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Having a list – any list, especially 25 things to see and do on Caye Caulker, might be viewed as running counter to the vibe of “island time.” But this laid-back Caribbean island, just 30 minutes by water taxi from downtown Belize, or a quick 10-minute flight from the international airport, has much to offer.
It’s possible to chill, hit happy hour daily, and still do it all, which is exactly how our group of five girlfriends rolled, during a three day stay on the island. Caye Caulker packs a lot into its 5-mile north to south, and less than 1-mile width. It’s the type of place where mangy dogs nap in the middle of dirt roads, while golf carts and bicycles – the only mode of transport on the island, dodge around them.
We arrived by water taxi, which allowed for a tour through Belize City on the way in from the airport. The gritty urban center has its impoverished areas, many plagued by crime, but it was interesting to get a sense of the place and people bustling about. The city of Belize is located amidst dense tropical forest to the west and lush marshland to the south.
The hot, crowded and covered water taxi ride was initially uncomfortable. But the shelter was appreciated in the wind and waves when the 50-minute voyage got a little rough. At $21 USD one-way, with a seaside vantage point for arrival, it was fun option for a first-time visit. Alternatively, both Maya Island Air and Tropic Air fly to the airstrip at the southern end of the island. Golf cart taxis are available at both points to disperse new arrivals to their accommodations.
Our group was relaxing for three days at Caye Caulker before joining an Island Expeditions kayaking and snorkeling adventure to the remote corners of Glovers Reef and Tobacco Caye. We stayed at Velento Rentals (bookable through Expedia or VRBO) and had a whole upper level of the house to ourselves, complete with a private pool and dock, as well as paddle boards and bikes. While the house offered multiple bedrooms, kitchen, living, dining and deck space which suited our large group, there are many accommodation options on the island ranging from small beach front cabins, to larger properties with multiple rooms.
Caye Caulker has approximately 1,000 residents, who have traditionally made their living from the sea. The island is a curious mix of modest homes, an elementary school, a church, an airstrip, local shops, restaurants, bars and tour establishments that cater to visitors. While Caye Caulker has long been a budget travelers mecca, tourists of all ages flock to appreciate the island’s unique blend of beaches, balmy breezes, fresh seafood and aqua blue waters with the barrier reef at its doorstep.
There’s a solid Rastafarian Reggae culture on the island, evident in the bars, beach drumming groups, or emanating from a blaring boom box. Perhaps nothing sums up the vibe better than the signs “No shirt, no shoes… no problem.”
25 Things to See and DO on Caye Caulker
Here are some ideas, in no particular order, to fill your days on Caye Caulker. We did 20 of them during our 3 day stay, and still managed to emerge totally relaxed. It’s that kind of place!
1. Ride a golf cart
Unless you’re staying close to the docks, you’re likely to encounter your first golf cart ride when an affable “cab driver” offers you a lift. Be sure to take him up on it. There’s no better way to get a feel for the island than blazing along dusty dirt roads, cutting down paths to the waterfront, and dodging people, dogs and cyclists. Since there are no cars on the island, golf carts are the only vehicles besides bicycles.
2. Bike the island
Basic single speed bikes are everywhere on Caye Caulker. Once your brain retrieves the memo to back pedal for brakes, you’ll feel like a local ambling along on an old bike without a care in the world. There’s something appealing about the retro nature and simplicity of simple no-speed bikes in our tech driven gear world, that makes biking the island more than a mode of transport. It actually takes you back to a simpler time, very much in keeping with the relaxed nature of the place.
Caye Caulker has three roads running north and south, and one main drag. Renting a bike is a great way to site see and check out the islands 5-mile stretch, or just make quick work of getting to the Lazy Lizard for happy hour sunset! For a day’s adventure, after circling south by the airstrip, where you can tour more exclusive private properties, and scoping out both the east and west sides of the island, be sure to take your bike on the ferry shuttle at The Split to access the North Island.
