I was only supposed to stay on Caye Caulker for five days. I’d planned to spend a couple of days on my own, then my parents were joining me for three days to celebrate my stepdad’s 50th birthday. I’d heard from other travelers that would be plenty of time to enjoy all the small island has to offer.
Eleven days later, I finally left. Why? You may have heard of Caye Caulker’s motto – go slow. It’s what the locals tell you when you arrive, and remind you every time you speed by on your bicycle down Front Street.
And sure, when I arrived, weary from my half marathon in Merida, I enjoyed going slow…..for a day or two. But that isn’t the reason I’ve stayed.
I stayed for the epic underwater life in the nearby Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. I stayed for the incredible $10 grilled lobster. I stayed for the stand up paddleboarding, the diving, and the island dogs that I’ve befriended. Caye Caulker actually offers more than just nice sunsets and bars to enjoy them at – there’s some legit adventure to be had here!
Here’s some of what I got up to last week, with one notable exception – the dives I did with Frenchie’s Diving to the Blue Hole and Half Moon Caye. That experience deserves it’s own post, so look out for that tomorrow!
Hol Chan Marine Reserve
Hol Chan, which means “little channel” in Mayan, is the name given to a gorgeous section of reef about a half hour boat ride from Caye Caulker. When my parents arrived, we booked a trip out for a day of snorkeling after I convinced my parents this was one of the best places in the world to do it. Neither of them are huge fans of snorkeling, but they absolutely loved it!
The first stop was the main area of Hol Chan, which was fairly crowded, but for good reason – the abundance of marine life was outrageous! As soon as we jumped in, we spotted a green sea turtle munching on some sea grass.
Within twenty minutes of snorkeling, we saw dozens of species of reef fish, barracudas, trigger fish, nurse sharks, rays and moray eels. I felt like my parents were spoiled – this vast array of species are rare to see in one dive trip, let alone a snorkeling trip!
Next up we hit Shark Ray Alley, but to avoid the crowds, our guide stopped just before the mooring point and told me to jump in and follow the boat. I looked down to see dozens of nurse sharks swarming around us. Though I was a bit scared, I jumped in anyways.
As I followed the boat, I was surrounded by countless sharks, giant jacks, and stingrays, all heading in the same direction with me. It was amazing! They follow boats because fishermen used to frequent the area, throwing bad catch overboard. Word has it that some snorkel operators sadly still do.
Our last stop was a sunken barge, whose name I can’t remember. There were no other boats there, so we had the site to ourselves. I cherished the opportunity to practice some free diving and spot the schools of small yellow snapper huddling under the shade of the wreck.
My mom, who had never been snorkeling on a reef before and was a bit nervous to get in at all, had a great time marveling at all the underwater sights. Now if only I could get her to try diving…..
Cost: Snorkeling trips from Caye Caulker range from $30-$90 USD a person, depending on the company and if you do a full or half-day trips.
My parents and I booked a last minute half-day trip to Hol Chan with Scuba Sensation. It was $65 USD a person, but it was just us with our guide Zach (who was AMAZING) and we made three long stops at Hol Chan, Shark Ray Alley, and at a sunken barge. This company was such a fantastic, serendipitous find after the other tour company we’d signed up with didn’t want to take us to Hol Chan.
- There are over a dozen companies hawking these snorkel trips up and down front street, so don’t worry about booking in advance. I can’t recommend Scuba Sensation more!
- I would recommend a smaller, private group trip if you can afford it. We saw several huge groups of snorkelers, which isn’t great for observing marine life – I saw one poor turtle surrounded by 20 onlookers that weren’t giving him the space to even surface and breathe! It was also fantastic to have a guide that went at our speed and let us choose where we wanted to go.
When I told a local guy at Southside Pizza that I’d gone paddleboarding, he’d laughed at me. “I know you look cool doing it, but with Caye Caulker’s winds you might as well just sit your ass down in a kayak! It’s a lot less work!”
He may have been right, but I still really enjoyed my six hours of SUPing around the island on my own! It was a fantastic workout and I relished the peace and quiet paddling along the mangroves of the under-inhabited, Northern island.
