Belize may be smaller in size, but it is packed with culture and adventure. Don’t let the maps make you a fool, this country is made up of both the vast Central American jungles and the pristine Caribbean Sea.
While I’ve heard scaling the ancient Maya temples and exploring the cave systems are incredible, this trip instead took advantage of the approximate 386 km of coastline and the Barrier Reef that is home to Belize.
Someday, I will go back some day and trek through the mountains, in the lush forests, and under the towering waterfalls, but there just wasn’t enough time to venture inland in one week.
So for now, I’m here to give you the complete guide to the two most popular islands, Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, as well as the must-do adventures that explore the infamous Blue Hole and the largest Barrier Reef in the Western Hemisphere.
Once you fly into the Belize International Airport (Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport) in Belize City, there are several options you have for island hopping. You can either take a ferry to the islands or take a hopper plane straight from the airport. The hopper plane is on the Tropic Air Airline and is approximately $85-$100 USD one way, while the San Pedro Water Taxi is only $28 USD each way. For that reason, we took the water taxi, which was cheap and easy. It’s faster and more convenient if you to pre-purchase your water taxi tickets online, and your chances of getting delayed are slimmer, however you can buy them at the counter when boarding if you prefer.
I’m going to say this as kindly as possible, but Belize City isn’t the most beautiful and affluent place. We were lucky enough to be informed by a friend that lived there to go straight from the airport to the islands. So take that advice and do with it what you will.
We went straight from the airport in a taxi that was $12.50 USD per person to the San Pedro Water Taxi, hopped on and headed to our first spot, Ambergris Caye.
On Ambergris Caye, you will most likely want to rent a golf cart to drive around the island, which is about $100 to $130 BZD each day for a four seater. You can rent a golf cart before hand or on the day, our accommodation set us up with one. It makes the island experience even better and gets you to see all sides of the island not just San Pedro, the inner city.
On Caye Caulker, the island is only about 1 mile long, so you can rely on your own two feet there. Some accommodations come with bikes which is also a fun exchange, but you can get around on foot just fine the whole time. Don’t worry about your luggage, they have golf cart taxi for $5 BZD each person ($2.50 USD) that will drive you from the ferry to your accommodation so you don’t have to carry it.
Bottom line, if you’re only visiting the islands, there is no need for you to rent a car, and you don’t want to try to drive there, trust me, it’s insane!
Belize dollars (BZD) is two to one US Dollar. That means, if a meal is $10 BZD it is actually $5 USD, pretty incredible right? It’s like everything is 50% off, and it’s already pretty inexpensive there. Also, you do not need to exchange your money, they take American money throughout the islands since the exchange rate is so simple. Try to remember to use your card at restaurants and bigger companies when you can because you can bank on most little street shacks only accepting cash.
Ambergris Caye (pronounced “am-bur-gris” “key”) is the largest, most well-known, and probably the busiest island in Belize. The main town where the ferry arrives is called San Pedro. It is located at the southern part of the Caye and is most concentrated with shops, restaurants, and nightlife. Don’t get caught up in the party atmosphere in the town, there are incredibly beautiful places and delicious restaurants further North to explore.
Where To Stay
There are a range of different types of accommodations on the island from extended luxury resorts to hostels in the city, and everything in between, it really just depends on what you want. If you’re looking to be in the center of the city with the nightlife at your doorstep then stay in San Pedro. However if you’re looking for more of a relaxed getaway then stay anywhere over on the north side.
We stayed out of the city up north and at Secret Beach. The set up was beautiful with a private cabana, little bar shack out on the beach, and dock with a hammock looking out over the bluest waters. The accommodation included the use of paddle boards, kayaks, and a canoe. I highly recommend an Airbnb or hotel on the North side of the island, where there are still loads of restaurants and bars, beautiful beaches, and activities. You are a bit more out of the center of town, but the location and simplistic beauty on this side of the island is worth the ride, plus it’s in a golf cart, so the drive is enjoyable in itself!
What To Do
I would recommend staying for three days at least onthis island to experience these must-do activities.
Wherever you’re staying, make sure to head over to secret beach for the clearest waters on the island and use the free paddle boards and canoes or just lay in the hammock looking out at the waters and soak up the sun.
On another day, go to Akbol at 9am for yoga ($15 USD for 1.5 hours) on a stretched dock into the water, followed by a delicious breakfast.
Hop in your golf cart leaving the north side of the island heading into the city and stop at the Truck Stop, a little gathering of food carts with corn hole, a swim up bar, and at night, a movie on the dock.
Don’t forget to also visit the “best bar on the island” according to the Huffington post, for a classy night out, mojitos the size of your face, and an Instagram ready infinity pool setup.
Head into the city and go to Palapas bar and drink beers while you sit in the inner tubes, or go to the street side market and pick up some souvenirs.
Last but certainly not least, if your budget allows, go on a helicopter ride with Astrum Helicopters and fly across the ocean to see the Blue Hole, one of Belize’s most recognizable attractions.
The Blue Hole is a giant sinkhole measuring 1,000 feet and sits at the center of the Lighthouse Reef. The helicopter ride was pricy, as it’s a private charter just for your group, but it is an incredible experience to see a marine formation that is so unbelievable!
Here’s a shorthand version of the activities list above for Ambergris Caye:
- Paddle Board, Kayak, and Canoe at Secret Beach
- Lay on the beach and soak up the sun
- Yoga Class at 9am at Akbol
- Lounge in the inner tubes at Palapas Beach Bar
- Visit the Truck stop: great eats, corn hole, swim up bar, and a movie on the dock
- Rojo Beach Bar: great food, great drinks, and infinity pool for pictures – oh, and a talking parrot!
