Dear Reader :: This travel dispatch was posted from Punta Gorda, Belize covering travel in Caye Caulker Belize 16-17 August 2013.
For more on what brings us to Belize for a year, read The Belize Move.
When we bought our Belize tickets on a cold and rainy DC day in April, the thought of spending a couple of hot and sunny days on an island in the Caribbean didn’t sound bad at all. The plan was to arrive a few days early in Belize to do some sightseeing before throwing Lori directly into her work head first. As it turned out, we left hot/sunny Southern Oregon (as is not uncommon in August) for incredibly stormy and not so idyllic Belize (as is apparently not uncommon in August).
The night before we were to take the 45-minute boat trip out to Caye Caulker, a wet and powerful storm came through, soaking everything to the bone over the next 24 hours. After looking over weather reports and taking a gander at the seemingly static and incredibly depressing Caye Caulker weather cam, we opted for another night in Belize City. We began to wonder what we had signed up for…12 months of dark, rainy depressing days?
By Saturday morning, however, the storm had pushed off to the north, the sun emerged and all was right with the world. We left the bulk of our luggage at our guesthouse and hightailed it to the Caye Caulker Water Taxi for the northern cayes. We would end up getting in some island time, if only for 24 short hours…
One of the challenges of writing this article was selecting the right thumbnail that would display on the main page of our website, given that Caye Caulker is not a place easily summed up in one picture, word or even phrase. It’s a difficult to convey sort of place, which is part of the reason why we fell in love with the small island.
Caye Caulker is beautifully positioned in the Caribbean Sea 20 miles northeast of Belize City and just a couple hundred yards inland from the Belize Barrier Reef, the longest coral reef in the northern hemisphere and second largest only to the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia.
Its a flat, limestone coral island with no significant beaches. Yet the views off any corner of the island are beautiful and swimming, snorkeling and sunning can be had on/off a multitude of small piers around the island.
The entirety of Caye Caulker measures about five miles long and less than one mile across at it’s widest point, but these numbers are deceiving, given that the island is actually two islands separated by 1961′s Hurricane Hattie, forming what is now known as “The Split.” The southern portion of the island is far and away the most inhabited and most visited half.
The geography of the island is difficult to summarize as is the vibe. Caye Caulker is frequently billed as the backpacker’s caye or the laid back caye and appeared to live up to both labels. But Caye Caulker is more than that. It’s a thriving little funky mix of friendly and eccentric residents from all over the world, along the lines of a mini Key West. It’s got character, but it’s an independently minded speck on the globe with no big mantra or philosophy but “Go Slow.” And everyone takes this seriously. I’ve been to a lot of tropical beach locales in many corners of the world, but upon arriving in Caye Caulker I felt like I was arriving in some place very special.
Beyond that, there’s not much you need to know about Caye Caulker. We stayed far less than we would have liked to, but our true purpose for coming to Belize beckoned which had us taking a boat back to that little place called reality sooner than we may have liked. But my hunch is we’ll be back — which by the way is a great feeling and certainly one of the perks of living in the same country as tropical island paradise, even if it’s not right at your doorstep.
I’ve already conveyed that the island is small and flat with no “beaches” to speak of, but here are a couple of other things to note about the caye.
The majority of the island lies north of the Split and is apparently a wonderful place to kayak (or buy land we hear), but is a bit isolated from the southern part given that there are no bridges connecting the two and no regular ferry service to speak of…and perhaps all the better. The Split, itself, is less than a football field wide and certainly swimmable, though you do have to watch the tides as the current can get quite strong.
At the Split, on the north side of the southern island, is a nice place to swim with a large wooden deck and ladders. Heading south from the Split is the main “road” in town which runs about a half mile before abruptly turning right at the cemetery and connecting with a couple of inland roads.
The infamous “Split” — Hurricane Hattie’s handiwork post-1961. Prior to the ’61 storm, the north and south islands were one unified caye. Currently, the Caribbean sea rushes through at this spot dividing north and south. In the evening, the small pier and “beach” behind the seawall fill up fast with swimmers and sunners. A great little place to swim and even snorkel. Even if you don’t bring along your goggles, it’s likely you’ll still see some colorful fish swimming around you.
Avenida Hicaco stretches south from the Split and is the main thoroughfare for shops and restaurants. Alternatively, you can take a seafront path (Playa Asuncion) along much of the eastern shore which is highly recommended. The main boat jetty (Caye Caulker Water Taxi) lies in the center of town on the eastern shore, whereas the San Pedro Belize Express boat jetty lies just to the north. The Caye Caulker airport is near the far south end of the island.
After walking about town for a little while, we stumbled upon Ignacio’s Cabins, which were right up our alley (but admittedly not everyone’s cup of tea). They are a jumble of brightly painted stilted bungalows right south of Colinda’s Cabanas. Ignacio, the proprietor is very friendly and knowledgeable, but will talk your ear off if given the chance.
Ignacio’s is pure Caye Caulker. If you’re looking for a luxury resort, you’ve come to the wrong island, mon. The dude’s been running his collection of cabins since the 1970s, and they are showing their age. But they are a great value given that the going rate when we visited was $35 BZ ($17.50 US) per night with a minimum two night stay. If you can only do one night, he’ll do $57 BZ. Cabins have great views, front decks with hammock and ensuite toilet and shower (no hot water, but you really don’t need it in paradise).
A portion of Ignacio’s land is even up for sale. I’ll admit it’s a great spot, but the price might surprise you. Ask Ignacio and he’ll tell you the whole sordid tale — just make sure you don’t have a ferry to catch any time soon.
What more can I say about Caye Caulker? It’s a relaxing, funky little place where no one is in much of a hurry to do anything, and that’s the way it should be in a place like this. Looking forward to being in a position to write about the various activities which can be had in and around Caulker, and from my understanding there are many. As we get settled and perhaps even get a vehicle of our own we hope to be back at least a few more times before our year is up in Belize. Truth be told, there’s enough to keep us busy for that amount of time just in our district of Toledo, but Caulker will be waiting and we’ll be looking forward to it.