Chances are, if someone starts talking about Caye Caulker, “Shark-Ray Alley,” “KoKo King” beach and “The Split” are going to be among the first phrases out of their mouths. (Shoot, guess I just perpetuated that trend.)
Well, this isn’t that kind of guide — mostly because I didn’t DO the first two (I’m really bad at being a tourist), and the idea of needing a tour guide to tell you about the third is more ludicrous than a Belizean street without potholes.
So, quickly, let’s get this out of the way:
This area of Belize boasts the second-largest coral reef in the world, so you really should dive or snorkel, and if anyone tells you otherwise, they’re probably just a really terrible tourist who stayed there two weeks and didn’t do the one thing that every tour book screams at you to do (ahem). Chances are, when you check into whatever apartment or hotel you’re staying in, the people running it won’t ask you whether you’re diving or snorkeling only if you’ve booked your tour yet. (If you respond with “I’m not sure I’ll go snorkeling or diving” you’ll likely be met with blank stares and looks of concern.) Shark-Ray Alley is also a thing that exists in this coercive diving/snorkling world of Caye Caulker, and as far as I understand the idea is to be around a lot of those animals (sharks and rays) without dying. The dying part would really hurt the tourism industry and all us bloggers would have to revise those very first sentences where we talk about it, so you know it’s probably not going to happen.
KoKo King is a beach, and although I became convinced some time ago that all beaches are in fact made up of the same elements (sand/saltwater/sky) in literally every part of the world and thus look and feel remarkably similar minus perhaps the nuances of the shades of said sand/saltwater/sky, people in Caye Caulker might try to convince you otherwise and suggest no trip is complete without a visit to KoKo King. So do that if you want to.
The Split refers to the area where the island is severed in two due to either a violent hurricane in the 1960s or intentional dredging, depending on who you talk to. These days, it’s Party Central on an island where sobriety is waiting until 3 p.m. to start drinking. There are many bars on the water, tables and bar games in the water, hammocks over the water, beers around the water — you get the idea; Drinking and The Water are the key themes here. Listen, I’m not above it. I’m just saying you don’t really need me to tell you too much about it. There are giant human magnets hidden in the sand, so everyone ends up there at some point. Moving on.
Now, to explain Caye Caulker. This island, just an hour offshore of Belize City (the water taxi is $28 USD for a round trip), will suck you in and spit you out. You’ll go for three days and stay for two weeks (this is what literally everyone you run into will tell you, as though its a novelty) and afterward wonder what the hell happened. There are aspects of it that will charm and invigorate you — such as the blazing sunsets, the fresh seafood, the abundance of wildlife and all the swings that stand-in for chairs — but then (if you’re a digital nomad like myself), you’ll realize it’s kind of hard to get work done while you’re swinging and all these other people who are up bright and early actually just haven’t gone to bed yet.
Give in, and understand that at least one day needs to be spent dancing in the waves in a Belikin haze. When you want to party, sing karaoke or play trivia, the Sports Bar will be there for you. You’ll know that well enough, too.
Here’s where else you should go:
Iguana Reef Inn:
No matter what names you keep hearing over and over (The Split, KoKo King, Shark-Ray Alley — didn’t I tell you this already?), this is *actually* the coolest experience in Caye Caulker, regardless of whether you stay at the hotel (I haven’t but have walked through to access the bathrooms; it’s stunning) or just appreciate its beach-front benefits. Allow me to state my case: 1) Around 4:30 every day, the owner hauls a bucket of sardines to the dock and allows anyone who wants to feed the pelicans — who smartly have learned to convene and angle for positioning about an hour prior. Because the pelicans are so accustomed to being fed by humans, you’ll likely be treated to closer contact than ever previously experienced with these grand birds. 2) The dock by Iguana Reef offers some of the island’s best swimming, with a ladder descending into water that is generally calmer and clearer than the windier east side AND the Split area, which tends to collect sea grass. And anyone is welcome to swim there as long as they purchase something from the bar. 3) Around dusk, the baby sharks and sting rays will stop by for the scraps, swimming right up to the dock for more stellar photo opportunities. 4) Prepare for the island’s best sunset view (YES EVEN BETTER THAN THE SPLIT, I’M STILL SAYING IT). 5) You can do all this with a $2.50 USD cocktail in hand at happy hour. Grab a cold one, retreat to one of the lounge chairs on the dock and take it all in.
