04.10.2013 - 14.10.2013 30 °C
Caye Caulker was the second place we visited on our travels and also one of the last. The laid back atmosphere of the island made it one of our favorite places to stay and was one of the reasons we were eager to visit a second time on the return leg of our trip. This blog is a two parter covering our first and second visits to the island.
We first landed on Caye Caulker in early October after having left Playa del Carmen. After the crowded Playa and our first (unpleasant and extortionate) border crossing we were eager to stay somewhere more relaxed. Since we were still in low season for tourists (roughly coinciding with the rainy season and the tail end of hurricane season) the island was very quiet and relaxed. At that time of year it just seemed to bucket it down for an hour in the afternoon - you could set your watch by it - and then revert to splendid sunshine. We did have one fairly impressive storm, which drove even the coconut sellers indoors. This panoramic photos shows the storm moving in, seen from the Split (a channel which was widened by Hurricane Hattie in 1961, splitting the Caye into two smaller islands).
The motto of Caye Caulker is 'go slow' and that describes the pace of the island well. We spent most of our time cooling off in the sea and wandering the sandy streets between bottles of Belikin stout (easily one of the best beers in Central America), fresh juice, rum punch and freshly barbecued fish straight off the boat.
Spend any time on Caye Caulker and you'll soon run into Pizza Caulker, run by the gregarious Greg. You'll know you've found it when you hear a shout telling you of overpoured rum, cold beer and the best pizza on the island. We went for a look and before we knew it we were seated at the bar drinking Greg's ridiculously strong rum punch and found ourselves chatting to the two gentlemen below, one an ex-soldier from the USA and the other a calamity prone Brit (having lost two laptops and been mugged during his trip thus far). They had come to visit the island for one night, yet roundabout every lunchtime we ran into them again, squinting from behind dark glasses and telling us some variation of the same story - that they'd got too drunk to go back to the mainland to get the rest of their clothes. We had a few great nights sampling the rum and the pizza (which is probably some of the best in Central America, never mind Belize) and the bar became one of our favorite places to hang out.
As an aside: almost anywhere you eat in Belize will be well stocked with delicious Marie Sharp's sauces. Here I am modelling a bottle of Beware: Comatose Heat Level, the spiciest and therefore tastiest one they do.
One of the main attractions of Caulker is the coral reef. Diving and snorkeling is very popular and there are loads of companies running trips. After talking to various companies we decided we wanted to go out for a full day snorkeling trip with Caveman who won us over with his friendliness.
As it was low season we were worried that we might not be able to go on the trip as we needed two extra people but our hotel Jeramiah's did a great job of finding them. By contrast when we returned to the island in high season Caveman's business had really taken off and he had bookings for days.
We had a great day out on the boat swimming about with rays, nurse sharks, turtles and coral. This was one of the highlights of the trip and we hardly need to recommend it to anyone heading out that way.
Our snorkel day was also the hottest we had on the island and we got pretty nicely burnt (the only time during the trip we got properly burnt). Swimming about with your back out of the water for hours it's easy to get burnt so be careful.
We were very glad to be able to return to Caye Caulker towards the end of our trip and relax somewhere familiar. It was high season when we returned and there were lots more people this time round, however more of the hotels and restraunts were open so it never felt crowded. Though it didn't feel as chilled as in low season there were more people to hang out with.
We managed to book a room at Jeramiah's which had been nicely done up since our last visit. We bumped into Caveman the next day who recognised us - but he'd grown a beard and spent a while trying to convince us he was actually Caveman's brother, it didn't take us all that many days of knowing him to realise that this is pretty typical Caveman teasing! We arranged to go on one of his half day trips which this time would be an eight person trip and decided that this time we had to rent a waterproof camera to capture the beauty and the silliness.
With the island in high season there was more going on, the bars were fuller, the snorkel tours busier and kite surfers had shown up on the island. We spent several lazy afternoons down by the split drinking beer, reading in the sun and watching the kite surfers bouncing around on the water. We also met up with our frind Quincy who had been at Buenas Cosas with us during our first week there.
In the evenings we drank rum at Pizza Caulker, hung out with the other people at the hotel or went to the 'trivia night' at the sports bar which was very much a pub quiz and run by a Brit. Its possible to party quite hard on Caulker in high season, but to be honest the 'go slow' attitude had got so ingrained that we often couldn't be arsed!
We were sad to see the sun set on Caye Caulker the last night we were there. Its a lovely laid-back place with some real characters, and seeing the reef was an amazing experience. One day we'll be back (for one thing, Caveman has promised his favourite early customers a free day out on the boat and we plan to make sure he's got the chance to keep his promise!)