With a perfect combination of sandy streets, turquoise-lilac waters, delicious rum and friendly locals, Caye Caulker meets even the strictest definition of tropical paradise. And despite the snail’s pace of things around here, you’ll be surprised how quickly eight nights pass by.
It’s a tiny island packed with an unbelizeable amount of perfectly invigorating excitement or relaxation if that’s your desire. Whether it’s some of the most incredible and affordable reef diving, snorkeling like you’ve never experienced before, or just hanging on the beach drinking a bucket of Belikin — Caye Caulker is your one-stop island for pure Belizean paradise.
And yes, Belize ranks as one of the most expensive Central American countries, especially when island hopping — but by staying at the right places, meeting the right people and eating the right food, it is possible to stay in budget.
First Impressions: Caye Caulker
Snorkle tours, local lifestyle and lobster hunger that can’t be sated
By: Laura Lazorski
It’s a good thing that Caye Caulker is so nice because I couldn’t get out of Belize City fast enough. It had a mangy film to it that the ferry to Caye Caulker blasted away with saltspray. The water got clearer and clearer as we progressed to the island, and after a short 30 minutes we pulled into a wind beaten dock in the white sun. The water here was clear as an aquarium, and silver fish cut by. I saw a barracuda circle suspiciously.
People are friendly on the island, and almost immediately we were being led to a hostel, called Dirty McNasty’s, by a local, named Gilbert. He does get incentive to scout for hostels (wink). But beyond that he is friendly as are the other islanders. Here, when you refuse sellers’ wares they just wave hello next time they see you rather than pushing the goods anew. They remember you, and you all end up at the split or the reggae bar later on.
The split is where everyone goes to swim. It is a deep channel carved by a hurricane that tore the island in two a long time ago. Supposedly, a crocodile lives there too, but I never saw him. There is a fun bar there, and a cement breaker, and everyone flops around drinking Belikin in the shallows or while treading water from the dock’s edge. The island’s motto is go slow. You see it scrawled over cement or worked into tour advertising schemes. Go slow the people remind you. It is a walking island except for a few ATV’s, so the people you pass all have a measured gait and an eye to the horizon. “Go slow, girl” they remind me as I hurry from the split to the hostel. It took a while to settle in, and I slowly began to wonder “where was I rushing to all the time?”
I came to Caye Caulker with the intent to get my open water diver’s certification. But alas, when we checked on the price it had gone up $100 and now cost an expensive $400 U.S. to be certified. Boo. We went to every dive shop on that island and of the few that even offered the class, $400 was the lowest quote. It was just too much. So unfortunately the mysteries of the deep would not yet be revealed to me. I did, however, book a snorkel tour on a real sailboat with Raggamuffin tours. Raggamuffin is located on the main street, just past the head of Crocodile street, and there I signed up to snorkel the Hol Chan Marine Reserve as well as shark ray alley and the coral gardens.
It’s said that coral reef at Hol Chan is just smaller than the Great Barrier reef, but more developed because it has been protected for longer. It certainly was a sight. Since the reefs are not in too deep of water, snorkeling is actually a pretty great way to tour them. I saw hawksbill sea turtles, moray eels, nurse sharks, sting rays, and many exceptional fish.
The guides were good too. Mine had two extremely long dreadlocks that were easy to follow under water. Whenever he’d see something of interest he would point to it and then gesture everyone up to the surface. He’d surface, drop the snorkel and call out the name. “Sergeant major fish, people. Sergeant major fish.” And then he’d pop the snorkel back in and dive down, scouting for more. He knew where they lived and what they ate so he could really draw some neat creatures out of their holes (like the moray eel), and yet he was very respectful of their environment too. When anyone swam too near the turtles he would gently stop them and gesture away. There’s a great respect for the reefs and reef life that I was happy to witness and participate in.
Though the Raggamuffin crew made sure we had a great time, with drinks and fresh fruit and confident guides, they could not ensure the mystic manatee would visit. The elusive sea cow was on the lam that day, and was one mammal I could not cross off my bucket list. The tour was absolutely worth it, and you don’t want to go to Belize without seeing their fantastic reefs. Do take Dramamine if you get seasick though because I watched a poor lady have just the worst time ever, so sick on the sea.
Another bonus to being on Caye Caulker this time of year was lobster for every meal. And that is what I had, and each night I had it in a different place. I had it at Wish Willie’s and at Rose’s too. But then I fell in with some islanders and heard that Enjoy Bar was the place to go. And it was. Get there a little before you are really hungry because they make you wait for it, but it is worth the wait. Wish I had one right now. The remainder I can’t believe I’m about to write. The Coca-Cola down there is exceptional. I don’t know if it’s the giant 500ml glass bottles with their perfect-fit long straws, or the fact that it’s made with real sugar. But they really are refreshing and easy on the stomach. And I don’t’ even drink Coke in the States! But down there I got what’s known as Belize belly, and lobster and Coca-Cola were just about the only two things I could stomach then.
We finished our stay on Caye Caulker by checking out two bikes and cruising the island. I wished we had done this sooner because it is the best way to check out the island. There were many lovely docks and homes out past the airport. I was fascinated with the above sea-level graveyards that were looking east out over the water. A grave marked the sunrise and sunset of one Crispin Rosado. I stepped back and to the side to see for myself the view that his headstone faced. The wind whipped the palms that neatly framed the sea, and far off the waves rolled in.