Going slow on Caye Caulker, Belize’s chilled out island getaway
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Let’s cut to the chase here. Caye Caulker is hands down THE FRIENDLIEST place we have ever been to. You can’t walk a few yards down the street without someone wishing you a happy day, whether they’re trying to sell something to you or not. We really felt like we were back in our all-time favourite island, Isla de Providencia, Colombia, since the architecture and the vibe are so similar. For such a small place, there is a surprising number of things to do on Caye Caulker, especially once you get into the ‘Go Slow’ rhythm of the island.
As soon as we arrived, we knew we’d have to extend our stay from 2 nights to 4, and if we hadn’t have booked onward travel we probably would have stayed weeks. This guide will walk you through things to do on Caye Caulker, where to stay & eat and how to get there from Belize City, plus some regular FAQs.
How to pronounce Caye Caulker: key corker
Belize is home to the second biggest coral reef in the world, after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Since so much of the Great Barrier Reef is sadly dead, Belizeans say theirs is the largest living reef on the planet. This attracts snorkelers and divers from all over the world, hopeful to swim next to rays, nurse sharks and even manatees.
Caye Caulker is actually broken up into two islands, with a teeny stretch of water in the middle known as the Split. There’s not a huge amount happening on the north side of Caye Caulker; just a few expensive hotels, beach bars and residential areas. It’s becoming more developed but there’s still not enough there to pull people across the Split.
The south side is where it’s at, and where you should definitely stay (unless you’re looking for a shut-out-the-world holiday and can afford somewhere super swanky like Weyu Hotel, that is!!). The best area to find accommodation on Caye Caulker is in the northern part of the South island, right near most of the things to do on Caye Caulker, but we’ll get to where to stay later.
Once you finished this guide to all the things to do on Caye Caulker, don’t miss out on the helpful nuggets in these posts:
Well, we’re always advocates of going in the shoulder seasons, when the weather is still good but the crowds aren’t too heavy. Obviously this isn’t always possible due to school semesters and the like, but if you can go just before high season you’ll likely have a more enjoyable time. Since Caye Caulker is such a small island, an influx of tourists can really have an impact on the atmosphere – but that’s not to say you won’t love it anyway! High season begins at a very precise 16th November until 31st May, and we were lucky enough to be here 2 weeks before the start.
Being in Central America, the temperature in Caye Caulker remains between 28 and 32 degrees Celsius all year round (82-90F), and the months with least rain are March and April. However, rain in Belize tends to be of a tropical nature; absolutely pissing it down for an hour and then clearing up into blue skies immediately afterwards. In our 4-day visit at the start of November, we experienced just one day where there was a noticeable amount of rain, and it was still fine to chill out in beach cafés and take a tour to snorkel in Belize’s coral reefs. You can see exactly what it was like here:
Sargassum seaweed in Belize
You also have to be aware that the same Sargassum seaweed that washes up smelly and toxic on the shores of Mexico, Belize and Honduras may also affect Caye Caulker, despite it having no major beaches. Sargassum washing up in the Caribbean is a fairly new phenomenon, starting only in 2011, so there’s no set season, but often starts around May, and has been known to hang around until August in varying amounts. Apart from the effect on tourism, Sargassum is particularly worrying because it’s been found to kill the juveniles of the sea – young lobsters, conch and fish that seek a nursery to protect them but actually end up being suffocated by overwhelming presence of the seaweed.
Environmental impact on Caye Caulker
In some ways, Caye Caulker is really doing its part for the environment, and in others, it’s kind of slipping. Though we see that there is a lot of growing awareness and effort being made to preserve the rich nature that Belize has in this area, on the other hand, the general population has seen how their economy can thrive via tourism, and some will do whatever they can to impress visitors. This has lead to tours and even hotels feeding sea-life regularly to keep it in their area.
Even in some sit-in restaurants, we were disappointed to see meals being served in polystyrene boxes with plastic forks so that the staff didn’t have to clean up. If you’re really environmentally conscious, you may consider bringing your own little camping crockery. This beautiful bamboo cutlery set coupled with a collapsable travel bowl could do just the trick!
In response to an upward trend in tourism, the main town is quickly being developed, with new buildings popping up all over, mostly from foreign investment. This isn’t an environmental issue as such, but is a worry to residents since Caye Caulker actually sits on top of a giant cave, like one of the cenotes of Mexico, so many are concerned that one day everything will just collapse.
