The Best of Belize: Island and Caye Guide
The Central American country of Belize is sandwiched between interior jungles and ruins of an ancient Mayan civilization, and hundreds of small islands or cayes along the Belize Barrier Reef, the largest reef system in the northern hemisphere. This fascinating destination bordering the Caribbean Sea is packed with so many on shore and off shore activities for those searching for both action and relaxation, that this article only covers what there is to do above the water on the islands and cayes of Belize.
Off the northern shore of Belize, lies the largest and most popular Belizean island of Ambergris Caye. Known for its scuba diving sites (discussed in a separate guide), this tropical island paradise has many offerings on land as well. Golf-carts are the prime method of transportation and the main town of San Pedro can get quite congested. Although it can get crowded, this main town on Ambergris Caye is mostly laid-back, except during one of the many festivals or special events such as Carnival in February. San Pedro is a foodie town so be sure and sample some of the world-class cuisine, particularly the ceviche and Latin inspired dishes at one of the many wonderful restaurants. The more notable are Elvi’s Kitchen, Estel’s Dine By the Sea, Blue Water Grill, Waruguma, and El Fogon.
You might also visit the Belize Chocolate Company and sample a variety of chocolates crafted from the cacao harvested in the Maya Mountains of Belize. If you aren’t exhausted yet, there are many opportunities for bar hopping in San Pedro; but, if you are yearning for a nightclub vibe visit Jaguar’s Temple Nightclub.
Ironically, one of the most popular and scenic destinations on the island is Secret Beach. Located northwest of San Pedro on the leeward side of the island, the northern stretch of this beach hosts the majority of the action and the southern stretch is a little quieter.
One of the more interesting beach bars in this area is Pirate’s Not-so-Secret Beach Bar and Grill. Lounge on a float around submerged tables while enjoying a drink in emerald green waters. Further north is Rojo Beach Bar on a much more secluded stretch of beach. For the more active visitors, the El Diablo Aqua Park, south of town, offers a couple of zip lines, a steep slide, and large inflatable water toys. Also at the southern tip of Ambergris Caye is the Hol Chan Marine Reserve which is an excellent snorkeling and diving site.
The next island heading south is the splendid Caye Caulker, with no cars or paved roads. This lazy paced little jewel is quite different from its northern neighbor and almost everything happens outdoors. While this is the place to relax in paradise with a good book, or take a dip in the inviting turquoise waters, there are also activities for the more adventurous.
The constant breeze makes this an excellent location for kiteboarding or windsurfing; lessons and rental boards are available at Kite Xplorer. Kayaking or hiking through the Caye Caulker Forest Reserve is also recommended. Most of the activity on Caye Caulker is south of the hurricane carved split. If you want a little pampering, take a yoga class at Namaste Cafe or get a massage at Javii’s, or any one of the other outdoor massage stands. To indulge your tastebuds, try some of the best seafood in Belize at Habañero’s then check out the live reggae and all day dancing at the Lazy Lizard Bar. A visit to the Lazy Lizard comes with a warning, beware of the Lizard Juice. This bright green concoction is potent and the bar offers anyone who can drink two, a third drink free. Don’t do it! Unless, you do not want to remember the great time you just spent enjoying this beautiful caye.
Less than 20 miles to the southwest of Caye Caulker is the Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary, a preserve for the West Indian Manatees. Boat access is restricted and engines aren’t permitted, but you can paddle or pole over in the dinghy from your anchorage or take a tour with a local guide. You are almost guaranteed the chance to observe these gentle giants in their natural habitat.
A little farther south and east is Turneffe Atoll, the largest atoll and one of the largest marine reserves in Belize. Turneffe’s salt-water lagoons and mangrove forests provide great bird watching, excellent fishing, and a large American crocodile nesting area. Additionally, its pristine sandy beaches and clear azure waters are great for close to shore kayaking and snorkeling. The vast shallow saltwater flats of Turneffe Atoll also attract those who like to fly fish and Bonefish.
Further out in the Caribbean Sea is the Lighthouse Reef Atoll, home of the mystical Blue Hole. This 1000 foot diameter underwater cave is a must-visit UNESCO World Heritage Site that you can either dive in or fly over. To view this phenomenon from the air, take a Great Blue Hole Helicopter Tour or a Tropic Air Tours private charter plane.
Within the Lighthouse Reef Atoll, Half Moon Caye National Monument Reservation is home to the Red-footed Booby, a rare seabird, and many other bird species. Half Moon Caye has a crumbling lighthouse, a stunning beach, an observation platform for intimate views of the seabirds, and a diverse population of lizards and geckos. For the most part, this island is uninhabited except for a couple of lighthouse keepers, temporary fishermen, and caretakers of a small coconut plantation.
Continuing south along the barrier reef is Glovers Reef, a former pirate hideaway. This 18-mile coral atoll consists of six cayes and hundreds of coral islets. In addition to the world class diving and snorkeling, you can indulge in sea kayaking, relax in one of the hammocks suspended in the trees, or enjoy a little beach yoga. If you want to interact with other people, Southwest Caye is the site of the Isla Marisol Bar where you can enjoy a Panty Rippa cocktail as you sit on the dock and gaze across the blue horizon.
The diverse Central American destination of Belize has so much to offer travelers that this guide is separated into two articles. Check out the exciting activities of mainland Belize in The Best of Belize: Mainland Guide.
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