Fresh off a three-month hiatus of traveling, I found myself in Italy and then on this little slice of Belizean paradise. Both wildly different countries, but both reminded me why I love traveling so much. Caye Caulker is one of those places you can escape from the outside world. It’s just 5 miles long with enough things to do to keep you as busy as you wish to be. I think what I loved most was just that- how small the island is. There is such intimate feel which is so rare to come by while traveling nowadays.
Prior to visiting I’d never heard of Caye Caulker and Belize was never even on my list of places to visit. I also must admit, geographically speaking, I didn’t know where in the world I was until day two of the trip. Let me explain. You know the ABC islands? Aruba, the B country and Curacao? Well, I thought the B country was Belize and not Bonaire. I kind of just forgot about Bonaire. So, for the beginning of the trip I was thinking I was on off the coast of a tiny island down by Venezuela instead of bordering Mexico and Guatemala. Happy to say it only took two days for me to realize where I really was. ANYWAYS.
The best way I can describe Caye Caulkers vibe, even though it’s a vibe of its own, would have to be Bali meets San Juan meets Curacao. A lil mix of everything I love about those islands. What makes this island so different than places like Bali or Curacao though, is that it is still relatively undiscovered. Sure, the biggest industry contributing to the businesses on this island is tourism but it doesn’t feel that way. It doesn’t feel overbearing walking down the streets. Without any big hotel names, it doesn’t feel commercialized. No cars. And when the bar runs out of Tito’s it’s because the bars supply is gone and they have to wait for their shipment from the mainland. There is one main road with all of the shops, restaurants and bars along with stands selling bracelets, necklaces and other one of kind Belizean sundries. Honestly, it’s how I picture Bali before heaps of tourists discovered it. You know, Eat, Pray, Love era.
For me, Belize- Caye Caulker specifically- was one of those hidden gems. One of those places I never saw coming. I was so unprepared for how hard I was about to fall. And, I swear it’s those places that you least expect that leave the longest impression on you. It makes so much sense to me why people return to this tiny island in the sun.
My friend Megan, co-founder of Legit Trips, has been coming to this island for something crazy like 9 years. Legit Trips runs group trips here which is why I was able to visit in the first place! She hosted us for four days and within those four days we got to experience just about everything Caye Caulker has to offer. Legit Trips often hosts trips to this island, not to mention so many other destinations across the world. If you want to have once in a lifetime experiences and meet incredible people along the way, I can’t recommend booking with Legit Trips enough. I think my favorite part was how loose and laidback the itinerary was. It was such a treat to actually experience the island on my own time, discover perspectives only seen by my eyes and have the opportunity to meet people I otherwise wouldn’t have.
How to get to Caye Caulker
You’ll fly into Belize City (BZE) and take about a 30 minute taxi to the ferry. We used Ocean Ferry Belize and they run ferry’s to Caye Caulker five times a day. They leave as scheduled (surprisingly) so make sure you’re there in time to catch it- you’re not quite on island time just yet. Be prepared to sit for about 45 minutes to an hour, so airpods are a must. Check any and all bags you possibly can because chances are the ferry will be filled (it also makes a stop on the better known island of San Pedro). Even though I was hesitant to check my bags because I feared they would get wet – they didn’t – and it made all the difference to be able to sit hand free and take in the views.
Where to Stay
You can’t really go wrong booking accom on the island because it’s so damn small! However, I recommend staying on or just off Front St. (the main road) and closer toward The Split (more on that later). I stayed at Caye Reef and it was the perfect location; I don’t think I’d want to be anywhere else. During the day, if you’re not on an excursion, you’ll most likely be at The Split so Caye Reef is the perfect place to base yourself. With it just being a two minute walk from The Split, you can run back rather quickly if you need anything and then again when the sun goes down to freshen up for the night and then continue onwards to dinner and the bar.
What to Do
For a tiny island, there is so much to do!
This is where you’ll find the majority of people on Caye Caulker during the day. After Hurricane Earl, The Split nearly ceased to exist. So, when they rebuilt it to what it is today, they built a concrete seawall and topped it with sand to keep that beach feel that no longer existed in this area of the island. There are lounge chairs, covered tables, and of course full access to those turquoise waters.
Also at The Split is The Lazy Lizard. You’ll find most people congregating around this island bar sharing stories of the night before or connecting over their love of lizard juice. Don’t ask questions, just try it. They serve up some bar bites if you get hungry. There’s a DJ and a dive tower which also doubles as a pelican feeding station. No joke, a local comes here with fish and feeds them from the top. He encourages people to come up and feed them too (expecting tips of course) – I even saw a person feed a pelican from THEIR MOUTH. Free entertainment I guess?
Catamaran Tour with Carlos Tours
If there is one excursion you book while on the island, make it a catamaran cruise with Carlos Tours. Carlos, owner and captain of the Gypsy Queen, took us out for a full day on the ocean. We snorkeled with nurse sharks, saw the reef, laid in the sun, ate some delicious food and washed it down with rum punch. The most idyllic way to spend the day off the island.
