Caye (pronounced key) Caulker was our first stop on our round the world tour. We were excited to spend the week on an island just kicking back on the beach with a drink in hand, taking a dip in the ocean every so often when we got hot. We’ll just say, our expectations didn’t meet our reality – but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Getting to Caye Caulker
Once we landed in Belize City, we hopped on a water taxi and headed to Caye Caulker. We kicked back, excited for our vacation to get underway! Once we arrived, we grabbed a golf cart taxi to our home for the next week.
We booked an apartment at Sea Breeze Apartments through Airbnb. We wanted something that was private, had a kitchen and some sort of outdoor space. While I knew that the house was somewhat removed from the center of town, I considered it a non-issue, especially since bikes were included with the rental.
By the second day we both realized that we had made a mistake. While it seemed like a fun idea to ride bikes around where we needed to go, the actuality was not as romantic. We were riding beach cruisers which are not the easiest bikes to ride, especially when you factor in a partially rusted chain, seats set too low (and non-adjustable) and extremely humid weather temperatures in the high 90’s.
To keep our body temperatures down, we always took a shower when we returned from a ride. Our apartment had a “suicide shower” which terrified me initially, but I soon realized it was not that scary. Andy got a little zap which taught him not to touch the shower head at all when he was in the water, a lesson that will come in handy as I know that we’ll have more suicide style showers during our trip.
I should have done more research on the type of beaches that Caye Caulker had before I painted my own picture in my mind. The island does not have white sand beaches similar to Florida or Mexico, quite the opposite.
Even though there is water everywhere, there are only certain places that you can really get in the water and swim. Not only was there a ton of seagrass washed up along the shores, there is also a layer of mud on the bottom of the sea. Our Airbnb host told us if we went where the sea floor wasn’t cleaned up we could get itchy skin. Not wanting any issues with our skin, we avoided all of the water except for the cleaned water near the split. I wish that we had been staying at a hotel with a freshwater pool as it would have been nice to take a dip in.
It can get extremely hot in Caye Caulker with humidity levels hovering at 80% or higher, making it feel even warmer. While Andy and I both like hot weather, this was excessive even for us. There are not many places to get some shade except restaurants so when we were out, we needed to frequently apply sunscreen. Make sure that you bring your own as the going rate for a bottle of sunscreen on the island is $15.
The bugs here during rainy season were awful. I found something even worse than a mosquito – the sand fly. It is extremely small (about the size of a grain of sand) which makes it so you can not see or feel them. Once you are bitten, it itches about 10 times worse than a mosquito bite. I was in agony with bites all over my feet and ankles (where they can easily jump from the sand). From my research online I found that they are not easily deterred by deet, the active ingredient in insect repellent. Insect repellent does help a little bit, at least for the mosquitoes, but is pricey at $15 per bottle if purchased on the island.
One of my favorite things about Caye Caulker were the dogs. There were a lot of really well behaved dogs all over the place. When Andy was working on getting his scuba certification, I had a dog whom I named Murray sit next to me on the beach while I read. Whenever I would walk by the part of the beach that he hung out at, he always came over to me. In fact he was so cute I wanted to take him home with us, well if I had a home that is.
The island is quite small – you can bike from end to end in less than 30 minutes. The roads are partially paved and partially compacted sand which can get a little muddy after a rain storm. Most people get around town on a bicycle or golf cart with very few automobiles on the island.
Dining in Caye Caulker
Our original plan was to cook a lot of our own meals in our apartment’s kitchenette. I had grand visions of going to the market to pick up fish then cooking a side of pasta or rice and cooking up some vegetables. We were in for a surprise when we went to the grocery store and saw the obscene prices for everything – I’m talking $8 for a bag of Doritos and $5 for a box of pasta. Trying to save a little bit of money, we purchased milk and cereal for breakfast as well as tortilla chips, salsa and beer for our own happy hour.
It worked out to be cheaper to dine out than it was to cook, so we ate out quite a bit on our trip. While the prices may seem inexpensive to an American, when translated into the context for a local, going out to dinner is quite expensive. Our meals ranged from $4 per person for a extremely local restaurant that we found to $20 per person for a lobster dinner on the beach with drinks.
Restaurants here are not similar to resort towns in Mexico where everything looks like America. In Caye Caulker, just about every restaurant is outside, many on the beach which seems romantic until you realize that sand flies live there. We were only able to find a single restaurant on the island which had air conditioning. If you are squeamish about food safety, it might not be a good place to visit, as many of the sanitation practices seemed borderline questionable.