3. Hang out at The Split
In 1961 Hurricane Hattie carved “The Split” through the island, separating it into the north and south islands. The Split has a public beach, a popular spot for both tourists and locals. Be sure to get your picture taken at The Split sign. There are likely to be thousands of photos around the world like yours, but it’s a rite of passage to record the fact that you were there!
4. Check out the Lazy Lizard
Located at the very end of the Split, the Lazy Lizard is a great place for an ocean side drink during the day, or to watch people do cannon balls off the elevated diving platform. There’s lots of tables, a swim up bar, and a row of deck chairs along the waterway, which makes it a great place for happy hour and sunset.
5. Tour the north island
Most travelers come to see the main south island of Caye Caulker. That’s where all the amenities and action resides. The north island is mostly undeveloped, except for a smattering of houses and the Northside Beach Club (formerly known as Koko King) close to The Split. There are a few local homes, some more like shacks on stilts scattered along the dirt road, but the further you go from the Split, the less populated it becomes. It wasn’t until 2015/2016 that electricity even crossed the Split, so it’s really only since then that small pockets have been subdivided for housing and resort development.
A great way to cover distances on this reasonably remote island is by bike. The water taxis at the Split will happily accommodate bicycles being transported to the island. The fare is approx. $5 Belize or $2.50USD per person. Water taxis can even accommodate golf carts if you’ve rented one for the day. The skipper will insist on driving the cart onto the vessel himself, which is well advised, since ramps are involved.
An alternative route to the other side?
Technically you can swim to the other side, but there is a current, and private boaters with their eye on the horizon rather than you, could make this a sketchy choice. We also witnessed a variety of “anything that floats” local methods, including overloaded canoes, which can be another source of entertainment while nursing a beverage at the Lazy Lizard.
We saw a few upscale homes, as well as several resorts in the early stages of “selling the dream” to investors while visiting the island. There are still few amenities beyond accommodations, with the exception of the Northside Beach Club, but it’s unlikely the island will remain only a settlement of ramshackle homes on stilts for long.
6. Check out the Caye Caulker Forest Reserve
The Caye Caulker Forest Reserve occupies the northernmost 100 acres of the north island. It was declared a Forest Reserve area in 1998, and is home to red, white and black mangroves, which grow in the shallow water. The mangrove’s root systems support an intricate ecosystem for early life of sea creatures and are instrumental in creating and shoring up islands. Their protection from development is pivotal to the survival of what makes Belize so appealing. Bird life is also prolific in the mangroves, but be warned the road ends before real access begins, so it’s likely best to access the Forest Reserve by kayak.
7. Look for crocodiles
Seasonal locals warned us of crocodiles in the wetland areas of the north island. We actually searched where they suggested, but came up empty handed. Perhaps it’s just as well, since we’d like to keep our hands, and other body parts as well. Still the thought of crocodiles inhabiting an area so close was intriguing. But we later tried to not think about the proximity of our hunting location just up the coast from the Beach Club, and dismissed crocs as directionally impaired as we dangled our feet in the water sipping cocktails after an exhausting hot ride.
8. Relax at the Northside Beach Club (formerly the Koko King)
Located on the beach in front of WeYu Boutique Hotel, the Northside Beach Club is a lively restaurant, bar and beach lounge. One of the nicest west facing beaches, and the only restaurant on the north island, Northside Beach Club is a great place to chill after a ride. Beach chairs are available for anyone, but in a modest attempt to gentrify the establishment, there are also covered cabanas for rent. The Beach Club is a very short walk from the 2-minute boat ride across the Split.
9. Get your photo taken by the Caye Caulker sign
If you didn’t grab this one for the Gram on your way in, be sure to strike a pose at some point. Like the Split sign photo, there are likely thousands of them out there, but when you’re collecting evidence of having been to the island, this one scores.
