The word paradise may be overused when it comes to travel but in this case – it’s an apt word for Caye Caulker. There are others of course but I firmly believe “paradise” is the most appropriate.
Flying on a very small Tropic Air plane from Flores, Guatemala to Belize City, I gazed at the Caribbean for the first time ever. Amazing. I was like child window-shopping but there was nothing behind the window to buy. Just to admire. The second flight from Belize City to Caye Caulker was even more impressive, albeit short (15 minutes or so) and it’s an incredibly special feeling to be the only person to disembark at the airport, while the other 9 passengers stayed onboard to continue their journey.
This is a car-free island. Aside from the historical center of Venice, I can’t recall many places I’ve been that are free from cars. Walking, bicycles or golf carts are the modes of transport. The island is quite small (5mi/8km north to south and 1mi/1.6km east to west. In this instance, I needed a golf cart to take me to the hotel and that was the only wheeled transport I used for three full days here.
The island has only just over 1000 inhabitants, some of whom are descendants of the first families sold land here in the late 1800’s. The fishing (including lobsters) and coconut industries became important for the island initially and nowadays, tourism is high up.
While the island is popular with tourists, what’s great to see is that there are no high rises or big chains but more family-run businesses. There are no shortages of hotels on the island (I believe over 50), but it’s nice to see they don’t take over and do blend in with local houses, which are beautifully painted and generally quite colourful.
Walking around, there is such a relaxed happy vibe on this island as you subconsciously start humming (or in my case moving) to the sounds of Bob Marley blasting from stereos. Bob Marley is regular theme around here, if not Bob then some other reggae or punta rock could be heard. There are Rasta colours everywhere and impressive dreadlocks.
Aside from relaxing, swimming in the Caribbean, having brunch then generally seafood for dinner, going dancing at the Reggae club, chilling out at “The Split” for amazing sunsets and meeting friendly locals – there’s one thing that is a “must-do” when in Caye Caulker. Take a trip to the second largest Barrier Reef in the world. There are areas to dive and also places that offer courses, but most of the area inside the reef is 20f/6m deep so there’s plenty to see with just a snorkel.
We took a day trip with Raggamuffin Tours and honesty – it’s one of the best days I’ve ever had anywhere in the world. The sun, the water, the snorkelling, the music, the lunch, the company…it was an unbelievable day and that’s coming from someone who couldn’t drink the ‘Rum Punch’ (I was still sick), who can’t swim very well (I wore a life jacket) and who was petrified of getting in the water with sharks and rays!
There are an estimated 400 species of fish that inhabit the reef. We had three stops including Shark-Ray Alley and the highlight Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Established in 1987, the reserve is the first of its kind in Central America. We marvelled at nurse sharks, manta rays and even the fragile green sea turtle, which if anyone gets too close or scares it, would not be seen for a week or so.
I’m not one that generally likes to go on a relaxing beach holiday but a few days on this island was just perfect. As picturesque as it is, I would probably get bored if I moved here. When you’re here however and it’s so idyllic, you don’t really want to leave.
It was a scenic and adventurous departure from Caye Caulker having to catch the first ferry to the mainland and therefore witnessing sunrise. Note on cold mornings: Try to sit underneath because on top you’re nearly sure to get wet! In Belize city, after collecting backpacks and a short taxi, it was a dash to the chicken bus that was to take us across the Mexican border. I managed to squeeze in a famous Belize meat pie before leaving the country. No matter how many times I get sick while travelling, I will never stop eating street meat.