Caye Caulker Belize
At first glance, houses along the shoreline of Caye Caulker Belize appear to have been painted by kids—who else has the imagination or propensity to lavish building exteriors with colors most often associated with ice cream and candy? But don’t let the cotton candy pink, lime green and lemon yellow clapboards house fronts fool you: though Caye Caulker may be an awesome playground for the laid back vacationer who knows how to slow down, it’s also a happening place filled with quiet energy for those who live in a faster lane—folks who like a little more action when they take a holiday. Everyone’s welcome. Everyone’s invited. And this short guide can even help you do the planning.
Vacationers get to Caye Caulker in one of two ways: take a puddle jumper or shuttle boat after landing at Belize Municipal Airport. Go for the $10 boat ride and save your cash for more important things, like rum, but be advised that if your flight to Belize arrives in the afternoon, you’ll likely miss the ferry leaving from the dock near the Swing Bridge at 11 a.m. A flight could be your best option if you’re eager to get those shoes off fast.
Transportation affairs sorted, do a happy dance on terra firma to officially kiss your need for a car goodbye. Even lazy vacationers can see the entire island in 20 minutes, and if walking is against your religion, rent bicycles or golf carts to traverse the 11-mile distance. The town is only one mile in size, so your feet should take you where you want to go without too many complaints.
Next up: Appear at the lodgings you booked before leaving home and check in, or secure a room on the fly. There are 25 hotels on the island, so unless every bed on Caye Caulker is filled, there’s a room awaiting you. Anticipate spending from $10 to $20 USD per night for bare bones (bed, fan and chair), hostels with shared showers run between $25 and $35 USD nightly and small hotel prices start at $65 USD per night. That gets you creature comforts like a ‘fridge, TV and air-conditioning.
There’s a bit of disagreement between travel writers on the subject of luxury resort prices on Caye Caulker, but the consensus seems to be $160 a night to bunk in the priciest hotel on the island. Whatever your lodging preference turns out to be, stow your luggage and orient yourself so you can see exactly what history and travel books say about the sleepy fishing village that’s a relative newcomer on the Belize tourism scene.
Described by geologists as a limestone shelf topped by a sandbar, Caye Caulker is a wonderland of raw and spectacular bits of nature, including undulating strings of underwater caves, the second longest Barrier Reef on the planet and secluded lagoons rich in marine life, which is likely why the Mayan people settled this area thousands of years ago. The next wave of area migrants were refugees escaping Mexico’s civil war in the middle of the 19th century.
Any society putting down roots requires more than water resources to survive, which is how Caye Caulker came to host coconut plantations that nicely complimented the island’s start-up fishing industry decades ago. These days, both are thriving, as is the burgeoning tourist trade some say began as northerners sought unique destinations free of crowds back in the wild and wooly 1960s when everyone from Peace Corps volunteers to hippies found their way to Caye Caulker and settled into the island’s famous laid-back lifestyle.
When the government funded a modest airstrip on the town’s outskirts, a final tourism puzzle piece was put into place for the island’s future. It’s big enough to accommodate small planes but small enough not to spoil the view. Will you still find vestiges of the quaint fishing village that was so big a part of Caulker Caye’s history despite the strip? You bet. New and old happily coexist and keep pace with the island’s growth—which is exactly what attracted you to this particular island in the first place.
But, enough history; you want action. It’s time to introduce you to the vast array of attractions, tourist sites and places to visit on this little piece of real estate. If you have a hard time organizing yourself when offered too many choices (scientists say humans are almost incapable of making decisions given more than seven options), your best bet is to prioritize activities you love most and if time remains at the tail end of your vacation on Caye Caulker, you’ll know exactly how to use it.
Talk with your hotel concierge or a local booking agent to set up full days devoted to snorkeling, scuba diving, fishing (salt and fresh water), windsurfing, ecotourism sites and indulging your inquisitive side by trying to figure out the biggest mystery of all in Belize: Why exactly did a thriving Mayan nation simply vanish off the earth thousands of years ago? Schedule your days wisely so you don’t return home frazzled.
So, what’s a typical day like on Caye Caulker for the erstwhile traveler? Get up early if you have booked a day trip so you don’t become the guy who ruined everyone’s morning by keeping the group waiting. Opt for snorkeling and diving the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve where you can indulge your inner fish for an entire day. If you’ve come for the sun and fun but wish to avoid anything requiring you to stick your face into the ocean, a manatee tour is right up your alley. No, you can’t jump in and swim with them, but rumor has it, manatee youngsters have no manners and are known to sniff around boats so you could get delightfully close.
If these adventures don’t suit your fancy, cave exploring might do it for you. Remember those limestone shelves mentioned earlier? That’s where you’ll find the nooks and crannies that invite a careful look-see or you can play in the shallow lagoon that’s hard to miss because it’s situated right in front of the village. Cave exploration is a wonderful part of Belize’s geological history, so book several experiences until you get your fill.
After a full day of indulgence, return to your hotel to meet up with members of your travel party who opted for Mayan ruin tours or booked jungle or wildlife experiences. You’ll have plenty to share, but be polite and don’t hog the conversation. There’s plenty of time to share details and snaps as evening approaches.
As the sun sets, the “sleepy little fishing village” morphs into a lively scene at local restaurants offering unique house specials you won’t find elsewhere. Choose from steaming plates of spicy stewed chicken peppered with Creole heat, house specials at Mexican eateries continuing the traditions of early settlers from the north or indulge in Chinese food if wielding chopsticks is your thing. No matter which ethnic cooking influence tickles your taste buds, fresh lobster and seafood dishes will be the stars on all menus in Caulker Caye—even on the menus of residents who cook for tourists in their homes and welcome them in for reasonably-priced meals.
So, you’re on vacation, you’ve squared away the perfect accommodation, gotten the lay of the land and your dance card is filled with activities. Is there anything else that begs to be experienced in the land of candy and ice cream houses? Of course. A second world of fun opens once the sun sets and if bedtime is still a long way off for you, grab a shower and a second wind.
Yes, it’s time to party on Caulker Island and the place to do it right is the sandy beach along what’s affectionately known as “The Split,” a channel shaped by Hurricane Hattie over 50 years ago. It’s become the unofficial Caye Caulker gathering place. Ask how to get there. Whether you want to hang around for an hour or half the night to indulge your inner party animal, visiting The Split is a rite of passage for anyone prepared to leave a bit of their heart in Caye Caulker when time comes to leave.