded by Hurricane Hattie in 1961, divides the island in two.
The Lazy Lizard is a popular spot for visitors to drink a cocktail and cool off. Beware of the mysterious lizard juice; a lime green slushy with an unusual flavor. I couldn't quite put my finger on the contents and hoped for the best the following morning!
Another bar worth a round is the Sip N' Dip for its excellent 2x1 rum punch deals and partially submerged palapa tables. Relax in the calm turquoise water while little fish dart around your legs.
Caveman Snorkeling Tours
Adventure seekers will have a blast with the crew of Caveman Snorkeling Tours! The full day tour costs $90 USD per person and includes park fees, snorkeling equipment, and lunch.
Our guides, David and Zack, took us and several others on a small boat to five different locations. After a quick stop to check out the tarpons, we made our way to Coral Gardens to see the expansive reef system and manatees.
The snorkeling at Hol Chan Marine Reserve took my breath away! We saw sea turtles, spotted eagle rays, schools of diverse fish, and a little moray eel. I was giddy with excitement watching the glorious ecosystem from above.
After lunch it was time to visit Shark Ray Alley. Fisherman have been using the area to clean their catch for years. Eventually nurse sharks associated the sound of boat motors with a dinner bell. Dozens of gentle nurse sharks came within several inches of me as they swarmed the side of the boat. So cool!
A sunken barge was the final stop of the tour. Dancing sea fans and ornate corals transformed the metal structure into a magical haven. I saw sea urchins, beautiful fish, and crabs while peeking inside the numerous openings.
Caveman Snorkeling Tours truly respects the ocean environment. David and Zack told us about the devastating practice of some cruise ships illegally dumping garbage in the area. Brad and I retrieved several floating pieces of plastic as we were snorkeling. Please do the same if you come across any objects; every bit helps marine life!
TIP: Stick with the rice and beans option for lunch (our chicken and beef burgers were underwhelming). Soft drinks, water, and fresh fruit are provided. Bring sunglasses and plenty of sunscreen.
Iguana Reef Inn
One of the best places to watch a sunset is at Iguana Reef Inn. Grab a beverage at the bar, although not required, before taking a seat along the shoreline. Keep an eye out for stingrays, pelicans, tarpons, and nurse sharks along the shoreline.
Next to the pier is a habitat formed by ropes where bright yellow and dark brown seahorses frequent in the late afternoon. Don't get discouraged if you can't find them right away since the window of opportunity is small. A wild sighting of these camouflage creatures is worth the effort!
Cruising around Caye Caulker in a kayak is a fantastic way to burn off some rum punches. Weave in between pockets of mangroves and wooden piers while searching for fish in the shallow water.
Brad and I made our way around the southern half of the island in about four hours. Paddling through the strong current of The Split was the most challenging part. Luckily patrons at The Lazy Lizard cheered us on as our jello arms begged for mercy!
Great Blue Hole
One of Jacques Cousteau's favorite scuba diving locations was the Great Blue Hole; a perfectly round limestone sinkhole with stalactites. Measuring 984 ft (300 m) wide and 407 ft (124 m) deep, this natural wonder is best for experienced divers interested in topography. Snorkeling at the surface isn't worthwhile due to the lack of colorful corals and marine species.
Don't have a diving certification? No problem! You can charter a plane to see the Great Blue Hole for around $300 USD per person. Brad and I didn't splurge on this option since we intend to return someday to dive the site once we have enough experience.
Not only is Caye Caulker an island paradise, but a food one as well! Enticing smells and al fresco beach dining options are abundant. Popular Belizean dishes include curries, grilled seafood, and jerk chicken served with rice and beans. Sweet or savory fry jacks (deep fried dough) are a must-try breakfast staple. Here are my top recommendations for a mouthwatering meal.
• Breakfast - If you're like me and need caffeine in your veins to wake up, wander over to Ice N' Beans. Remedy morning grogginess with an iced mocha latte and bag of freshly made mini cinnamon sugar donuts. The cheery yellow picnic tables and ocean views will also help jumpstart your day.
• Lunch - Anytime I see hot grills on a beach with fresh meat and seafood my brain seems to produce excess serotonin levels. My eyes widened as I saw the side-by-side stalls of chefs Esther and Kareem south of The Split. The freshly grilled lobster smothered in mango chili butter at Esther's Crusty Crab was simply phenomenal. A few days later, we tried the succulent jerk chicken and garlic butter snapper at Kareem's Beach BBQ. Every meal included a portion of rice and beans, cold side salad, and roasted plantain.
• Dinner - The Pelican Sunset Bar is a relaxed oceanfront spot ideal for gorgeous sunsets and simple food bursting with flavor. Try the zesty shrimp ceviche and curry fish sticks served with seasoned potato wedges. The chill vibes and fruity rum punch are too good to pass up!
Runner Up - San Pedro
Our first impression of Belize was San Pedro; a resort town on the island of Ambergris Caye which we visited for five days.
Unfortunately Brad and I didn't jive with the atmosphere. The narrow streets were cramped with golf carts and nightlife was lacking. We soon realized there wasn't much for backpackers to do besides hang out at the Palapa Bar and Grill.
Overall I could've skipped San Pedro. My advice is to stick with Caye Caulker if you prefer a low-key trip without the hustle and bustle.
In a (Coco) Nut Shell
Caye Caulker is like a box of crayons. Everything from the picturesque landscape to the rich cuisine bursts with color. We couldn't get enough of the quaint avenues, contagious energy, and warm banana bread.
Easygoing locals welcome visitors with open arms. A smile proved to be the gateway to understand the mentality of island life. Happiness is truly found in the little things. A dolphin breaching the surface, toes in the sand, or a bike ride with your soulmate to find a can of coconut milk for an experimental frozen concoction.
Is it possible to fall in love with such a place? You better Belize it!