10. Try some local street BBQ
Guys with BBQs can be seen setting up their grills in the morning along the main road in town, an area later in the day to become a steady stream of locals and tourists. We learned on our last day that the good BBQs pre-sell out early in the morning before the coals are even red hot, so despite the apparent randomness of it all, it’s best to put in your order early. Some of the chefs are also associated with restaurants on the island. Expect to be tempted by the wafting smells of pork ribs, chicken, shrimp kabab, grilled lobster (in season), stone crab and snapper.
11. Chill and be on island time
You’re only at #11 of the 25 things to see and do on Caye Caulker, but it might be time for a rest! Whether it involves grabbing a dock chair, a cabana, sitting on the beach or rocking a hammock, there’s lots of ways to chill out on Caye Caulker. In fact if you learn to enjoy a good hammock as much as I did, you’ll likely want to grab one at a street market to take home. Unfortunately the two palms to hang it between will be hard to pack.
Due to the very shallow waters which surround Caye Caulker, most rental accommodations have access to a dock which extends well out to sea, and that’s where much of the sunning and swimming takes place. But beaches are also lovely, particularly on the west side of the island, or anywhere where you can grab some space. Much of the beach area in the main tourist area is along a walking path, so it’s public access.
12. Stand up paddle board
Our accommodation at the Venetian included the use of paddle boards, but rentals can be found elsewhere. We found early morning was when the water was most flat, since the beautiful breeze known to help cool off the heat and humidity, tended to also kick up waves by midday. Nothing beats a water view of the island, and a little exercise.
Arguably, the pristine aqua water for kayaking is off the reef, which is well out from Caye Caulker. We later did lots of kayaking on our trip out from South Water Caye, Glovers Reef, and Tobacco Caye. But if just taking a vessel for some exercise, and independent travel around the island appeals to you, a kayak rental is likely in order. Getting out on the water to see the island from a different vantage point is fun, especially if you arrived by air. Sit on top single and doubles can be rented, as can sea kayaks.
14. Fish Belizean style
We didn’t fish while on Caye Caulker, but many do. However, we did have an authentic Belizean style fishing experience later in the trip, which involves bringing in a fish by hand with just a hook, and a ball wrapped in line, baited with the mussel from a conch shell. We also trolled for barracuda, so it was really interesting to have chatted with local fisherman on Caye Caulker returning with their catch to sell to a local restaurant. We were assured that just about every skipper will take you fishing, so if you’re into deep-sea fishing, apparently snapper, sailfish kingfish, jacks, shark and barracuda are out there. Half and full-day tours are available.
Many local fishermen can be seen dockside at the end of the day cleaning their catch to then sell to local restaurants. Mussels from conch shells are often used for bait, and discarded shells are later used to help shore up the shoreline.
15. Snorkeling & diving
Snorkeling right off Caye Caulker is possible around the Split, but to really experience the amazing underwater coral, fish and sea life of Belize, you need to get yourself out on the reef. The Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Caye Caulker Marine Reserve and Shark Alley are popular reef destinations for half-day tours from the island. Some operators take groups to Turneffe Atoll, a longer day, but a little more pristine experience. Dedicated snorkel tours to the Blue Hole are rare, although snorkelers are welcome to tag along on full day dive boat trips. Carlos Tours, and Anwar Snorkel & Tours are good ones to check out.
Dives made from Caye Caulker visit the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Turneffe Atoll, Half Moon Caye and the Blue Hole Natural Monument. Proof of certification, such as PADI is required, and you’d be best to check your insurance waivers to ensure you’re covered before laying down the credit card. Frenchies Diving Services is highly rated on the island.
16. Dine at HIbisca
Hibisca, formerly known as Habaneros, is one of Caye Caulker’s “hottest” restaurants, not only for its namesake chili pepper, but also because of its great food. The brightly painted clapboard house, converted to restaurant, is in the center of town. It features a covered wrap around veranda with live entertainment. The open-air street vibe add to the experience, since the house is elevated on stilts and offers great viewing. Dining is available inside, but we loved the outdoor veranda with music.
