Caye Caulker is a small island off the coast of Belize, 1.6 km (1 mi) west of the Barrier Reef. Caye Caulker is popular with backpackers and budget travellers for its (relatively) cheap prices, laid-back vibe, and abundance of restaurants and bars.
It's about 8.2 km (5 mi) in length with a population of 1,300.
There aren't really any proper beaches to speak of, but plenty of docks are spread around the island where you can pull up a plastic chair and get your sun on, or hang out at one of the ocean front restaurants or walk down to "The Split" which is a popular swimming area and if you're feeling a bit thirsty, The Lazy Lizard Bar is just a couple of steps away from the water.
There are only three main roads in town, all sandy. Front Street runs along the east coast, Back Street along the west coast, and Middle Street exactly where you'd expect it. The vast majority of places of interest to a visitor will be found along Front Street and the west coast.
The local cultural influences are Mestizo, Garifuna and Creole.
On early British maps the island's name is spelled "Cay Corker." Known historically for its plentiful supply of exposed fresh water at La Aguada, one theory holds that this island was a favourite stop for sailors to replenish and cork water bottles. The Spanish name of the island is Cayo Hicaco, which means "the island of the cocoplum." "Caye Caulker" could be an anglicised pronunciation of Cayo Hicaco. Another theory is that boats were caulked in the protected bay, La Ensenada, on the western side of the island leading to the "Caulker" name.
Its population started to rise when Mestizo refugees fleeing the Mexican Caste Wars (1847-1901) arrived. With few inhabitants, food could be grown with sustainable methods of agriculture. The coconut and the fishing industry became important economic staples of the island. Even today, a few of the older women continue to process coconut oil for their own use and to sell, although generally the coconuts are harvested and shipped to the mainland.
- 1 Caye Caulker Airport (CUK IATA) (at the southern end of the island). Belize is served by Maya Island Ai and Tropic Air. Flights leave hourly from Belize City to San Pedro, and will stop here if there is demand. These local planes leave from the international airport and the cost is approximately US$75 one-way and about $45 from the municipal airstrip, and takes about 10-15 min. These planes also leave from the Belize City Municipal Airport (TZA IATA) and the cost is less.
If you're coming in from Mexico you can fly from Corozal, 20 minutes from the Mexican border at Chetumal. The flights stop in Ambergris and Caye Caulker if there's demand, and will save you the more than 4-hour bus ride to Belize City.
Catch a water taxi in Belize City or Ambergris Caye to Caye Caulker and they have frequent runs to the island everyday rain or shine. The ride takes about 45 minutes, and then continues on to San Pedro. On windy days the trip can be a little rough, but most times it's smooth. Sit towards the back of the boat for a smoother ride.
- Ocean Ferry - BZ$20 one-way, or BZ$35 round-trip. (Check their website for departures). Ocean Ferry is located at the foot of the Swing Bridge in Belize City.
- San Pedro Belize Express - BZ$20 one-way and BZ$35 round-trip. (Check their website for departures). Boats leave Belize City from the Brown Sugar Marketplace at 9AM, 11AM, noon, 1PM, 3PM, 4PM and 5:30PM to Caye Caulker and from San Pedro on the beach by the park every hour and a half starting at 7AM.
If you are coming from Mexico you can get a boat directly from Chetumal to San Pedro and then to Caye Caulker, it runs every day, leaving at 3PM and 3:30PM, US$35, 2½ hr. While twice the cost, this route is a much better option than trekking down to Belize City and getting the boat there. Tickets can be bought at the Maritime Terminal or Muelle Fiscal itself or from a slow speaking large friendly dude at Chetumal ADO terminal.
There are only three main streets on Caye Caulker - Front Street, Middle Street and Back Street - none of which are paved. Front Street, the easternmost street, is the busiest and has almost everything for tourists on it. Everything is within walking distance, it takes approximately 20 minutes to slow-walk from the Front Pier to almost anywhere.
There are few cars on the island, so everyone gets around on golf carts, bicycles or on foot. With a golf cart, you can go around the entire island in 30 minutes.
