By Lebawit Lily Girma
Belize’s second largest inhabited island is a small fishing village turned tourism hub, located just a mile west of the Barrier Reef, and 21 miles northeast of Belize City. It’s easy to heed Caye Caulker’s official motto: “Go Slow.” Cayo Hicaco, as it was called in Spanish, is a place where tradition and island village life remains. Paved roads and cars are non-existent here—you’ll get around on foot, bicycle, or golf cart. Colorful clapboard houses still stand, and vendors clamor while pushing carts filled with tamales or coconut desserts. It’s the laid back version of neighboring Ambergris Caye, yet no less intriguing in its great outdoors and offering increasingly modern amenities.
A quick boat trip to the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve, a half-mile from shore, will throw you into waters teeming with giant stingrays, nurse sharks, manatees, and turtles swimming amid colorful corals, as well as the island’s very own shark ray alley. But water activities are all around, from paddle boarding to kitesurfing, sailing, fishing, exploring the Seahorse Ranch Reserve, or hopping over to The Estuary for crocodile and iguana sightings. You could also day trip over to the atolls, from Lighthouse Reef to Turneffe.
Environmental consciousness is part of life on Caye Caulker—sign up for Kayak with Purpose tours along the island’s mangrove-rich coastline led by Ocean Academy’s high school students. Bird-watch, feed 10-feet long tarpons with sardines at Tarpon View reserve, or go fly-fishing with tournament winning guides.
Days here end with a fiery red ball sunset, as residents and visitors gather for a swim or a sundowner. At the heart of Caye Caulker is a community that loves to celebrate its roots—Lobster Fest or Easter are memorable times—with a pulse that’s anything but slow.