There are three main parallel streets on Caye Caulker. Front Street is the main street, where all the tour operators and almost all of the restaurants are. It’s quite lively, and at times can be full of pedestrians, bicyclists, and golf carts. It would be easy never to venture off this street. But the further back you go, the less touristy and the more Belizean it gets. To see mostly locals, take a stroll or a bike ride down the middle street and the back street. You’ll see lots of little children (playing marbles in the street is popular), a few local stores and churches, and homes which are nothing more than shacks. A real slice of life, and a reminder that this is the third world.
The southern end of the inhabited part of Caye Caulker consists of crocodile and bird-nesting areas that are still relatively undeveloped in comparison to the main part of town. As you leave the built up area and walk toward the Airport, you will gradually come to this part of the island, which will give you a bit of a chance to see some of the more natural appearance of the Caye.
The Caye Caulker branch of the Belize Tourism Industry Association has established a Mini-Reserve along the eastern side, near the airport. It features small signs identifying some of the different species of trees that are found on the island, such as this White Mangrove tree we came upon growing just off the beach. Mangroves are a very interesting species of tree, living in both salt and fresh water in locations where the temperatures do not drop below 19 C or fluctuate by more than 10 C within a short time period. The aerial roots that you see in the photo allow the mangroves to take root in poor soils because the trees actually absorb the required oxygen through these above water roots.
If you are really brave, the Association even says that you can try swimming at the south end of the Caye. They report that "Snorkeling among the mangrove roots there is a rewarding experience. There are many colourful anemones, sponges, gorgonians, and large numbers of fish among the mangrove roots." Humm, what about those crocodiles!?
You've come all the way to little Caye Caulker, so you should make the time to walk it's amazing beach - along the the eastern 'reef-side' of the island. With the numerous small boats bobbing on the water, the waves breaking off-shore on the reef and the many interesting buildings, there is no shortage of things to observe. It also really helps to settle you into the slow pace of life on Caulker, as both locals and tourists go about their business with no great hurry - it will only take a few days before you too can no longer remember what day of the week it is!
It's hard to get lost in a place where the three main streets are called Front Street, Back Street, and Back Back Street!! During my stay in Caye Caulker I guess it'd be fair to say that I almost literally walked all over the island quite a few times. On every little street you'll uncover some picturesque scene that will make you reach out for your camera. Most of the restaurants and shops are found on Front Street (its real name is Avenida Hicaco), on Back Street (Avenida Langosta) you'll find a bit of everything, including most services such as convenience stores, laundrymats, the bank, school and church, while Back Back Street (Avenida Mangle) is where most of the locals live. My favorite time to explore the island was late in the afternoon, when kids were coming home from school and parents were coming home from work. That's when it was possible to get the best glimpse into day-to-day life on the island and meet smiling people everywhere :o)
After lunch, we followed our guide through the Belizean forest. As we walked and admired the scenery, Carlos gave us lots of information about Lamanai. Lamanai means "submerged crocodile" and it is located near the New River Lagoon, covering several square miles of tropical forest. Though it is believed that there are still dozens of structure hidden throughout the site, the excavation work undertaken in the 1970s by David M. Pendergast of the Royal Ontario Museum made it possible to reveal several minor constructions as well as three great pyramids: the Mask Temple, the Jaguar Temple and the High Temple. It is possible to climb up both the Jaguar and High Temples - the view from the 33 feet high temple is incredible! As we walked through the archeological site, Carlos informed us that Lamanai's first settlers arrived around 1,500 BC and that the city was occupied during about 3,000 years, which is more than most Mayan sites. At its peak, the city was home to about 35,000 people.
After the tour was over we had some time to check out the small souvenir shops and the museum. The museum is very interesting and has some nice artefacts, but Carlos had already provided us with most of the information that was posted on the walls. We therefore made our way back to the boat for the 26-mile ride back to the minivan, which was made very agreeable thanks to a generous cup of rum punch - because it wouldn't be a day in Belize without some rum punch!
The best time to visit Lamanai is from Friday to Monday, i.e. when the cruiseships are not in town. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Mario's Tours if you're interested in visiting some Mayan sites during your stay in Caye Caulker, the tours are safe and very well organized. Next time we'll try to make it all the way to Tikal!
After spending about a week in Caye Caulker we decided to hop on board the watertaxi to spend a day in San Pedro, the town that is rumored to have inspired Madonna's 80s hit "La Isla Bonita" (Last night I dreamed of San Pedro...). The town of San Pedro is located on Ambergris Caye, and with a population of over 8,000 people, it is much bigger than Caye Caulker. It also attracts a fairly different crowd of visitors: whereas Caye Caulker is mostly about young European backpackers, San Pedro's big resorts are mostly visited by Americans. And because tourists tend to hang out by their resort's swimming pool, the beach was practically deserted, which again was quite a change from Caye Caulker's busy "Split". There was, however, a whole lot of action on the main street: being used to the "Go Slow" pace of our small island, walking down San Pedro's main street almost felt like walking around Times Square on New Year's Eve! So after a bit of shopping and looking around, we decided to stop by Mojito Bar & Tapas for a delicious pineapple & mango mojito, and then went out for an equally delicious late lunch at Fido's (http://www.fidosbelize.com). All in all, it was fun to walk around San Pedro and see all the beautiful resorts, but I have to admit that I was happy to get back to MY island once the day was over ;o)
There are several archeological sites dating back to the Mayan era throughout Belize. After shopping around for a while, we decided to book a daytrip to Lamanai as this excursion also included a guided speedboat tour on New River and the site itself was described as one of the biggest and most interesting ones within easy distance of Belize City. It would have been possible - and probably less expensive - to book the tour on our own but as we didn't feel like doing much research, we decided to book it through Mario's Tours in Caye Caulker (US$125/person, includes all transportation, lunch, drinks, park access fees).
