When most Belize travelers tell their friends where they are about to vacation, the first question is often, “Wait, where is Belize again?”. This is followed by the ever popular, “Oh, that’s an island right? I saw it while watching this season’s Bachelor”.
Truth is, Belize does have an amazing series of islands, and guests would be doing themselves a disservice by not visiting them. The Belize Barrier Reef runs the entire length of the country (over 190 miles). It extends past the borders of Belize into Mexico and Honduras, forming one of the largest barrier reefs in the world. In fact, there are over 450 islands (called cayes) that make up the reef system in Belize.
No Caye is the same, and each stand out for both good and bad reasons. Ambergris Caye with the “bustling” tourist town of San Pedro is a bit crowded and hectic compared to the easy breezy feel of the rest of the country. Although San Pedro is the spot to get luxury treatment, it often comes at a steep price.
Comparatively, San Pedro’s sister to the south, Caye Caulker, captures the essence of Belize to it’s fullest. The motto of Caye Caulker is “Go slow”, and if Belize tourists don’t understand that by the time they leave the country, well maybe they didn’t experience real Belize the right way!
At Lower Dover Jungle Lodge, we recommend the Caye Caulker beach and snorkel combination as the perfect compliment to our jungle lodge for an adventure packed week long Belize vacation. Hotel prices range from about $100USD and down just like Lower Dover. Plus the overall, laid back vibe, is comparable in both spots. You can still find great accommodations, but it’s often for a fraction of the price compared to San Pedro. You can also find some CHEAP accommodations on Caye Caulker.
One of the most affordable places on Caye Caulker is the family run, Ignacio’s, found near the airport on the south side of the island. It is by no means a fancy spot, and rustic would be a generous description for some people. The most important part is that it costs $7.50USD a night for a double room right on the ocean! Double points for having to walk through a cemetery to get there!
Now my bed did collapse while I was sleeping there last time, but I almost half expected that. In the end, it did not faze me in the slightest, IT’S A BUDGET ACCOMMODATION! Plus, they were happy to fix it right away when I told them about the predicament. With the money saved on accommodation, we gladly reinvested back into the local economy with some cold Belikin beers. It would have taken a lot more than my bed missing a leg to keep me from sleeping most nights.
One of the best places to get a cold beer on Caye Caulker is the Barrier Reef Sports Bar. It’s also the best place, maybe in the entire country, to watch a televised sporting event. With multiple flat screen televisions, a dart board, and sports memorabilia all over the wall, this place definitely will remind you of a sports bar back home. The only difference is the Barrier Reef Sports Bar opens up to the ocean!
The bar is located a little north of the water taxi stands on the main drag. FYI, they also do a fun trivia night Monday, Wednesday, and Friday with nice discounts on bar tabs to the winners. Our team, John the Baptist (a nick name earned on our friend’s Belize trip), had it wrapped up until the final bonus round when we took an epic dive while risking it all. Good thing for us the beers are also cheap!
With the money we still were saving by choosing Caye Caulker over San Pedro, we decided to get some fresh seafood dinner. After sampling many of the places to eat on Caye Caulker, we have decided that Jolly Roger’s is the absolute best for value, taste, and portions! Jolly Roger is a pretty large dude, so you know he has sampled every possible combination of seasonings to ensure the best quality food you could imagine. Fresh, whole lobster dinners, with rice, garlic bread, and chips is only $10USD! He barbecues the lobsters, cut in half, on the spot. It is a must for anyone staying on Caye Caulker. The same meal would probably run $35 plus dollars in San Pedro, and there is no telling it’s quality.
Finally, no trip to Caye Caulker would be complete without snorkeling the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Hol Chan is located half way between San Pedro and Caye Caulker, and it’s area is protected from fishing by park rangers to ensure seeing more fish than you could possibly imagine!
The best Hol Chan tour, for the overall experience and value, is operated by Black Hawk Tours, located right across from Jolly Roger’s BBQ place. The tour company gets its name from the small sail boat, the Black Hawk, which carries the guests to three different snorkeling locations on the trip. “Big Steve” is the captain and a pretty engaging guy. He mans the boat while his cousin guides the snorkel trip.
The first stop is a location where it is occasionally possible to spot and swim with live manatees! Occasional, because I have seen them only once in 3 trips. The one time was really magical though. Swimming only 10 feet away from a manatee is a life experience that is unforgettable. It is also possible to spot a sea turtle or two if you don’t see manatees.
Luckily for manatees, the sharks hang out at the next dive spot. Dubbed, Shark Ray Alley, because of the extensive sting rays and nurse sharks that congregate in the location, it is here that you can actually touch the sharks as they swim by. The guide will even coax a stingray from the bottom of the ocean in order to feel their sandpaper like skin. Watch out so you don’t get Irwined!
The last spot on the Black Hawk sailboat and snorkel trip is the reef channel, where most of the fish are seen. It’s not uncommon to see huge groupers, barracuda, and massive schools of yellow-tailed snappers. The reef goes from five feet and drops rapidly to a depth of 40+ feet. Massive Brain coral and tiny reef fish are everywhere. Extra care needs to be made not to touch the coral, because they die when disturbed. It is still possible to dive and get close enough to snap some photos with an underwater camera if you have one!
On the way back, enjoy the sunset on the sailboat as you munch on freshly caught conch ceviche. Just make sure to save enough room for the rum punch! You might also consider not drinking and eating 3 whole lobster dinners instead. That’s what we did. If you plan it right, there will be enough time to catch an outdoor movie at Paradiso, the new beach theater. Lucky for us, they were playing Apocalypto, getting us primed for the December 21, 2012 party in Belize. Hopefully it turns out better for us than those Mayan dudes in the movie!
There is only one bank & atm machine on the island. Power outages have been known to happen, so make sure you carry at least enough cash to pay for a days worth of fun when you get there.
On a side note, its only $5USD to rent a bike for the day from most hotels. This is a great way to see the island and beats walking back and forth all day in the sun. We suggest you try it out and see every corner of the island if you have a day to burn.