Caye Caulker – second biggest Barrier Reef in the world, juicy stakes in Wish Willy and Rastafarian magic muffins.
Why Caye Caulker?
Caye Caulker is one of the places that you can’t miss if go to Belize, simply because its unbelizable. Sand streets, people not rushing to go anywhere and peculiar culture and traditions – overall it seems that this will be the Belizean Holbox. Great, that’s exactly what we need – some down time and relaxation.
Belize is a small country with an area around 23 000 km2 and less than 400 000 inhabitants. The official language is English because until 1981 the country was a British colony. The population is quite diverse – Mestizo, Creole, Mayans, Garifuna, Asians and Europeans. The Garifunas are a mix of European, African, Caribbean, Arawak, and South American decent, and speak between each other in Garifuna language. The Creoles are of African descent, brought by the British Empire as slaves. Their language sounds like English with many mumbled words and difficult to understand accent. Big part of the Creoles and Garifunas are Rastafarians, meaning they smoke weed constantly. As of today, the law in Belize allows you to carry up to 10 grams for personal use!
Day before we arrive in Caye Caulker is the biggest Garifuna celebration. Every year on 19th of November in the town Dangriga, they do a parade, with street music and traditional dances celebrating the Garifuna Settlement Day in Belize, after they were kicked out from other Caribbean islands by the British army. As we wait to catch the boat from the immigration office in San Pedro to Caye Caulker, suddenly couple of people, come to play some music for the holiday and to welcome us. Thanks!
How we got from Mexico to Caye Caulker, Belize you can read in the post about Bacalar.
After around 30 min in the boat from San Pedro, (thank god it stopped raining!) we reach Caye Caulker. We pick up the backpacks and on the way to look for our prebooked accommodation, a guy stops us to ask if we need a room. – „Do you need a hostel?” – „No, we have one, thank you.” – „Aaa, then, I have great weed! Want some?” Quick glance. – „No, thank you” – „Ok, go slow!”
The slogan of the island is „Go slow” and you can see it everywhere on signs around the island, also the locals often use it as goodbye. At the beginning is a bit strange, but you get used to it quite quick and you get into the slow rhythm of the place. The sign „Go slow, we have two cemeteries and no hospital” sounds a bit ominous. So, you better go slow. If by any chance someone quickens the pace either on foot or by bicycle, there is a big chance someone to shout a friendly „Go slow”.
You don’t need a map
There are three main streets in Caye Caulker – Front Street (in the front part of the island), Back Street (in the backside), and Middle Street (yep, exactly there!). The island is so small that you can walk around it for not more than an hour. Even so, there are many people with golf carts or bicycles on the sand covered streets. From tip to toe, the walk is around 10-15 min (depending how many magic muffins you have eaten and/or how many beers you had).
Where is the best food in Caye Caulker?
With quick pace, we march to the hotel – Pancho’s Villas, which is 3 minutes from the port! The hotel is right in the middle of the island but because of this, the price is a bit high for what it offers. Luckily, there are plenty of places with cheaper prices than in the popular booking sites. After we check in, its time, as usual, for dinner. We do a quick tour on the Front Street. The island is packed with restaurants. We are a bit tired of noise, so we look for something more calm, without screaming gringos (for the locals in Central America all tourists are gringos and it doesn’t matter where they come from).
Wish Willy – or why is worth it to visit Belize
Almost at the end of the street, we see a black chalkboard with an arrow pointing to a quiet side street. Let’s go! This happens to be our best decision in Belize! We stumble on a diamond! Wish Willy Bar & Grill is the place for which I would go back to Belize again! For 5 nights on the island, we have dinner there 4 times (and once breakfast!). The concept of the place is like this: sandy yard with old rusty chairs and tables, the most magical barbecue in the world and the cherry on top – the guy behind the magical energy of this place – Maurice Moore. The best thing here is the combination of laidback atmosphere and divine food. You feel like you are in an old friend’s backyard, which you haven’t seen for years – without familiarity, without fancy environment or fake smiles. The important thing is to have a sense of humor and to bring good mood with you! If not – they will serve you one, no worries!
For the record: this is not a sponsored post!
