Breathtaking Belize – My Guide to Caye Caulker and San Ignacio

I spent 3 days in Caye Caulker, and 2 days in San Ignacio. Belize is located on the Caribbean Sea, bordering with Mexico and Guatemala. There was a huge Mayan civilization here, as can be seen in many of the ruins located on the mainland. Belize was once a British Crown Colony, known as British Honduras. After 1964, the colony (renamed Belize) became self governed and then gained full independence in 1981. English is the official language but you will hear some Belizean creole, as there is a huge afro-Caribbean population here. Belize is a multi-ethnic country…with its residents being Mayan, Creole, African, European, Spanish…this is due to colonisation, slavery and of course immigration.

Sad fact about Belize – it is a huge center for drug trafficking and money laundering. This is because the US dollar is tied to the Belizean Dollar at a fixed rate by law. Plus the coastline and jungle make it easy to get drugs into Mexico. Therefore, gang activity and violent crimes are abundant. If you are concerned, stay away from Belize City and concentrate more on the tourist towns. I’d hate to see you miss out because of this…but of course take regular precautions as you would anywhere else. There’s so many beautiful things to see in this country!

Getting there:

The main airport is located in Belize City, and you can take flights to other places in the country from Belize City. It’s accessible by land from Mexico and Guatemala, and buses are easy to use.

Things you see on a bus in Belize…..

Currency and costs:

Belize uses the Belizean dollar. As I mentioned earlier it is tied with the US dollar and you can use US dollars everywhere here…. but I still prefer using local currency. I found pricing in the tourist areas to be a little higher as expected. Belize is the most expensive country in Central America. If you want to do any excursions, your costs will add up fast. Other than that, a trip to Belize won’t completely break your bank.

Getting Around:

It’s very easy to travel by bus from town to town in Belize. The easiest way to get to Caye Caulker is by express water taxi and it takes around 45 minutes. Once in the Caye the best way to get around is by walking, by bike or by golf cart taxis. There are no cars on the island!

San Ignacio is only a couple of hours drive from Belize City. Once in San Ignacio, everything is compact and easily walkable. But to see all of the cool attractions…you’ll need to book a tour or hire a car/take a bus as they are located an hour or two away.

Tours:

I did a tour with Intrepid, one of my favorite tour companies. I chose Maya Encounter, which was 17 days total.

https://www.intrepidtravel.com/ca/mexico/maya-encounter-116420

The tour included 5 days in Belize but Intrepid does offer tours in Belize only. The Land of Belize tour option covers Caye Caulker, San Ignacio and a trip to Tikal. The maximum group size is 16 but the tour will still run with 1 person! The tours use local transport which can be quite the adventure, and sometimes they use private vehicles. The tour leaders will organize activities for the group, or you can go off on your own. Plenty of free time is offered. I think it’s a great way to explore, but also to meet new people. Plus, your transport and hotels are already booked so it’s a very hassle free and safe way to travel. Especially if you’re a woman or if it’s your first time traveling.

Caye Caulker

This beautiful limestone coral island is located in the Caribbean. The island is split in two…. It happened during Hurricane Hattie in 1961 and then the locals took advantage of the damage to build a waterway between the west and east sides of the island.  Pretty colored houses line the white sand streets, palm trees sway in the wind. The island motto is “Go Slow” and that’s exactly what you’ll want to do! You can have a great experience if you stay just a few days, but if you want more day drinking and relaxing…stay longer!

Precautions:

Mosquitoes and sand flies….come armed with a good repellent. You will absolutely need it! They bit me literally everywhere…..

Sunburn – the white coral sand reflects sunlight so slather on that stuff generously. And even more so if you’re in the water(which you definitely will be at some point). I had the most wicked sunburn after a day of snorkeling. Not fun. Essential tip: wear a t-shirt in the water when snorkeling.

Where to Stay:

Hotel Chinatown – It’s not a big deal where you choose to stay, location wise.  Everything is close and within walking distance on the island. This hotel has a few floors and a massive rooftop patio. There is a pool next to the downstairs lobby, and the staff is really helpful and friendly. The rooms are spacious and clean, and there is a large grocery store beside the hotel for your convenience.

There are also many other hostels and guesthouses, but no large resorts. Sophie’s Guest Rooms is a popular choice.

What to see and do:

Snorkeling tour – Belize has some of the best snorkeling in the world; the water is crystal blue and not very deep. The most popular place you’ll go is the Hol Chan Marine Reserve.

We used Mario’s Tours. The tour lasted around 5 hours and it included manatee spotting, snorkeling in the reserve, shark alley, the seahorse sanctuary(can also be reached by foot on the island), the tarpon area and lunch with rum punch. You can book tours to these places separately but why not do it all together?

Our guides for the day, Joe and Bob, took great care of us and made it an unforgettable day. My only complaint is that my belongings got soaked in the “dry area” of the boat and I wasn’t compensated in any way. I spoke to Mario about it and he didn’t seem too concerned so I thought this was a bit rude! Ragga Muffin Tours is also a popular option.

