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”.
This guy is likely a 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.
Caye Caulker Belize Vacation
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.
Sand Streets of Caye Caulker Belize
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!
"Go Slow" is the motto on Caye Caulker
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.
Ignacio's Beach Cabana's on Caye Caulker in Belize
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!
Cemetary Road Caye Caulker on the way to Ignacio's
Great Beach Views on Caye Caulker
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.
Barrier Reef Sports Bar - Caye Caulker, Belize
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!
Caye Caulker Water Taxi Stand near Barrier Reef Sports Bar
View of the Sports Bar from the Water Taxi Stand
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!
Fresh Seafood BBQ Galore on Caye Caulker
BBQ Lobster is the best!!!!
Look for Jolly Roger when you want to eat on Caye Caulker
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.
Jolly Roger's is the best place to go for BBQ
Whole Lobster Dinner for only $10USD!!! Beat that Red Lobster!
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!
Look for the Black Hawk Tour sign opposite of Jolly Roger's BBQ
Black Hawk can also sail you from Caye Caulker to Placencia
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 Black Hawk sailboat
Big Steve of Black Hawk Hol Chan Tour fame
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.
Hol Chan Marine Reserve Sea Turtle
Swimming with Sea Turtles in Belize
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!
Sailing on the Sea Hawk in Belize on the way to Hol Chan Marine Reserve
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!
Yellow-Tail Snapper at Hol Chan while snorkeling in Belize
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!
Caye Caulker Sunset
Caye Caulker Sunset 10 minutes later
New beachside movie theater on Caye Caulker
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.
The only ATM machine on Caye Caulker is at Atlantic Bank
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.
Caye Caulker Bike Rental
Some photos from this story are from friend and photographer Caroline Dixey’s site The Youth Chronicles. More of her photos of Caye Caulker and Lower Dover Jungle Lodge can be viewed here.