The clock shows around 8-9 pm. The restaurant is empty, a stoned waiter comes to tell us that the menu is on the board and we need to go and choose from there. We go and as we read the list with not more than ten things on it a huge, almost two meters tall, black guy with long dreadlocks, shirt with palms trees and a huge smile on his face comes out of the kitchen door. “Why the hell is he sending you here? All that is left is pork, chicken and fish. What do you want?” Me – fish, Tsveti – chicken. “Drinks, we have beer, coke, and rum.”
This is it – the place offers pork, chicken, fish (the lobster is finished for today), beer, coke and rum. The garnish is the same for all dishes – every day he has three different types and that’s all. The price is also the same – it doesn’t matter what you eat or drink you pay for “food” and “drink”. One food and one drink is 25 Belize dollars (~ 10 €).
Important! Definitely eat at Wish Willy Bar & Grill! All meat is prepared on the barbecue by the master chef – tender and juicy chicken or pork, marinated in I-don’t-know-what-magic, bit burned on the grill, super fresh and yummy lobsters (it’s not an accident that they finish first!), covered with to-lick-your-fingers-sauce, and I won’t even start with the grilled vegetables and “grandmas” beans. Tsveti, hand me something to wipe my drool, please!
One of the days, we have dinner here, is Thanksgiving Day and both of us have the traditional dinner for a first time. The place is full of people from the US – a good mixture of tourists and expats. We are the only ones that don’t celebrate the holiday but just come to enjoy the fabulous turkey and ham, home-made cranberry sauce, perfectly cooked sweet potatoes, amazing grilled vegetables and yummy traditional stuffing, as well the fantastic home-made desserts prepared by Maurice wife.
Our first #thanksgiving Special thanks to the best cook at #wishwilly in #cayecaulker 💜🐷🦃🍽💜 . . . . . . #lazyroadtrips #travel #centralamerica #travelblogger #travelling #travelphotography #travelgram #traveller #traveltheworld #traveler #instagrammers #trip #backpackers #backpack #belize2017 #cayecaulkerbelize #caribbean #caribbeanlife #islandtrip #islandvibes #belizelife #foodporn #bestcook #greatfood #donotmiss #thanksgivingdinner #thanks
“The beach” on Caye Caulker
Typical for our Lazy Road Trips we spend the first day in doing nothing – walking, eating, drinking cocktails and coffee… it’s a difficult life, you have to agree! Everything is simply perfect until we realize that there is no beach on the island. The spot considered as a beach is an area made of concrete, covered with a bit of sand and situated just before „The split”. The island was bigger but an earthquake destroyed it and divided it in two. The gap between the two parts of the island is called “The split.” The water at the “beach” is warm, semi-clean and good for swimming, so we promise ourselves to come back and try it one of the following days.
Here is also the most famous bar on the island – The Lazy Lizard. The atmosphere is typical Caribbean – blazing sun, a couple of palm trees make shade, odd creatures swim in the blue water, the beer is cold, reggae is blasting and 50 years old Rastafarian rides a bike half-naked and screams with raspy voice “Maaaagic mufffiiiiiiins!” They are homemade, he says! No kidding!
The other alternatives of the so-called beach are the countless docks covering the whole area of the front side (also couple of platforms in the backside). All of them are private and you can access them if you are a guest of the nearby hotel. We don’t want to spend so much on accommodation, so we sit on the side with an ice-cold beer.
Sunset dinner at Little kitchen restaurant
It’s time for dinner. Despite the wonderful food yesterday evening, we decide to check one family owned restaurant suggested in Google and our Lonely Planet guide – Little kitchen restaurant. The place is hidden deep into the small back streets, so we need to get a flashlight and boost our courage to find it.
Important! How to find Little kitchen restaurant. From the fire station continue towards the Back Street and look for a small sign with the name of the restaurant. Turn right trough the alley/street, which gets really dark with lots of plants around. The house is on the left side. When you think, “There can’t be a restaurant here” turn left next to the house, climb the stairs and you’ll get to the terrace where the sunset should be impressive (we couldn’t see it, unfortunately).
The place is so well hidden that we are the only customers to enjoy the fresh night on the terrace, far from the tourist noise. The food they offer is cheaper than most places and the menu is – chicken, pork, fish and lobster. Classics! The food is pretty good but after Wish Willy our life is not the same and the food here doesn’t make an impression at all, despite that it’s quite tasty.
