Some places you know you’ll love as soon as you see them. For us, Caye Caulker was one of those places. We were sold from the moment we set foot on this island.
After flying back from Cuba, getting the night bus down from Mexico and then hopping on a water taxi from Belize City, any destination where we could dump our bags and relax for a while would probably seem pretty idyllic. But Caye Caulker truly is the stuff of backpacking dreams.
A 45 minute boat ride from the Belize mainland, Caye Caulker is a small island – only five miles long and half a mile wide. The only vehicles allowed are golf buggies but everyone uses bikes to get around. The motto of the island is ‘Go Slow’, and you won’t forget it. If you ever cycle (or walk) faster than the Caulker-norm, locals will literally shout ‘Go slow!’ at you as you pass. Tom and I both got told off by a few kids.
We were originally booked to stay six nights but we decided to stay another… and another… and another. Apparently this is what everyone does. The slow pace of life and relaxed ambiance just draws you in. Everything is chilled. From the reggae beats drifting up from the beach bars to the dogs napping in the middle of the road, it’s almost a Caribbean cliche. Which was what we were looking for, if I’m honest.
I was surprised at how Belize feels much more like a Caribbean island than part of Central America. Part of this is due to the official language being English – and it’s awful what a couple of weeks of not speaking Spanish does to your newly acquired skills – but Caye Caulker especially is infused with Rastafari culture (and everything that comes with it).
Things to Do
Our days were spent cycling around (really, really slowly), swimming, reading, sunbathing, and eating and drinking way too much, as has become our new standard. In the evenings we’d watch the sunset while drinking the local Belikin beer, then have dinner and maybe go to a few bars. Or, if we were trying to watch the pennies, head home so Tom could watch the Tour de France (yaaaay) and I could get some writing done. It was just so nice to be somewhere long enough that we could have a few nights in without feeling like we were missing out. We also got a bit carried away with the sunset pics…
Apparently one of the only complaints people have about Caye Caulker is that there isn’t that much to do. But for us, that was the best part! We could spend our days reading by the water or hanging out in the beach bars without feeling that we really should be visiting museums or exploring some ancient ruin. It’s hard to really enjoy doing nothing when you know there’s somewhere else you should be.
And there actually is a lot to do on Caye Caulker. There are a ton of different diving, snorkeling and boat tours, from sunset party boats to all-day snorkel trips to diving the Great Blue Hole. We only did one tour, a snorkel trip with Stressless Tours. It took us to six different stops including Shark Ray Alley, a shipwreck, part of the main coral reef and the spot where the region’s famous manatees like to hang out.
The tour was awesome – and we saw the manatees! Most people don’t – while about five or six different boats were circling the area when we were there, we were the only group that actually spotted them and then swam with them. And it was amazing. They are huge but so docile, and also strangely beautiful, drifting along with their flippers folded like they’re praying, They also conveniently just float around in the water, so we could all gawk at them for a while before we had to get back on the boat.
Shark Ray Alley was also an experience. It’s an area absolutely packed full of sharks and rays (duh) and even though you know they’re only nurse sharks and won’t bite your leg off, getting into the water when you can see about fifty dark, unmistakeable shark silhouettes looming underneath you is pretty scary. There’s a video of me shrieking as I’m the first to take the leap overboard which I won’t post – but it is funny how quickly you lose your fear.
After about 15 seconds of being underwater and realising that none of the sharks seemed that bothered about us, we both totally relaxed. There were so many of them and some were seriously big, but like the manatees these sharks were super chilled. They even let me stroke them; more slimy than sandpapery, if anyone was wondering.
Food and Drink
Food and drink-wise, Caye Caulker is good. We tried to avoid the tourist traps, and our AirBnB hosts told us about a few local favourites, like going to Errolyn’s House of Fry Jacks for breakfast. Fry jacks are a Belizean staple – basically soft-but-chewy dough (almost like slightly crispier yorkshire puddings) that’s fried and then stuffed with a variety of fillings. I always went for the cheese, refried beans and scrambled egg which cost 3 $BZ – so that’s a very filling and kiiinda-healthy breakfast for around £1. It’s almost impossible to get a photo of fry jacks that even looks vaguely appealing but trust me – they are GOOD.
Our favourite place to eat was Maggie’s Sunset Kitchen. We ate there three nights and it was incredible each time. All three times I had the veggie kebab with two sides (choose between coconut rice, rice and beans, plantain, coleslaw, baked potato…etc). Initially the idea of a veggie kebab without halloumi cheese made me very sad, but once it arrived… oh my god. I’ve only embarrassed Tom a few times so far this trip with my unrestrained eating and unintentional “mmmmm” noises , but this was probably one of those times. Seriously though – what is it about barbecued food that is so great?
Plus, at Maggie’s you can sit on the deck as you eat and you’ll have one of the best views of the sunset on the island. As a veggie, I can’t vouch for what the island is most know for – lobster, conch and fish – but Tom really enjoyed all his meals. You can get a huge, whole lobster meal for 25 $BZ – that’s under £10.
We loved our time on Caye Caulker. We stayed a full nine nights, longer than anywhere else so far, and we could have easily stayed longer still. We met some great people, in particular a lovely Dutch couple who we’re going to meet up with later. But, already behind schedule (as well as way over budget) we had to move on – to San Ignacio, Belize, where we’re going to actually do stuff. Well, that’s the plan… the Go Slow mentality is so far proving a little hard to shake off…