There is hope, though! Lots of establishments are encouraging their staff and customers to be more environmentally conscious, most local fisherman are still operating with lines out of one-man boats, and certain tours are leading their sales pitch with the fact that they don’t feed animals or they strongly encourage people not to use non-biodegradable sunscreen. It’s not just a marketing ploy, they’ve seen the impact the last 10-15 years has had on the bleaching of their corals. You can buy reef-friendly sunscreen, which we wholly recommend instead of trying a day of snorkelling around Caye Caulker without any protection at all. Case and point:
12 amazing things to do on Caye Caulker
1. Swank out at Koko King
This is one of the few things to do on Caye Caulker’s North side. If you want a paradise beach club with beautiful seas, 4-poster beds and a swanky-arse pool, this is your spot. There’s no entrance fee, but you are of course expected to buy drinks or food while you’re there. Chairs on the beach cost 50 Belize Dollars for the day. Don’t worry about transport; there is a free shuttle boat from the dock at the Western end of Calle del Sol on the South island (4-5 blocks from the docks of the ferries to Caye Caulker), which only takes a few minutes.
2. Watch the sun go down at Iguana Reef
So Iguana Reef is actually a hotel (and a nice-looking one, at that), but it’s open to the public to use the chairs, decking and sea swings. Obviously you should buy at least a drink in appreciation; national beers here cost 6 Belize Dollars. It’s one of the best places in Caye Caulker to watch the sunset, so tends to draw quite a crowd at the end of the day. The owner puts a fair bit of fish into the water by the pier every evening, so the rays, nurse sharks and pelicans all make their way here like clockwork.
3. Kayak around the island
We were lucky that our first accommodation, Travellers Palm Hostel, offered us free kayaks to use, but if you’re hiring from an agency you can expect a kayak to cost around 25 BZD per hour. It’s a really cool way to see the less populated parts of the island and the waves aren’t too choppy on a nice day.
4. Scuba dive
Being the second biggest coral reef in the world, Belize is the perfect place to scuba dive. You can either do diving excursions for fun, or of course get scuba certifications in Caye Caulker, too. Check out Belize Diving Services to see what your day trip and scuba course options are. Prices start from $119 USD.
If you reeeeally love scuba diving, you can join live-aboard diving boats that set sail from nearby Belize City for a week or two.
5. Snorkel the reefs
This is by far one of the best things to do on Caye Caulker if you don’t have the budget for scuba diving. When it comes to snorkel tours, you have 2 reef options: the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve on a half-day trip or Hol Chan reef on a full-day trip.
The half-day will cost in the region of $70 BZD if you buy it on the island, but you can also secure your place ahead of your trip for just a little more here. This snorkel tour takes you to the marine reserve closest to Caye Caulker island. Though there is some bleaching, you will still be able to see lots of aquatic life (lemme hear you say turrrrtlesssss) and live corals. Fruit and water are included.
The full-day trip goes to a reef further out called Hol Chan, which is larger and older, so has more chance of seeing some exciting wildlife. There are also stops to snorkel with turtles, rays, nurse sharks and manatees if you can find them that day. The waters around Belize are home to 2000 of the world’s 9000 manatees. This costs in the region of $130 BZD. Lunch and water are included.
All the tour agencies will basically offer the same thing for roughly the same price, so they differentiate by providing local food instead of burgers, or advertising that they don’t feed the marine life (yes, this is really a differentiator in 2020). Andy went with Salt Life Eco Tours and had an amazing experience with conscientious, knowledgable but fun guides on a small boat. They make a point not to feed the wildlife and they do their best to encourage their clients to use reef-friendly sunscreen.
6. Sail away to Goff’s Caye
If you want Caribbean beach vibes, Goff’s Caye is a good place to get it. The all-day boat tour to Goff’s Caye will cost you – $150 USD, no less – but it’s a great way to see more of Belize’s islands and get away from the crowds (mainly because they can’t afford it). This tour usually includes some snorkelling, fishing and a lunch at the island.
7. Shop for local crafts
During the day, you’ll see craft stalls aplenty, selling beautiful handmade jewellery, large shells, clothing and art. Caye Caulker is opening a new artisanal area of small huts on the main strip. It’s definitely not the cheapest place in Central America to buy souvenirs, but certainly worth it if Belize (and we’ll include Caribbean-coast Mexico in this too!) is your only stop. If you’re also heading to Nicaragua or Guatemala, try and hold out till then, as the souvenirs are very similar there at a much lower price.
8. Hire a golf buggy
While this is regularly listed as one of the things to do on Caye Caulker, unlike renting a buggy on San Andrés Island or Providencia, Colombia, hiring a golf cart on Caye Caulker doesn’t really seem worth it. The South side of the island is so teeny and flat that if you’re a physically able person it’s really easy to walk everywhere. Only people who live on Caye Caulker (which includes an oddly high number of retired Canadians) seem to have these, but they are available to rent from all around the island if you have troubles walking far. Expect it to cost $300-350 USD a week.
