The Caribbean islands, especially the Cayes, are the main tourist destination in Belize. We understand why, the islands are heavenly: the water is turquoise and full of marine wildlife. Moreover, from this gorgeous region is accessible one of the most beautiful part of the second largest barrier reef in the world. This UNESCO World Heritage Site includes seven different protected areas and dozens of atolls. It is also near the famous Great Blue Hole. This natural phenomenon is superb to see from the sky or from inside for experienced divers.
In addition to aquatic activities, the inside of the islands are very interesting. This country’s wonderful mix of cultures and the different influences, from Mayas to Rastafarians through the British, is also reflected on these small islands. We loved the relaxed atmosphere under the coconut trees. Indeed, the motto here is “Go Slow” (take your time!). It is also a great destination for pirate and rum lovers.
Finally, if you have the chance to visit between June and February, it is the lobster season! Much cheaper than in Europe or in North America, you can have a true feast. To give you an idea, in our twelve days there, we had lobster in: ceviche, tacos, barbecue, burger, Thai sauce, fajitas and pasta.
If you want to learn more about this wonderful country and visit other destinations inland please read our article on the Cayo region and the city of San Ignacio.
Find a hammock to sit facing the water, relax and enjoy! Go around the island by foot, passing by cafes, bars and restaurants. Drink a milkshake or a cocktail with your feet in the sand or sitting on a swing.
Taking part of an excursion to get a glimpse of the barrier reef and the marine fauna is something we highly recommend. We loved our sailboat experience snorkelling in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve with Raggamuffin Tours: raggamuffintours.com/hol-chan-snorkel/. We could observe the coral reef, beautiful fish, rays and sharks. On the boat there was a great atmosphere with a fantastic guide, reggae music, a great meal, rum cocktails and ceviche. Raggamuffin tour also offers a special sunset tour and an overnight tour. We highly recommend this tour operator, an unforgettable day for us!
Also, do not miss to visit the seahorses for free at the Iguana Reef Beach Bar. Moreover, we ate at several really good restaurants and we thoroughly enjoyed the blend of traditional Belizean and Caribbean cuisine.
Finally, even though recommended on the travel guides, we thought our visit to Koko Kings Beach was disappointing. We much preferred Secret Beach on Ambergris Caye (which was free). At the Koko Kings, you can not be in the shade unless you pay for a VIP seat. Everything is extremely expensive and there is a minimum spent to be able to take the boat back. We used this spent to eat a lobster which was twice as expensive as on the rest of the island. This being said we must admit it was one of the best lobster we had ever eaten!
Which island to choose?
Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker are two very pretty islands with different atmospheres. We advise you to visit both, transportation between the two is quick and inexpensive. So why deprive yourself ?
Caye Caulker is the most relaxed island. On this tiny island cars are forbidden. The city of San Pedro, on Ambergris Caye, is livelier and gives access to more shops and activities.
Groceries seems more difficult to access and more expensive on Caye Caulker (do not count on cooking). Also, there is less choice for hotels. However do not miss on this extraordinary experience. We spent five days on Ambergris Caye and three days on Caye Caulker.
Ambergris Caye, San Pedro
In the city of San Pedro there are small supermarkets and many restaurants as well as offers for tours and activities. If you do not intend to rent a car for the duration of your stay, it is easier to stay in San Pedro than elsewhere on the island.
On the San Pedro beach there is a bar where it is possible to have a drink on a buoy in the sea: the Palapa Bar & Grill.
We stayed in an apartment at the Parham Plaza Hotel. This was one of our favourite accommodation. Indeed, the hotel is located just two minutes from the ferry. Moreover, the apartment is spacious and the kitchen very well equipped. In addition, the sea view from the hammock on the balcony is amazing.
Starting from San Pedro, it is possible to go on an excursion to the Secret Beach (not so secret…). To get there, we rented one of the famous golf car that you will see everywhere. The way to the beach is very fun, nevertheless be careful as we saw an accident in front of us. Moreover, you must have a driver’s license.
We loved our day at Secret Beach, it is beautiful. The swimming was very pleasant. Also, it is possible to eat with your feet in the water on picnic tables in the sea! We ate lobster from a booth on the water rather than at one of the more expensive restaurants. On the way back, stop for a bite at the Truck Shop and for a drink watching the sunset in one of the many restaurants / hotels on your way. We stopped at the romantic Aji Tapa Bar.
Access to the Cayes from inland Belize or Mexico
We went to the Cayes from San Ignacio. Between San Ignacio and Belize City we took a chicken bus ride. It was a very good experience which allowed us to save money. From Belize City we went on one of the Water Taxi, these ferries stop at both islands. Two companies compete in this area and as soon as you exit the bus you may be harassed by touts. However, some will give you discount coupons, which is nice. The atmosphere in the city is already quite oppressive without being harassed. The two companies, Belize Express Water Taxi Service and Ocean Water Taxi, have terminals separated by a few hundred meters and seem to offer comparable services. It is also possible to fly, but it looks faster, more appreciable and more economical to go by ferry (and better for the environment!).
We then decided to go to Mexico by sea! Indeed, the Belize Express Water Taxi Service runs transfers from the city of San Pedro to the city of Chetumal in the Quintana Roo region. Be careful and check the schedule, departures are only every other day. The border crossing takes a while. However it is more fun to take the boat directly than to return to Belize City to take a long bus ride to the overland border.
Clémentine’s reading list
- The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw, One Woman’s Fight to Save the World’s Most Beautiful Bird by Bruce Barcott. This documentary tells the incredible life of the founder of the first zoo in Belize while offering you a trip through the incredible country’s wildlife.
- In terms of travel guide we recommend the very complete the Rough Guide to Belize.
- Why not (re) watch the Pirates of the Caribbean movies to get you in the mood?
Thank you very much for your reading, feel free to comment with your questions or tips on Belize and the Cayes.