When I was kid, I remember taking a trip to the Caye Caulker every year with my family. I swam till my hands got wrinkled and always came darker than I left. The cases are a special place for Belizeans, not only because of the white sandy beaches, but because of the slow vibe.
Caye Caulker is known for its laid-back vibe which makes it a solid backpacking destination. Unlike its larger and more commercial brother island of Ambergris Caye, the little island holds its traditional fishing village essence. Activities on the island include: snorkeling, paddle boarding, scuba diving, kayaking, and chilling.
In this backpacking guide, I'll be recommending free things to do, cheap places to eat and even where to camp for free.
Going to an island might give you the impression that you need to pay for expensive tours and rentals. While that may be true, islands offer unique experiences that cost you nothing. You don't have to shell out money to watch a sunset, swim in water, and you might even be able to get rentals at discounted rates.
The Split is a division of island said to have been created by a hurricane. Sadly this is just a popular story tour guides and locals tell foreigners because it sounds like a legendary tale. A hurricane splitting an island in half with 100 mph winds (160 kmh) sounds a lot more exciting. The Split was actually a man-made drench created to provide passage for canoes which grew through natural erosion. Now it's a popular spot with clear blue and green waters perfect for swimming.
Sometimes I think you don't even need a guide for a tiny island like Caye Caulker. It's a couple of streets with water surrounding it. But, Walking the entire island, meeting locals, looking at unique wooden houses, mangroves, birds is an experience in itself. It's a free walking tour. My partner and I took a simple route. We merely walked from the split all the way down the island till we couldn't walk anymore.
One of the magical things about cayes is that it's the only place in Belize where you can watch the most perfectly undisturbed sunset ever. Islands are special because there are no buildings or mountains to get in the way of the sunset. The last time I was there, I watched it from the Iguana Reef Inn dock, and it was stunning.
What's better than an island sunset? An island sunrise of course. All the colors are stunning on the island and doing sunrise yoga on a dock is next level. I even managed to squeeze in a workout, completely undisturbed. You'll find many of the local islanders running their dogs too. And if you like doing yoga with people, Namaste Cafe offers classes by donation, so you can go in for free if you want to.
Everyone has a different travel style. Some people like doing the whole bucket list thing, but sadly the experiences aren't always what you expect. In this section, I'll give you my opinion about some popular paid activities I've seen in mainstream blogs. I'll be brutally honest as always.
Should you rent a bike or not? I think you should. Riding on an island where there are mostly golf carts, is a special experience. Add the cool sea breeze, and you can get lost in complete freedom and relaxation. Squeeze in a beer after sundown and you'll be riding in the clouds haha. Remember to keep tabs of curfew in case corona season is around.
Bikes can be rented at any Chinese store, but I recommend supporting local vendors. West Coast Tours was quick and accommodating. Try them out if you'd like. The popular beach cruiser bikes even have a front basket for your bag.
The north side of the island is undergoing development at the moment, so it's somewhat of the wild side of Caye Caulker. In my recent trip to the island, I visited the area on bike with my partner and a friend we met on the island.
To be 100% transparent, I enjoyed the adventure of getting to the north side of the island and exploring it, but there's not much on this side at the time. There's a handful of interesting locals living there along with a couple of small resorts and hotels.
The real reason I personally didn't enjoy the north side of the island was because of all the garbage washed up at the shoreline. I took a picture to show you the reality of the garbage situation we're facing. Other blogs don't show you the dirty side of travel sadly.
Remember throwing garbage out doesn't mean it poofs into thin air. It's stays on the planet and eventually comes back full circle straight to our doorstep.
I've snorkeled at the reef a couple of times now, and I never really appreciated marine life until I had a guide explain to me how everything in the sea is a living breathing rainforest. Knowing how to swim and free dive makes exploring the beautiful underwater mazes so much more enjoyable. I felt like I was hovering through a blue rainforest.
I watched my partner go through her scuba diving refresher course in Belize, and it strikes me as a beautifully complex leisure activity. She went scuba diving at the Barrier Reef, but my friends told me that one of their favorite places was Lighthouse Reef.
The Great Blue Hole, a sinkhole, has also been declared as one of the top five scuba diving sites in the world. I'm sure it's a special place since it was an old cave system but, my friends claimed it was all dark.
