Laid Back Caye Caulker

Posted on August 9, 2013

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As soon as you arrive into Caye Caulker you feel the laid back vibe of the Caribbean. There are no cars on this small island, only a few golf carts (some of which are taxis) and the slogan is ‘go slow’. It’s possibly one of the most relaxed places I have ever visited.

DSCN2884We flew in. By private plane. Incredible (I seem to find myself using that word a lot on this trip). For US$570 Javier’s Flying Tours picked us up at Belize International, flew us over the infamous Blue Hole  and then dropped us on on the Caye Caulker Airstrip. A touch extravagant, but not as ostentatious as perhaps a helicopter at US$1650 for the same ride. And the views are well worth it – of the Blue Hole itself but also flying over Belize City, seeing Turneffe and Lighthouse reefs, spotting creatures in the sea (manatees and possibly sting rays) and seeing Caye Caulker and San Pedro, gives you a totally different sense of the whole region.

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We opted to stay on the quiet Caye Caulker. It’s a small island that is separated into two by a small channel known as the Split. Originally scooped out by fisherman for their boats and then naturally widened by a hurricane in the 60s it’s more like a small river now. If you do swim in the Split be careful and stay near the shore (there have been a few accidents with boats).

Most of the hotels and restaurants are at the top of the south island and the whole place is easy to get around, there are three roads: front, middle and back (yes, those are the actual names used). You can get everywhere by foot petty much and some hire bikes. Golf cart taxis seem to cost 10bz no matter where you go and are useful when it comes to lugging suitcases along the sand filled streets.been a few fatalities from boats not seeing swimmers in time).

Virtually all activities revolve around water: snorkelling, diving, kayaking, paddle boarding, sailing, fishing etc. We only had a couple of days so got around to testing out the first three on that list…

Snorkelling

The Great Barrier reef (yes, apparently Australia is not the only one) stretches 180ish miles along the coast from Mexico to Honduras, and Belize has the best of it.

DSCN2982When asked for suggestions, he told us to see Carlos, whose place is just a few doors down from the open air cinema on the same street. He was full too.For the most informative/local snorkelling trip there is, we heard that you need see Mr Junie. Usually found at his house, on middle street opposite the basketball court. Dubious about these directions we popped into have a chat with him and found him delightful. He is choosy who he takes on trips (those who are interested in learning about Belize and the reef) and only takes a maximum of six people. Unfortunately for us he wasn’t doing a trip for two weeks as he was working on his house. Not even bribery of beer and/or painting the deck could sway him.

Ragamuffins was recommended by a few younger travellers. They have the only sailboat and the food and rum punch is abundant. They  can pack their boats

We ended our search at French Angel (on a side street between front and middle, near Rosas and Habeneros), opting for a half day snorkel plus a night snorkel and negotiated both for 150bz.

The day snorkel was awesome. on the way put to the reef we stopped to see two seahorses, Mellow and Yellow, who live under one of the docks; a shoal of  Tarpons (as long as Barracuda but three times the weight) that hang around waiting or the fishermen to clean their catch; and yellow and red starfish lazing in the sea grass.

The reefs are still in good condition with plenty of life including barracuda, turtle, parrot fish and much more. Aside from all this, the real highlight for simple tourists such as myself was at the last snorkel stop of the morning… swimming with nurse sharks and sting rays in the aptly named ‘Shark and Ray Ally’.
At night the phosphoresants alone are worth seeing. We were excited to spot puffer fish, squid, and many lobsters (no wonder they are so cheap in the restaurants! These were a little smarter hanging around in the protected reef area therefore not ending up on our plates).
Diving
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Blue Hole trips seem to go every couple of days and are US$250. We hadn’t heard great things about the actual dive: crowded, some interesting formation but not a huge amount to see. Others that have done it enjoyed the experience, particularly of diving deep (for Advanced PADI holders only). Given our limited time and mixed feedback we decided that the cost and 2.5hr boat trip each way wasn’t worth it.
Instead we opted for two dives closer to home at Tacklebox and Esmeralda. We chose Black Durgon dives as they promise small groups (max 5) and the guys there were friendly and less pushy. Our divemasters and boat captain, Mike and Minor were hilarious, we had a great day out.
At Tacobox we not only swum with the nurse sharks but were able to touch them and I was handed one for a shark hug! A moray eel popped put to say hello, seeming unimpressed at either us or the sharks hanging around. At Esmerelda we swum through caves. On both dives we saw plenty of fish life, ginormous leopard rays and a few turtles. On the surface dolphins followed the boat but swum away before we got kitted up and in the water.