In one quiet area I spotted a school of curious tarpon that circled my board. These fish are protected on Caye Caulker and aren’t allowed to be caught, which is why you find them in such abundance.
Cost: I rented my board from Contour Ocean Ventures for $40 USD for a half day, and it included two liters of water and some great direction from the guy who was running the place about where to go. They also do wind-surfing lessons there, which I would love to try when I go back!
There are a couple of other places on the island that I heard rent SUP boards for cheaper, but in pure Caye Caulker form, the stalls weren’t open or manned when I checked in with them.
- The wind and current is much more minimal on the west side, but it’s still fun to struggle your way through the Split and try spotting some eagle rays jumping out of the water. I saw three!
- The further you get from the shore, even on the west side of the island, the harder it is to paddle back to shore. The best advice is to stay close.
- The guy at Contour told me that 1 in 15 people see dolphins or manatees and it is more likely when it was one person on their own. I kept my eyes out, but no luck!
Caye Caulker’s Canine Companions
Caye Caulker is known for all the dogs that live there, both on the streets and in the three animal rescue shelters. The rescue shelters encourage tourists to foster a dog for a couple hours or a day and take them for a walk around the island. If you’re a dog lover (like me!) then it’s a dream come true to have a pup for the day for free to hang out with!
I took out a dog named Romy for a walk and some napping near the Split. She was a real lover!
I also took every opportunity I got to give some love to the homeless dogs that wander the streets. Some of them may have unofficial owners that let them roam free, I’m not sure, but if you spend more than a couple days on Caye Caulker you’ll become familiar with each one.
There was one stray that my new friend David and I nicknamed Buster, and he ended up following me back to my room one night when I’d had way too much Rum Punch. I gave him some water and fed him some crackers, then let him loose. He found me twice in the following days in two very different areas of the island! It broke my heart to leave him behind.
Cost: Free! The two places you can stop by to ask for a pup to foster for the day are:
There are other spots too, like this treehouse place I found on AirBnB which is a pet sanctuary as well. But really, you can make friends with any of the street dogs as well – I did!
Let me get this out of the way – Caye Caulker is a lot more expensive than anywhere I went in Mexico. The food especially is pricey, in restaurants and in the grocery store. I saw a $9 USD bag of Cheetos for sale for godsakes!
However, there is some great quality seafood that can be had for much less than you’ll find it at home – I’m looking at you, $10 lobster!
That’s right, you can get a whole grilled lobster along with sides for between $10 and $14 USD. That would go for over $50 at most places in LA, and those places don’t serve it with a stunning ocean view!
But lobster wasn’t the only great food I ate on the island (though it did make up about 75% of my diet!) The breakfast at Paradiso Cafe is fantastic, even if it is expensive, and you can’t beat the view.
- The best places we found or lobster were these three, all on Front Street:
- Relax – $10 USD for the plate, plus it comes with a free rum punch and fruit for dessert!
- Fantasy Dining – Depending on the size of the lobster, the plate is between $12 and $17 USD, but theirs is best because it comes with melted butter to dip it in! They also have a super friendly staff and the place is right across from the water.
- Sobre Las Olas – Another place right on the water, they served me the biggest lobster I had on the last night, while rain pounded down outside and I was the only person there.
- Paradiso Cafe is right next to the Split, and you’ll find good wifi there to pair with your morning coffee.
The Split & The Lazy Lizard
I’ve already mentioned the Split a couple of times in this post, so I should probably tell you what it is. Caye Caulker is actually made up of two islands, which were once one. They were separated by the devastation of Hurricane Hattie in 1961, though Wikipedia claims this is a myth. The passage between the north and south island is called now called the Split, and it is home to the popular bar The Lazy Lizard.
I ended up visiting the split at least once a day for the entire time I was there. It’s a great place to day drink (favorite pastime!) and hang out with other travelers. You can swim from the dock and there are even swim up tables to rest your drink while you go for a dip.