There are many places on the island that rent bicycles.
For golf carts check with C&N Golf Cart Rentals and Caye Caulker Golf Cart Rentals.
- The Forest Reserve covers the northern 40 ha (100 acres) of the island. It's mostly dense mangrove forest. The local Audubon group sometimes organizes morning birdwatching tours.
- Caye Caulker Marine Reserve, also known as the local reef. The local reef is close enough that you can see the waves breaking on it from the island itself.
- Hol Chan Marine Reserve (6.4 km (4 mi) south of San Pedro, Ambergris Caye), ☏ +501 226-2247. Has been protected for longer than the local reef, and so it usually has more mature marine life (i.e. bigger fish) as well as more people, though it's never terribly crowded. It's further away than the local reef.
- Shark and Ray Alley. Tour operators will toss food into the water in order to attract nurse sharks and southern sting rays. You can swim with them, and even touch them if you're quick. Nurse sharks can bite, contrary to myth, but they are also territorial so these sharks are very used to humans.
- The Blue Hole. This is circular in shape, over 300 m (984 ft) across and 124 m (407 ft) deep, with many fish, sharks, and corals. The Blue Hole is possibly the most famous dive site in Belize, even though it's nearly straight down. It's at least an hour boat ride away from Caye Caulker. The dive depth is normally described as 40 m (130 ft), but you may go a bit deeper than that. The dive shops typically combine the blue hole dive with two shallower dives afterward, so you'll only be able to stay down at that depth for 5-10 minutes. Once you're down there, you'll take a look at the formations and probably see a few reef sharks. There's not much to it other than that, so many divers regard the trip as being overrated. It's just one of those things you'll want to check off your list as a diver. That said, most divers enjoy the two subsequent dives on the trip. Some of the less scrupulous dive shops will allow you to go on this dive if you don't have your advanced open water certification from PADI. This can be dangerous and you should consider the risks involved.
Caye Caulker is a small, very laid-back Caribbean island. In fact, its motto is "Go Slow" and that is exactly what you should do. It is an ideal place to spend a few days while taking a break from travelling around the rest of Central America. The Belizean dollar (BZ$) is officially pegged to the US dollar (US$) at a rate of BZ$2 to US$1.
Chill out at The Lazy Lizard at "The Split," a little bar on its own near what can only be described as the island's only beach, however, do not expect Rio or Hawaii - there is no sand here. The "beach" is a sunken area of a picnic area surrounded by concrete seawalls. On the walls you'll see the young and hip lazing about, catching a tan. When it gets too hot, you can jump into the water and climb back again, or make the short walk to the Lazy Lizard to refresh your drink or enjoy an iced coffee drink at Aria Kat Art - Gallery, Boutique & Coffee Bar.
Snorkelling and diving
Much of the activity on the island centers around snorkelling and diving (about a dozen operators offering trips) and scuba diving. The prices at all the shops are basically the same. The local diving is at Hol Chan Marine Reserve, a 30-minute boat ride away. A little further out is Spanish Bay, Caye Chapel, and some other sites. Long distance trips to Turneffe Atoll and the famous Blue Hole are regularly available.
Short "half-day" snorkeling tours are offered by numerous local businesses for approximately BZ$70 per person (April 2015). They usually leave at 10:30AM (back at 1PM) and 2:30PM. Stops include the local reef, the Coral Garden, and Shark and Ray Alley.
Longer "full-day" snorkelling tours are offered by numerous local businesses, for approximately BZ$140 (April 2015). They usually leave around 10AM and return around 4:30PM. Stops include the Coral Garden, Shark and Ray Alley, and Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Be sure to check whether your tour guide will include lunch, since some only include snacks. Some of them include lunch, snacks, and a rum punch "happy hour" on the way back. With all operators, check to make sure they have equipment that is in good shape.
