You have to see it to Belize it: Caye Caulker & San Ignacio

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After a trip home to visit our newest niece James and I were back on the road. It was our first time back in Canada during winter in 3 years, and so it’s no coincidence that we headed for warmer weather to thaw out a bit! We knew we wanted to go south, but didn’t have a particular location scouted out so we did what we always do – hopped on YYZdeals.ca (for flight deals out of Toronto), and looked on Kayak & Skyscanner to see what was cheap. When we saw one way tickets to Belize for $150 CA we booked right away knowing it would be the perfect jumping off point for Central and South America.

We were flying into Belize City but, as most people do, we headed straight for Caye Caulker for a few days, then headed to San Ignacio. Below, I’ve outlined a few of our favourite things to see/do and eat, as well as a few tips!

Caye Caulker

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Caye Caulker is a small island about an hour off the coast from Belize City. It moves at a slow pace, and you should embrace it while you’re there! I could have stayed there for a month – eating fresh grilled fish, doing yoga and soaking up the sun. It is the perfect place to unwind.

Getting there and away

After arriving at Belize City airport, you need to get to the ferry dock. There aren’t any buses from the airport, so your options are pretty limited: either take a taxi to a bus terminal and a bus to the ferry, or take a taxi straight to the ferry. The taxi will run you $25 US (or just over $30 AU) so if you want to save some money, look for other tourists heading that way and split the fare (trust me, most people on a flight from anywhere in North America will be going to either Caye Caulker or San Pedro).

We didn’t do a ton of research on the best way to get to the island before arriving; since everyone in Belize speaks English we figured it would be easy enough. We assumed there would be one big ferry terminal and we could walk around and price things out ourselves, however this was not the case. All of the taxis headed for “San Pedro / Belize Express Water Taxi” which was the only water taxi/ferry in the area and cost a whopping $28 US ($36 AU) round trip per person. [By the way, you’ll notice for this post I am quoting in USD – you can use USD anywhere in Belize and the exchange is 2 BZD:1 USD]. Once we were on the island we noticed round trip tickets with the same company were half the price. We also read that if you purchase your ticket online you can save money. So my recommendation would be to purchase a one-way ticket online, and then buy your return once you get to the island. I’ve also heard the other ferry company (Ocean Ferry) is cheaper so it’s worth looking into that.

After we got our tickets, we joined the queue for the 3pm taxi, excited that we wouldn’t have to wait the extra hour. Unfortunately, as we reached the front we were told the 3pm was full and we would have to wait after all. It was annoying, but not the end of the world. Several others in line were angry, however, because they had checked their bags which were now en route to Caye Caulker without them. The ferry company assured them their bags would be waiting when they arrived but we were still happy to be carrying ours on.

Taxi to ferry terminal: $30 AU
Round Trip Ferry cost (for 2): $72 AU

Stay

Through Booking.com we made a reservation for Sea and Sun guesthouse, which we really enjoyed. The rooms were spacious enough, there was a shared kitchen (though we admittedly didn’t make use of it), hammocks to lounge around in and the free use of kayaks and bikes. Everything on Caye Caulker is walking distance, so you needn’t be concerned about that when booking accommodation!

If you are looking for a cheaper option, and you don’t mind spending some time sorting it out upon arrival, I suspect you can get good accommodation for much cheaper by visiting different hotels/guest houses and asking for their best rates.

Cost per night: $105 AU

Eat & Drink

There is definitely good food to be found on Caye Caulker. A few of our personal favourites included:

Steve’s BBQ at Enjoy Supermarket
On night one we walked around totally famished and saw this guy with a grill set up outside a supermarket. He called us over and showed us the fresh fish and lobster he had. We didn’t want to pick the first place we saw for dinner, but we totally could have because after completing a lap of the island, we ended up back at Steve’s!

We split an XL lobster, which came with 2 sides and 2 rum punches. The lobster was huge (and delicious!) and the meal was more than enough for the 2 of us.

Cost for XL lobster dinner: $26 AU

Maggie’s Sunset Grill
Maggie’s is in a prime location on the west side of the island with great sunset views (as the name suggests). As a result, it gets busy! When we arrived around 6pm one evening, we were seated right away but warned our food could take up to 45 minutes. We ordered some drinks and ceviche (which did not take 45 minutes) and happily waited for our grilled fish which was divine.

Cost for 4 happy hour drinks, ceviche and grilled fish (2 sides): $50 AU

Ice n’ Beans
One morning we wanted to grab a quick breakfast before heading on a snorkelling trip. We decided to give Ice n’ Beans a go as I’d read great things about their coffee. You can order your coffee from Ice n’ Beans and then go next door to get breakfast sandwiches (think Egg McMuffin). It wasn’t the cheapest coffee, but we really enjoyed it – James got an Americano and I opted for an iced latte. As a bonus they have these swings and you get a mini-donut with your coffee.

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Cost for 2 coffees & breakfast sandwiches: $20 AU

The Cake Lady
It won’t take you long to figure out who and what the cake lady is. We spotted her on our first afternoon, sitting on the main drag with a big table that has slabs and slabs of different flavoured cakes. We bought a banana bread for $3-4 AU which lasted over 2 nights and was delicious. I could have tried all of them!

Cost for piece of cake: $3-4 AU

Play

There is no shortage of activities on Caye Caulker, if that’s what you’re interested in. If you’d rather take it slow, there are ample spots all over the island to read a book or watch the clouds go by. Here were a few of our favourites.

