As you may have gathered from the content of this website, we at ManyManyAdventures tend to gravitate towards the action-packed and adventurous when planning our travels. We like to move, to experience, to do. So, when we found ourselves in a place so small you can walk from one end to the other in a day, where the locals will berate fast-moving foreigners to "go slow", we had to adjust our tempo a little.
We had been planning a family trip to Mexico for Christmas, which proved too difficult to orchestrate, given the large number of 'family' involved. Visa restrictions, and a desire to replenish our Vitamin D levels (sorely depleted after three months in Chicago), meant that we still had to go somewhere, and that somewhere turned out to be Caye Caulker, Belize. When we had talked about going back to Central America (the part of the world where we first met; one fateful, drunken night in a grubby San Jose hostel) we fantasised about months spent exploring Guatemala and Honduras; sailing the San Blas islands from Panama to Columbia; making our way through Mexico: but we had never considered Belize. We agreed early on, that since we only had ten days - and limited funds to play with - we would choose one destination and stay there for the duration of the trip (because - let's be honest - the traveling part of traveling sucks).
After minimal research, a few recommendations, and an hour spent on Air BnB, we settled on a place to stay, which we thought was on the island of Ambergris Caye (Madonna's famous "Isla Bonita"). Thankfully we checked the map after we got off the plane, because it turned out to be on a different island entirely: the tiny sliver of land south of San Pedro named Caye Caulker. It is a mistake for which we are all grateful, as our ten days on the island proved to be one of our favourite travel experiences to date.
Here at ManyManyAdventures, we try to support local businesses wherever possible when we travel, by buying local produce and crafts, using local services, and eating at local and family owned establishments. This article is a little different from our others: we wanted to help the people who made our trip so amazing by recommending them and their businesses here. If you travel to Caye Caulker (and you really should!) please consider supporting these local business owners; we promise they will leave you smiling!
Where we ate:
We arrived with grand notions of barbecuing our own fresh fish and vegetables at our pool-side cabana, and only eating out on occasion, but these were shot to hell when we tried the first time and realised that neither the barbecue, nor the oven, worked (it should be noted that aside from the sand flies - for which it was essential to smother oneself in Jessie's homemade bug repellent - this was our only complaint against the accommodation). For the most part we cooked our own breakfasts, until, that is, we discovered the grilled cheese, ham, pineapple and egg sandwiches at Amor Y Cafe, which became our daily staple (they also have the cheapest iced coffees). Lunches were either bought from the street vendors (barbecued shrimp and lobster sticks anyone?), or from Errolyn's House of Fry Jacks, where you can get a sizable, fried quesadilla-like sandwich for $2. The dinners, though, were where the island really comes into its own. Catch-of-the-day seafood fresh off the grill; mountains of creamy coconut curry; tangy ceviche served with corn chips; locally raised chickens; and (of course) rice and beans, were our daily fare.
We ate at eight different restaurants during our stay, and all were delicious, with the ones located further from the beach offering the best prices. However, our stand-out favourite was the recently renovated Roy's Blue Water Grill. Chef Roy Hinks recently left his position as head chef of Habañero’s (the priciest upmarket eatery on the island) to start his own business, remodeling the rustic “Blue Water Deli”, located between Front and Middle Street, directly behind Bambooze on the waterfront. We ate here five or six times during our stay, after it was recommended to us by Jessie of Random Yoga, and each time the experience was outstanding. From the mountainous, cherry-topped Piña Colada, to the jerk lobster and coconut seafood curry, all the food was absolutely delicious, and the service was charming. The chef is obviously passionate about his new business, and we wish him the best of luck!
What we did:
As previously mentioned, the motto on Caye Caulker is "Go Slow". However, when your group of five includes two hyperactive runners, and two thrill-seeking adventurers, there are bound to be a few activities. Our first priority was to get in the water: the impossibly turquoise, clear, warm, pristine water.
On our first morning, we were eating fry jacks and breakfast burritos, when we were engaged in conversation with Stefan of Catch A Tour, the local guide who would prove to be our activities coordinator for the rest of our stay. We booked a day of snorkeling with him, lured (pardon the pun) by his promise of catching a barracuda for our dinner. We visited four different sited around the island and along the Hol Chan Marine Reserve to the north of the island, and I can honestly say it was one of the best underwater experiences I've ever had.
The visibility was perfect, the water was warm enough that wetsuits were unnecessary, and the diversity of marine life was truly astonishing! Fish, turtles, sharks, rays, more fish... The day was such a success that we decided not to go scuba diving, since we had already seen so much (also the dive sites in Belize - excepting the infamous Blue Hole - are all relatively shallow and much of what there is to be seen can be seen from the surface).
Ronnie's mum and two of her friends who had flown down to join us, decided to take the day trip back to the mainland to experience one of the ancient Mayan ruin sites. The omnipotent Stefan organised a guide to meet them in Belize city, and they were driven out into the countryside, before embarking on a boat trip through lush mangrove forests populated by unnervingly friendly monkeys. The Lamanai Ruins were breathtaking (as was the hike to the top) and their guide proved knowledgeable and entertaining. The overall experience received their highest recommendations!
Traveling with a rampant Seahawks enthusiast means that one of the first things you do in a new place is suss out the likelihood of being able to view games, preferably in a bar-like setting, with other fans. For sports fans on Caye Caulker, the news is good and bad. On the plus side, the local "sports bar" has great food and happy hour, and you are likely to find some friends there to watch a game with.
However, this is an island, people, and it relies on a satellite for its TV. We witnessed a very disgruntled customer, demanding to know why his game wasn't being shown. When the waitress explained that the satellite was out, and only games being shown on cable were available, he huffed and grumped, and demanded to know when the satellite would be fixed. He was advised to get on the roof and fix it himself, whereupon he promptly left the bar. "We aren't that bothered" the waiter confided to us, after we had finished laughing, "he only orders diet cokes anyway".
We got into a routine of watching the sunset on the lee side of the island before dinner - and what beautiful sunsets they were. Several times we went to sunrise and sunset yoga, a donation based practice, offered by Jessie of Random Yoga. Most days we went kayaking or stand up paddle-boarding ($10 for an hour). We even - somewhat ambitiously - tried our hand at paddle-board yoga, but without an instructor, it was a short lived, and soggy practice.
The rest of our days were spent lazing around at "The Split" - a wooden jetty which juts out over the swiftly moving sliver of water separating the northern and southern halves of the island, or lying in the hammock in the shade and reading. Once or twice we indulged in massages, offered in a shaded hut by the split, and very reasonably priced. It wasn't action-packed, it wasn't adrenaline-inducing: it was blissful, it was peaceful, it was paradise.
One final note on responsible traveling:
It is always important to be aware of the impact you have as a tourist when you visit another country, and especially a place as potentially fragile as Caye Caulker, whose economy depends on tourism, which in turn depends on the conservation of the marine life around the island. Please be mindful of the impact your waste will have while you stay in small communities such as this - where garbage disposal is often costly and inconvenient for the locals (it has to be shipped to the mainland). Reusing cups for your morning iced coffee, eating in restaurants rather than accepting polystyrene takeaway containers, and refilling the same water bottle during your stay will all make a difference to the impact you have upon the local environment.
Secondly, it is impossible to visit Caye Caulker and fail to notice the abundance of stray and free-range dogs (and to a lesser extent, cats) which populate the island. The Caye Caulker Humane Society works to capture, neuter, and re-home these animals. There are collection boxes in various local businesses, and we donated our beach towels to them for bedding at the end of our stay. Always remember it's not what you take home in your gift bag at the end of your trip, it's what you leave behind you that has the biggest impact.