Caye Caulker can be expensive compared to the mainland, but it's possible to eat cheap and healthy. In general, eating at small local food stalls will be a lot cheaper and authentic than eating at popular touristy restaurants. Consciously supporting local vendors means you can directly contribute to the country's economy instead of sending all your dollars to a foreign owner's country.
Since the whole pandemic started, many of the locals have turned their homes into fast food shacks and fruit & vegetable stands. That means street food is now everywhere. So now you don't have to go hunting all over the island for cheap and good food. Just look for a small food stall with hand-written menus on a chalkboard with a small table at the front. Explore the backstreets as well instead of the touristy front streets.
- Average Price: $1.50 USD
- Opening Hours: 8:00 to 17:00
Before this small shack was famous on trip advis0r, only locals bought food here, at least from what I recall. I ate here because it was the cheapest place to eat on the island. It had all the Belizean staples including fry jacks for breakfast and rice & beans for lunch.
Keep in mind this place opens super early and closes before midday. It's a breakfast joint.
- Average Price: $2.50 USD per plate
- Opening Hours: 05:00 to 11:00 daily (Closed on Monday)
This was the first cafe that caught my eye when I arrived the island. It's not the cheapest, but it offers good plant-based options including puddings, sandwiches, salads and even hummus! It also has wifi and power outlets to get some work done while recharging your electronics. As a bonus, they are eco-friendly and even offer yoga classes every day and run it based on donations.
- Average Price: $6.00 USD per plate
- Opening Hours: 7:30 to 14:30 daily (Closed on Sunday)
- Website: Namaste Cafe
- Wifi: Yes
After visiting Caye Caulker recently, I was happy to see more restaurants open after the big covid shutdown. I got a chance to try the impossible burger here at Juice Dive, and it was spectacular. I felt guilty eating this meaty burger as a vegan. The sauce tastes like bacon. Seriously....
Don't let the small staff fool you, they have a solid menu with a lot vegan and non-vegan options to choose from. The main branch is located in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye.
- Average Price: $10.00 USD per plate
- Opening Hours: 8:00 to 15:00 daily
- Website: Juice Dive
All the listed restaurants above are local, but there are even more local places you can't find on g00gle maps. These are the street vendors that have tiny shops or setup their tent or umbrella on a daily basis. I hope you enjoy these places as much as the locals do!
The guy that runs this small food stall was so chill that we stayed to chat with him and ended up coming back to try his food. They offer lobster and even a vegan coconut curry which was finger-licking good. Unfortunately it's not the cheapest with prices starting at $6.00 USD all the way up to $12.50 USD, but the experience was authentic. The only downside was that they used foam plates and plastic to serve the food.
Everywhere I go in Belize, I try to find pupusas, and I'm glad there's a lady selling it in Caye Caulker. Each pupusa costs $1.50 USD, which is perfect for any time of the day. They sell burritos and will sell you huge handmade tortillas for $0.50 each in case you want to make your own burrito at home. I don't think there's anything tastier than fresh flour tortillas made on a hot grill by latin women.
While on the island, we saw many vendors selling pastries on bicycle. One of the island's famous vendor is Cake Lady, and it's even marked on trip advis0r that way haha. I recommend trying coconut crusts or coconut tarts which are unique to the country. If Cake Lady doesn't have coconut products, you'll find other vendors on bikes selling banana cakes and other sweet treats.
Although I haven't personally camped on the island, I have camped on many beaches in Latin America. Belize should be no different.
A while back I had a few friends that came to Belize on a tight budget. Since they didn't have a tent, they ended up sleeping on a dock. Police never patrols the dock and locals are accustomed to seeing people taking a drink here. My sister has done that with her friends. It's fine as long as it doesn't rain.
From my backpacking experience, a good camping site is always as far away from wandering people. And the south side of the island is exactly that. The only downside is that there are many mosquitos in this area given the large number of mangroves here. It would help to have a tent in this case. You can even ask a local to give you a small space on their property to pitch your tent. It's worked for me in the past.
If you don't mind paying for camping, one of the nicest sites in front of the beach was Vega Inn. The owner Ms. Maria is very accommodating after getting to know her. Her property is unique since she has a nice garden and cute wooden houses on her property. It's easy to find her place, she has a scarecrow standing in front of her yard with the name Vega Inn.
Hopefully this helps you.
Until next time :)