Just off the coast of Belize lies a sleepy little island. Pastel wooden houses on stilts line the seashore. Palm trees sway slowly in the breeze. People of every shade of the rainbow call this island home, from Rastafarians pushing fruit carts to blond-haired, blue-eyed cafe owners and Chinese shopkeepers.
Welcome to Caye Caulker, Belize.
Don’t think of Caye Caulker as your run-of-the-mill Caribbean island, however.
You don’t come to Caye Caulker to lounge on beaches. The closest things you’ll find to beaches are meter-long strips of brief sand interspersed with docks.
You don’t come to Caye Caulker for a resort experience. None exist here. The best accommodation you can find is a high-end guesthouse with a pool, of which there are a few.
You don’t come to Caye Caulker for nightlife. Not that you can’t party here — you certainly can. It’s more of a lounge-and-drink place than a stay-out-all-night-and-make-bad-decisions place.
So what do you do here? You soak up the sunshine, all while moving at the speed of molasses. “Go slow” is the motto of Caye Caulker and its denizens take it seriously. Seriously, the locals will call you out if you’re walking too fast for their liking.
It takes practice for a Boston girl to learn how to slow down. During my semester abroad in Florence, I learned the art of the passegiatta — the evening stroll. Throughout Italy and much of the Mediterranean, people leave their homes to walk through the neighborhood just before sunset. It’s the place to see and be seen, and you’ll stick out like a sore thumb if you’re power-walking to your next destination.
So when I arrived in Caye Caulker, I lived like it was a 24-hour passegiatta. Quite a good decision.
Exploring by Bike
Caye Caulker is small enough that you can get by on foot if you want to. If you want to see a lot of the island or travel quickly, however, you’re best off renting a bike. Stores throughout the island rent them for about $15 BZD ($7.50 USD) for 24 hours.
There’s a lot to see for such a tiny island!
Purple houses on stilts. I wanted to live in a purple house when I was little!
An island graveyard.
Plenty of places to eat with sea views.
A million spots to photograph.
That pink octagonal house captured my imagination. Who would choose to live in a place like that?
And trust me, when it’s late at night and you want to get home to the north part of the island from I & I Bar, you’ll be glad it’s just a four-minute bike ride instead of a twenty-minute walk.
Belize is a short boat ride from the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Belize Barrier Reef, home to some of the best diving and snorkeling in the Americas. Raggamuffin Tours invited me to try a complimentary one-day snorkel tour.
That one-day tour included snorkeling at three sites: the Coral Gardens, the famed Hol Chan, and an incredible (and scary!) stop at Shark Ray Alley, filled with nurse sharks, stingrays, and huge tuna.
I’m not even a snorkeler, but thanks to Belize, I’m now a huge fan. Stay tuned for a full post on this adventure!
Sunny Days on the Split
I love destinations that have one main place where everyone hangs out. In Caye Caulker, that place is the Split, a channel that divides the two halves of the island.
Caye Caulker was one solid piece of land until 1961, when Hurricane Hattie struck. The storm caused a lot of damage in Belize and effectively split the island in two. Today it’s deep enough for boats to sail through it:
Today the southern part of Caye Caulker is where you’ll find all the development; the northern part has only a few buildings, most of them private residences.
But the hottest spot in town is perched on the edge of the Split itself: the Lazy Lizard, a fun bar and perfect place to lounge with a beer.
A bucket of local Belikin beers is definitely the way to go — a bucket of six costs $30 BZD ($15 USD), plus a $5 BZD deposit for the bucket. That works out to $2.50 USD each!
Not a beer person? Have bartender Julie make you a piña colada. They’re much more expensive (think $15 BZD or $7.50 USD each), but they are so creamy and delicious! Piña coladas that good are hard to find. (And if Julie’s not there, forget it.)
My advice? During your time on Caye Caulker, plan one full afternoon for hanging out at the Lazy Lizard. Then return for sunset every night of your trip!
