Caye Caulker is a small limestone coral island off the coast of Belize in the Caribbean Sea measuring about 5 miles (8.0 km) (north to south) by less than 1 mile (1.6 km) (east to west).
NomadList doesn’t really give it a good rating but in my opinion that’s not quite fair. What attracted me was that it’s smaller than San Pedro with a laid back hippie vibe and good scuba diving spots.
How to get there
- Fly, mostly from Belize City
- WaterTaxi from Chetumal, MX (with immigration in San Pedro for ~1h), daily at either 3 or 3.30pm + the usual Mexican delay, ~50 USD
- WaterTaxi from Belize City/Airport
How to get around
When you arrive (on the eastern side) you can quite literally see the water on the western side of the island. My point is: Caye Caulker is super small! You can easily walk everywhere, rent a bike or, if need be, a golf cart. Not even the police has cars but drive golf carts and motorbikes. I saw about 3 real cars in total and a few construction trucks, but not in the center.
Where to stay
For 30-50€/night you will get a decent apartment/hotel room on AirBnB/booking.com with WiFi and AC.
For 17€ (35 BZD) you will get a bunk bed in a 2 bed „room“ (called „sleep box“) in La Cubana that resembles one of the box hotels found in Japan or Abu Dhabi Airport. But if you spent the majority of the time outside anyway, what more do you need. Otherwise, for the same money, you mostly get big rooms with 8-10+ people and possibly no AC. Here, at least the AC runs from 8pm to 8am. If that (and warm showers) doesn’t interest you, Yuma Hostel directly at the pier seems relaxed (not a party hostel) and has 2 lovely dogs. Further north is the famous Drifted Coconut Hostel.
Nope! There are no CoWorking spaces or not even DN Hotspot Cafés (that I saw) on Caye Caulker. You have to work wherever you find a nice spot. I can recommend Ice and Beans on the ocean side for your cliché working-on-the-beach-instagram-photo but more importantly: really good coffee! Other than that try the restaurant underneath La Cubana as they have WiFi and power plugs.
Ice and Beans Cafe Caye Caulker
Tropical Paradise Hotel at the (literal) end of the road (how fitting, the cemetery is next door) also has power plugs and decent WiFi, not to mention a good barkeeper/selection of alcohol and drinks on the menu for after-hours.
Across the road from La Cubana is the internet café Caye Board which offers WiFi at 30BZD/4h. I know it seems old school but the place has air conditioning, is relatively calm compared to cafés/restaurants:
You might have problems with your laptop and the high humidity (80%+). My MacBook Pro Keyboard stopped working for a whole morning. Try to blow it out with a Scuba tank (since I couldn’t find anybody with a pressurised air can) to make sure theres no sand/dust in it. And then try working from an air conditioned room because AC does not only make it colder but also dry. If the computer still turns on, try to install software that turns on the internal fan to sort of dry it out. Also read 5 Ways to Protect Your Laptop in the Tropics by Too Many Adapters.
The Belizian Dollar (BZD) is directly tied to the US Dollar with 2:1, meaning 2 BZD = 1 USD. You can use USD as a method of payment and will sometimes even get change back in USD. While certainly not as cheap as the neighboring countries it’s not an expensive country per se. Caye Caulker is small though and everything comes by plane or ship so expect a surcharge. It’s quite touristy so that adds another few dollars to everything you buy.
There are 6(?) dive shops on the island and a few tour operators that re-sell those dives:
Only 3 (or 4?) of those go to the famous Blue Hole which is a few hours on a bumpy speed boat away. Only BDS offers tech/cave diving. They all have some sort of bad reputation and reviews on the web, reaching from reckless boat driving where people got injured to cowboy attitudes by Divemasters, faulty equipment, no oxygen on board despite the obvious risk of DCS with the Blue Hole being ~120m/400ft deep, to even harassment of women and an instructor dying in the Blue Hole. Surely the safest option is to bring your own equipment, some experience and a good buddy. There have been dive centers that had to close down only to reopen a little later with the same staff (Belize ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ) That said, there are plenty of people happily diving with those companies and nothing bad happens. Safest bet is not to pay for multiple days in advance as most of them don’t seem to give you your money back (German) if you don’t end up going (weather, illness etc). Alternatively, snorkeling can be just as pretty 🙂
Please refuse to dive with faulty equipment, no matter what the owner/instructor/divemaster says! On return to the island (all dives are boat dives), report them to PADI or SDI/TDI and if necessary to the police. If you have a medical emergency or signs of decompression sickness go immediately go the doctor and call DAN/your insurance. The next hyperbaric chamber is on San Pedro. You can do very little against unfair business policies or unfriendly staff but don’t let them endanger your life or the lives of others on the boat!
For ~10BZD in Calle de Sol (the one going west from the pier) on the left/south side 2 very friendly ladies will wash your clothes. I guess it depends on the amount but I don’t own many things and washed pretty much everything I had minus shorts + T-Shirt I was wearing.
Most restaurants and cafés have WiFi of various speeds and reliability. Get mobile internet as backup since sometimes the internet is just gone for a few minutes and the latency for VoIP calls is better on mobile.
BTL is virtually the only provider for GSM based phones (CDMA as used in US/NZ/AUS supported by Smart!). The BTL shop is a little difficult to find since the official address on the website is „backstreet“. Which isn’t exactly wrong but even Google Maps can’t find it. Also the GPS coordinates found on infomarket.bz are wrong, however you will find a said laundry on the opposite site of that road. Your safest bet is to walk towards the big cell towers and ask around. Or take a screenshot of Google Maps:
These are the correct GPS coordinates:
Google Maps shows this at the the corner of Avenida Mangle and Calle de Sol (again, the street straight from the pier all the way down). It’s a white and purple building. OpenStreetMap (e.g. with maps.me) shows this as Belize Telecom Limited:
BTL office for SIM Cards on Caye Caulker (c) OpenStreetMap
To register you need ~15minutes, an ID and ~20 BZD for the SIM card + whatever you want to charge. For 1GB, expect ~30BZD although they seem to have more or less permanent monthly specials which double the amount of data. For 30 BZD I got 4.8GB (March 2018). Although they advertise 4G/LTE I could never get more then HSDPA/3G. Fun fact: on the wall in the BTL building there is a poster with the goal of reaching 25MBit/s Download in 2020. South Korean homing pidgeons might have been faster in the 90s but that’s ok for an island who’s motto is „Go Slow“.
Nice to know
- The first thing I heard, even before „Taxi?“, was „Marijuana?“. You can indeed smell it on every other street corner although it is not legal at all, no matter what the locals say. A big sign on the police station also confirms that. Many seemingly relaxed and hippie vibe hostels do not tolerate drugs at all and the laws are pretty strict.
- Belize is an ex-colony of the UK and – as the only country in Central America – the main language is English. The accent is similar to those in the British (ex-) territories in the Caribbean and easy to understand. Most people understand Spanish too and the locals speak Creole, a mixture of languages.
- If you’re easily sunburned use plenty of sunscreen as with the white sand, you can apparently get a sunburn just from the reflection while standing in the shade. Even if that’d be a myth, the sun can be pretty strong and due to the wind you might not notice the burn fast enough.
Any additions? Contact me! 🙂