When I was chatting with Megan about this trip, one of my first questions was ‘any chance there’s a yoga studio on the island?’ Not realizing how small the island was. But to my surprise there was a rooftop studio – cries tears of joy. Namaste Café and Random Yoga is everything I would ever need if I moved to an island. The best way to find the updated schedule is on the sign out front or on their Facebook page. All classes are donation based and have been for the 10 years she’s been running the studio.
Walk or Bike Around the Island
Biking would be the most convenient and efficient way to see the entire island. Check with your accom as they might offer bikes like Caye Reef or you can rent one for the day/week. You can’t go wrong and you’ll likely find a rental shop within 5 minutes of walking down the main road. Prices are around $7.50/day or $30 a week.
You can’t visit without grabbing a few things to commemorate your time on the island. Some of my favorite shops –aside from the stands on the side of the road- are Little Blue Gift Shop (next to Namaste Café and Random Yoga) and Belize Chocolate Company. The chocolate bars are rather expensive but worth it. Might I recommend the coconut truffle and dark chocolate cashew cluster.
Visit the Animal Shelter
An absolute must. Right on the main road (Front St.) you can’t miss stopping in to see the pups and kittens. There are SO many dogs on Caye Caulker, I don’t think you’ll go but 10 minutes without seeing one. The shelter provides food, water, love and a place to sleep for the animals there. Aside from stopping in there are so many ways you can help the animals in this special place. First, you can donate by dropping off any kind of help (money, food, water, toys, etc.) to the shelter. You could adopt a puppy or kitten and bring him/her home with you when you leave. The shelter provides the necessary vet papers allowing you to bring your furry friend home. And lastly you could volunteer. You can stop by the shelter and ask Kenny, the man who runs the shelter, how you could help him that day or ask to take a pup on a nice long walk around the island. If you don’t have a ton of time, at least just stop in to give some love- these guys need it.
Where to Eat (and Drink)
I mentioned this spot before. It’s attached to the rooftop yoga studio and was my GO TO place for breakfast and lunch. They have delicious cold brew, chia pudding, fresh fruit smoothies and a selection of sandwiches and salads! Plenty of GF/DF options available.
Ice n’ Beans
This was a handy little coffee shop right on Front St. It opens at 6am so for you early risers out there, this is perfect for your morning brew. They have a selection of pastries, bagel sandwiches, healthy parfaits (no really- no junk in these things) and of course an extensive coffee menu!
Il Pelicano Cucina
This is the Italian restaurant on the island. I have to be honest- I felt rather limited in terms of being able to order a meal that would sustain me through the night so go here for the pasta (which y’all know I can’t eat) and wine. I loved the atmosphere though, they had live music and he was playing acoustic covers of popular song. Not to mention, it’s an indoor/outdoor concept meaning while you feel like your indoors you are most definitely outside. Bring the bug spray!
Roy’s Blue Water Grill
The fish spot and this place was delicious. Again, and indoor/outdoor setting closer to Front St. than Il Pelicano.
The Lazy Lizard
I mentioned the Lazy Lizard before- located at The Split and the spot where everyone hangs until sundown. Do order the lizard juice.
Located right above The Lazy Lizard this is the perfect spot to kick off your weekend because Friday night karaoke baby! Take a shot at singing some of your favorite songs for a chance to win a $100 bar tab at El Portal or The Lazy Lizard for the weekend.
Might be my favorite little spot. The first night I was on Caye Caulker I came here for dinner – wasn’t really feeling drinking at this point as I’d been traveling for 8 hours that day. I opted for the chicken lettuce wraps and sweet potato fries for dinner, standard bar food and it was yummy. As the next few days unfolded I found myself returning to Sports Bar every night mixing in a few (too many) Tito’s/soda water along the way. While it is the only true bar open at night if other bars were to be open- I wouldn’t go because I loved the atmosphere so much. This is an indoor/outdoor spot (are you surprised?) that plays plenty of hits and throwbacks while serving up some strong drinks. I danced my toosh off. Drank a bit too much. And met some incredible people along the way.
I&I Reggae Bar
This is the late-night spot- when Sports Bar closes most usually head here to end the night. Pro tip: head to the rooftop!
Right next to Ice n’ Beans funny enough. I found myself here for just one drink before heading back to Caye Reef to get ready for the night. A drink I probably didn’t need but – ISLAND TIME BABY! There’s swing seating and its beachfront. What more do you need for a quick drink to ring in the evening ahead?
- For a day at the split be sure to bring cash/card for drinks, a towel, SPF and a beach towel.
- For those traveling with USD the exchange rate is 2:1. So $2USD is $1BZD.
- The stands along Front St. only take cash so carry some with you at all times.
- The bank/ATM is one block behind Front St. and is super convenient if you need extra cash.
- Carry a water bottle with you, most restaurants allow you to bring your water in house as its all bottled water on the island. Just don’t bring it to Il Pelicano- they were not impressed with us.
- If going to Random Yoga be sure to get there early to reserve your spot as the class tends to fill up. And, no mat needed (even though I brought my own) there are mats and props available.
Even after a month of being off Caye Caulker, I still can’t put into words what this island means to me and how much goodness filled my soul just being here. But, I hope you can feel just how much I love it here. I can’t wait to return.