Both Joe and I agree that Caye Caulker was arguably the best part of our trip to Belize. While the jungles of the mainland were lush and lovely, the blue ocean was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.
What is Caye Caulker?
The island is only accessible by ferry, which we caught for $15 from Belize City. Caye Caulker is 1.2 miles long and has a population of a little over a thousand residents, creating a laidback atmosphere than the more luxurious Ambergris Caye. There is a main street in which artists and craftsmen set up tents to sell their artwork, influenced by Rastafarian culture and Mayan pride. Bars and restaurants offer many delicious options. However, the true focal point is the island’s proximity to the world-class snorkeling and diving spots of the Barrier Reef.
First Full Day of Caye Caulker: A Day of Walking in the Rain
On-and-off rain postponed the snorkeling trip we scheduled for that day, so we enjoyed free time exploring the area. Being that Caye Caulker is an island where the fastest vehicles are golf carts, we biked almost every road of the place without having to fear cars. We stopped at craft and artists’ tents, and even bought a little bit of artwork.
A highlight worth noting is the makeshift animal shelter ran by a passionate local named Kenny. He converted what looked like an overgrown junk yard into a place in which the animals roamed freely and could eat from the scattered bowls of food and water he left out for them. Joe talked to him for a perhaps twenty minutes, learning about this man’s passion project and the struggles he had to furnish the dogs and cats with a home and the necessary veterinarian visits. He had names for all of them, and claimed that each animal had all of the necessary shots to enter the United States. I’m still on the fence as to whether or not I believe him, but petting the enthusiastic dogs and abnormally friendly cats was enough to tempt me to adopt anyways. Was it smart for us to be touching stray animals? No. Was it heart-meltingly adorable? You betchya.
All the meals were delicious with the climax being our trip to Roses Bar and Grill; instead of a menu, we were asked to choose from the fish they plucked out of the ocean that day. I think the photo below shows just how much Joe loved the food.
Second Full Day Caye Caulker: Breathtaking Snorkeling
Snorkeling was flat out amazing. Belize is next to the second largest barrier reef in the world, and it did not disappoint! We were led to four different sites, Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Coral Gardens, Shark and Ray Alley, and a sunken barge that nature had overrun with sea creatures. Our trip lasted five hours, giving us ample opportunities to see diverse schools of fish and colorful textured coral that was easy to see through the clean water. We also swam right next to sharks circling one another as our guides threw dead fish overboard to attract these creatures (and keep them from feasting on us). Our boat had twelve people maximum on it, so crowding and chaos was a non-issue.
It was breathtaking, emotionally fulfilling, and a great workout! My photos do not do the experience justice, mostly due to the fact that I suffered camera issues throughout the day.
Consider yourself warned, snorkeling in Belize will ruin almost all other snorkeling experiences for you.
Practical tips: all the companies essentially go to the same places and charge the same amount. In hindsight, we didn’t need to book in advanced, though we were quite pleased with Tsunami Adventures.
Surprise number one: there are no beaches
As someone who finds appeal in laying on sand for hours at a time, the lack of a traditional beach did not dampen my enjoyment. If you want the experience of relaxing by the water and wading into the waves whenever you’d like, visit “The Split” right by the “The Lazy Lizard.” You’ll be able to recline and swim in the calm blue water while enjoying the upbeat music of the perfectly distanced bar nearby. If you venture too far from shore, keep your wits about you incase a boat comes near.
Surprise number two: there is no luxury on Caye Caulker, and that’s a good thing
Of course this island thrives mostly due to tourism, but it lacks the mall-like feel that poison so many other touristy destinations. I attribute this to the fact that there are no chain hotels or luxury resorts. The laidback vibe reverberates from the locals to the visitors, adding to the undeniable allure of this gritty island paradise.
Surprise number three: if it rains, there is little to do but consume
I have made Philadelphia my home for almost ten years, so perhaps I’ve grown too accustomed to the bells and whistles associated with the nearby Jersey Shore. However, I think anyone would agree that Caye Caulker offers very little to visitors outside of water activities, booze, and delicious seafood. As you can tell by reading above, we were content with spending a day leisurely exploring the island in between bouts of rain; however, if the wet weather continued on for a second day, this positive attitude would have morphed into cabin fever. The handful of craft stores are charming but redundant, and the only land activity Caye Caulker has to offer is drinking.