We all met at 7:00 am at Mario's and took the 7:30 watertaxi to Belize City. When we got to the terminal, our driver was waiting for us. He took a little detour to show us some of the interesting sites in Belize City (not that there is much to see there), including the Marion Jones Sports Complex. It took about 90 minutes to reach the New River, and when we got there we transferred onto a speedboat and met with our guide Carlos. Carlos is a self-taught man who became a guide after studying the region's wildlife and history, and he's amazing! As we made our way up the torturous and very confusing river, Carlos kept an eye out for crocodiles, "Jesus Christ" birds, howler monkeys and cactus trees, among other things. His knowledge of the country's flora and fauna was quite impressive, and it made for a very fun ride up New River.
Once we got to Lamanai, there was a feast of chicken, rice & beans, salad and fried plantains waiting for us. The food was delicious, and it sure was nice to eat and relax a bit before heading out into the jungle to discover the mysterious Mayan pyramids of Lamanai!
There is an abundance of life in the sea here. If you love snorkelling or scubadiving you should go on one of the many tours that are offered all around the island. But there is plenty to see from the beach too. One day I was swimming around near the split while a local boy was snorkelling around nearby. Right after I got out of the water the boy came up with a shark! It wasn't like the sharks from the movie "Jaws" that I always think about when I hear about sharks... ;) But a small and cute (?) brown one. I'm not quite sure about the name, but I think it's called a nurse shark. You can also see big rays swimming around, and all kinds of smaller fishes in every color.
All around the island you can find coconuts lying around on the ground. Take one and open it on the beach, and you have a great breakfast. It's not the easiest task in the world, but after a while we really got the hang of opening them. And the coconut tastes so much better when you eat it fresh on the beach.
The town of Caye Caulker maintains a small (2 acres) nature reserve near the airstrip. It doesn't take very long to walk up and down the paths, but it allows you to discover some of the native trees and plants of Belize (including the cocoplum, from which the name Caye Caulker was derived) since they are all identified. The reserve was set up by the Belize Tourism Industry Association in an effort to protect the environment and natural resources of Caye Caulker. It's kind of a nice change from walking up and down the beach, especially on a hot day when you're looking for shade!
Most of the houses are situated north on the island. In the south is a large natural reserve. You can go walking around the southern part of the island, but it takes many hours and you have to walk the same way back because it's not allowed to cross the airstrip. It's better to just take it easy and go walking a bit along the sea on the southern part. It's a beautiful walk and you can see lots of fishes, birds, lizards and other animals. But remember to bring something to drink.
Located on the mainland - buy a package from the tourist places on the island.
A MUST - Go on a day the cruise ships are not in.
A bit of a walk in, but the guide explains the flora/fauna to you, quite interesting.
Very Cool and spiritual experience - after you get over the fear of the roof caving in or something biting your butt from below. (Doesn't last long) You wear head lamps (they provide as well as the tubes)
The current coasts you thru the cave systems, so little or no paddling - some portage - brief, just where the delta's are built up or at a break in the cave system where you move onto the next cave.
There was just five of us and one of our group tapped on his tube like an ancient drum and no one spoke for a long time, just coasting in the near darkness. The memory will stay with me forever.
Our guide was Mario, great kid and we were an hour longer than we should have been, he let us take our time.
With a population of about 70,000, Belize City is the country's biggest city. Unless you're flying to Caye Caulker directly from the Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport, you'll have to travel by taxi through Belize City to get to the water taxi terminal. I was curious to see a bit of the city and since we had some time to spare before getting on the water taxi, we walked around the city for a while and well, to be honest, there really isn't much to see. The area around the water taxi terminal is sort of nice since that is where cruiseship passengers arrive. Some shops, restaurants and bars have been built along the waterfront over the past few years, but they're only open when cruiseships are in town. Beyond that, it doesn't take long before the streets get a little seedy. I didn't feel unsafe as we were there in broad daylight, but there definitely isn't the same kind of laidback atmosphere there is in Caye Caulker and you do have to keep you wits about you to avoid trouble. All in all, Belize City is best admired from the water taxi!
Belikin is the national beer. There were three kinds that were available. Ask for a Belikin and you'd get the regular one. It's light and crisp. Can't go wrong. A "Lighthouse Lager" is the "light" beer. It comes in a small bright green bottle. There was also a "premium" brand, but it didn't seem much different from the regular one. All are light, but I preferred the regular. They go down smooth with very little aftertaste. Perfect while sitting under the sun.
There are some accomodations at the south end of Caye Caulker, but most people stay "in town". If you are one of these city slickers, then make the effort to walk or cycle to the south end of the island. There is a nice path that goes right on the beach along the water's edge. I chose an overcast day and was rewarded with many bird sightings.
Just before you reach the airstrip, you will encounter a small forested nature reserve. There are paths through this reserve and some of the native plants and trees have been labelled.
If you choose to rent a bike (mine cost 15BZ for 24 hrs), you can easily cover the entire island in one hour. You can also ride your bike along the aforementioned beach path.
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