Caye Caulker, Belize
Caye Caulker is a sleepy, 5-mile (8-mile) long island with 1,300 residents. It’s just 21 miles (34 km) northeast of Belize City and is directly south of Ambergris Caye. With no cars or paved roads, the quiet sandy streets on Caye Caulker are only occupied by golf carts, beach cruisers, and pedestrians. Travelers come here to relax and enjoy the slow pace of island life, whether that be swaying in an ocean-front hammock, kayaking around the island’s calm waters and mangroves, or sunbathing at the popular hangout called the Split, a channel that separates the northern and southern half of the island. Like Ambergris Caye, the island sits just one mile west of the Belize Barrier Reef, offering easy access to the area’s best snorkeling and scuba activities.
North of the Split, the mangrove-lined island is currently undeveloped, although the arrival of infrastructure and accommodations on northern Caye Caulker isn’t far off.
The Split itself is a popular and busy hangout among both locals and tourists. Sitting on the edge of the channel is a two-story bar surrounded by two large docks that attract large groups of sunbathers. The busy docks at the Split offer the best swimming on the island, as the water is deep and there are steps that make it easy to exit the water. It’s possible to swim all the way across the channel and explore the northern part of Caye Caulker on foot, but beware of strong currents and aggressive mosquitoes. Depending on the weather and time of year, the Split is one of the best places on the island to watch the sun set over the Belize mainland.
Moving south from the Split, the ocean-front main drag called “Front Street” is lined with small boutique hotels and guest houses, a few hostels, restaurants with freshly grilled seafood, water sport shops, and stands selling fresh coconuts, locally made jewelry, art, and handicrafts. Compared to Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker has a slightly more hippyish feel, and the entire developed portion of the island can be covered on foot in less than an hour or two. Those looking for a quieter stay should consider accommodations south of the main ferry dock.
South of the developed part of Caye Caulker, the coastal landscape is dotted with mangroves. A dirt bicycle path circles much of the southern tip of the island and is a great way to explore the lesser traveled side of Caye Caulker. However, this path should be avoided after heavy rains due to mud, mosquitoes, and the occasional crocodile.
Snorkeling directly from the island leaves something to be desired. For the best marine life viewing, a boat tour is necessary. Popular tours include stops at Hol Chan Marine Reserve, a protected marine zone where snorkelers can swim with turtles, jacks, and colorful reef fish. This is often combined with a stop at Shark Ray Alley where snorkelers can get up close to the large resident population of nurse sharks and stingrays. Further south on the reef is the Swallow Caye Marine Reserve, a refuge for manatees, where visitors can observe these gentle creatures in their natural habitat. Several sailing companies on Caye Caulker also offer multi-day sailing itineraries that stop at remote islands spread along the Belize Barrier Reef.
Flights and express ferries to Caye Caulker leave throughout the day from Belize City, Ambergris Caye, and other Belize hubs. The express ferry from Belize City takes approximately 45 minutes, while a flight from the international or municipal airport in Belize City takes less than 15 minutes. Once on the island, golf cart taxis await at both the ferry dock and the airport to transport you and your luggage to your accommodations.