Their menu features local favorites, and the nightly specials are inventive takes on whatever fish or seafood was caught that day. I had the “Coco Loco” the evening we visited, which was a very tasty mix of crab and a fresh snapper served with sauce in a coconut shell, rice and veggies on the side. It arrived with a small sledge hammer, board and lots of napkins. While messy at times, the spectacle became more entertaining as the wine flowed. It was the best meal of the trip. We happened onto Habisca without a reservation during our first evening in Caye Caulker, and only realized later how highly recommended it is.
17. Dine at Roy’s Blue Water Grill
Located beside Taco Express, with both establishments owned by Roy, the Blue Water Grill was packed every night we were there. And for good reason. When we finally got in on our third night, we enjoyed a meal of crusted fresh snapper, roasted potatoes and salad. The catch of the day sounded so good, our entire table ordered it, and we were not disappointed. Service was sketchy, but we had been warned to leave North American expectations at home, and when they ran out of white wine, we popped out and grabbed some, a solution they seemed happy to accommodate. Roy’s is a happy mix of tourists and locals, families, couples and friend groups. The restaurant is open to the street, and the floor is covered in sand. The night we visited, there was a guy with a guitar and a playlist of familiar tunes.
18. Try Taco Express
Taco Express is casual dining, with reportedly the best fish and shrimp tacos in town. Also owned by Roy, the restaurant take orders from the Taco Express or Blue Water Grill menu, then the server runs delivers food from one establishment to the other, ducking through the street and dodging pedestrians and golf carts. We idled away the evening chatting to Roy, and later his wife drove us home in their golf cart when the skies opened up in a pounding tropical rain.
Roy’s wife makes great homemade hot sauce, which you must try with your fish taco if you’re a fan of hot food. Indeed you’ll get quite accustomed to dashing almost everything with hot sauce in Belize – chicken, rice, beans, potatoes. Marie Sharp’s hot sauce is the big game in town (Marie is a very successful business women globally with her line of sauces and jams), but Roy’s wife’s hot sauce is definitely worthy.
19. Check out the Iguana Reef Inn for sunset
The Iguana Reef Inn is located mid island with views to the west. It’s a perfect place to idle away late afternoon and happy hour, either from the beach, or dangling from a swing out over the water. With an open-air self-serve bar, it is a popular place for sunset. But that’s not the only reason it sees tourists flock to its shores.
Let your conscience be your guide
While somewhat troubling from a marine ecological perspective, staff began feeding the rays daily around 5pm during Covid closures. They had little else to do without visiting tourists. The feeding has now created a patterned behavior for the rays. They circle the beach area every day around 4:30pm, like labs anticipating their next meal. Guest are invited to feed the rays, but it’s not the best practice to build for their long-term survival in the wild.
Left over fish go to the Pelicans, but they have become a sideshow in the wake of the ray feeding. Without a doubt, the spectacle has been a boost for bar sales, as crowds gather, and a draw for sadly needed tourist traffic once the island reopened to travelers.
20. Fly over the Blue Hole
Seen from the sky, this national landmark is perfectly round, like a deep blue bull’s eye in the middle of light aqua blue waters. Seen from underwater, it’s a sheer wall descending into darkness. Well adorned with stalactites and stalagmites, it is a diver’s nirvana. Locals joke that there are only two things at the bottom of the Blue Hole: sharks and GoPro’s!
Some fun facts:
- It’s perfectly circular and measures 300 meters (984 feet) across and 108 meters (354 feet) deep
- It’s the largest sea hole in the world
- It is located 100km (62 miles) offshore from Belize City
- Jacques Cousteau, a world renown diver, documented the Blue Hole famously in 1971
- The Discovery Channel ranked it the #1 most amazing place on earth
- It is now a Unesco World Heritage Site, part of a vast barrier reef, the second largest in the world next to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef
- In 1836 Charles Darwin visited the Belize Barrier Reef and declared it “the most remarkable barrier reef in the Caribbean.”
