Did you know that the second-longest barrier reef in the world is to be found in the Caribbean Sea, out on the coastline of Belize? The Northern Cayes is a true scuba divers paradise and a spot-on place to visit if you want to soak in the Caribbean vibes.
One of the passengers we had on the pink caravans in Patagonia recommended me to visit Caye Caulker if I were to go to Belize. I am beyond happy I took her advice. This island caye was definitely my kind of place! What I liked most about the island was its size, that it was walkable and that there was no car traffic. The only traffic running was golf carts. My dad actually grew up on an island in the Swedish archipelago that did not, and still does not, have traffic either. How awesome is not that?
It is a true paradise, you know, the kind you only see in movies and on Lonely Planet covers. I have always preferred walking barefoot and as soon as the summer allows it, my socks and shoes are thrown off. In Sweden, people do not wear shoes inside (unlike some other countries) and on Caye Caulker most people did not wear them at all.
Ever heard of the Blue Hole in Belize? If no, then enter google and check it out. Oh my, I do not even know how to explain this place. It is a giant blue hole with a depth of 124 meters. Obviously, a lot of travelers who dive are curious about this place. And so was I. I strolled around the sandy main street and walked into a few different dive shops my first day. I had been recommended to go to Blue Waters and Frenchie´s Diving by four different people and ended up in the last-mentioned as the first one did not offer dives at the blue hole.
I just want to mention that you should not expect a whole lot from your dive in the blue hole itself as there is not that much to see there. It is outside the reef and you will pretty much only see sea life such as lobsters and shrimps. This excursion did though include two other dives as well and these were amongst the best ones I have ever done. The barrier reef was so colorful and alive. We saw reef sharks, different kind of turtles, smaller fish of all kinds and had a grouper following us like a loyal dog throughout a whole dive.
Due to both its popularity to dive at the blue and the distance (roughly 2 hours by boat) it is an expensive dive excursion. Count in to pay nearly US$ 300. This should include everything, transportation, equipment, tanks for three dives, breakfast, lunch, drinks, snacks, and marine park fee. If you are keen to see the barrier reef but to a less amount of cash, there are one and two dives options as well as snorkeling excursions much closer to the cayes.
If your budget allows it, then Iguana Reef is defiantly the place to stay at. But since it was the low season when I was there I could use their beach facilities as long as I bought a drink. Fair enough. The island itself has smaller beaches on the east side, but due to all the seaweed that has entered the Caribbean lately, these were not very pleasant during my stay. Iguana Reef is located on the west side and therefore much cleaner.
There are pretty much two other places where it is nice to swim and relax, and that is The Split and Koko King. The Split looks kind of like a pool bar with the difference being that it is not located in a pool but the ocean. I only went to this place to see what it was all about, but it was too busy for my taste, with loud music and a party feeling. Koko King is also known for being a bit party like, and I hesitated a little before going but decided to give it a go. It was way more relaxed than the Split, music and so on, but much more relaxed. To get here you got to go by boat, as it is located on Caye Corker, the northern part of Caye Caulker. There is a shuttle service that leaves every 20-30 minutes. And it is up to the visitors to choose if they want to spend 25 Belizean dollars in the restaurant/bar and get free transportation, or simply pay 25 for the boat.
Do not expect to live like royalty on Caye Caulker if you do not have a lot of money to spend. It is not the cheapest place, however, neither the most expensive. There are loads of cozy cafes and restaurants to visit though so if you are traveling on a budget, then stay somewhere where you can cook and mix it up with eating out every now and then.
I stayed in a hostel called Bella´s and it was a nice place. I must say that I thought it was going to be more relaxed and less party like though, from the descriptions on the sites I had a look at. When looking into hostels some stated that they were party hostels and as this one stated it to be something else I booked it. After being on the island and talking to people there, I would have chosen to stay at Go Slow hostel if I returned.
Caye Caulker sure is one of the more popular islands to visit in the northern cayes and another one is San Pedro or Ambergris Caye. I decided to stay on Caye Caulker simply because I was tired of moving around and wanted to stay put for more than just a couple of nights. I did instead go on a day trip to San Pedro, which took me 30 minutes with the water taxi. After spending a day there, I knew I had made the right choice. Do not take this the wrong way though, this is also a paradise. It did, however, seem busier, with traffic, way more people, nightclubs and larger distances.
My five nights on Caye Caulker was absolutely some of the best ones throughout my backpacking experience in Latin America. If it was not for the expensive airfares from Europe, I would go back in a heartbeat.
Fun facts on Belize:
• It is the one and only country in Central America that has English as its official language.
• The country received its independence as late as in 1981 and is thereby the youngest country on the continent.
• There are around 900 Mayan sites and 450 islands, also known as Cayes, in the country.
• The tallest building in Belize is not a building, but a Mayan ruin.
• There is no Starbucks, Burger King, McDonalds nor KFC to be found in the entire country!