Travelling to paradise
Just off the coast of Belize is a small slice of heaven otherwise known as Caye Caulker. It is in some ways a strange place, a piece of the Caribbean seemingly transplanted to Central America. Fitting when Belize itself is an English imposter in a Spanish land. The island can be reached by speedboat from either Belize City or Chetumal in Mexico. It takes around 45 minutes from Belize City and costs BZ$45, the trip from Chetumal is longer and costs BZ$130.
Whilst the speedboat journey itself is fairly uncomfortable, with a relentless vibration that leaves you with a seriously numb bum, it all becomes worth it when you arrive on this tiny sand island surrounded by turquoise seas. There are no roads here and no cars either, if walking with your bags to your hotel is too much of a struggle you can hop in a golf buggy waiting to pick up tourists off the boat, the rest of the time walking or cycling will get you anywhere you need to go.
Go Slow: Island Time
The Belizean motto is “go slow” and they certainly take that to heart in Caye Caulker. Walk anywhere faster than a dawdle and you’re likely to be told to “go slow man” by a smiling local. After all what’s the rush? Everywhere you look there are beautiful vistas of sparkling blue seas, white sand beaches and slowly waving palm trees. Even the graffiti is pretty here, with a fetching manatee in a rasta hat enjoining passersby to, you guessed it, go slow.
The place to be
The main street follows the beaches up from the ferry landing with restaurants, shops and market stalls all the way up to the split, where a narrow channel cuts the island into two. Locals like to say that the split was the result of Hurricane Hattie that destroyed much of Belize City in 1961, however it is actually a hand dredged channel to allow boats to pass through. The split is a popular place to sunbathe during the day with a handy bar called Lizard’s landing where you can grab an ice-cold bottle of the local Belikin beer for a few dollars. You can also jump right off the decking and into the crystal clear waters for a spot of snorkeling, or even swim right across to the other side if you’re feeling particularly energetic. Although sometimes there can be a fairly strong current in the channel so be careful if swimming across. This is also the perfect place to watch the sunset, with uninterrupted views of the sun going down over the ocean. The sunset draws the crowds but if you can drag yourself out of bed the sunrise is definitely worth watching. Find a patch of beach on the jetty side of the island and you’ll probably have the place to yourself bar the odd fisherman and the seabirds.
You can hire a bike to explore the island but on-land the main attraction is relaxing, the real excitement happens in the water. You can head to the northern part of the island for kayaking amongst the mangroves and a spot of bird watching. However snorkeling and diving are the main reasons people head over here, with the Blue Hole being the star of the show. Diving it isn’t cheap but at around US$200 for 3 dives in a world-class dive location its certainly worth the money. There is also wonderful snorkelling around the island at the Ho Chan marine reserve with the chance to see turtles, nurse sharks and stingrays among many other reef fish and beautiful corals. There are plenty of snorkel tours to choose from on the island, with options for half, full or multi-day trips. The one-day tour with Reggae snorkel tours is highly recommended and includes 3 snorkel sites, lunch and unlimited rum punch for the cruise home watching the sunset. Afterwards head to the sports bar for more drinking, dancing and a quick game of battleshots, if you’re brave enough!
The food in Belize is delicious, with a more Caribbean flavour than other nearby countries. The main cooking method is BBQ and oh boy is it good BBQ. Usually served up with rice it is simply delicious cooking at its finest. Belizean Flava next door to the sports bar up a set of rickety stairs and illuminated by fairy lights is a favourite. They do a fixed price menu which comes with rum punch, choice of BBQ, sauce, sides and dessert. The BBQ prawns with garlic butter and rice went down a treat. Another delicious favourite is Jerk Chicken, head to Maggies Sunset Kitchen for some of the best you’ve ever tasted. There are plenty of delicious breakfast options as well, Amore Y Café is very good and is a short walk from the jetty on Front Street in the opposite direction from the split. The pancakes are particularly delicious. There is wonderful coffee to be had from Ice and Beans also on Front Street but towards the split, if you’re lucky you may get offered a few free doughnuts as well whilst you wait.
A real home from home
It might seem that the best things about Caye Caulker have already been mentioned, white sand, blue seas, delicious food and world class snorkeling. However what really makes this an island paradise worth visiting above others is the locals. The island is so small that go on a snorkel tour and go for a few drinks in the sports bar and within a few days you’ll be regularly greeted by name as you stroll down the sandy streets. The Rastafarian lifestyle has been embraced here and island time gives everyone a cheerful, friendly vibe, happy to stop and chat given any excuse.
Overall Caye Caulker is the perfect island paradise.