Both Maya Island Air and Tropic Air offer scheduled tours to the Blue Hole. Flights depart the airstrip at the southern end of Caye Caulker. While it takes an entire day to boat out and back for a diving trip to the Blue Hole, a fly over can easily be booked for an afternoon. The actual flight takes a little over an hour return. Schedules vary, and are still getting back to pre-Covid levels, so it’s best to check directly with the airline. We elected to charter a plane including multiple fly overs of the Blue Hole as an add on to a flight from Caye Caulker to Dangriga, to meet our Island Expeditions tour group.
5 More things to add to your list!
You’re almost finished the 25 things to see and do in Caye Caulker, so be sure to add these last five to your list. We didn’t partake in these personally, but they either came highly recommended, or are on our list for a return visit
21. Windsurf or kite surf
It’s not for the lack of ability or desire that neither of these made my activity roster. We simply ran out of time and I preferred to participate in more inclusive group outings for the short time we were there. At the very least, anyone can idle away time on the dock or beach watching these activities though. Rentals and lessons are available.
22. Sunset cruise
We witnessed numerous sailboats off the shore of the Iguana Reef Inn and out past the Lazy Lizard by the Split. Several of the sailing and boat cruises combine snorkel tours with a return at sunset. Ragamuffin Tours is popular. Blackhalk Sailing tours are also highly rated.
23. Manatee tour
Manatees are large, fully aquatic, mostly herbivorous marine mammals, sometimes known as sea cows. They average 10 feet long and 1,200 pounds and are quite elusive. The establishment of wildlife sanctuaries and protection has helped them become less endangered. We tried to organize a manatee tour, but simply ran out of time. Tours also seemed to be sporadically organized post Covid. Our attempt to negotiate a private group tour resulted in the price and terms shifting around to the point of losing faith in the operator to meet our compressed time window. So we gave it a miss.
24. Eat a Fry Jack
We had fry jacks later in the trip, but they were not something we immediately gravitated to as a healthy food choice. Fry jacks, as we would come to learn, are a Belize breakfast staple. They’re essentially deep-fried dough, which rises slightly, and produces a crunchy, crispy, golden brown rectangle. They’re commonly served for breakfast with refried beans, rice or scrambled eggs. While you can use them to help scoop food, they also taste pretty good with jam. The first time I was offered one, I declined. Later we learned that was akin to telling a Canadian you’ll pass on the maple syrup. In the end we decided it was best to just embrace calorie packed fry jacks, and then plan an afternoon activity!
25. Try Marie Sharp’s Hot sauce
Hot sauce is a staple of Belize. Locals put it on rice, beans, eggs, fish, meat – pretty much anything. Marie Sharp’s hot sauce is the most famous. The global success story of its founder is compelling. Marie Sharp started experimenting with home recipes for hot sauces, jams and jellies in 1980, using fresh habanero peppers, vegetables and fruits from her farm. Encouraged by positive feedback, she turn it into a family business.
Today Marie Sharp is 82 years old. Her hot sauces dominate 98% market share in Belize. They are also sold in Honduras, El Salvador, the USA, Canada, Europe, Russia and across Asia. We kayaked past her private island and humble seasonal home, while touring off Tobacco Caye. Marie didn’t greet us at the tumble-down dock, but her dogs let her know we had been by!
Flights & Accommodation
We flew to Belize from Vancouver via a connection in Toronto, with Westjet. Other airlines offer options out of both Canada and the USA. You might want to check CheapOair.ca for flight deals out of Canada, or CheapoAir.com for departures from the US. As airlines adjust their schedules post Covid, frequency seems to be ramping up again. Expedia is a great place to search for accommodations on the island based on your criteria, since it seems to be a catch all for all the various listing companies and property rental managers on the island.
We hope you enjoyed these 25 things to see and do in Caye Caulker while visiting Belize. What did we miss? Be sure to add your comments below!