The creation of Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary - a manatee reserve near Belize City is due to the efforts of a Caye Caulker local named Chocolate. He offers guided tours to the Manatee reserve approximately every other day, as do a few other tour operators. Be warned that you don't get to swim with the manatees in the sanctuary and some days may be more difficult to see them. Most manatee tours include one or two snorkeling stops. Manatees can be seen all year long, and in the summer months can be seen near Hol Chan Marine Reserve as well as other local areas. The younger ones are curious and will swim close to you, unlike the more mature manatees, which generally avoid people (for good reason).
- Carlos Tours is next to Cafe Amore, 1 block south of the Sandbox restaurant. An eco-friendly tour and quite respectful of the reef. The locals living on the island will say that his tours are one of the best. The tour includes 4 stops: Hol Chan Marine Reserve, San Pedro on Ambergris Caye for lunch (not provided), Shark-Ray Alley, & Coral Gardens. The price is BZ$90. Carlos will take underwater pictures during the trip and can supply them on a CD after the trip for BZ$30. This is much better than getting BZ$40 underwater disposable camera.
- Seagull Adventures, about a block from the Front Pier, offers snorkeling tours to more distant locations that most other tour guides will only go to for diving. Examples include Blue Hole (about BZ$230 per person), and Tourneffe Atoll (about BZ$120 per person). Ask the owner a few days in advance to find out what the schedule is. The best time to catch her is in the evening, around 6PM, during the day she's usually gone on the snorkelling trips.
- Juni's, sailing/snorkelling trips to Hol Chan marine reserve. Authentic experience on a beautiful self built sailing boat. Small groups to maximum of 6 people. Only for those who respect the ocean, the fish and the locals. If you like drinking and smoking with more than 20 people on a sailing boat, then don't go to Juni. Go to Raggamuffin instead. Find Juni in his office behind the police station, best before 9:30AM and after 5:30PM, or at his boat Trinity at the dock.
Caye Caulker is popular with divers and there are several dive shops on the island. Contact them a few days in advance to find out what their schedule is. PADI certified dive shops are available offering recreational diving and open water courses. These courses normally take 3–4 days, providing the weather is fair. The certification includes 2 shallow-water dives, and 4 open-water dives. All dives are done in the ocean.
The local dive shops all offer dive trips to the Blue Hole, Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Caye Caulker Marine Reserve, Spanish Bay, Turneffe North, and Turneffe Elbow, prices vary depending on the dive site.
- Belize Diving Services (near the soccer field in the northern half of the town). PADI Resort facility. Small groups, safety conscious and is the only dive shop to offer technical diving services.
- Frenchies (in the northern part of the island towards the Split). Run by a Belizean. Very friendly and laid back. PADI Certified.
- Scuba Sensation (in the middle of the island before the police station). PADI Certified.
There are also operators on nearby Ambergris Caye that can pick you up if the local shops aren't going where you want.
The cost of various trips varies according to the distance from Caye Caulker. Typical costs are:
- Local dives (Hol Chan, Spanish Bay): US$90 (2 tank dives)
- Turneffe Atoll: US$150 (3 tank dives)
- Blue Hole: US$150 (3 tank dives) plus US$40 park permit
- Tsunami Adventures. Extreme north end of Front St. This is a great way to explore the northern mangrove forest. Head for the leeward side of the island (the west side) for smoother water and to avoid paddling into the wind. Cost for a two-person kayak is BZ$15 per hour for the first hour, then BZ$10 for each additional hour.
You can also book various activities at many places on the island, such as
- Sailing tours. With Raggamuffin [sic] Tours you can do a sailing trip of 3 days (2 nights). Sleeping on little islands, snorkeling, fishing your own meal, a wonderful experience.
- Tours to Maya ruins (on the mainland).
- Cave tubing (on the mainland).
- Manatee watching Tours normally include a snorkeling stop at Sergeant's Caye (on the barrier reef) and a short visit to St. George's Caye. There are many tour operators out of Caye Caulker, San Pedro and Belize City who do manatee watching trips. Visit Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary that was set up by Chocolate Heredia, Belizean native and award winning conservationist. 3,600 ha (9,000 acres) of sea and mangrove became a protected area in July 2002. For more information see the Friends of Swallow Caye.
