Caye Caulker: An Offbeat Caribbean Island

I’m a Latin America obsessed traveler, but weirdly enough, I’d never put much thought into heading to Belize. Maybe it’s because the official language is English (rather than the surrounding countries’ Spanish), or the fact that it’s such a tiny country, but it wasn’t really on my radar as I criss-crossed over Mexico, Central and South America.

But last year I had to decide where to spend a month’s time after leaving Merida, Mexico. Being a logical planner, I decided it would be an efficient itinerary to head overland south, swing through Belize, and then revisit Guatemala.

My two weeks in Belize ended up being incredibly memorable. After being immersed in Mexican culture for so long, the Caribbean-influenced culture of Belize felt like a shock, albeit a welcome one. Everything was so different: the language, the food, the architecture, and the people.

I spent a week and a half on the little island of Caye Caulker – swimming with stingrays, eating jerk chicken, talking with locals, learning to “Go Slow”, and, of course, drinking rum punch.

Here are 5 Reasons You Should Head to Caye Caulker Now:

#1 Snorkel or Dive in the 2nd Largest Barrier Reef in the World

The reef off the coast of Belize blew me away. The Belize Barrier Reef is an incredibly diverse ecosystem with over 100 species of coral and 500 species of fish. It’s also just a portion of the Mesoamerican barrier reef that starts at the top of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico and extends through Honduras.

I took a day trip snorkeling tour with Ragamuffin Tours and had one of my favorite experiences in Belize. We spent the day sailing around the reef and jumping in the crystal clear water to observe the marine life.

We saw dozens of stingrays, harmless yet intimidating nurse sharks, eels, angelfish, snapper, and tons of other colorful sea creatures.

The most amazing thing about snorkeling is the reminder that there is a huge living world under that giant blue body of water. Visiting this sea world is humbling and a great reminder to protect our precious oceans.

#2  Eat Some of the Tastiest Jerk Chicken Around

I had never been much of a fan of jerk chicken until I arrived in Belize, but the locals are experts at barbeque. The chicken here is doused in a flavorful and spicy sauce and then roasted to perfection on open air grills.

Our favorite place to eat this local staple was Fran’s – an outdoor nightly pop-up restaurant run by Fran herself. For $25 BZE ($12.50 USD) we indulged in a giant portion of jerk chicken, buttery texas toast, mashed potatoes, and unlimited rum punch. We enjoyed sitting at the wooden picnic tables, chatting with other travelers, and people-watching as we waited for our dinner. It was so good we went back twice!

Another great spot to enjoy the jerk chicken is Belizean Flavas, above the Sports Bar. They also do a dinner deal – jerk chicken, two sides, dessert, and three rum punches for $15 BZE ($7.50 USD).

#3  You Want an Unusual Caribbean Experience

Caye Caulker is not your stereotypical white sand beach with resorts serving tropical drinks topped off with umbrellas. In fact, there isn’t a real sand beach anywhere on the island. Locals and travelers enjoy the crystal clear aqua water by jumping in off one of the public or private docks on the island

This island is special because it retains its traditional culture and natural beauty well. While there are usually a good number of tourists here, the island feels like it belongs to the locals. The culture is a mix of Mestizo, Maya, Garifuna (descendants of African and indigenous Caribbean people), and Creole. The official language is English, but you’ll often hear Creole on the street – an English-based language spoken fluidly and quickly. Despite my best attempts at eavesdropping, I couldn’t ever figure the words out!

Even without the postcard white sand beaches, the island is beautiful. This narrow strip of bright white land is surrounded by aqua and turquoise clear water on all sides. You can’t walk far before stumbling across the sea.


Caye Caulker’s sunsets are out of this world. The best places to watch the sun go down are at the tip of the island at The Split, or on the western side of the island. This gives you the unique ability to see the sun go down over the water, and reflect in different directions.

If you have the chance to watch the sunset from the dock of the Pause Hostel on the western side of the island, you’ll be in for a real treat. You’ll have a perfectly unobstructed view of the sea, and if you’re lucky, some boats and birds thrown in for good measure.
The buildings are all modest, but painted pretty shades of pastel purples, blues, pinks, and yellows.

Caye Caulker is a feast for the senses. If you don’t mind forgoing a typical beach vacation, you’ll be rewarded with tons of culture, delicious Caribbean food, and gorgeous seascapes and marine life.

 

#4 You Want to Take It Slow

One of the biggest motivations behind any vacation is to rest and rejuvenate. Caye Caulker might just be the most perfect place to do that.

The motto in Belize is “Go Slow” and locals take this very seriously! During my week and a half on the island, I was told to “Go Slow” at least a dozen times. As a New Yorker, this was actually a much needed reminder!

There are almost no cars on the island, so everyone walks, bikes or rides golf carts around. Since the island is so small, I preferred biking whenever I had to get around. It was the perfect way to slowly take in the sights, and also get a breeze during the heat of the day.

 

#5  Watch Some of the Best Sunsets in the Caribbean


Caye Caulker’s sunsets are out of this world. The best places to watch the sun go down are at the tip of the island at The Split, or on the western side of the island. This gives you the unique ability to see the sun go down over the water, and reflect in different directions.

If you have the chance to watch the sunset from the dock of the Pause Hostel on the western side of the island, you’ll be in for a real treat. You’ll have a perfectly unobstructed view of the sea, and if you’re lucky, some boats and birds thrown in for good measure.

My time in Caye Caulker and Belize was such a unique experience that left a lasting impression on me. I can still feel the warmth of the locals, taste the spicy and sweet chicken, and see the sparkly aqua water in all directions.

If you’re looking for an unusual and culture-packed Caribbean travel experience, Caye Caulker is the perfect destination.

Words & Photos by Susan Ripley of Brooklyn Tropicali