Off the coast of Belize City lies a paradise for divers and backpackers alike in the form of the island of Caye Caulker. Caye Caulker is a much smaller version of its more developed and touristy neighbor Ambergris Key but that is the allure of the place. The island itself is no more than 2km long and a few hundred meters wide but is the perfect place for those that want a good party, great food, and to dive the beautiful Belizian (is this right?) Barrier Reef, home to the world famous Great Blue Hole.
You’ll meet loads of backpackers that come here as part of their central American circuit. Coupled with the fact that there are only perhaps 5 bars serving cheap rum and beers, it is inevitable that the party always finds you! I came here for 5 days primarily to scuba dive but ended up staying up into the wee hours every single night. No regrets either!
Having traveled to many islands in the Caribbean like Guadeloupe, Little Cayman, Turks and Caicos, Bonaire etc, I have some incredibly fond memories of Caye Caulker. The atmosphere, crowd, and food on this island were just amazing. I did meet some cool people along the way but this has to be one of my favorite places in the Caribbean!
How to get to Caye Caulker
Caye Caulker is located 30km off the coast of Belize City. Most travelers will come here via two ways: Belize City Airport, or from Mexico.
From Belize City Airport by ferry
The airport is small and when you come out of immigration, make sure to look for the official taxi line (not hard to find). From the airport, you’ll want to go to the ferry station. It’s well known and the official rate for this transfer as of 2018 is 50 BZD (The Belizean Dollar is pegged 2 to 1 to the USD at all times so 50 BZD = $25 USD). There is no negotiating this rate.
The trick here is to find some people that are also going to the ferry station. This isn’t difficult as loads of travelers will be trying to go to the islands as Belize City is not worth much of a stay. While walking around looking for an ATM, I met two Canadians and we quickly struck up a conversation and ended up splitting the taxi to ferry. In fact, these two Canadians were super cool and we ended up hanging out the entire time I was on the island.
If your group is 3+ people, the taxi will charge you 20 BZD per person (still better than paying 50 BZD yourself). Make sure to go to the taxi stand together as if you already know each other and not like you met on the spot otherwise they may refuse to let you split the rate.
From the ferry station, ferries leave regularly for the 45 minute journey to the island. As of May 2018, it was 18 BZD for a one way trip, and 28 BZD for round trip tickets. Book your tickets with Belize Water Taxi.
From Belize City Airport by air
Another popular option was to fly. Most people that flew were going to Ambergris Caye, the much larger and more built up version bigger brother to Caye Caulker but there are still flights to Caye Caulker as well. Tropic Air makes the 15 minute flight from Belize City to Caye Caulker multiple times a day. As of May 2018, the airstrip on Caye Caulker was under construction so all flights were suspended.
From Mexico, there is a ferry that leaves Chetumal and makes stops in Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker. The cost of this ferry is 110 BZD (not cheap!) but it is a quick and easy way to get from the ferry
Where to stay in Caye Caulker
There is no shortage of accommodation options on the island of Caye Caulker. On Booking.com, there doesn’t appear to be many options but that’s because many of the hostels and guest houses on the island do not advertise on Booking.com or Hostelworld.
If you must book something before hand, I stayed at the Sea n Sun Guesthouse right in the middle of the town. The rooms were basic but totally feasible. I loved that they let me ride bicycles for free. It did get hot as hell at night without A/C so if I could do it again, I would pay a few extra bucks and get air conditioning. Total cost per night at this guesthouse for a private room with shared bathroom was $35/night.
Many of the hostels had rooms for $10-15 a night for shared rooms. Airbnb is also a great option for those that want something nicer at a slightly higher price range.
What to do in Caye Caulker
The motto of this island is “go slow”, so for starters, you can go slow as one of the things to do! Really though, there isn’t much happening on this island. There are no cars on the island and the most aggressive forms of transportation are golf carts. A bicycle is more than you’ll ever need for this island which is honestly my type of place.
I spent most of my dive scuba diving which will be in the next section but if you are not a diver, there are plenty of day tours that go snorkeling at the nearby atolls. Other than that, there really isn’t much to do on the island except drink and have a good time!
It’s located among the backpacker scene as the ultimate place to day drink and I absolutely believe it (or should I say belize it?). More details of why this may be one of the most fun little islands in the Caribbean to follow.
There is no idyllic Caribbean beach with the white sand and turquoise waters here.
Where to drink
Normally when I go diving, I will always have a few beers, and hangout with new people before calling it a early night as I want to be functional for the next day’s dives. That mentality went right out the window coming to Caye Caulker.