Fry Jacks for breakfast
The next morning we go to try the local specialty – fry jacks. They are something made of fried dough closed like calzone pizza and filled with a choice of – eggs, cheese, mushrooms, ham, onions etc. It turns out really delicious and quite cheap – the most expensive one is 4 BZD (~ 1,60 €). For comparison – breakfast in a restaurant (with coffee and juice) is around 15 BZD (~ 6 €).
Juan in a million – the expensive destinations require cheap accommodation
After breakfast it’s time to hunt for cheaper accommodation because we want to stay couple of extra days. We make a deal with Juan in Juan in a million. The place is a bit on the lower side of our standards for rooms but comparing it with the hellholes we saw for double the price, is perfect. The atmosphere is typical – posters with Bob Marley, Jamaican flags and fun owners. The best thing is that it’s in the quiet part of the Front Street, which means it will be calm. Amazing! 3 more lazy days on the island! 3 more days Wish Willy!!!
Snorkeling the Barrier Reef and swimming with sharks in Caye Caulker
Today we have another important task! 3-4 km off shore is the second biggest Barrier Reef in the world and there is no chance of missing it! Or is there…? When someone tells me “the second biggest Barrier Reef in the world”, I start imagining how I go and visit Ariel The Little Mermaid, we have some fresh seaweed cocktails, while surrounded by crystal clear water, thousands of colorful Nemo’s, playful seahorses, huge turtles, corals covered with all the colors of the rainbow… in two words underwater paradise! Therefore, I have never imagined 2-3 meters long sharks, packs of stingrays, all type of other sea monsters or corals that can seriously harm you.
Huston, we have a problem!
Not that we are the bravest of them all, especially me, but we need to concider this adventure thoroughly. Two days we ask each other if we want and can really swim with sharks. Sharks… not cheerful dolphins or sweet turtles… sharks!!! Real sharks! Ok, yes, they are nurse sharks which (normally) don’t eat human and the stingrays supposedly are sweet and friendly and don’t bother you if you don’t touch them, but… they are sharks and stingrays, for Chist sake! The question is “Аre we brave enough to get into the water with them or not?”
Two days later, we made the decision and we book a half-day tour! You only live once (as creepy as it may sound in this moment). The guide gives us snorkels, masks and fins. We share the boat with a couple from Wales, who are also first-timers and are “a bit” scared. The tour is divided into five parts: first – 40 minutes swimming in the reef area with the guide; second – 40 minutes swimming again in the reef without him; third – the cherry on top (if you want and can) 40 minutes swimming with sharks and stingrays. Stop 4 is observing jumping fish and the fifth – seahorses.
Swimming in the coral reef
Before we plunge into the water, I explain to the guide that I’m REALLY scared and that I haven’t done something like this before, and the situation is on a brink of a panic attack. He is absolute happy-go-lucky and starts making jokes like “Don’t worry; the sharks eat only ugly women.” and “How many people you know eaten by sharks?” Very funny, ha -ha! He gives us life vests that keep us afloat and reassures me that everything will be OK and he’ll help if I need him.
The first part we spend in the reef area observing fish and curious corals. We anchor in the middle of nowhere, very scared we jump into the water and start swimming in line. It’s important to stay away from the corals because either we can harm them or they can harm us. Every time we see something interesting the guide dives and points at it. When he goes back up, he explains what it is. To be honest, I was imagining Ariel’s house bit more colorful and vivid. It turns out that the destination isn’t what it used to be years ago. Because of the countless boats with tourists coming here daily, most of the corals are dying and losing their color. The fish are thousand time less than we expected and we didn’t see any turtles at all.
The second destination is not far from the first one and we get there by the boat. To get out of the water, board the boat, and sail straight in open sea, still soaking wet, is not one of the best experiences neither the warmest. With chattering teeth from the cold, we reach the second stop within 5 minutes, where we have 40 minutes to swim without the guide. This area has way less to explore and without having the reasurance, that the guide is 3 meters away from you, the motivation somehow disappears. In addition you can add that I don’t think I have ever swam 40 minutes, what about 2×40!