I spent an entire day there with my parents – drinking, swimming and eventually getting badly sunburned. My mom rented an inner tube and I pushed her across the Split to the North side of the island, where we wandered for a bit.
There is a tree on there that you can climb and jump off. I watched some other people do it, and it scared me a bit, so of course I had to try it!
Cost: Free to hang out at the Split, but you might as well go for a cold one at the Lazy Lizard while you’re there! It’s $2.50 USD for a Beliken, the local beer, and they offer all kinds of frozen fruity drinks if you’re that kind.
- Mojo Tours is connected to the bar, and we met Josh who works there as well as Peter who runs it. They will take you out on a booze cruise (if you have 4 or more people) or on fishing trips, and will even rent you an inner tube or mask/snorkel combo for use at the Split. They’re fun guys, so I thought they deserved a shout out!
- The current in the Split can get really strong, so if you’re going to swim across it, make sure you’re ready! I was exhausted after making the trip back.
- Sure, go ahead and on a snorkeling mask and checkout the few reef fish that hang out around the docks. They are nothing compared to what you’ll see out on the reef though!
I know it sounds like I was a busy bee during my time in Caye Caulker, but truth be told, I spent most of my time lying in a hammock, reading and enjoying going slow.
And that is exactly what this little island paradise is perfect for!
Getting There: The easiest way to get here is to take a ferry from Belize City, which is $15 USD. The ferry docks are not far from Belize City airport in a cab. The ferry takes about 45 minutes.
If you’re coming from the Yucatan in Mexico, you can do what I did and hop on a water taxi from Chetumal. Be warned – it costs $65 and you have to stop in San Pedro to go through customs and immigration from Belize first. Don’t believe the two hour estimate on the website – it took me over four!
Finally, there is an airstrip in Caye Caulker for those with a bit more money to burn. Tropic Air will take you there!
Getting Around: You can walk the length of the entire southern part of the island in 20 minutes, however riding bikes is a fun way to get around! You can rent them at a couple of the grocery stores, just ask around. The locals drive golf carts, and there are no cars save for some construction trucks.
Where To Stay: There are many budget places to stay on the island and some pricey options, but no massive resorts, thankfully! I ended up staying at three different places:
- Juan in a Million Hostel – I stayed here for a couple of nights before my parents arrived in a private room with ensuite bathroom for around $16 USD a night. It was quiet, lacked atmosphere but is a good hostel option if you are not looking to do a lot of partying. If you are, then you should head to……
- Dirty McNasty’s – Yes, this is a real place! Another traveler I met recommended it and I ended up staying there for five nights, mainly for the free breakfast! Pros: Fantastic breakfast and free rum punch at night, fun atmosphere. Cons: LOUD, and kinda dirty. I would avoid unless you love hanging with other backpackers and getting drunk every night.
- Hummingbird Cabins – When my parents came, we stayed here for 3 nights in a two bedroom cabin. It was SO nice, had AC and every amenity you could dream of, plus free bikes to use to get around. Very quiet and the cabins even have their own pool.
- I mentioned this already, but if you are backpacking, keep in mind this place is more expensive than the rest of Central America. I would recommend budgeting double what you would for Mexico or Guatemala, especially for food which is the most expensive necessity.
- In the same vein, bring money to do the tours, otherwise only plan to stay a couple days. A lot of backpackers I spoke to complained there was nothing to do here, but really there is not much that is cheap or free to do. There are plenty of options if you are willing to shell out $50 to $100 for a tour or around $200 for diving.
- Ladies, street harassment is a big thing in Caye Caulker. To me, this fact cast a faint but ugly shadow over my time here. If you are a woman traveling alone or with other ladies, expect catcalls, explicit comments, and some badgering from drunk dudes on Front Street. I just ignored them or shot them a nasty glare which usually shut them up, but I do wish I had been warned before I walked down the main road for the first time. I never felt unsafe, but I did get really annoyed pretty much every time I walked around. But please do not let that deter you from coming here – it is a fantastic place!
Have you ever been to Caye Caulker? Would you go now?