Welcome to the island of Caye Caulker off the coast of Belize! Caye Caulker is tiny, about five miles long and one mile wide at it's widest, but most of that is uninhabitable. The main part of the island, where all the action is, is just three streets wide and a dozen or so blocks long. Feet, bikes, and golf carts will get you any where you want to go. The golf carts seem silly, the island's so small, but I guess they come in handy at some point. And, I wanted to rent a bike, but that seemed silly, as well. I could never lazily pedal a bike, and if I did, it would still only take five minutes to cover all of the island.
Caye Caulker is supposed to be the "backpacker's" island, or the less touristy island, compared to the much larger and commercial Ambergris Caye directly to the north. I wouldn't know; we had no desire to check Ambergris Caye out. The only somewhat downer about Caye Caulker is that there aren't any beaches to lounge on and swim off of. You've got to go off a pier (most are private) or go up to "the split" on the north end to swim.
Not surprisingly, food on the island is seafood-centric, and you'd have to be a fool (hi!) to not eat seafood while you're there. While there was always a veggie option or two at every place, it was usually rice and beans with a side of coleslaw or veggies. I'll spare you pics of most of my meals, 'cause we all know what that stuff looks and tastes like.For our first eats on the island, the vegetarian won and the pescatarian lost. There are lots of veggie options at the Bamboo Bar, and I went with the veggie pocket, thinking it would be like a pita. But what came out was a large fried bread thingy folded over warm, sauteed cucumbers, cauliflower, tomato, carrots, peppers and onions in a "Belizean sauce" that didn't taste like much, but the whole thing was great. The side of beans was somehow phenomenal, but when I asked for what spices were used, all I got was onions and garlic, but I know there was something else in there. And, no, it wasn't bacon! The boy had a grilled snapper sandwich with mango and lime sauce. He was thinking mango chunks with lime juice, so was disappointed by an overly sweet sauce on his, otherwise, fine fish.Stopped in Jan's Place for something sweet, and fruity pastry was on my mind. I chose a slice of peach cobbler. Peach? Yeah, I was thinking tropical fruits, too, but it was peach or cherry to choose from, and I don't think either were grown in the area. Peach cobbler did the trick, though.After walking the entire strip to see what was offered at the many restaurants with grills out front, to the side, and around the back grilling up the catch of the day, we settled on the Tropical Paradise restaurant for their grilled barracuda steaks (I had rice and beans). The boy had never had barracuda, and I think he's in love now. Very firm texture and not overly fishy. He gave Tropical Paradise a thumbs up.
We only went out to sea two days, partly because we wanted to just chill, and partly because the dive trips the boy really wanted to do (I only snorkel), did not sync up with our stay. We both went snorkeling with Ragamuffin Tours on one of their sail boats. I saw fishes, of course, but also saw rays, nurse sharks, and a sea turtle. The sea turtle was such a graceful swimmer, and so amazing to observe. No pictures, but the vegetarian won the lunch battle on the Ragamuffin Tour. I got a huge plate of rice and beans, coleslaw, and potato salad while everyone else got a small chicken or fish sandwich. They also cut up fruit, made shrimp ceviche, and poured rum punch on the way back in.
I went snorkeling on one of the boy's dives another day, but it wasn't that great. Gotta snorkel on snorkel trips and not the dive trips that have just OK snorkeling. Plus sail boat are so much cooler than speed boats that take you out to the dive spots.Take your rum punch party to the north end of the island, called "the split," where Hurricane Hattie split the island in two in 1961. There's a narrow channel where boats pass and people swim. There's also the Lazy Lizard with a cheap 2-for-1 happy hour and a roof deck that's great for watching the sun set.And God bless the CakeMan! At sundown he makes his way to the Lazy Lizard with a basket of freshly made cakes. I got the key lime cake. Tart, key lime curd slices through a super moist and almost whole-wheat-healthy, but not too whole-wheat-healthy, tasting cake. There's also a convenience store on the main road that sells the cakes. Just look for a small sign hanging above your head that says CakeMan.Know what I like even better than cake? Kitties! This kitty had a donation jar to help feed him. Caye Caulker had a lot less stray animals, dogs in particular, than the main land. It was nice to see most people had a leash or collar for their animals. Know what I hate, hate, hate? Beer. But the boy and almost everyone on the planet loves it! Belikin is the beer of Belize. The boy tells me it tastes like Coors, but not as bad as Coors. They also have a stout, which he says is much better.