Scary movie Last Part
It’s time to go to the Shark bay and see what we came for in the first place. By now, I am not even cold. The boat stops and we observe from above. There are neither sharks nor stingrays! That’s not good. They are probably hiding. If I’m swimming with sharks for a first time, I want to be able to see them before I jump into the water. Somehow, the thought of jumping and not knowing from where they will appear doesn’t appeal to me at all. At this point, the guide starts the engine of the boat. The vibrations from the motor make the sharks think something interesting is happening and they start coming from every direction. It’s interesting indeed – four scared to death tourists are fretting above them. We all stare at the water and keep silent. The guide jokingly says “Come on! Jump! They are waiting for you!” Quite a joker, I am telling you!
Ok… Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Now or never! Omg, I am so scared! Mom, dad I love you!
Where are the sharks? Did I hit one? I have seen on National Geographic that they get angry if you hit them.
God, my heart will explode!
“Tsveti! Tsvetiii!”, I yell.
Tsveti is happily swimming around me and urges me to do the same.
But how can I swim? Can’t you see all of these 20 sharks around us?! You swim! I’ll survive. Thank god I am with a life vest.
Look to the left – sharks; look to the right – sharks; look down – stingrays! The stingrays are twice as much as the sharks. At least they swim closer to the bottom and if I stay leveled, I would not reach them. But they are so many – passing by centimeters away (or it looks like this from the glass of the mask). The way they move in the water is somehow hypnotic, like some sort of a deadly tango dance!
Think positive! Think positive!
OK! 2 minutes are gone and no one is eaten or stung! That’s a perfect start! However, there are 38 minutes to go…
Think positive! Think positive!
It takes me a huge effort, physical and psychical to coordinate myself – my legs with fins on them for a first time, trying not to spred too much my arms, floating with the weird square life vest, breathing trough the snorkel and biting it strong with my teeth and the crazy heartbeat in my ears!
I don’t know how long we stayed in the water or how many sharks and stingrays passed next to me, but at some point, everything was just too much. I am going out! The mission swimming with sharks and stingrays is completed!
Hunting for predatory fish and seahorses
It turns out that the last two stops from the tour are just to fill the time and I think they are not worth it at all. At the backside of the island, we stop by to see some 50-60 centimeters fish which jump out of the water when they see your hand. Warning – they have huge teeth and might bite you! But when I think about where we were just now, they seem like friendly Guppy to me. The fifth stop is the seahorses and apparently they are quite rear here, the guide told us that there were two yesterday which is a real happening.
Some practical advices:
Important! There are countless agencies offering snorkeling tours and diving. Two offer half day tours – in the morning from 9-10am and afternoons from 13-14pm. The price is the same 35$ (~ 27 €) for half day and 70$ (~ 54 €) for full day – it includes transport, equipment, guide and some fresh pineapple (there was suppose to be water but they didn’t had any on our tour). Everyone we spoke with recommend the full tour, tho. If you can swim that long and can also afford it, maybe it’s worth a try. They run the tours if they have minimum of four people. We chose Caveman Skorkeling Tours because their approach is super adequate and nice with many explanations, which is essential for beginners like us. It turns out that they don’t have enough participants, so in order not to waste our day the Caveman referred us to another agency.
Important! Take a lot of sun cream because for some reason the sun burns much more in open sea. Take mineral water and towels to cover yourself when you travel to the next destination. Despite the sun, it is freezing cold because of the wind.
Important! Because we didn’t have underwater camera but just waterproof cases for our phones, with which the pictures are not very good, we started asking for a rental GoPro. Everyone was pointing us to the next place with confidence that they will have GoPro, but they didn’t. The guy from the agency found us one camera but we needed a memory card for it. If you happen not to have GoPro or a fitting SD card, keep in mind that some agencies, that are more expensive, offer pictures during the tour.
If you have a day more and extra money:
Not far from Caye Caulker is the famous Great Blue Hole, which in 2012 won the first place on the list of Discovery Channel “The 10 Most Amazing Places on Earth”. And because of this it’s the dream destination for every diver. This beautiful place also hides great deal of danger – many divers found their death here. If you don’t dive, you can see the Great Blue Hole either by boat or helicopter. We can’t say much, tho, because we left the adventure for the next time we visit Belize. But it will be worth the trip, so if you are stopping by Belize try and go there. And don’t forget to tell us about it!