Between dives we stopped at San Pedro (where Madonna drew influence for her song Isla Bonita). It’s an alternative to Caye Caulker but more built up with resorts and doesn’t have anywhere near the same relaxed vibe as Caye Caulker. Stopping there reinforced that we’d made the right decision by choosing the smaller of the two.

On the way back we stopped at Swallow caye where manatees hang out. As a protected species, we were under strict instructions to keep our distance but as we approached one came right by, swimming underneath us and topping in front of us, almost showing off. Not the most beautiful of creatures but impressive and peaceful they look similar to sea lions and are around the same size. Another incredible opportunity to hang out with a creature almost from another world.
Kayaking
When my Mum came to Caye Caulker a couple of years ago he found a Canadian marine biologist that took here and her partner on a kayaking tour of the mangroves. Despite it being a small island with the impression that everyone know everyone, and that being there is so little here everyone should know about the agencies and activates… but no one I spoke to knew of this. At Tsunami adventures,towards the north of the island, you can hire 2 person kayaks for 15bz/hour. They can call in a guide, the cost of which is 75bz per person for a 2 hour trip is  (I suspect the prices can be negotiated down with 3+ people).
Restaurants
There are numerous restaurants to try and virtually all of them serve fresh grilled lobster for bargain prices (15bz upwards). But make sure you go early as by 10pm everything is pretty much closed down.
Pat and Stells on the shore served a tasty jerk chicken with coconut rice and a beer for 22.50 bz. We loved the swing seats at the bar.

Rose'sRose‘s for BBQ’d fresh lobster and fish (main dishes US$15-$55). We ate there on our first night, following recommendations and weren’t disappointed. I took the seafood plate which included crab claw, lobster tail, as well as prawn and fish kebabs with a choice of two of their three sides – rice, garlic bread fruit, and salad. Everything was cooked perfectly. Simple yet delicious, I couldn’t have asked for more. Neither could anyone else: it was packed every single night.

Wish Willy’s has bargain food serving up all dishes at 15bz. Pick out your main dish of lobster, snapper, pork and a few more options and it comes served with a mix of rice and brand and grilled vegetables. It’s simplicity itself but food was good. At the cheaper end of the scale, this is where a lot of backpackers end up.

Habanero‘s is the poshest place in towns and serves inventive food. The prices are reflected but are still not high by European standards. On the night we considered going it was closed.

One night we had dinner at the rustic Meldy’s, where local cocktails are 2 for 1. By the time we got there a few things from the menu had gone but The fish was excellent and the hearty portions were just what we needed after a long day in the water.

Fran’s serves good grilled food straight out a shack and people eat on picnic tables outside. It’s a popular haunt and tables are full much of the day and night.

If tables are busy, the Happy Lobster is a good place to try. Food is good, it’s priced reasonably and tables always seemed to be available. Lobster was charged at 38-44bz plus 12.5% tax.

Glenda’s is famous on the island for her cinnamon roles and freshly squeezed orange juice. She opens daily for breakfast and the cafe is half her home. Definitely worth a visit.

Cafe Y Amor was our favourite breakfast spot, serving a range of food inkcudinh feuit, yoghurt and cinnamon granola for the healthy, and grilled cheese sandwiches for those needing more substance for their day ahead. The juices are delicious too.. Tables look out onto the main ‘street’ and watching the world go by there is not a bad way to start the day.

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By the Split is a bar where people hang out all day, tourists and local alike (I didn’t get the name but location is obvious). Come dusk the mosquitos kick in so only those immune, or too drink to care seem to stay out.

The whole place is – as they say on the island – unbelizeable!

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Notes:

US$1 = 2bz and almost everyone accepts US as well as Belize dollars.

Note that there is a tax of 37.50bz for leaving the country so keep some cash handy. If you leave by boat there is also a 10bz port charge.

Boats out of Caye Caulker can get booked up by groups, so if you know when you want to leave book at least two days before.

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