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Rent a Kayak
We were lucky staying at Sea and Sun, which gave us the free use of Kayaks and also a boat launch. The lady working in the office gave us a tip to go out at either 10am or 2pm to see the tarpon feeding. The fish are massive and it’s pretty cool to see them leap out of the water. One of the boats even offered us a small fish to try and feed a tarpon ourselves, but it seemed they didn’t like the kayak. Or perhaps it was the pelicans swimming around us trying to steal our bait!

After watching the feeding, we kayaked along the coast for a bit near Iguana Reef – there are some small wrecks there that you can get close to which was pretty neat.

Cost for kayak: Free at Sea and Sun

Do a yoga class (or three) at RandOM Yoga
Our first afternoon I saw a sign for “By Donation” Yoga, offered on the top floor of Namaste Café, and headed over for the sunrise yoga the next morning. Jessie teaches classes twice daily for all levels. Mats, straps and blocks are provided. After an hour of stretching, strengthening and relaxing she will wrap up the class and kindly ask to donate what you can in the box provided on your way out. We went three times while we were there – it was a great way to start our days.

Cost: Pay what you can

Bike around the island.
Though everything is easily walking distance, we took bikes out once or twice just for the fun of it! You could easily spend an afternoon biking all around the island, stopping for food or drinks as needed.

Cost for bikes: Free at Sun and Sea

Go Snorkelling.
Caye Caulker is known to have some great snorkeling, and we loved the idea of being out on the water for one of our days there. After speaking with several different tour companies, we decided to go with EZ Boys; all of the companies offer the same trip and the price only varies by $10. We had read a blog that used EZ Boys and gave great reviews so we figured there was nothing to lose.

The trip includes 3 snorkel stops (4 if you’re lucky and they see manatees along the way). The snorkeling was decent, but the highlight for us was swimming with grey nurse sharks, rays and a sea turtle. The tour includes lunch, ceviche (which was really good!) and rum punch (seemingly unlimited) after your last snorkel. We ended our tour docked on the sunset side to watch the sun go down, but since it was cloudy they pulled up the anchor and we got back to the dock around 6pm. We were totally ok with wrapping it up because we were freezing by that point!

Cost: $80 AU pp

San Ignacio

We wrapped up our time on Caye Caulker and headed to our next destination – San Ignacio. The primary goal for our visit was to do the ATM (Actun Tunichil Muknal) Tour and it made sense as a stopover on our way to Tikal, Guatemala.

Getting There

Taking the bus proved to be incredibly easy! Once we reached the ferry dock in Belize City, we walked to the bus terminal (~20 mins) and just asked which bus was going to San Ignacio. We were pointed to the first bus and told to get on that one. It went directly to San Ignacio with no issues and took about 2 hours.

Cost for bus to San Ignacio: $6 AU pp

Stay

We didn’t book any accommodation ahead of time, but starred a few places on our Google Maps to check out. We chose the second place we looked at, Tia Maria’s Guesthouse; it was cost effective and the rooms were nice and spacious. As with Caye Caulker, everything in San Ignacio is walking distance so you don’t need to worry too much about where your hotel or guest house is located.

Cost: $65 AU per night

Eat

I wish our list was longer for this one, but we really only ate at one restaurant and that was Eva’s Restaurant & Bar. We went for lunch/dinner the first day and ordered the ceviche which had us coming back for the same thing the next night!

Cost: $13 AU for one order of ceviche

Play

Our motivation for going to San Ignacio was to do the ATM Tour – an opportunity to visit a sacred Mayan Cave, in which you can see human remains from rituals performed by the Mayans. Though visiting the main chamber and seeing skeletons, ancient stoneware and ceramics (all used as part of rituals to the gods) was cool, my favourite part was getting to and going through the cave!

One thing we didn’t realize before getting there, is that the ATM tour does not run every day and is often closed due to rain (making the water levels too high in the cave). In fact, the tour didn’t run for 13 days straight in January. The day we arrived in SI, the tour had not been running for 3 days. We crossed out fingers and hoped it would be running the next day. It wasn’t. We decided if it wasn’t running the 3rd day we would continue on our journey, but as luck had it the water levels had decreased and it was on!

The high water levels in the cave meant a lot more adventure! After arriving to the park, you begin your walk through the jungle to the cave entrance, which also involves crossing the river 3 times. The first time, which is about 200m from where you left your tour van, you need to swim across so it doesn’t take long before you are soaked!

Once inside the cave, we had to navigate through small openings, pull ourselves up rocks, and swim – sometimes against a pretty strong current. Our guide stopped us every so often to tell stories and give us information about the Mayans and their rituals.

Though it is less than 2km from the opening of the cave to the main chamber, it took us over 1.5 hours between fighting the current and stopping to hear about the history. Once you arrive at the main chamber, you will scramble up a rock and then drop your shoes – this part of the cave is barefoot to ensure no one accidentally steps on any artifacts. This portion also involves some climbing up and down rocks, and a ladder at one point. The history is incredibly interesting, but the tour is also thrilling.

We used PACZ tours, which we had read up on, and would recommend them to anyone looking to do the ATM tour. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures to share; a tourist accidentally dropped his/her camera on one of the skulls while doing this tour, so they no longer allow you to bring a camera. Not even a Go Pro is permitted.

Wear a bathing suit and clothes that you don’t mind getting wet! Water shoes would be ideal, but James and I wore our running shoes – which got a good wash and surprisingly dried out in one day.

Cost:  $115 AU pp

We loved our time in Belize and I could definitely see us coming back – particularly to Caye Caulker to escape the harsh Canadian winters!

Have you been to Belize? What was your favourite part? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

–Catie xx

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