Interesting on the island – weed, gas and mosquitoes
After the dinner in Wish Willy, we head for a well-deserved rest and assimilation of the day. Shower, cigarette and off to bed. On the terrace, though, we meet our hosts and supposedly their mother (!), smoking another type of cigarettes. And this is totally fine. They offer us to join(t) them, of course. They are promoting smoking in a huge tobacco leaf, dried in honey! The whole gang looks like they have done this all day long and their company is not what we need at this moment. We decline politely, apologize, that we are tired and retreat for the deserved rest.
We lay down and Tsveti falls asleep after 20 seconds (as usual). I’m still so shaken by the day full of crazy emotions that can’t fall asleep. Outside, the only thing ruining the calm and quietness is the talking and laughing of our hosts. As I finaly start closing my eyes and hoping I won’t be dreaming of half eaten Denny by sea creatures, the silence is disturbed by loud scream from the mother of the boys “We want more weeeeeeed!” Everyone has their own problems, as they say.
First thing in the morning is coffee, of course. We go out of bed and we smell really heavy odor of gas. We glance at each other quickly (I am absolutely sure that the thought in both of our mind was that our stoned hosts did something wrong in the kitchen). Tsveti runs down the stairs to tell them to turn off the stove or whatever is leaking gas and in the next moment, she appears again running even faster towards me, pushing me into the room and screening “They spray for mosquitoes!” Until I figure out what is happening, we are already in the room and closing all windows.
As you may guess all windows in Central America are not five layers aluminum profiles windows. Often there are no windows at all but only wooden or glass blinds, which don’t close perfectly, of course. Sometimes the windows are broken here and there or they are missing in general, sometimes the bricks are done so badly that you have five centimeter gaps between the actual window and the window frame. In our room, there is a combination of everything, so almost immediately starts smelling of a mixture of gas and chemicals. We wait for a while but the room gets stuffy quite fast, so we go out to bread some “fresh air”. Obviously, outside is not much better but with every second the smell goes away. It turns out that on some days without a schedule or a warning the responsible ministry sends a car to spray for mosquitoes. It is not harmful for animals or humans, they say.
Breakfast in Crepes and Dreams
After the stressful morning, we need easing up of the atmosphere, so we go to have breakfast at Crepes and Dreams. The place is on Front Street and it has a big map where most of the passing by customers put a cross on their home city. Hello Veliko Tarnovo! Hi Varna! We did it also. If you stop by, definitely try the home-made marmalade (it goes great with the crepes) and the magical salsa from grinded carrots, jalapeños and olive oil. Reeeally tasty!
Some other importances and curiosities:
After breakfast is time to sunbathe on the concrete… aaa, the beach, I mean. The walk is short but it is impossible to get there without anyone bothering you. Most locals, day and night, are drunk and stoned, hang around the corners doing nothing while observing the passers by. There is nothing wrong with this, of course, but they constantly shout and tease you, especially the girls. If for some reason, you don’t reply, they get angry and offended. After 5 days, they are unbearably annoying but we are buddies with some of them already, so they don’t even bother (that much) except with ocasional high five.
Because tomorrow is the day we leave Caye Caulker and going to the old capital – Belize City, we need to organize the logistics of the trip.
Important! There are two companies selling boat tickets to Belize city. The first one Caye Caulker Ferry Terminal sells tickets for 19 BZD, the other one San Pedro Belize Express (the one we came from Chetumal with) – 18 USD! The difference is double, and the cheaper boat is almost the same as the expensive one. The boats of the cheaper company leave 7-8 times a day and with a pre paid ticket, you can board all of them without being tied to a certain hour.
Important! There are just two cash machines situated on the Middle street right next to the bank. The ATM often has problems with international cards or just run out of money. You better get some USD in advance.
Cocktails in I and I Reggae Bar
It is our last night on the island. It is time to check out one of the cult bars – I and I Reggae Bar. The place is huge – three floors and it actually looks more like a discotheque then a bar. It has also a nice terrace on the last floor where the view during the day should be nice. If you sit on the terrace, you will admire the inventive way they serve drinks. Because there is no bar on the terrace, instead of the waiter coming up every time to bring an order, they invented something like a small lift between the two floors. The lift operates with a bucket attached to a rope and you just pull it up to take your drinks… and your change.
After couple of beers in the bar, is time to go back and pack, because we have a boat to catch tomorrow.
Next stop of you Lazy Road Trip Central America – Belize City!
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