The happy hour specials, the awesome crowd of people I met, and the compact density of bars was the perfect catalyst to drinking way too much the night before a day of diving. Somehow I could miraculously wake up the next day without much problem and do my dives.
Every day I was here, I followed the standard bar crawl format that seemed to be the bar crawl route of every other social and young traveler on the island.
Sunset Happy hour drinks at The Lazy Lizard
The Lazy Lizard is the perfect place to watch the sunset. It’s located at the northern tip of the island at the split. The split is aptly named as it is literally a split between the two islands that was created by a hurricane years back. This is the best place to view the sunset in my opinion. It’s an outdoor bar equipped with tiki huts, tables, sand, and they’re always playing great music to get you in the mood.
The best part is obviously the happy hour special is 2 for 1 drinks for 8 BZD. The coconut rum and pineapple juice is deadly and so delicious. Somehow, I would end up having 3-5 of these. Happy hour is between 5 to 6pm so start your night here.
Dinner is probably a good idea next. If you want to keep the drinking going with the food, go to the outdoor grill restaurant at Sophie’s grill. She makes a mouth-watering Jerk chicken and shrimp curry. You can see the grill working its magic. The dinner includes one entrée and unlimted rum drinks for 25 BZD.
Barrier Reef Sports Bar and then Reggae Bar
Next stop is the Sports Bar. The island trickles in here starting around 10pm and by 11pm, it’s a full on dance party with the DJ spinning top 40 hits.
At midnight, everyone that is at Sports Bar heads to the Reggae Bar. The party continues until ????
Normally by this time, I had already consumed copious amounts and the Reggae Bar was always a semi-blur. Thankfully the island is small and I could walk back to my guesthouse in 10 minutes.
To sum it up
- 5pm: Lazy Lizard Happy hour drinks
- 7-10pm: Dinner and potentially more drinks
- 10pm: Sports Bar
- 12am: Reggae bar
I also liked the Sip n Dip bar next door to the Lazy Lizard as they had these cool swings in the water but ultimately for the sunset, the Lazy Lizard was my go to spot.
Where to eat
Caye Caulker is not super cheap for food and is one of the more expensive countries in Central America. Nevertheless the food on the island is pretty great. There aren’t many fancy restaurants and pretentiousness is not a thing here. If you’re okay eating no frills but delicious grilled meats and seafood on the streets, this is the place for you.
Fry Jacks at Errolyn’s
Oh how do I even describe fry jacks besides it being one of the staple foods of the Belizean Islands. Fry Jacks are thinly fried bread with eggs, ham, chicken, and cheese inside. It’s a crispy, chewy, and all aroud delicious. It looks like a very thin but fried calzone with deliciousness inside. It is a breakfast necessity and perhaps one of the best things I had on the island. It is probably the cheapest thing to get on the island at 3-4 BZD per fry jack.
Errolyn’s Houes of Fry Jack is the best place to get them on the island. They open at 6:30am and close at 2pm. I would always come here to grab 2 fry jacks to help with the hangover and before my dives. Next door, there is a fresh juice shop that will sell you a liter of watermelon or pineapple juice for 5 BZD. There is nothing better on the island to help a hangover. Make sure to use some of Marie Sharpe’s hot sauce (the most amazing habanero hot sauce in Belize).
This “restaurant” if you can even call it that is just the yard of a guy’s house with a few tables set out. He runs a few grills making literally the best fish I had on the island. I don‘t know what rub he used on his food but it blew me away. Make sure to ask for some home made hot sauce and this was perhaps my favorite meal on the island. Cost for an entrée is 20 BZD and a Belikan beer is 5 BZD.
Maggie’s Sunset Kitchen
Another delicious restaurant near the Split is Maggie’s kitchen. It’s located down the street from my guesthouse (Sea n Sun Guesthouse) and had ocean views. Like the other restaurants on the island, the food here was fantastic as well. It’s a big pricier than the other places I went to however. This whole grilled snapper was 37 BZD.
Chef Juan’s Kitchen
This came highly recommended to me by the dive shop. It’s located in the middle of town and only open for lunch. The fish was again delicious here! Standard price of 25 BZD for most of the seafood dishes.
Scuba diving in Caye Caulker
Caye Caulker is famous for its diving, although I felt like there weren’t many people diving here and it was a party island first, and diving island second. Utila, Honduras seemed to have those two things as 1a and 1b as diving and partying went hand in hand, with countless dive shops on the island.
Caye Caulker is the launching point for the ultra famous Great Blue Hole of Belize. The diving here is quite spectacular and is one of the best places in the Caribbean in my opinion, second to only Little Cayman.
