Caye Caulker, located just 20 miles northeast of Belize City, has been a popular backpacker spot for years due to it’s laid back vibe, ‘go slow’ mantra and crystal clear waters. Travellers with a little more cash to splash head to the nearby Ambergris Caye, leaving C.C as an undeveloped backpacker’s paradise. The locals aren’t in a hurry here and if they see you walking too fast, they will tell you to slow down. The laid back attitude is so prevalent that most people extend their stay, or never leave (my 2 day stay on the island quickly became a week).
From Belize City
The water taxi from Belize City to Caye Caulker runs approximately every hour between 8:00am and 5:30pm (check here for the timetable) at a cost of $15 USD one-way and $28 USD round-trip. Boats leave Belize City from the Brown Sugar Marketplace.
A cheaper option is Ocean Ferry Belize at $12 one way or $22 for a round trip. The boats leave North Front Street in Belize City (located at the foot of the City’s famous Swing Bridge) 5 times a day. Both of these options take 45 minutes.
While it is more expensive to travel by boat to Caye Caulker from Mexico, it can be much easier for some travellers than travelling all the way down to Belize City. When you arrive in Chetumal, head down to the Belize water taxi office at the port (I asked a local and they pointed me in the right direction) to buy your ticket. The boat runs at 3:30pm every other day (make sure to check the schedule before you leave), stopping first at San Pedro to enable to you go through immigration and then on to Caye Caulker. This will set you back US$35 for a 2.5 hr trip.
Make sure that you arrive at the water taxi office early to ensure your place on the boat. We took a 9:30am ADO bus from Tulum (206 pesos/£8.70, 3.5 hours) to Chetumal, bought our tickets and then passed the time having a leasurely lunch and coffee. The ADO busses run every 1-2 hours.
Where To Stay
1 Pasero Street, Caye Caulker
As you approach Pause you will be met with a sign claiming that the hostel is ‘Where animal lovers stay’. It’s not wrong; you really do need to be an animal lover to stay here. The owner, Madi, has given half of her home over to the 80 cats that she has rescued from abusive owners, poor conditions or that were generally just found stray and wandering. If you want somewhere to stay for free, then volunteer your services and Madi will put you up at no cost to you providing you help her look after her army of cats and dogs – We were the only paying guests during our time there.
The amenities aren’t the best but there is a working kitchen, hot showers and decent WiFi throughout, plus the added bonus of an awesome jetty complete with kayaks that you can borrow to explore the island. However, the amenities don’t matter when you know that all money made from the hostel goes towards feeding, vaccinating and neutering the animals. Plus, Madi is an absolute delight.
Prices range from BZD25.71 (~ £10/$13) for a bed in a 10 person dorm to BZD30.85 (~ £12/$15) for a 4 bed one. Private cabanas are available for BZD82.26 (~£33/$41).
Avenida Hicapo, Caye Caulker
This colourfully painted building surrounded by a bright orange fence is pretty hard to miss as you walk down Caye Caulkers main drag. It has a prime location next to the water taxi dock and in the centre of town which the owners have made full use of by installing hammocks and picnic tables in it’s waterfront garden. Although the showers only have cold water, there are plenty of bathrooms to use as well as two kitchens and lockers in each dorm. Not only is it the brightest hostel on the island, it is also of the most popular so it is important to book early to secure your bed.
Prices vary slightly depending on the time of year but a dorm bed will set you back around $35 BZ (~ $17.50/£14) and a private room will cost $85 BZ (~ $42.50/£34) per night for double occupancy or $70 Bz (~ $35/£28) for single occupancy.
Sophie’s Guest Rooms
Almond Street Caye Caulker
Located a short walk from Caye Caulker’s best swimming spot, The Split, Sophie’s is a relatively small guest house containing 5 private rooms with a shared bathroom. There is no kitchen and no dorm beds so if you are on a budget or travelling solo, this may not be the place for you.
Dirty McNasty’s Hostel
1 Crocodile St, Caye Caulker
If you’re travelling alone and feeling sociable or just wanting to meet other backpackers, then Dirty McNasty’s may be the place to be. The hostel is one of the only ones to have it’s own bar and restaurant (with free rum punch in the evenings), pool tables, ping pong and even a fire pit. This place is on a slightly larger scale than the other accommodation mentioned with two private rooms, six person dorms and even 16 person rooms. However, I have to let you know that it does live up to it’s name – This hostel can be dirty at times. Saying that, with free punch, free breakfast and free kayaks/bikes, this place is perfectly set up for backpackers that want to meet new people and have fun.
A bed in a 6 person dorm will set you back $30.85 Bz (~ £12/$15) while it’ll cost $41.13 Bz (~ £16/$20) per night to stay in a 16 bed room. I’m note sure why the larger dorm is more expensive but I am going off the current rates on Hostel World.
When I arrived in Caye Caulker I was handed a hand-drawn map by Maddi, the owner of Pause Hostel, to help me get around. It consisted of 3 parallel lines which she had labelled ‘Front Street’, ‘Middle Street’ and ‘Back Street’. These sand covered tracks and the few short, intersecting lanes are all you need to find your way around the village – it really is that small. Front street is considered the ‘main road’ and is where the majority of the shops, bars and restaurants are located.
There are no cars on the island so the majority of people get around on foot, by bike, or on golf carts. The majority of hostels will let you borrow a bike for free but if you want to hire a gold cart, head to C&N Golf Cart Rentals or Caye Caulker Golf Cart Rentals (around golf carts, which cost about $25 Bz an hour or $125 Bz a day).
Where to Eat
Caye Caulker isn’t short of places to eat and it isn’t incredibly expensive. However, it’s not cheap enough for you to easily keep to a budget. If you’ve just come from Mexico or Guatemala, you will definitely feel the hit in your wallet. The majority or restaurants are located on Front Street, catering for tastes as varied as Burgers, Burritos, Curries and, most importantly, seafood. For something a little cheaper, head to the other side of the island for a sunset BBQ at some of the charming little restaurants and cafes there.
Mama Liz’s Kitchen – Located near to Middle Street, this place is only identified by a small sign next to the front door of what is otherwise a normal looking house. Mama Liz serves amazing and cheap Johnny cakes straight for her kitchen. You have a choice of cheese, ham, chicken, beans or any combination of the above for less than $1 a pop. It’s also worth heading there for a lunch of stew.
Syd’s – Also on Middle Street and famed for it’s fried chicken, a Belizian staple. Syd is known to do the best fried chicken on the island (or even in all of Belize), served with french fries for about $9 Bz. It’s recommended that you get there early afternoon as he often runs out.
Caye Caulker Bakery – Head to Back Street, next to Chan’s Grocery, to sample some of the islands best baked goods. The ham and cheese turnover is a favourite ($1.50). It is open from 7.30am each morning incase you need a cheap but delicious breakfast.
Glenda’s – Also a breakfast and lunch spot, Glenda’s is known for it’s delicious cinnamon rolls. If you’re hungry it is possible to get eggs, bacon, a cinnamon roll and coffee for under $4.
Errolyns House of Fry Jacks – With the sign outside and the bright pink trim, this little shack is hard to miss. The fry jacks are phenomenal, cheap and the perfect way to to fill yourself in the morning.
Terry’s Grill – If I was going to eat in just one place on the island, Terry’s is the one that I should choose. We came across the place after bumping in to Terry outside of Frenchies Dive Shop and he pointed us towards his restaurant. The food is simple BBQ seafood but everything was delicious and you get the added benefit of a sunset view.
Maggie’s Sunset Kitchen – Much like Terry’s, this place is the perfect spot to have a few beers at sunset before feasting on delicious BBQ seafood. As everything is fresh from the grill, the food can take a little while to arrive. Who cares though when the beer and atmosphere is this good.
Pizza Caulker – Pizza caulker serves the best pizza on the island and what was probably the best pizza I had in all of Central America. I was walking past when some of the customers called over to me to eat there – It turns out the American owner will often give you a free drink if you manage to persuade passers by to come in for food (which i took full advantage of the next day). The place has a strange, yet fun vibe and the happy hour can go on for quite a while. We ended up drinking for a while with the owner as he regaled us with stories and plied us with free rum punches.
Bambooze Grill – Serving Cajun specialities and burritos the size of my arm, this cool waterfront grill has swing sets for seats and tables set out in the sand. If you’re lucky you will be lined up with other customers to take free shots out of a huge bamboo stick that they keep at the bar.#
Wish Willy’s – Willy’s isn’t so much a restaurant but more a huge communal barbecue. Picnic tables are scattered across the yard and you just have to turn up, sit down, and hope that Willy (real name Maurice) is about to start cooking as there are no set hours. Service is slow to none-existent but it doesn’t matter when the rum punch and Belkin beers are flowing. We visited on a day when Maurice had a long buffet table set up which was a perfect way to dodge the slow service.
Habaneros – Almost everyone that I spoke to on Caye Caulker recommended this place for a slightly fancier meal. Yes, it’s expensive but if you’re looking to treat yourself then this is the place to go. The majority of people that mentioned this place couldn’t stop talking about how good the lion fish was.
Where to Drink
During the day the best option is to pick up a few Belkins from one of the supermarkets (use the bottle openers attached to the counter or next to the door) and wander around the island, maybe settling down by the sea or at The Split to drink in the sun. That’s what the locals do so why not join them? On an evening your options for dedicated drinking spots are limited but it’s perfectly acceptable to head to one of the restaurants just for a drink or two.
The Sports Bar – The walls are covered in TV’s tuned to different sports events so if there’s a game you don’t want to miss, chances are they will be screening it here. The clientele tend to be American and Canadian ex-pats but everyone is friendly, especially the bar staff. It is the perfect place to escape the heat, meet new people and relax with a few beers. It can get a little more raucous on a weekend when they have live music.
The Lazy Lizard – In 1961 Hurricane Hattie swept through Caye Caulker, splitting the island in two and creating the split – a channel separating the north and south of the island. The Lazy Lizard is perched next to this channel with it’s own private dock, making it the perfect place to drink, relax with a few beers and have a swim. I highly recommend getting there for happy hour at 5pm and staying for the sunset.
I & I Reggae Bar – Head down early for a quiet drink and chat on the upper deck of this two story nightclub and get a great view over the town. The bar can be pretty quiet until 10.30pm when the locals head out and join the tourists to dance to reggae and dancehall. The club actually closes at 12pm and there is then a mass exodus as everyone walks together to Oceanside, the islands late night spot.
The Best Things to Do
With a motto of ‘Go Slow’, Caye Caulker is extremely relaxed meaning that the majority of your time will be spent lying back with a beer enjoying the sun and the Caribbean vibes. It is the perfect place to recharge after some of the more hectic aspects of Central American travel. However, if you’re anything like me, you can’t stay still for too long so here’s what C.C has to offer for those with itchy feet:
Kayaking is a great way to head past the split and explore the mangroves of the northern half of the island. It’s a good idea to stick to western side of C.C for calmer waters. Tsunami Adventures on front street rents two man kayaks for $20 Bz an hour bus the majority of hostels will have there own and may let you use them for free. I rented one for free from Pause and paddled north up the coast to an area containing hundreds of tarpons all swimming around me as I paddled.
Just a few minutes from Caye Caulker is the Belize Barrier Reef, a haven of colourful coral and many different species of fish and the perfect place to snorkel with the local marine life.
Snorkelers also converge on Shark Ray Alley for a chance to get up close and personal with rays and nurse sharks. For years people have, unfortunately, been feeding them in this spot so they now converge around any boats hoping for an easy snack. They are completely used to human contact and it is possible to swim with a vast number of the animals at once as they swarm around the snorkelers.
Many businesses on front street offer half day tours which will set you back ~$70 Bz, stopping off at the the Belize Barrier Reef, Shark Ray Alley and the coral garden. Longer full day tours will cost ~$130 Bz with the added stop off at Hol Chan Marine Reserve.
Due to it’s proximity to the reef and and the Blue Hole Natural Monument, Caye Caulker is a very popular spot for divers. All of the dive shops on the island offer trips to the Blue Hole, Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Caye Caulker Marine Reserve, Spanish Bay, Turneffe North, and Turneffe Elbow with prices varying depending on the dive shop or the amount of dives you wish to do. If you are planning on diving the Blue Hole you do not need you have your Advanced Open Water Certification but it is highly recommended that you do as the dive goes to 130ft.
PADI Open Water courses are available (more expensive than at backpackers favourite Útila but the diving is much better). The courses take 3-4 days and include a half day of classroom learning, 2 shallow-water dives, and 4 open-water dives. All dives are done in the ocean with the shallow dives taking place in the awesome setting of shark-ray alley.
I would highly recommend Frenchie’s, run by a local Belizian, they are friendly, safe and all round great guys – I used them for all of my dives, including PADI certification, and was not dissapointed.
If you are looking for more technical, high end diving services and courses then Belize Diving Services is the place to go. They are more expensive than Frenchie’s but I have heard nothing but good things about them.
Local dives (Hol Chan, Spanish Bay): $US90 (2 tank dives)
Turneffe Atoll: $US150 (3 tank dives)
Blue Hole: $US225 (3 tank dives) plus $US40 park permit
If you’re looking to get off the island and explore some of the more remote and picturesque areas of the reef, Ragamuffin Tours offer overnight sailing trips to some of the better snorkelling and fishing areas. The tours look absolutely incredible but at $400 per person they tend to be out of the price range for most backpackers and budget travellers.
Swallow Caye Wildlife and Manatee Sanctuary that was set up by local, Chocolate Heredia and is the perfect place to get a glimpse of these endangered animals. A number of companies run tours to Swallow Caye from Caye Caulker for ~$75 Bz which includes the $10 Bz entry fee for Swallow Caye.
Tips & Advice
There are two ATMs on the island but only one will accept foreign cards (located outside the Atlantic Bank). Its recommended that you stock up on money before you visit as it runs out regularly. If you are stuck for cash, the nearest place with ATMs is San Pedro on Ambergis Caye, a short water taxi ride away.
Note: Most dive shops will accept credit card payments.
The majority of bars, restaurants and hostels have decent wifi connections but as the island is served by only one line, it is prone to issues. If you need an internet cafe then head to Young’s Internet Cafe on the back street, Cayeboard Connection or Caye Caulker Cyber Cafe.
Shop Around for Trips
There are a lot of operators providing snorkelling, fishing and diving excursions so it is worth shopping around to find the best deal (although if you are planning on diving it is best not to just opt for the cheapest). If you are planning multiple trips, see if you can combine them with the same operator for a discount.
Expect to pay around $30 Bz to $50 Bz for a bed in a dorm with a shared bathroom. For a private room it will sert you back a little more with prices ranging from $70 Bz in a cheap hostel all the way up to $150 Bz for a budget hotel room.
Meals at most of the mid range places on Caye Caulker will cost between $9 and $12 Bz for a decent lunch or $12 – $25 for a decent sized dinner. If you’re looking to eat a little more cheaply, it is worth picking up a breakfast & lunch of fry jacks or johnny cakes at some of the places mentioned above. There are a few supermarkets on the island so if you have accommodation with a kitchen it is possible to make your own meals.
I hope this guide was helpful. If so, let me know in the comments below.
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