Lonely Planet describe Caye Caulker as follows: –
‘No Shirt, No Shoes…No Problem.’ You’ll see this sign everywhere in Belize, but no place is it more apt than Caye Caulker. Indeed, nothing seems to be a problem on this tiny island, where dogs nap in the middle of the dirt road and suntanned cyclists pedal around them. The only traffic sign on the island instructs golf carts and bicycles to ‘go slow,’ a directive that is taken seriously.’
and we wouldn’t disagree.
We travelled from Tulum via minibus down to the Mexico-Belize border where our experienced Intrepid guide Rafael helped us navigate our first land border crossing. £22 each in exit fees to leave Mexico ate in to that day’s budget a bit, but there is no fee charged to enter Belize (though there is one to leave). The biggest shock to our systems came in getting used to everyone speaking English again; after 6 weeks of Spanish-speaking countries, it took us a little while to stop saying ‘por favor y gracias’ and get back to our ‘please and thank you’s’.
After another minibus ride we took a water taxi over to the island with our group from Belize City and stepped off the pier on to the sand we would live on for the next 3 nights. There are no roads on the island, the only way to travel is on foot, by bicycle or via the golf carts – but that is all you need, as it isn’t huge.
The notes we have from our visit mainly consist of ‘it rained’. A lot. Of our three day stay the rain fell pretty heavily for two and a half. We’d be fibbing if we claimed that didn’t have a bit of an effect on our enjoyment of the place. The locals kept telling us the weather was really unseasonal – which actually didn’t help all that much.
When the sun did show itself for a few hours we rushed out to take as many clear sky photographs as we could, and raced over to Reef Friendly Tours (the only company on the island to approach snorkelling ethically, not feeding the sea life to encourage them to approach boats) to get our gear ready and head out to sea.
Our captain and his mate were on top Belize laid back form, full of puns (‘you’d better Belize it!’) and determined to show us what the second largest coral reef in the world had to offer. If you’ve read our previous travel diary posts you’ll already know that the sea and I are not the best of friends, but in the place supposedly home to some of the best snorkelling in the world I was keen to try again.
So with masks and fins ready to go (my swollen foot just about fitting a fin by now) we jumped off the boat in to Caribbean Sea. For someone not that keen on swimming with sea life, it wasn’t really ideal that the first thing I saw as I looked below the water was a huge stingray, chilling out in the sand not too far below me.
The water here is shallow by the reef, so he dutifully held my hand and stayed with me during our swim, led by our captain to help us responsibly navigate the reef. We saw lion fish, barracuda, moray eel, conch and lizard fish to name but a few. For him, it was incredible, for me, to be truly honest I just couldn’t enjoy it the way I wanted to. It’s difficult to explain what it is about swimming in the sea that just doesn’t sit right with me. I think it has something to do with feeling as though I am invading the home of the sea life. Anyway, as we climbed back in to the boat I had already decided that I was done with snorkelling. I tried, and I tried in one of the most magical places on earth, if I didn’t enjoy it there I wasn’t going to enjoy it anywhere else!
So as we approached our next stop of ‘Shark Ray Alley’ I sent him off the boat on his own and the spot certainly lived up to its billing as he very happily swam with dozens of nurse sharks and rays, weaving their way closely around him and as I pointed out the next incoming specimen from the boat. I soaked up the few rays (of sunshine) there were, enjoyed looking at the sea life and relaxing from the boat and I think that from now on this is our winning combination when it comes to boat trips.
Before travelling to Caye Caulker I had heard a fair few reviews from friends who had been before, and it sounded much less developed than it had become by the time of our visit. We learned that where as previously the government set a firm rule that only 20% of the island could be developed, that had long since sailed out of the window and by the time of our visit in February 2018, sadly much more of the island had been developed than that.
That said, what goes along with development is lots of bars and eateries and we did our duty exploring some of those. Our favourites were Pasta per Casa where (in my humble opinion) they serve some of the best Italian food I’ve eaten outside of Italy; and Rose’s, who are our recommendation for fresh seafood on the island. You can’t visit Caye Caulker without trying some lobster and we were lucky to time our visit just before lobster season came to an end in February.
What does remain of the tales I’d heard before visiting is the ‘laid back lifestyle’ – aka the marijuana. Despite the signage claiming the island has strict drug laws, we lost count within our group of how many times we were offered a little something to help us relax. It’s not our thing, in fact I’m vehemently anti-drugs, so these kind offers were politely declined.
Ducking rain showers we spent our penultimate evening gazing up through the clouds at the awesome blue moon and our last evening soaking up the sunset (which can be spectacular from the west side of the island), sipping cocktails at Maggie’s Sunset Kitchen (aptly named) and marvelling at the prevalence of the pelicans and stalks who call Caye Caulker home.
The next morning we piled back into the water taxi at the pontoon to take us back to the mainland, waving the island and the beautiful reef farewell. Typically, in glorious sunshine.
NB – a quick note on accommodation here in Caye Caulker. There were many hostels and small family owned hotels on the island and we heard some great feedback from fellow travellers on a fair few different places. Intrepid put us up at the China Town Hotel and we couldn’t encourage you more to avoid it like the plague. I’m not going to bore you with a blow by blow run down of the farcical management they have, but no running water, no emptying of bathroom bins (you cannot flush toilet paper in Central America, so this does become essential) and being woken by a member of staff playing noisy games on his mobile phone literally right outside our room at 2am are the ‘highlights’ of our stay.