It was nine in the morning, bright, and hot. Getting off the bus was like walking into another world. While Guatemala felt very much like South America, Belize had the distinct combination of relaxation and energy that typifies parts of the Caribbean. Children were playing in the street, shifty looking characters hung near a huddle of ramshackle food stalls, a dreadlocked Rasta cruised past on a bicycle... I liked the place already.
We were greeted by a loud but friendly security guard with a heavy Caribbean accent ‘Welcome to Belize! Grab your bags, the boat leaves in 20 minutes.’
The boat was a powerful thing; two huge outboard motors lifted the front high out of the water. After cruising through the harbour the captain put the pedal down and we leathered it all the way to Caye Caulker. It was a smooth ride; the sea was as flat as a mirror, and there was no wind under the fibre glass top. A few islands were dotted on the horizon, a flock of birds tailed us just a foot above the water.
After passing between a few cayes, we finally approached our destination. Several rather rickety jetties stuck out into the water, we docked at the biggest one. We clambered off the boat and walked the wooden planks to the white sand. There was a gentle breeze swaying the palms and the soft lapping of waves.
Staggering around with a heavy backpack was a state of affairs neither of us was particularly keen on, so we didn’t spend too long comparing accommodation prices. For 35 bucks a night we had a spacious room with a balcony overlooking the sea. This was the life! (The joy was lessened somewhat when we discovered the shower water smelt pervasively of sulphur, but you can’t have everything).
Caye Caulker lacks any proper road infrastructure and is all the better for it. There are three ways to get around the island:
* golf buggies – expensive to rent, but admittedly look like good fun
* bicycles – popular with the locals, they are available to rent too
* walk – stroll, amble, dawdle and sashay your way around the island. Everything is within walking distance after all, and you have all the time in the world.
While we spent most of our time lazing on our own jetty and drinking rum, there are plenty of activities available to the more determined traveller. Diving and snorkelling are big here, and trips for both can be arranged, from a number of travel agents on the island. There are also excursions to dive the famous Blue Hole, but prepare to pay around $200 for the privilege.
As night descends, things lively up and the bar near the Split (a waterway that cuts the island in two) is where most of the action happens. We also enjoyed meals at the Rainbow Grill and Glenda’s. The spiced rum here is very good, and the food portions generous, just remember that because it’s a tourism-geared island, prices are going to be noticeably more than on the mainland.
To the backpacker, Caye Caulker is the ideal spot for a bit of relaxation during your travels. At least three nights is recommended, a few more if you can spare it, because this island escape is well worth the stretch.