We arrived from Guatemala, having spent quite a few weeks speaking Spanish, so casually mispronounced where we wanted to get to: “Ca-yeh Cor-ker” was actually “Key Caulker”! The baggage handlers laughed at us. No more phonetic Spanish, back to English!
It was super easy to get to the island, a fast and relatively comfortable speed boat. The water around us was azure blue and the weather was hot, humid and sunny. Upon arriving at the island, we walked all of about 20m until we reached our hostel, Yuma’s House. We’d been wary about the hostel as the reviews pointed out the super strict rules against partying & bringing non-guests back to the accommodation, but decided the good comments outweighed the bad. And we weren’t disappointed. Absolute beach front, sand floor, hammocks everywhere held by big breezy palm trees. The staff were very casual & lovely, which goes for pretty much everyone on the island. We realised the reason behind the strict rules – the hostel was situated right next to a late night sports bar, which incidentally Wally & I frequented during our stay!
Caye Caulker is a tiny sandy island of the coast of Belize in the Caribbean Sea. Its 8km from end-to-end and less than 2kms across. You can walk everywhere, but some people opt for a bike or a gold cart (but really, that’s just lazy!) Its purpose is tourism & conch harvesting (those crustaceous who’s shells you lift to your ear to hear the sea) and its residents are some of the most chilled people I’ve ever met. On par with Fiji (however, I still don’t think you can beat Fiji for friendliness!). It’s perfect for people of any age group, we came across solo backpackers, couples, families with young kids, retired folk & everything in between!
Activities included spending hours in hammocks looking out onto the beach, petting the hostel dogs, watching big tropical storms roll in, eating anything conch-related (the conch fritters were pretty delicious, especially when hungover), visiting reggae bars with sticky floors and cheap cuba libres & any kind of water activity/sport you can imagine. A great way to spend an afternoon is walking to The Split, which is a big water passage that splits the island into 2. There’s a bar at the end of the island called The Lazy Lizard, which is super low key, but with endless water-front lounging, happy hour, reggae tunes blasting and views for days. Its more luxurious cousin on the other side of the water passage, King Koko features a resort, an amazing bar, sun lounges & inflated trampolines on the water. Well worth spending an evening here. For those with kids they even had a movie night with an outdoor cinema while the parents get sloshed at the bar. It’s an easy & cheap 2 minute boat back to Caye Caulker from the jetty.
We spent a day out on the famous Hol Chan Marine Reserve, which features the world’s 2ndlargest barrier reef, a great blue hole (which we didn’t visit on account of expense and time) and ‘Shark Ray Alley’ where you can swim with nurse sharks. We had our eye on a camping trip where a boat takes you to a tiny island where you stay overnight, but we didn’t have time. We agreed we’d come back at another time to do it.
The boat took us out to the marine reserve and we visited 3 different snorkelling sites. At the first one we witnessed a resident Loggerhead Turtle who famously hangs out with the conch fisherman. The second visit was some epic snorkelling at the edge of the reef where we saw green turtles, leopard rays (oh my god, the spots!), colourful fish & eels. The last stop we swam with sharks, an amazing experience! They were very shy, but beautiful to look at. The island seems to follow strict rules around eco tourism, absolutely no touching of any marine life. Even the conch fishermen have a quota of conch they can catch in the peak season.
We then spent the rest of the afternoon playing drinking games with rum punch on the boat, sailing to King Koko resort. We met some really great people who we swapped photos & stories with late into the night, before we jumped on the last water taxi back to the mainland. Far from thinking the night was over, we headed to the sports bar to have beers with the tour leader from our boat trip, then onto the seediest reggae bar I’ve ever been to. I was still wearing only a sarong, a singlet top and thongs from the boat tour & we all had snorkelling hair, we were let straight in! It was so nice to just be able to just go with the flow without thinking about dress codes or acting sober to get into a club (Sydney people – am I right???). Although I don’t think I have been that hungover in a very long time.. but what better way to spend the next day than being hungover in a hammock with a conch fritter?
I’m sure there is an abundance of small, relaxed, sandy islands within the Caribbean with a similar charm & vibe to Caye Caulker. But the combination of easy access, friendly people, reggae music, no rules & no shoes made this island the perfect place to recoup after a super hectic 7 week trip. Within a day of being there we said we’d be back! No shirt, no shoes, no problem!