Find Iguana Reef Inn here.
Ice & Beans
Here you have the second best spot on the island, a coffee shop that greets patrons with free samples (usually coffee drinks, smoothies and mini donuts) — a real boon on an island where restaurant prices approach those typical in the U.S. The coffee happens to be excellent, as are the homemade cinnamon buns if you can catch them before they run out. And the seating area — a narrow patio overlooking the ocean — is hard to beat.
Find Ice & Beans here.
Maggie’s Sunset Kitchen
Like much of the island, the food here isn’t exactly cheap, but it is great. As the name suggests, this eatery with an extended backyard abutting a wooden dock is on the island’s west side, thus treating diners to great sunsets most nights. Don’t neglect to get the grilled fish filet wrapped in foil with veggies. It’s one of the best dishes around.
Find Maggie’s Sunset Kitchen here.
To save some precious coin, look for cheaper eats on Avenida Langosta (more commonly known as Middle Street). Here’s one delightful quick fix for breakfast or a snack, serving up savory meat pies (about $.60 a piece) alongside sweet treats such as pineapple cake from a street window. There is also a vibrant dine-in locale with more dinner options on the same street.
Find Reina’s here.
The Little Kitchen
This tucked away seafood restaurant is truly sweet, its treehouse-like perch sitting atop a tangle of trees and clotheslines. While there are many fresh seafood dishes at competitive prices, the fish panedes are a stellar snack at just $2.50 US per order.
Find Little Kitchen here.
After Hours Munchies
It’s Caye Caulker, all right? At some point you’re going to want some really late-night food, and this place, at the back end of Middle Street, is open until 4 a.m., serves up wings, burgers, fries and more, along with single cigarettes, Halls cough drops (they call them candy though), breath mints and “adult balloons.” Use your imagination.
Find After Hours at the end of Middle Street.
Walk along Front St. and you’ll come across many oceanfront barbecues, especially during the day, before 6. Wish Willy’s — invoking the nickname for a particular type of iguana — is tucked inland a bit, but has a similar atmosphere with freshly grilled lobster and conch for more reasonable prices. Drinks include beers and sodas only, grabbed help-yourself style from a cooler in the sprawling back yard.
Find Wish Willy here.
The Ice Cream Bar
Are you coming here just for Instagram? Maybe you are. I won’t judge you. Maybe that’s why I was there too. But as it turns out, the ‘cream isn’t bad either.
Find The Ice Cream Bar here.
Errolyn’s House of Fry Jacks
This place is almost too hot for its own good. I was here in December and enjoyed a few morning’s worth of fry jacks — those luxuriously airy fried dough pockets — stuffed with scrambled eggs, beans and ham. By February, the line was 15-deep. Errolyn’s has clearly made its way onto a tourist list or two. Your wallet will be happy for the wait, though. One giant ‘jack will set you back just $1.50 USD or so.
Find Erroyln’s here.
Sea Choice juice bar
Located right next to Errolyn’s, if you’re smart, this is your first stop for a huge variety of fresh juices — watermelon, pineapple, lime, orange and Jamaica among them — served cold and bottled or blended with ice.
Find Sea Choice here.
Small as the village is, it’s long enough to want some faster transport, especially when the afternoon sun is beating down hard. This hotel rents bikes for about $7.50 USD/day, a competitive price. Just watch out for the labyrinth of potholes — they’ll straight up toss you into the bush if you’re not vigilant.
Find Rainbow Hotel here.
Tarpon feeding dock
Ever seen a tarpon before? They look kind of like baby sharks in the way that they are majestically terrifying. And they convene daily around this little dock, where thanks to a woman who sells bags of sardines for $2.50 USD a pop, they know they’ll be fed. The experience is exhilarating. Just be sure you guard your fingers. Tarpons don’t have teeth but the rough insides of their mouths can cut you, and believe me — they will be leaping right out of the water for that little snack.
Find the tarpon dock here.
For fried seafood, look no farther than this little fish-and-chips shack, complete with cold beer, exactly two tables and even malt vinegar.
Find Ray’s Chippy here.