9. Take some bikes out for a spin
We would, however, recommend hiring bikes as one of the most simple-pleasure-inducing things to do on Caye Caulker. When we stayed with Barefoot Caye Caulker Hotel, we were given them for free, but you can rent them from small shops for around $5-7 USD per day. I definitely felt way too much like Rihanna in her Man Down music video as I let my hair fly in the breeze while I cycled around a Caribbean island. Don’t judge me, yeah. A girl can dream.
Plenty of tour agencies will offer you the chance to go on a line fishing trip around Caye Caulker, or even spear-fishing, often combined with a spot of snorkelling. They’ll then cook your catch for you to enjoy on the boat or on a nearby island! These fishing trips cost $70-75 USD.
11. Dive in at Lazy Lizard
Lazy Lizard is an upbeat day club with clever use of decking to make an inlet in the sea of look like a turquoise swimming pool. It has plenty of seating, a bar/restaurant and a diving board into the ocean, right at The Split. The floor may feel sandy, but it’s not on a beach! Judging by the accents we heard emanating from Lazy Lizard, it’s hugely popular with North Americans.
12. Marvel at the Great Blue Hole
The Great Blue Hole is an image we saw all around when we were outside of Belize, but once actually in the country, surprisingly we didn’t hear much mention of it at all. As the name may suggest, it’s a great blue hole in the middle of the sea, which suddenly drops to insane depths in a perfect circle.
Since you can only really grasp this natural wonder from above, the best way to see is not on a boat tour, but in a propeller plane. You’ll also get an aerial view of the Belize Barrier Reef, Lighthouse Reef & Turneffe Atoll. You can also scuba dive in the Great Blue Hole, but divers in the past have said that it’s actually not that spectacular once you’re down there compared to other dives in the coral reefs around Belize. If this isn’t the most unforgettable of things to do on Caye Caulker, we don’t know what is.
Where to stay on Caye Caulker
Budget:Travellers Palm Backpackers’ Hostel made us feel so welcome when we first arrived on the island. They were super responsive when we realised we’d booked the hostel for the wrong day, and when we changed accommodation they even drove us into town on a golf buggy because Andy had hurt his toe (thanks again, Sophie!). The rooms are basic but clean, and the rooftop bar is a great place to chill and meet new people. They also had for guests kayaks to use, which we took round to The Split and back.
Comfort: Whilst on Caye Caulker, we did a bit of work to create content for a newly renovated spot, Barefoot Caye Caulker Hotel. We stayed here 2 nights and felt totally cocooned in the comfort of a real-life hotel. It’s one of the few reasonably priced hotels with a pool, and the rooftop terrace gives 360 views of the island – perfect for sunset! It’s right in on the action, and just one block away from the street-grilled lobsters at Da Crusted Crab.
Luxury:Weyu Hotel is a resort on the north side of the island, which serves those wanting to spend their time on Caye Caulker wallowing in luxury. They offer free shuttle boats from the dock on the south island, so it’s very easy to get there.
Where to eat on Caye Caulker
Ice and Beans
We really can’t praise this Caye Caulker coffee shop enough. Right on the beach, with an outside bar and plenty of hammocks & benches to chill on, Ice and Beans serves organic coffee grown in Belize alongside free rumball doughnuts and usually a chat, too. You’ll be asked to try your coffee for sweetness so they can get it just right for you, and OHMYGOD the bagels are so so good. It’s not the cheapest, with a bagel costing around $8 Belize Dollars ($4USD) and an iced latte the same, but for the service, the location and the quality we’d still highly recommend it.
Crocodile Street fryjack stall
One of the cheapest places to eat in Caye Caulker. Unfortunately, it’s not open very late as it serves as more of a breakfast spot, so you have to get in there early! There’s not much healthy going on here, as they serve up typical Caye Caulker fryjacks (fried tortillas stuffed with whatever you like) and breakfast burritos the size of your forearm. However, it’s one of the most economical stalls at 4-6 Belize Dollars an item, and the little ladies who run the stall are always cheery
Da Crusted Crab
This is one of the many street grills to the north of the main strip (near the big Caye Caulker sign). While they all sell the same things for the same price, there’s something about Oscar’s friendly grin that drew us in. After being served up lobster skewers, pork chops, fried fish or even whole lobsters with rice and beans, you can sit on one of the tables out on the teeny beach behind the stalls to chow down.
