Belize, on the northeast coast of Central America, embodies a wonderful mix of Spanish and Caribbean influences, particularly on its cayes (pronounced “keys”), a series of very small islands northeast of Belize City.
Set in the turquoise blue of the Caribbean Sea and an hour’s
boat ride from Belize City, Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker
have managed to retain an unspoiled and traditional feel while providing good
facilities for tourists. This is mainly due to the ongoing efforts of the locals
and resident expats who have fought off big developments. Caye Caulker is
considered the more budget conscious of the two. Ambergris Caye has more up-market
restaurants and hotels without losing its roots. The boat ride to the cayes is
a treat in itself but there are some flights to the tiny airstrip if your sea
legs fail you.
Unlike Jamaica, Barbados or even the Dominican
Republic, Caye Caulker does not have all-inclusive resorts where it can be hard
to get a feel for the locals and their culture. Things have stayed small and
accessible with a range of hotels, guesthouses and hostels to choose from, and
everything is in walking distance of, well, everything. There are very few cars
on the island; most transport is by golf buggy or bike. You can walk from end
to end, about five miles, in an hour.
The ocean surrounding Caye Caulker is part of a marine
reserve, full of tropical fish, manta rays, dolphins, sharks and turtles. Scuba divers
from all over the world come to the 400ft-deep, shark-filled Blue Hole, and the Belize
Barrier Reef, the second largest in the world, is located about one mile from shore. There are
lots of companies running tours to both and offering scuba diving lessons with
full PADI qualifications. Carlos and his snorkelling tours (his office is on
Front Street beside Café Y Amor) are well respected. If you ask around, enterprising
local fishermen will also bring you out to the reef for snorkelling, a cold
beer and a chat about life. Other operators offer full and half day sailing
tours, fishing expeditions for snapper and barracuda or bigger catch in deeper
Otherwise, Caye Caulker is a great spot to do very
little for a week or two. Caribbean life in general moves at a slow pace, and
out there you can happily pass the days just eating, drinking and lying on the
Start with a breakfast of fresh fruit, eggs, bagels or
granola on the deck of Café Y Amor (Front Street), with views of the colourful
tropical birds and flowers and the latest local gossip. This is the best place
in town for fresh coffee but they close in the afternoon after lunch, so plan accordingly.
The Split is a small beach, but it is also the best; other
parts of the island have sea grass growing at the water’s edge which makes
swimming difficult. This is not the kind of beach where you rent an umbrella
but it is where everyone hangs out, including the locals. More importantly it is
where lunch is delivered to your beach towel, courtesy of Charles the tamale
man who cycles by regularly with fresh chicken or vegetable options. Wash them
down with a Belikin beer (dark or light) from the Lazy Lizard, a wooden shack
of a beach bar that opens around noon and serves a good happy hour special for most
of the day.
The beach is also the perfect place to catch the
sunset. Order a sundowner cocktail from the bar and salute another laid back
perfect day by the Caribbean. The reliable dinner option at most places is a tasty
dish of rice, beans and chicken, hot sauce optional. Alternatively, locals set
up informal fish grills by the water and sell passers-by plates of whatever the
fresh catch of the day is along with rice, beans and fried plantains for about
$5. Lobster is also available, in season, at a very reasonable price. The
I&I bar (off the south end of Front Street) is an institution on the island
and another good spot for the sunset or to listen to reggae music into the
is a great hostel by the water and close to where some of the boats pull in
from Belize City. The front garden is a relaxing spot of hammocks, shady seats
and overhanging coconut trees. Rooms are basic, but functional and well priced.
The nearby Bamboo restaurant, whose floor is actually the beach, cooks up a
range of local dishes on the menu.
Caye Caulker has an internet café/bookstore, an ATM, the
great Caye Caulker Bakery (Middle Street) and plenty of places to eat fresh seafood.
Thanks to an easy co-existence of locals and expat-owned businesses, tourism has
thrived while ensuring the island remains true to its origins.