Like most of Belize, most shops accept US dollars: US $1 equals $2 Belizean. Prices will be posted in Belizean dollars, but always confirm before making a purchase.
There are two ATMs on the island. One ATM is at Atlantic Bank and the other at Credit Union. Often on holiday weekends, ATMs run out of money, so stock up on your money in Belize City.
Gift shops along the Front Street sell mainly t-shirts, hammocks and souvenirs. Vendors can be found along the main street selling a variety of crafts and jewellery.
- Aria Kat Art - Gallery, Boutique & Coffee Bar, at The Split.
- Caribbean Colors Art Gallery, Front Street. Art gallery on Caye Caulker.
- Chan's Mini Mart, Middle Street. For your grocery needs during your stay in Caye Caulker.
- Auntie's Fast Food, Middle Street. Delicious Belizean and Chinese take-out with a relatively low price. Stewed chicken, baked chicken, rice and bean and cow foot soup.
- The Bambooze Grill, (next to the Barrier Reef Sports Bar). Good fish and shrimp dishes, chicken is also available. Features swings instead of chairs at some tables and the bar. Friendly hostess.
- Glenda's, Back Street, (near the microwave tower). Serves eggs, bacon, a cinnamon roll, and coffee for just US$3.50.
- Fran's, (across the street from the Miramar Hotel). Roger's sister, her fare is similar to that of Jolly Roger's, for the same price.
- Caye Caulker Bakery, Back Street, (just north of Chan's Grocery). Opens at 7:30AM. Serving a mixture of sweet and savory foods. The ham and cheese turnover (if available) is exceedingly delicious and is a filling breakfast on its own.
- Amor y Café. This is a great (though small) breakfast place on Front Street just south of Dock Street. They offer home-made bread, yoghurt and fruit juices.
- Pizza Al Taglio [dead link] is located at The Split and offers delicious pizza by the slice for lunch.
- Southside Pizza [dead link] Restaurant and Bar, located in the middle of the village.
- Hibisca by Habanero, Front Street, ☏ +501 626-4911. Lunch and dinner.
- Lotus by Habaner, +501 626-4911 (Blu Zen Resort on north island). A short boat ride north of The Split. The boat shuttle leaves at the Bambooze dock next to the Sports Bar. Thai and Southeast Asian inspired cuisine.
There is not much to do in the night in regards to partying. While nearby Ambergris Caye is known for its nightlife, Caye Caulker is more relaxed and most bars shut down before midnight. The I&I Reggae Bar and Oceanside Night Club are the only bars with dancefloors. Holidays and long weekends are when events and dances are held on the island by individual committees of the island.
- I&I Reggae Bar (located on the southern part of the island). Nice vibes and hang out spot to meet with friends or meet new friends. Great place to relax on a hammock or swing with a cocktail. From the top deck you can see the whole island, eerily peaceful at night.
- The Split is the place where hurricane Hattie split the island in two in 1961, a bit of dredging and currents subsequently formed the split. There is a bar just next to the split called the Lazy Lizard. Good place for a bench while watching large tarpons and rays just swimming by. Happy hour starts at 5PM and offers two rum drinks for BZ$5; try the "Panty Ripper" included in this deal.
- The Barrier Reef Sports Bar [dead link], (across from Enjoy Supermarket). Occasionally has live music, and they have a couple of TVs tuned to ESPN. The food is good and it's a nice place to grab a beer in the shade on a hot day.
Caye Caulker offers a good spread of high quality lodging facilities ranging from budget accommodation to higher end hotels and serviced apartments.
- Anchorage Hotel (on the southern point of town). Possibly has the nicest beach on the island. The rooms have A/C, TV, hot water and fridge, and are all in one concrete building with a great ocean view. US$50-60.
- Popeyes Beach Resort (to the left of the water taxi arriving on the island), ☏ +501 226-0032, email@example.com. Rooms with balcony, TV, hot and cold shower, private bathroom, Free WiFi. BZ$60 per night.