As part of my research, this part drove me nuts. I thought this island was supposed to be a divers island but I could only find a handful dive shops. I thought it would be like Utila, Honduras where it seemed like every other building was a dive shop. I was wrong.
There are only 4 dive shops on the entire island. There are two big ones, and two small ones. The big dive shops are Belize Diving Services (BDS) and Frenchie’s and these two shops are the only two shops on the island that make regular trips to the Blue Hole (usually twice a week). The other two dive shops: Black Durgeon Divers, and Scuba Sensation will only dive around the closer reefs as the Blue Hole is a 2.5hr boat ride away.
Diving Prices in Belize
Belize diving prices are NOT cheap. They are probably some of the most expensive prices I have ever paid in my time diving all over the world. Surprising, as the island itself is not expensive at all but the dive prices are akin to that of a ultra luxury island like Turks and Caicos.
I wanted to see the Blue Hole so it was only really two options for me to choose from. Frenchie’s got loads of terrible reviews on TripAdvisor and it seemed like a second rate shop compared to Belize Diving Services so my decision was made quickly.
BDS has an online booking system that lets you book the dives you want on the days they are offered. For the Blue Hole, the price is around $300 USD for the day. This includes 3 dives, lunch on Half Moon Caye Island, tax, and the Blue Hole entrance fee of $40.
I also elected to dive the Turneffe Atoll (highly recommended as this was my favorite) which was ~$160 after tax, and the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve ($110 after tax). None of these prices includes equipment rental as that is an extra charge.
Aside from the prices, BDS is actually a great dive shop. They are very professionally run, have two comfortable 50’ Newton Boats, new gear, and a great crew of divemasters.
The Great Blue Hole Dive
The Blue hole dive trip is three dives total. The trip leaves at 5:30am and arrives at the blue hole at 8am. While the Blue Hole is insane as an aerial shot, it is still . . . quite impressive from the boat! I had heard from everyone it is just a big blue hole (which it is) and you can’t see much but I could clearly see the ring of coral and sand surrounding it. I was pleasantly surprised by its natural beauty.
The first dive is to dive into the blue hole. Again, I was told there was nothing to see on this dive beside the big open blue. I was pleasantly surprised as we saw some enormous stalactites and caves very far down (40-45m). It was definitely cooler than nothing, even though our deco times only allowed us to be down here for a few minutes. They said sometimes they see hammerheads and other sharks, but we were not so lucky. Make sure to have your Advanced certification before doing this dive, otherwise they will make you dive shallow and there actually isn’t anything there.
Read more about my experience diving the Great Blue Hole of Belize.
Second dive – Half Moon Caye
This was really the highlight of the day. The dives at Half Moon Caye were spectacular and there was a lot to see.
Lunch on Half Moon Caye Island
After the second dive, lunch was served on Half Moon Caye Island. This is an island with one little guesthouse and a beach area with picnic tables for other Blue Hole day trippers to eat at. There were a few other shops from San Pedro that also came here. Food was quite good too.
Third dive – Lighthouse Reef
The third dive was done after dinner at the nearby Lighthouse reef. While not as great as the second dive at Half Moon Caye, the Lighthouse reef was still a great dive. All in all, we left the last dive site around 2pm before getting back to Caye Caulker just before 5pm.
Turneffe Atoll Diving
Turneffe is a close by island that is also surrounded by beautiful white sandy beaches, turquoise water and amazing diving. In fact, I think I preferred the dive sites around the Turneffe to the reefs near the Blue Hole. Also, Turneffe is almost half the price of the Blue Hole!
The two dives I did here were the highlight of the trip. The corals are in fantastic conditions with large balmys full of life and color. Turtles, Large schools of fish, lobsters, and morals were the highlights here.
Caye Caulker Marine Reserve
This was the cheapest of the days I did. The Caye Caulker Marine Reserve is located just 15 minutes from the island. Much of the marine reserve is actually an effort by the Government to regrow and rebuild a coral ecosystem.
With that mentioned, the marine life here is in regrowth mode and there is not much to see. You can see that the country is definitely venturing in the right direction by fostering this nature reserve but as for diving, it was the least impressive. For the beginner diver, there is still much to see. Rows of coral systems lined the ocean floor, along with copious amounts of jackfish, trigger fish, and other reef fish. I saw a large green turtle swimming towards me which was the highlight of the dive.
The remora fish in Belize were particular friendly. These are the fish that swim under a shark and scavenge off its food. On every dive it seemed, there were remora fish that followed us around, and at times, they would come in contact with my GoPro, as well as frighten other divers.
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