Pretty much the only location on the ‘tourist trail’ of Belize, Caye Caulker is a must see for everyone doing the Mexico-Panama (or reverse) route. It combines activities such as snorkelling or (for the advanced), scuba diving in the ‘Great Blue Hole’, with traditional Caribbean culture. Here’s my Caye Caulker travel guide, with tips on how to make the most of your stay.
Caye Caulker’s Ethos
There are no cars on the island; people get around using golf carts or simply on foot, as most places are easily walkable. Despite there being no vehicles on the island that can reach speeds of over 15km per hour, there are signs everywhere saying ‘Go Slow’. After a few hours on the island, you realise that these signs are more advisory about how to live life rather than physical speed. Life on Caye Caulker moves at a snail’s pace, which every traveller soon learns to love. Due to this, the island is an ideal location to take a break for a few days and enjoy a more tranquil way of life where the outside world doesn’t really matter.
Caye Caulker has invested a lot into the tourist scene, and is somewhat a ‘backpacker’s haven’. Nonetheless, there are still many local Belizeans there. There is a school for Belizean children on the island and most business owners are locals. The Caribbean vibe is kept very much alive by the drinks (rum punch all round), food (we unfortunately missed lobster season by one day!) and music.
You can fly from Belize City, but it’s much cheaper and easier to reach Caye Caulker by boat. Leaving from either Chetumal in Mexico (taking 3-4 hours) or Belize City (taking half an hour), the boats are somewhat bumpy and noisy, but get you to Caye Caulker for a cheap price. If you are arriving from Chetumal, you will experience possibly the most lax border control in the world as you enter Belize (first having to approach ‘customs’ on San Pedro, a nearby island), where the officers are more intent on welcoming you to Belize rather than checking that you’re legally allowed to be in the country.
Where to Stay
Dirty McNasty’s is the island’s ‘party hostel’. It offers free breakfast, free rum punch and a social atmosphere. The communal area is the other side of a courtyard to the dorms, so noise while sleeping isn’t a massive issue. What is a bit of an issue is the cockroaches and non-clean sheets! Depending on what is most important to you, it’s either a great or hellish place to stay.
For those seeking something a little more tranquil, Yuma’s House by the docks is a great option. It’s right there as you get off the boat, and has hammocks, communal areas, kitchens and rooms with comfy beds! It has really taken on board the island vibe, surrounded by palm trees and with handprinted signs.
Hang around at the split and drink at the Lazy Lizard
The Split is the point where the island literally splits in two and its bar, the Lazy Lizard, is where people hang out during the day (Caye Caulker’s one major drawback is that there is no beach). Rum is cheaper than water and reggae music plays on a loop. After a few hours at the split, all life’s problems seem to disappear and it is hard to imagine ever leaving this idyll.
Take a Ragamuffin Tour
Several companies on the island offer boat trip tours, so you can explore some of the marine life around. We went on one with Ragamuffin tours, who offered a day tour for $40 which included snorkelling at three different locations, lunch, rum punch on tap (of course) and snorkelling gear hire. The reef by Caye Caulker is the second biggest in the world and even just snorkelling, we saw stingrays, nurse sharks and all sorts of exciting fish. Just make sure you do what I did and stay hydrated (see below)…
If you love lobster, and will be travelling to Central America around July, make sure that your trip to Caye Caulker co-incides with Lobsterfest. It is basically a festival dedicated to lobsters. Ridiculous, but great fun. You can try all sorts of lobster-based food too, in the knowledge that it has been plucked fresh from the Caribbean sea.
Caye Caulker Forest Reserve
This covers 100 acres of the island and is a dense mangrove forest. It is an ideal location for birdwatching or searching for other animal life. A guide will take you through the forest and tell you all about the local wildlife.
The Blue Hole
If you’re a diving fan, this is a must-do. The Blue Hole is renowned for its unique appearance and wealth of diving opportunities. You can only go if you have a PADI, however.
If you fancy catching your dinner for the night, then spear fishing opportunities are abundant. Most tour companies offer half day trips – shop around and see where the best deal is.
Embrace Island living on Front Street
There’s only three real streets on Caye Caulker; Front Street, Middle Street and (you guessed it) Back Street. Front street is where it’s at; take a stroll along the seaside road, grab a smoothie from one of the local vendors and enjoy the array of artisan shops, stalls selling fruit and veg and quirky little cafes.
Wish Willy was one of my favourite dining experiences throughout my time in Central America. Named after the real ‘wish willy’; a 3-4 foot long iguana who lives on Caye Caulker, the restaurant is situated near The Split, at the northern end of the island and is set completely outside. There’s no menus at Wish Willy; instead Maurice, the owner, will tell you what he’s got today and cook it up for you there and then. I had conch with coconut rice and vegetables in a sweet Caribbean sauce. The seafood is pretty much as fresh as seafood can be, giving the meal an exquisite taste, and other options such as jerk chicken, BBQ ribs and vegetarian platters go down a treat as well. All of this washed down with a few rum punches in a picturesque atmosphere right under the stars makes for a pretty ideal Caribbean dinner!
Caye Caulker is a perfect little island of bliss located just off the coast of mainland Belize in the Caribbean sea. At first glance it doesn’t appear as if there’s much to do, but beware… time may slip away from you very readily here! I could easily spend a week here – two days chilling and enjoying island life, three doing activities, and another two gearing up to leave… Caye Caulker and its vibe may steal your heart and soul for a short while. But it’s somewhere that you’ll be happy to leave them.
Where to next? Guatemala is probably your best bet, with buses leaving from Belize city to Flores daily.
- Maybe you’d like to do Spanish school in Guatemala?
- Read this if you’re worried about Guatemala’s safety.
- Here’s a little about the amazing people of Guatemala and how they changed my outlook on life.
If you’re planning ahead, be sure to check out my ultimate guide to Nicaragua !