The Lazy Lizard shuts down not too long after dark, and the main place to party after that is the I & I Bar. Don’t show up too early — people start showing up around 9:30 and the dancing begins much later.
The One Bad Thing About Caye Caulker
Are you female? Are you foreign? You will receive constant sexual comments. The Belizean men catcall every foreign woman walking down the street.
It doesn’t feel as bad as traditional street harassment, as it’s usually said in a light and friendly tone. Don’t let that fool you, though — friendly tone or not, it’s still street harassment. Street harassment at its core is about power. Men are telling women that they do not belong on their streets. And that’s what happens here in Caye Caulker.
Erisa and I were constantly yelled at and told sexually explicit things, most of them from men with huge smiles on their face. The most explicit things were said when I was alone.
Even one of the locals that became a good friend of mine, the first thing he ever said to me was, “Hey girl, I like the way you’re eating that ice cream.” (Unrelated: he then asked me if I was from Idaho and proceeded to call me “Potato” for the next few days.)
I met exactly one Belizean man who didn’t speak to women this way. Not surprisingly, he grew up in the United States.
The truth? The harassment sucks, but you shouldn’t let it keep you from traveling to Caye Caulker, even if you’re alone. If you called a man out on it, he would never do it again. I ended up making many male Belizean friends by the end of my time in Caye Caulker.
It’s a little bit of ugliness marring an otherwise lovely island.
A Great Place to Stay — Sophie’s Guest Rooms
I stayed at a guesthouse so wonderful, I’d love to give it a plug here. Sophie’s Guest Rooms was such a great choice. It was located just a block from the Split and the Lazy Lizard, on the west side of the island, with sunset views!
Erisa and I shared a private room with one twin bed and one double bed. There was a sink in the room and there were two shared bathrooms, each with a toilet, sink, and shower.
The staff were so lovely to us, it was stupendously clean, and there was free (instant) coffee in the morning. Internet wasn’t the greatest, but I could live with that. (See Essential Info for more information on Sophie’s and internet.)
Also, I had the craziest experience here. I was standing outside on the deck near a couple and I heard the guy said to the girl, “I’m checking Adventurous Kate to see if she posted Tikal pictures. She’s been to 55 countries; she used to live in Chester.”
I nearly fell over. Then I turned around. “Hi.” Then THEY nearly fell over. “It’s really you!”
It turns out the couple themselves were from Chester! And they were on my Tikal tour, and they recognized me then, but were too shy to say hello. (Note: if you see me somewhere, PLEASE come say hi! I always get upset when people tell me they saw me somewhere but were too intimidated to come talk to me.)
I get recognized once a month or so these days, but I have never overheard people talking about my site until now. It still blows my mind.
I don’t want the street harassment to dominate this post, but I’m afraid it will. Trust me — Caye Caulker is so much more than that. It’s calm and quiet and the people are incredibly nice.
Caye Caulker was such a special place to me, and I would love to return. Don’t skip it. It’s worth it.
Essential Info: There are frequent ferry connections to Caye Caulker from Belize City on the mainland and San Pedro on Ambergris Caye. There is a daily ferry to Chetumal, Mexico. You can also fly from Belize City on Tropic Air.
The one-day snorkeling trip from Raggamuffin Tours visits three sites: Coral Gardens, Shark Ray Alley, and Hol Chan. Lunch is included. The tour lasts all day and costs $70 USD.
Sophie’s Guest Rooms is located a five-minute walk from the Split and has sunset views over the ocean. Rooms each have one double bed and one single bed, along with a sink. Bathrooms are shared. Rooms from 30 BZD ($15 USD).
You can get around the island by walking, but I recommend renting a bike. Several convenience stores rent bikes for 15 BZD ($7.50 USD) per day.
Internet on the island is half-decent at best, and I found the fastest and best internet to be at a restaurant called Enjoy and at the Lazy Lizard.
Many thanks to Raggamuffin Tours for offering me a complimentary one-day snorkel trip. All opinions, as always, are my own.
Is Caye Caulker your kind of island?
from Adventurous Kate http://ift.tt/1HGWdQX