On the positive, many of the restaurants had happy hour specials which made it more affordable to get a drink with dinner. For nights that we wanted to save money, we would have our own happy hour with beers that we purchased at the grocery store before we headed out. If you plan to do your own happy hour, make sure you bring a bottle opener if you plan to drink your own beer – no twist off caps here.
We were told that the water here was fine but to err on the side of caution, and because the TV show Naked and Afraid has terrified us of what could happen if we drink contaminated water, we boiled all of our water before we drank it. We figured since we weren’t cooking in the kitchen, we might as well get some use out of it. Plus, it was much cheaper and easier than buying water which we would have to lug all the way back to our apartment.
By the time the week was up we were excited to eat something other than seafood and we were dying to eat some vegetables, a rarity on the island.
Andy had gotten certified to scuba dive before our honeymoon in Southeast Asia but did not finish up all of the courses to be a certified open water diver, limiting him to depths of 40 feet or less. I convinced him to get his final certification in Belize instead of cramming it in before we left. I knew that he would have to do additional dives and diving in a reef would be much better than a quarry, plus the pricing would be about the same.
Andy spent 2 days on his open water certification where he took written tests, passed underwater skills and completed 2 open water dives. Now that he has his open water certification he is able to dive for the rest of his life.
The day after Andy completed his certification, we signed up for a trip to Turneffe Elbow where we did a 3 tank dive. Getting to Turneffe Elbow, the reef, was a 2 hour boat ride from Caye Caulker so we kicked back and enjoyed the ride. Once we got to the reef we reviewed all of our safety signals and entered the water, getting to our deepest depth of the day – 80 feet. Our second and third dives were shallower at 60 feet and 40 feet.
I had high expectations of the diving in Belize as I had heard great things about it. Plus, our diving in Thailand was super disappointing, so I was really anxious for a great dive. It was amazing diving – the temperature was great, visibility was good and we saw a ton of marine life.
Andy was really hoping that he would see turtles on our dives as we did not see any in Thailand. Not only did we see a turtle but we saw 6 of them! We also saw 7 eels who were not hiding in the reef but rather swimming around which was a really awesome sight, even though their creepy faces creep me out a little bit. Beyond the larger animals, we also saw lobsters, crab, sea spiders and tons of different fish.
It was great diving and everyone was happy when we completed it, well everyone that is except one guy. He got sick when we were doing a safety stop (a necessary procedure where you stay at 15 feet for a few minutes to off-gas some of the nitrogen from your body) after the second dive, claiming it was due to the choppy water. After lunch, on the third dive, he got sick 3 times. This time he couldn’t claim it was from the choppy water since we were still quite deep and there was no motion. While it was disgusting to see his lunch come back up, the fish quite enjoyed the chicken and rice. After we got back to the shore, he was pondering if he wanted to still go to the blue hole to dive the next day. I thought it was because he had gotten sick, but he got nasty to the shop owner in front of other customers, saying that they had a shitty boat. I was happy when the owner told him they didn’t want someone with that attitude on their boat and removed his reservation, giving him another shop on the island that would take him out.
Before we left, I created an estimate of what I thought this leg of our trip would cost. We were over budget in some areas and under budget in others.
Higher than expected:
- Andy’s diving certification – I knew he had to complete this but for some reason did not add to the financials
- Diving excursion – we did a 3 tank dive but I had only estimated for a 2 tank dive
- Transportation – I didn’t realize that American Airlines would charge us to check luggage for an international flight
Lower than expected:
- Lodging – we got a great deal and came in well under our estimate of $50 per night
- Dining – even though we had to eat out for most meals, we did a great job keeping the cost as low as possible
We came in just slightly over budget because of Andy’s diving certification. Had I added this in to my estimate we would have been within $50 of our estimate which is pretty good since those numbers were difficult to estimate when I pulled them together several months ago.
While we are glad that we went to Belize, it was quite different than we thought it would be. Diving was definitely the highlight of our stay in Belize, and if it wasn’t so expensive we may have done another dive. Needless to say, once our week was up, we were both ready to go – we were both tired of the heat and covered in insect bites.
The island motto for Caye Caulker is “go slow” and that is what we did. We did not put too much on our agenda and with the limitations of our bikes, we physically went slow wherever we went. It was a good way to dip our toes into long term travel and gave us insight into the things that we both like and dislike in a city. I’m sure that as we continue to travel we will have more learnings.