- [dead link] Blue Wave Guesthouse (near the split, across from Ragamuffin Tours). Rooms with balcony, cableTV, private bathroom. Nice and new. BZ$60 per night.
- Caye Reef (on the beachfront facing the reef, on the breezy eastern side of the island near the split), ☏ +501 226 0382, firstname.lastname@example.org. Boutique apartment hotel with 6 spacious units accommodating 2-6 guests. Swimming pool, roof top hot tub, spectacular views, balcony, A/C, cable, WiFi, safe, fully equipped kitchen, telephone. US$160 per unit per night and up.
- Chila's Cabin (on the northern part of the island towards the split next to Don Corleone), ☏ +501 630 3668. Ideal for the budget traveller. On the beach front. Nice sea view, private hot/cold shower, cableTV, fridge, coffee pot, microwave, toaster, balcony with hammock. Split unit A/C, 1 double bed, WiFi and complementary bicycles. Good for a couple or a single person and safe for females traveling alone. US$55.
- Colinda Cabanas, Playa Asunsion (beside the Anchorage Resort, a 10-minute walk south along the beach from the water taxi), ☏ +501-226-0383, email@example.com. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 10AM. Beachfront location facing the reef with frequent easterly breeze. All units have hot and cold reverse osmosis purified water, fridge,coffee pot with beans and grinder,several fans, large porches and hammocks. Daily maid service, complimentary kayaks, snorkel gear and bicycles. A 175-ft (53-m) dock with palapa and hammocks, safe swimming area. Private oceanview cabana with fan only - US$69, A/C beachfront suite-US$150.
- Da Real Macaw. Great place, quiet, hammocks on porches right across from beach. US$150-210 two beds.
- Ignacio's Cabins (southern part of the island along the water, ask at Mario's tour agency). Cheap cabins, especially if required for 2-3 people. They also rent kayaks and snorkel gear for the day. The owner, Ruben, is really friendly and helpful, as are all his family. Half the cabins have a spectacular view looking directly out onto the ocean. Rooms are basic but breezy and comfortable. Haggle a little, at least in low season. Two-night stay minimum.
- Iguana Reef Inn. Hotel with private pool, beach, dock, free continental breakfasts, safes and small refrigerators in each room, A/C, free WiFi and shower. They have their own bar. No children under 10 years old allowed.
- Oasi. 3-room guest house south of downtown, near the airstrip. Each suite has a kitchen, porch with hammock and free use of bicycles.
- The Gumbo Limbo The Gumbo Limbo property is the home of four rentals. The Aria Kat Art Cabana, the Gumbo Limbo Ocean View and Breeze Cabana, the Gumbo Limbo Studio, and the latest addition the Gumbo Limbo’s Dreaded Grape. It's in a quiet neighbourhood close to the village center, but far enough to enjoy the peace and relax.
- Tree Tops Guesthouse (just before Tom's Hotel), ☏ +501 226 0240. Check-in: 1PM, check-out: 11AM. Immaculately clean and very comfortable rooms, with charming garden 50 yards from the water's edge. US$55-110.
- The Tropics Hotel offers an alternative for those on a budget who don't mind getting cosy. A "Sunset" room costs BZ$55 and comes with a shower and two double beds to share.
- Yuma's House Belize (also known as Tina's Backpacker's Hostel) (east side of the island), ☏ +501 206 0019, firstname.lastname@example.org. The island's hostel, between two of the water taxis on the beach. A social place.
- 1 Palm Life Limited, 1065 North Caye Caulker, ☏ +001 501 605 4032, Palmlifellc@aol.com. Check-in: 4PM, check-out: 10AM. Two 559-sq-ft condos that sleep 3 guests each with full kitchen, bathroom, 400-sq-ft verandas. $125.
Caye Caulker has internet access. With the introduction of fiber optics and wifi available at accommodations, bars, and restaurants you will be able to connect on most all of the island.
Water taxis leave the island for Belize City from early in the morning till the end of the day.