After having rubbish weather in Lanquin and Flores at the end of our stint in Guatemala, we were beyond ready to get back to sunny climates! Cue Caye Caulker – a Caribbean island off the coast of Belize where the motto and way of life is “go slow”. Amen to that!
After getting the boat from Belize City on the mainland, we were greeted by pastel-coloured houses, the smell of freshly grilled fish, and the chilled beats of Bob Marley. We were already in love with this little island! It wasn’t long before we’d found our local ice cream shop and had treated ourselves to a homemade waffle cone. We can’t resist a good ice cream.
The other great thing about being in Caye Caulker was that we had our travel family with us. We met Aussies Brittany and Bonnie and German Josh on our Volcan Acatenango hike in Antigua and had chummed each other along the same route through Guatemala. Together we had survived the freezing Acatenango base camp as well as 12 hour bus rides to Lanquin and Flores – friends who suffer together, stay together. And we were ready for our next family challenge in Belize – swimming with sharks!
As well as the famous Blue Hole, one of the highlights of a trip to Caye Caulker, or its neighbour Ambergris Caye, is a snorkel trip to Shark Ray Alley, a patch of reef where the local residents are mainly sting rays and nurse sharks.
There are loads of agencies on the island that offer half or full day snorkel tours that include a stop at Shark Ray Alley as well as Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Coral Garden reef. Other tours include stops to see the manatees, but these are generally a bit more expensive. We booked a full day tour with Reef Snorkelling Adventures for $130 BZD ($65 USD) each which included the main snorkelling spots as well as equipment, lunch and fruit snacks.
After setting off at around 10:30am and a half an hour boat ride, we arrived at our first stop, the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. The reef was in good condition and we saw lots of fish as well as pretty corals and sea fans. Our guide also managed to tempt an eel out of its hiding place so we could get a proper look. We had around half an hour to here before moving on to another spot on the way to Shark Ray Alley.
The next spot was quite a random one. A couple of local fisherman work here emptying conch shells, with the leftovers attracting quite a crowd. We were told that there is often a loggerhead turtle hanging around here, so we got really excited at the thought of seeing it.
And we weren’t disappointed! This huge beauty wasn’t phased by a few snorklers watching him and just carried on as normal. There were also so many fish and some massive horseshoe rays. We were really in the thick of it all – sometimes the turtle and rays swam so close they were almost bumping into us. It was amazing!
We were on such a high after seeing the loggerhead turtle, we were definitely in the mood to celebrate. Luckily we’d brought a supply of the local Belikin beers which the guys on the boat had put in their ice box, so we were able to have a quick cerveza before arriving at Shark Ray Alley.
And when we got there, straight away our boat was attracting a lot of interest. Big nurse sharks were swimming around hoping for some food. We don’t really approve of feeding wildlife for tourism – it’s unnatural and the animals become dependent on it. We hadn’t realised before the tour that the guides would feed the sharks, so we feel guilty that we didn’t check beforehand.
However the feeding didn’t last long and even afterwards when we were snorkelling, we still saw lots of sharks around the reef. We didn’t see many rays, just a few big horseshoe rays, but it was really cool to snorkel with the sharks. We also saw another turtle hanging around, which I made a beeline towards. Even though the sharks and rays are supposed to be the highlight of the tour, turtles are still definitely my favourite!
After a yummy lunch of fish burgers, we went to our last snorkel stop where we had time to explore by ourselves without the guides. The reef at Coral Garden was really nice (you can tell how it got its name) and we spent quite a bit of time around the reef wall where there was a drop-off to deeper water. Joe even spotted a nurse shark swimming around and another one chilling out under a rock.
After the snorkelling we made a couple of stops on the west side of Caye Caulker, where you can see tarpons and sea horses from the dock. We only saw one sea horse, which spent most of its time hiding under the rope that had created an artificial reef. That was ok though because we were kept entertained by the nosey pelicans that were sunbathing on the dock. Some of them were so friendly you could actually stroke them! A pretty random end to our snorkelling tour.
The next couple of days we totally settle into the Caribbean way of life – lazing in the sun, enjoying fresh seafood and taking full advantage of happy hour. Caye Caulker used to be one big island but since a narrow part of the island got washed away in hurricane a few years ago, the island is now in two and “The Split” is a popular area for sunbathing. We enjoyed hanging out by the bar here and making the most of their decks chairs and reggae music.
We also managed to find some gems on the island in the form of cheap street food, including pupusas (cheesy tortilla topped with chicken, beans and salsa) and the local specialty, fryjacks. No words can do justice to how yummy fryjacks are – the outside is like a very thin batter in a tortilla shape, but folded around a filling of your choice such as chicken, eggs, beans and cheese. We both had chicken fryjacks (twice), which at $1.75 USD each, made for a super cheap and delicious lunch.
We really enjoyed our time in Caye Caulker. It’s such a great island – we loved the Caribbean vibes and laid back atmosphere, we felt so relaxed the whole time We could’ve happily stayed there a lot longer, but given that it’s a bit on the expensive side, after a few days we were ready to move on. Considering we’d paid around $80 USD for our snorkel trip at Isla Coiba in Panama, the tour in Caye Caulker was really good value and definitely one of the highlights of our whole trip. A huge thank you to Cathy, David, Finn, Luke and Annie for getting us the snorkel tour as a wedding gift – we totally loved it!
Have you ever visited Belize? Which Caribbean destinations would you recommend? Leave us a comment, we’d love to hear your tips! Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram for our latest travel photos.