El Amigo Chinese
Andy would be really disappointed if this didn’t make the list. El Amigo Chinese is a quick-serving, good-tasting, low-costing option for lunch on Caye Caulker. It also does pizza if you’re getting bored of eating lobster all the time 😉
Fran’s Beachside Grill
Fran really is something else. A large-than-life character who operates out of a tiny beach hut, she always makes sure everyone is jolly and having a good meal. Her small but interesting menu is always delicious at 25 Belize Dollars a plate, and whilst you’re there you get free rum punch throughout the duration of your meal.
A small, quiet restaurant a few blocks away from the main road, Reina’s is a smashing introduction into Belizean-island-style food. The jerk chicken is mouth-watering, but if you don’t fancy anything spicy there’s a long menu to choose from, including seafood on the grill. Not too pricey by Belize standards either, with meals starting at 25 BZD.
THE place to go for lobster in Caye Caulker. Steve’s Grill is a restaurant with only space for about 20 people, so it’s quite normal to see people waiting on the street for a table. To save space and add flavour, the seafood is cooked on a traditional street grill outside. At 25-35 Belize Dollars depending on the size, the full lobster is excellent, but lemme tell you, the lobster coconut curry for 28 is INSANE. One rum punch is included in this meal, too.
Of an evening, the basketball courts become a meeting point for all sorts of groups of people, from giggling school-kids to newly formed hostel friends to adults watching their toddlers waddle around. Just outside the basketball courts, you’ll see a street stand (noticeable by the large queue that is usually formed around it) where you can order freshly fried food such as burritos, pupusas and giant quesadillas for relatively cheap.
Where to go for beers on Caye Caulker
Despite having a truly laid-back Caribbean vibe, Caye Caulker isn’t huge for parties – or at least not parties that aren’t hosted at residents’ houses. However, on a weekend you will definitely be able to find locals partying at Sports Bar (Halloween there was pretty rammed!) and Margarita Mike’s, a small beach bar with swings, attracts tourists and a few locals every day of the week. After the bars, people head to Island Sky for dancing, but Bondi Bar and Bambooze are also up for consideration.
While Belikin is arguably the most popular national beer among locals, make sure you also leave room for a Landshark, an island-style lager that in our opinion is the indisputable best beer in Belize.
How to get to Caye Caulker from Belize City
Ticked off all the things to do on Caye Caulker you wanted to? Time to head back to the mainland! Though mind-boggling at first, getting to Caye Caulker from Belize City is actually mega easy in practice. You first need to get to the docks, which are on North Front Road with Queen Street. From the airport, you can get a taxi here for $25 for 2 people + $8 per extra passenger. It takes 25 minutes, traffic dependent, and there is no direct bus that runs this route from the airport.
If arriving into Belize City by bus, to get to the docks from the bus terminal you need to walk down Orange Street – this is the one the locals recommended we took as the safest option – then cross the bridge and turn right.
There are two main companies that offer boats to Caye Caulker: Ocean Ferry and San Pedro Belize Express. Each has people on the street who pull you in and give you offers; and each tells you the other is a scam who will give prices in BZD but charge you in USD when you arrive. Both are actually reputable, but the cheaper of the 2 by a whopping $4 price difference is San Pedro Belize Express, which charges $32 USD for an open return ticket (which is valid for 2 months).
The departure times are fairly regular, with San Pedro having more departures, but if you arrive especially early or late the timings could swing you. The last ferry to Caye Caulker of the day depends on which day of the week you’re travelling, but tend to be between 4:30pm and 6pm.
Once you’ve bought your boat ticket, check your big bags into the hold and wait to be called. Unless stormy, the boat ride to Caye Caulker from Belize City is not too bumpy, but if you suffer from bad sea sickness, take an anti-nausea pill and try and get a seat at the very back of the boat, which will feel the boat’s movements less. The boat to Caye Caulker takes 45 minutes, and is the same boat that then goes on to sail to San Pedro.
During low season, you don’t have to worry about getting a space on the boat, but you may want to consider arriving to the docks early in high season.
You can also fly to Caye Caulker from Belize City (and several other airports around the country), which is only around a 10-minute flight in a propeller plane.
You cannot. If your hotel doesn’t offer free refills, buy water from the shop in bulk to save money/plastic, and make sure you get yourself a Chilly’s bottle so that you can keep your water cold for up to 24 hours.
So that’s all you need to know about the things to do on Caye Caulker, Belize, where to stay, where to eat and how to get there from the mainland! If you’re not sure how to fit this destination into your travel plans, check out our 2-week Belize itinerary for the perfect short trip.
Now you’ve finished this guide to all the things to do on Caye Caulker, don’t miss out on the info in these posts: