Caye Caulker has been on the tourist/backpacker trail for quite some time now. It’s somewhere locals and tourists alike gravitate to for the slow, tranquil pace that this corner of the world is known for.
This is a coral island located 32 km north of Belize City, an island that’s just over 8 km in length and has around 1,300 people that call it home. Not that it feels like there are that many people around.
It’s a small island, and for first timers it probably comes across as not being very developed at all. For us, however, seeing it again after fifteen years proved exactly how tourism can change a place in such a short period.
Many poorly designed, three or four-storey concrete hotels now stand in place of what were traditional wooden dwellings. The number of shops, tour agencies and restaurants seems to have increased, and sadly many of those include irritating touts.
All that aside, it’s still a great spot to unwind, get some sun, get wet and spend languid days wafting between bars, restaurants, hammocks and beach chairs.
Mind you, Caye Caulker doesn’t really have any beautiful, swimmable beaches. The sandy beach on the east side of the island is broken up by numerous wooden jetties, and any patches of sand you do see are strewn with stinky, sea grass, as is the water close to shore.
Your best bet for swimming is up at The Split, right by the Lazy Lizard Beach Bar. The Split was first created by a hurricane that cut across the island back in 1961, where it merely left a very shallow creek over the narrowest part of the island. It was later dredged to form a channel, splitting the island in two to save locals circumnavigating the island.
Fifteen years ago the Lazy Lizard was a dumpy old wooden bar frequented by rasta dudes. Now there’s a newly-built concrete and wood wharf and some rather tempting seating in the actual water, complete with shaded palm umbrellas. It’s also a fab spot to swim, sans the seagrass.
Lazy Lizard Beach Bar
Barrier Reef Sports Bar
One of the busiest bars in town would have to be Barrier Reef Sports Bar. Here you’ll find American expats and locals finishing up their days with chatter and plenty of booze.
It gets seriously rowdy in there with the multiple screens blaring sports, but if that gets too much, head outside and peer over the beach from your bench seating. Plenty of good food, too, like their ‘slap yo’ momma’ meat loaf, conch or lobster fritters, tacos and even ice cream cake.
If that’s all still a little too much noise and energy, the northwest side of the island has a couple of joints that are much quieter. Seek out Maggie’s Sunset Kitchen and enjoy a drink or two by the water, or order some local staples sided with good old rice & beans or go for their burgers or burritos.
Maggie’s Sunset Kitchen
Ice ‘n Beans
Amor y Café
If it’s breakfast you’re after, head up to the Ice ‘n Beans beach bungalow, place your bagel and coffee order and grab a stool. If a filled bagel doesn’t cut it, then maybe some of their piping hot mini donuts or bubble waffles will.
For another breezy beach house, walk down the main drag and join everyone else at Amor Y Café. They put on a basic brekky menu, toasted sandwiches, fruit & granola, egg dishes and some very decent waffles with fruit (9.5).
Yummy Yummy Restaurant
Bambooze Beach Bar & Grill
One dish I vividly remember from our first visit to Caye Caulker was jerk chicken. Deliciously-spiced, burnished chunks of tender chicken straight off the char-grill. This time around I ordered it at two separate restaurants and got something that’s more akin to a lightly spiced chicken and vegetable stir-fry. Not the Belizean classic.
What’s going on, Caye Caulker? Lost it a tad?
After giving up on jerk chicken, I thought a more Asian stir-fry may do it for us. Down on the main drag you can get your Chinese fix at Yummy Yummy Restaurant – things like fried rice, chop suey, chow mien and sweet & sour. The portions are a little gargantuan, so sharing ought to be considered, should you find yourself in their midst.
The kung pao chicken (13) slips from authenticity somewhat, but it does carry some good flavour, way more peppers and carrot than chicken and a generous dose of peanuts. If Asian-style food in Belize seems a bit wrong, go for one of their burgers, jerk-style meats, Creole dishes or ceviche.
La Cubana comes with promises of a whole roast pig on the barbecue, and while they do deliver a small joint of swine, the pricing was beyond our reach. Plus it looked a tad dry and overcooked to fork out Belizean dollars for.
Instead, we joined one other table in this quiet establishment, sifted through a menu of local staples, surf ‘n’ turf and settled on a jerk chicken with grilled onions, coconut rice and cabbage salad (14) that was closer to the original. Nothing overly exciting, but the bbq pork ribs (23) we also ordered did pack some deliciousness.
Another dish worth noting in Belize is its stew chicken. You’ll see it on many-a-menu and, unlike jerk chicken, they seem to get this one right.
Bambooze Beach Bar & Grill does a very nice plate of stew chicken (10) served up with rice & beans, grilled plantain and cabbage salad.
One of the most popular activities to do on Caye Caulker is take a day trip. You can go diving at the famed Blue Hole, go tubing or take a day trip out to Hol-Chan Marine Reserve.
We took a 6-hour trip with Anda de Wata Tours where you get to visit the marine park and swim alongside sea turtles, harmless nurse sharks, rays and many fish. There are two other stops for snorkelling included. It’s a great day out, very informative and you get to swim in that glorious Caribbean in the process.
Cost was US$65 per person, including lunch at the Island Tackle Bar & Grill on Ambergris Caye and a fruit platter after snorkelling.
From Útila we got the ferry to La Ceiba where we overnighted at Hotel El Stadio. Peter, that manages/owns the hotel organised our travels from here to Puerto Barrias in Guatemala.
At 2am we had a shuttle pick-up from the hotel and were driven across the Honduras – Guatemala border to Puerto Barrias. Cost for two of us was US$95 and arrival time at the port was 7.30am.
From Puerto Barrias we got an 8am speed boat to Punta Gorda in Belize. Cost was Q$200 per person. From Punta Gorda wharf you pass through customs then walk a block up to James Line bus depot to get the next bus out of town to Belize City. We got the 9.50am chicken bus, US$24 per person and arrive in Belize City at 4.30pm.
From the bus station we grabbed a taxi to the ferry wharf. US$5 per person, grabbed a ticket at the office and only just made it on the last boat to Caye Caulker. Cost for the boat is US$30 per person and travel time is about one hour.