- Helicopter ride with Astrum Helicopters over the Blue Hole
- You can also visit the Blue Hole by taking a 2 hour boat ride out to the hole and snorkeling around it.
Where to eat
Alright, last but definitely not least, the food. This is part of the activities, I must say – the food is just so amazing you can’t not eat it. I will definitely say, because the food is so cheap here and the US dollar goes far, it is more cost effective to buy meals instead of trying to save and cook. In Belize, it’s actually cheaper to eat out if you’re eating for two. So here’s the list, all places were tested and highly satisfying:
- Palapa Beach Bar: pretty much everything is delicious here, the drinks are cheap and the atmosphere is fantastic.
- Izzis (Fruit & Burrito Stand): this is a tiny stand on middle street that makes incredible smoothies and breakfast burritos for dirt cheap.
- Rojo Bar: Make this your fancy dinner night out. This is the most expensive meal we paid, but it was well worth it. The food is incredible, try the 24-hour marinated pork bao tacos.
- Estels: The menu changes, but everything looked delicious. We had the Belizean breakfast, and let me just say – yum!
- Marbucks: Just a little breakfast and coffee stand that makes a delicious asiago sandwich and a killer quiche.
- Akbol Yoga Bar & Restaurant: Great environment, fresh smoothies, and filling breakfast.
- The Truck Stop: There are a few restaurant trucks here, all are pretty delicious. The environment really is what makes it.
- The Dive Bar: Great environment on the water with delicious tacos!
- Fido’s Bar: Frozen coconut-lime mojitos and cheap beers! Did’t try the food, but the drinks are yummy!
There are so many places you can’t really go wrong. Don’t underestimate those side street shacks, the food is cheap, delicious, and a real taste of Belize.
Colinda’s Cabanas on Airbnb at the Souther tip of Caye Caulker Island – bikes are provided!
Now, take a break from the “bigger city” of San Pedro, and head to Caye Caulker (pronounced “Key” “Kaw-ker” where the Caribbean vibe is in full swing. Caye Caulker is only 1 mile long, so you can imagine everyone knows everyone. The feel of this island is much different than that of San Pedro, and I think I enjoyed it more to be honest. The attitude of everyone on this island was even more laid back and friendly than Ambergris Caye. Caye Caulker is a laid back old fishing and boating island, that also knows how to party, just ask them about their Lizard drink.
Where To Stay
In Caye Caulker, you can stay in smaller hotels or Airbnbs, but you won’t find the resort environment. Even the hotels will only have about a dozen rooms or so, the island is only 1 mile long, remember? Anywhere you stay on the island, you’re close to everything. We stayed at Colinda’s Cabanas at the Southern tip of Caye Caulker, and we loved it. We had a beautiful dock to walk onto, hammocks in place for a quite night with the moon and our wine, bikes for use, and very friendly people. I highly recommend staying here, it’s close to town (because everything is) but far enough out so you can’t hear the nightclubs that go until 6am.
What To Do
In Caye Caulker, take some time and bike or walk around the island, experience the life and culture that is there. Take the time to eat, drink, and relax. When you’re up for some fun, visit The Split (the name coming from the island being split by hurricane Hattie in the ’60’s). The Split is a popular social swimming spot, right next to where the Lazy Lizard bar is located. There you’ll find chairs that are half in and out of the water, a higher dock to jump off of, and locals sitting around and socializing. You can take a boat for $2.50 BZD from the south side of the island to the north end, where it is only about a quarter of a mile and explore (although we did not).
Above all else, the best and most important thing you need to do when visiting Caye Caulker is to take a full-day tour from the island to visit and swim with the incredible marine life in Belize. A full day tour is approximately $65 USD at any tour shop and will take you from the island to Hol Chan, Shark Ray Alley, Coral Gardens, and to visit tarpons, seagulls, and seahorse in the back of the island. The tour will include lunch and depending on the company, a casual beer and some fresh fruit. Depending on the season, you can either pre-book online or just visit a tour shop and book the day before.
Our tour was incredible, with only 6 other people on our small boat for the whole day adventure. Well beyond worth the money and an unbelievable day. You will swim with sharks, stingrays, a giant beautiful turtle, a manatee (if you’re lucky), thousands of different types of fish, and beautiful coral formations. Do not miss this!
Where to eat
lets get right down to it because the food is definitely a high priority. Here’s where to eat on Caye Caulker:
- Glenda’s Bakery: Incredible cinnamon rolls, fresh baked and open until she sells out (opens at 7:00am, usually sold out by 8:30am!)
- Fruit Stand next to Errolyn’s House of Fry Jacks: Delicious freshly cut fruit smoothies with pure squeezed juice mix, only $5 BZD ($2.50 USD).
- Errolyn’s House of Fry Jacks: A very long wait, but well-worth it. This is one of the most popular places to eat, and it’s so good and cheap! Stuffed fry jacks (like a puffy dough breakfast burrito) the most expensive filled one being $5 BZD ($2.50 USD).
- Sports Bar: Our favorite restaurant with amazing food, especially the coconut shrimp, and I don’t even like seafood.
- Lazy Lizard at the Split: Great atmosphere and the famous green Lizard drink for a night you won’t remember.
Last but not least, a quick video of our overall adventure in Belize. I hope this guide has been an informative inspiration, now go have your own unforgetable experience.