Hang out and day drink – there are many options…Sip N Dip, Koko King and the Lazy Lizard at The Split.

The Great Blue Hole – one of the most amazing places for diving. If you get freaked out by scuba diving like I do you can opt to take a flight over this amazing giant sinkhole.

Photo courtesy of IFL Science

Sunset Cruise – a popular option and it usually includes drinks. There are plenty of spots for sunset viewing on the island, but why not enjoy it from a boat?

Deep sea fishing – not really my thing, but for those who are into fishing—you will be amazed!

Visit Caye Caulker Animal Shelter – Kenny runs the place; it isn’t fancy by any means but the dogs and cats roam free and they seem happy. In the late afternoon, you can take a dog for a walk along the beach. And of course, all animals are available for adoption and Kenny accepts donations.

Where to Eat and Drink:

Maggie’s Sunset Kitchen – an awesome little place that offers fresh lobster straight from the grill. If you’re lucky enough to be in Belize during lobster season, you are in for a treat. I had my lobster with coconut rice and fried plantains. And of course, 2 for 1 happy hour drinks. Our server was adorable, and the food was amazing! Just remember to bring your bug repellent…the mosquitoes get really bad at night.

Errolynn’s House of Fry jacks – the best place to get breakfast in Caye Caulker. Fry jacks are the only thing on the menu and they are deep fried dough pockets with all kinds of fillings. There’s limited seating in this small shack, so you can also take a Fry Jack to go.

Belizean Flavas – I wasn’t planning on coming here for dinner but I needed to get out of the rain. But I had a yummy conch ceviche, with mashed potatoes and grilled veggies and of course…rum punch. The service was a little slow and I may or may not have gotten food poisoning from eating here. Could have been the raw conch?

Amor Y Cafe – a cute little breakfast spot. Lots of seating, and it serves basic breakfast fare. But it is awesome! I had the waffles, eggs and fresh fruit. Come early, this place closes by noon.

Sip N Dip – I’m not sure what the food is like here, but it’s definitely a cool spot to enjoy a beer or two. Or three. You can sit inside, or at a table in the water. Or on a swing in the water!

Lazy Lizard – located at the Split, the place where the island breaks into two. The menu is pretty basic, and I only had the chicken wings. But make sure you try their slushy specialty… Lazy Lizard Juice. This is an awesome place to day drink and swim, and then stay to watch the sunset.

Wish Willy – this place was recommended, but it was closed when I visited. Another place to get fresh lobster and seafood from the grill.

Barrier Reef Sports Bar – this place is jumpin’! The most popular bar on the island and everyone starts here before heading off to other bars later in the night. They offer live music, karaoke, pub trivia, etc.

I & I Reggae Bar – Everyone goes here after Barrier Reef Bar closes for the night. I almost checked it out, but I wasn’t feeling well so I went to bed instead. Haha. But this place is supposed to be super fun!

Koko King– located on the other side of The Split, it is a little fancier but still a great place to day drink!

San Ignacio

San Ignacio is the second largest settlement in Belize and is a perfect base city to explore the many attractions in this area. Like Mayan ruins, caves, nature reserves. It is located on the Macal River and has a real welcoming vibe..maybe it’s because of the many different cultures that live here in harmony. Give yourself a few days to take it all in.

Where to Stay:

Midas Hotel – I really enjoyed my stay at this hotel. It’s not right in town, but it’s very close. The room was very spacious and clean, and I had a cute balcony if I wished to sit outside. There is a nice pool and a small bar to enjoy a Belikin or two. Be aware that you may have to pay an extra fee for air conditioning at most hotels here in San Ignacio.

Cahal Pech Village Resort –  if you want something more high end and close to the ruins, this place is for you.  They offer regular rooms or thatched roofed cabanas for an authentic experience.

What to see and do:

Green Iguana Conservation Project– located at the San Ignacio Resort Hotel. The project is there to protect the iguanas, and educate and create awareness of these awesome creatures. You’ll get to hold an iguana or two. This is one activity that I really regret not having time for!

Cahal Pech – The name means “Place of Ticks”. Don’t let that discourage you…you have some really cool Mayan ruins just a short walk up the hill from the town. It is fairly small and easy to navigate on your own and there’s not usually a lot of tourists here. This site is said to have been the home of an elite Mayan family. There are a few large plazas with pyramids, and then housing areas with different rooms.

Market – you can get everything here! Fruits, veggies, medicinal herbs, clothing, souvenirs. It’s open every day from 5am to 6pm but the best day is Saturday, where you’ll see firsthand how the blend of different cultures here in Belize come together.

Swim on the river – go to Branch Mouth, where the Macal and Mopan rivers meet. This is where the locals go, so they must be right! Don’t forget to pack a picnic lunch with some beers. If you’re more adventurous, rent a canoe and paddle down the river instead.

Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave or ATM cave – if you’re ready for an adventure, then this is a place you must visit! You can only go by tour, as the cave is protected and it’s much safer to be with an experienced guide. You’ll swim, you’ll climb, you’ll see ancient Mayan pottery and human skulls, you’ll thank the lord you made it out alive! If there’s only one thing you do here, this should be it. Give yourself a full day for this tour.

Caracol ruins – this one is deep in the jungles of the Chiquibul Reserve. This is the largest Maya city in all of Belize and the pyramid here is the tallest structure in the country. The area it covers is bigger than Belize City! This area is patrolled by military so an organized tour is the only option. Plus it’s a couple of hours away.

Photo courtesy of youtube

Barton Creek Cave – you paddle through the dark cave in a canoe. This cave was also used for ceremonies and sacrifices. It takes around 45 minutes to get here. You can combine this with other attractions, like the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve.

Photo courtesy of Belize Hub

Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve– this place offers luscious forests, waterfalls and nature at its finest. This should be a full day trip so you can take in all of the waterfalls, explore the Rio Frio cave and swim in the natural pools.

Photo courtesy of Cahal Pech Village Resort

Xunantunich- this Mayan site was known to be a major ceremonial center. The main pyramid here is the second tallest structure in the entire country. What’s even cooler is you reach the site by taking a hand cranked ferry. From San Ignacio, it is around a 15 minute drive and is very close to the Guatemalan border.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Where to Eat and Drink:

Ko-Ox Han Nah – this place is so popular you may have to wait in line. The food and portion sizes are awesome. The service is fantastic. A MUST stop for lunch or dinner.

Mickey’s Snack Shop – authentic Belizean food; you can sit in the shop or take a snack to go

Pop’s – a popular spot for breakfast, but it is open for any meal of the day. Cute little diner located on a side street right in town

Guava Limb– rated San Ignacio’s #1 restaurant. It’s a little pricier and fancier than the other places in town, but the food is great. Plus they boast a farm to table experience; the owners get a lot of their ingredients from their own farm.

Princess Casino – not the biggest casino you’ll ever visit, but the Next Lounge Bar is a good choice for some late night drinks.

Eva’s – you can get all kinds of cuisine here. Plus they offer streetside seating so grab a beer and sit back and people watch.

Ice Cream Shoppe – this place has the best ice cream in town. It’s homemade and has some really cool flavors such as Thai tea, bubble-gum, Oreo…and from what I gather, they always have new and different flavors rotating.

Thirsty Thursdays – this sounds like a really fun place to drink – they have live DJ’s, drink specials, karaoke, food…what more do you need?

What to eat:

Barbeque – especially in Caye Caulker…everyone grills, man. Lobster, fish, shrimp. Amazing!

Fried conch – the best place to get it is at Chan’s Takeout on the island.

Conch ceviche – seafood marinated in lime juice with onions, garlic and peppers. The conch is usually raw so be careful…I think I got food poisoning from eating this in Caye Caulker.

Fried chicken – the best place to get it in Caye Caulker is at a place called Syd’s

Rice and beansa staple here in Belize, and there are many different varieties.

Cochinita Pibil – marinated slow roasted pork…wow!

Fry Jacks – a popular breakfast deep fried dough pocket filled with stuff like ham, cheese, egg, chicken, beans, etc.

Salbutes – fried tortillas topped with onion, cabbage, cheese, chicken, tomato and avocado. For lunch or dinner, you’ll find these at many restaurants.

What to drink:

Beer– Belikin is THE beer in Belize. And it’s pretty good too. Sitting in the water with an ice cold beer on a hot island day…can’t beat it.

Rum punch – you’ll find this stuff everywhere. There are a few different kinds but my favorite was the panty ripper – coconut rum and pineapple juice.

Lazy Lizard Juice – can only be found at the seaside bar of the same name. It is a green slushy drink with a secret recipe…they’ll only say that it has a lot of booze in it.

Soursop Juice – this fruit comes from an evergreen tree only found in the tropics of the Americas. It has extensive health benefits, and tastes like a combo of berries, apples and citrus fruit.

What to buy:

Rum – lots of local rum to bring home. I found some mini bottles at the grocery store – perfect for carrying around, but if you want top end rum – go for One Barrel.

Belkin Beer memorabilia – a t-shirt, or a glass, or a beer cozy. The list goes on!

Conch shell – they are beautiful and Belize it or not, it isn’t illegal to take them out of Belize or bring them back to Canada. But check your country’s laws before you try to smuggle one in! You can also pick up a lot of cool jewelry items made from the shells.

Marie Sharp’s hot sauce – you’ll find this sauce on every table at every restaurant in Belize. It is the best hot sauce I’ve ever had(although I’ll admit I’m not a huge connoisseur). They range from mild to Beware.

Hammock – they make great quality ones here in Belize.

Mayan pottery or carvings

A T-shirt that says “You Better Belize It” or “UnBelizeable” – come on, how cute is this?

Belizean coffee – some of the best coffee can be found in Central America, so bring a Belize variety home!

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