Marie Sharp's habanero sauce is the condiment of choice in Belize. Remo, that crazy New Jerseyan back in Bullet Tree Falls, gave me a great tip for getting Marie Sharp's on the cheap stateside. Just look for your generic grocery store brand, and if it says "made in Belize" in small print, it's Marie Sharp's.Fran's Grill is on the main street with two large picnic tables and a small grill out front of a small building. Fran's was packed the night before, so we decided to give her cheaper grilled seafood a try. The boy got a lobster, but you get what you pay for, and the lobster was much smaller than other lobsters around town. You get free rum punch and free dessert, though. Rum punch? Check. Oreo cheese cake? Nothing like cheesecake at all.Left: Caye Caulker Bakery. Right: Glenda's
I put a couple of well known cinnamon rolls to the test. Caye Caulker Bakery on the middle road has a sign out front saying that they're famous for their cinnamon rolls. Glenda's on the back road has kudos from guide books. Caye Caulker Bakery won with their large, soft cinnamon rolls, compared to Glenda's small, odd-tasting (plastic?) cinnamon rolls. Glenda's are way cheaper, though, at something like 25 cents each. Neither were to die for.Lots of restaurants have grills out front and a table displaying the catch of the day. You point to what you want before you enter the restaurant, smaller specimens being cheaper than larger, and they grill it up for you. This table was outside Rose's, and the boy thoroughly enjoyed his whole, grilled snapper with a side of rice and beans and veggies.
An American dude sells these shrimp sticks (5 or so different sauces) off his tiny grill under some palm trees near the north end of the island, and they are good!Rainbow Grill sits right on the water and has a large deck facing the ocean. We went there for lunch to get out of the sun and... to eat! Had to try conch (essentially, a large snail) while we were there. The boy had a grilled conch burger. Conch is very chewy and rubbery. He is not in love with conch. Above right is a sampler plate of fried seafood: conch, shrimp, fish, and lobster. Fried bits of seafood!
And this is what happens to all the conch shells after the animals have been ripped out. They're piled up along the shore on the back of the island. If this pile of conch shells were on the beaches of Delaware or the New Jersey shore, stumbling on this would be like finding gold! Locals do make jewelry and trinkets out of them, though.Top row: Spring rolls; roasted veggies is cheese sauce. Bottom row: Coconut-crusted snapper; key lime pie.
While most of our meals on vacation cannot be compared to fine dining stateside - you cut restaurants in small, developing countries slack - I'm not going to cut Habanero's any slack.
Habanero's is the fanciest restaurant on the Island, and many claim it's better than the fanciest on the larger Ambergris Caye. Habenoro's doesn't just serve up basic seafood like most every joint on the island, but puts an international flair to most of their dishes. You know...fancy! Habanero's was the biggest disappointment.
The Asian spring rolls with bland filling was the loosest, sloppiest rolled spring rolls I've ever had. The dipping sauce, which, at first, I though was watered down soy sauce, didn't even taste like soy sauce. I can only describe it as brown water. We ate the two rolls, then talked about how we should have sent that dish back.
Oh, and there are sticks of bread on every dish that are dry and unpleasant.
Oh, oh, oh! I almost forgot! Topping the spring rolls (and all the other savory dishes) were strips of onion that were pickled in what tasted unmistakeably like cherry Kool-Aid! I kid you not. Kool-Aid pickles are gross, and so are Kool-Aid onions.
My dish of roasted veggies in herbed cream cheese (not many veggie dishes, so I had to go with it), was odd. After I swallowed, a smell/taste went up by nasal passages that reminded me of the same smell/taste after one vomits. I sent this dish back.
The boy's coconut-crusted snapper dish was fine, but he thought his side of potatoes and vegetables tasted sour. After my dish, I thought his side tasted wonderful!
I will commend the server for being very apologetic and understanding, not charging us for the dish we sent back, and offering us free dessert. The key lime pie with vanilla frozen yogurt was excellent!Just to remind you how easy it is to eat vegetarian in Belize, the rinky-dink airport in Belize City has a veggie burger. Sure, the chick pea patty didn't taste like anything, but it's something!
I'd go back to Belize in a heart beat. I loved it.
If you have any specific questions about transport, tours, logistics, etc., I'd be happy to try to answer them. Check out our first leg of the trip on the mainland, too.