Caye Caulker Backpacking Guide
Many backpackers skip Belize altogether on their Central America trip, believing that this Caribbean country caters more to wealthy holiday makers. While that may be true for some parts of Belize, the beautiful island of Caye Caulker offers a slice of Caribbean life at backpacking rates. So Adam and I hopped on the ferry from Belize city to try our hand at a Caye Caulker backpacking trip.
Getting There and Around
As I covered in a previous post, the best way to get from Guatemala to Belize is via a shuttle. The shuttle picks up passengers throughout the town of Flores, crosses the border, and drops them at their desired location in Belize City just five hours later. We opted to get off at the ferry terminal, and hopped straight on the ferry to take us to Caye Caulker (one way: BZ$20/ US$10, return BZ$35/ US$17.50). Some ferry passengers continue onwards to Ambergris Caye, but Caye Caulker is by far the cheaper and more backpacker friendly destination.
Before you board the ferry, make sure you have all the cash you need, as ATMs are limited on the island, and are quite choosy about which cards they accept!
Caye Caulker is small enough that everything can be reached on foot. So, once you’re on the island, you don’t need to spend any money on getting around. If you really do need to catch a lift, you can hail a passing golf cart, which will take you to anywhere on the island for around BZ$5/ US$2.50.
Caye Caulker Backpacking Accommodation
There are a handful of hostels on the island, each of which offer shared dorms and private rooms. But there are several other Caye Caulker backpacking options, such as bare-bones cabins on the beach. Adam and I opted to splurge a little and treat ourselves to a private room in a nice hotel for BZ$60/ US$30 per night.
Though booking in advance is recommended during the high season, during low season you can get great deals simply by showing up. Several touts were waiting to greet us as we disembarked the ferry, and offered us low-price rooms that weren’t available online.
Caye Caulker Food And Drink For A Backpacking Budget
Caye Caulker is a great place to try Caribbean food in Central America. For those on a backpacking budget, there are some great bargains to be found. Many diners along the main street offered cheap eats for BZ$6-10/ US$3-5.
Self-catering is also a great option for those on a tight budget. Many hostels and even some mid-range places offer simple kitchens for their guests to use. There are a couple of supermarkets along the main street, though these aren’t very well stocked.
Splurging a little on an all-inclusive deal can be well worth it. One of our favourite splurges was a coconut curry with three sides, desert, and all-you-can-drink rum and pineapple for BZ$24/ US$12.
There are countless places to spend an evening drinking on this tiny island. My favourite by far was the Lazy Lizard, where crowds gather at the submerged tables for happy hour cocktails.
Day Tours From Caye Caulker
Adam and I had dreamed of diving in the famous Blue Hole of Belize. But once we learned that it would cost us each BZ$440/ US$220 (roughly one week of our budget!), we started shopping around for other day trips more suited to our Caye Caulker backpacking budget.
We settled on a day tour of Hol Chan Marine Reserve. For BZ$130/ US$65, we had an awesome trip, visiting six stops around Caye Caulker. We took a boat through the Marine Reserve, and snorkelled through beautiful coral gardens and over a sunken barge.
Our guide found some tiny seahorses for us to admire, and we also spotted a few turtles. We had been told manatee sightings were a possibility, though sadly we had no luck that day.
The highlight for me was the aptly named Shark Ray Alley, where hundreds of nurse sharks and southern sting rays gather to feast on food that is thrown overboard from boats. We snorkelled right alongside them, amazed to see so many sharks and rays so close to us. We were encouraged to hold them and pet them, though I preferred to leave them undisturbed.
The Cost Of A Caye Caulker Backpacking Trip
Belize is far more expensive than nearby Central American countries such as Honduras or El Salvador. However, it can be visited far more cheaply than many people think.
Adam and I treated ourselves a lot while we were here- splurging on a nice hotel, several tasty meals, and our big day trip. So we ended up spending US$62 each per day, around double what we had been spending in most of the Central American countries. However, had we reined ourselves in a bit, we could have easily stuck within a US$40 daily budget.
Some tips for keeping costs down:
- The day trips are awesome, and I highly recommend taking one during your time in Caye Caulker. But shop around to see what fits your budget, as there are several different tours (and prices) on offer.
- Find accommodation that has self-catering options, or eat at small diners rather than large restaurants. The all-inclusive meal-and-drink deals can be good bargains, but make sure to ask exactly what you’re getting for the price.
- Walk. There’s no reason to hire a bike or take a golf cart, as you can reach everywhere on foot.
- Drink less. Who am I kidding? You’re going to spend every evening at the Lazy Lizard!