belize: beaches, bikinis, bikes, and beer
on a tiny island off the coast of belize, tucked right under mexico’s yucatan peninsula, is a slice of paradise where time stands still. it’s not often that time stops on my travels. even though i frequently find myself in some of the world’s most obscure and beautiful corners, it’s always on someone else’s agenda. crack-of-dawn wakeup calls, shmoozing, interviews, hotel site inspections, formal lunches followed by formal dinners followed by late nights, all to lather, rinse, repeat. by no means am i complaining - i’d take this life over any other in a heartbeat - but my travels can hardly be considered relaxing. and certainly by no means do i consider them vacation. so when i discovered belize’s sleepy caye caulker, i was more than happy to press pause.
caye caulker leaps right off the pages of a coloring book. the small island, about 45 minutes north by speedboat from belize city, is a backdrop of white canvas sand, on which is smeared great bursts of bright blue water and a rainbow of vibrantly painted bungalows. green palms sway lazily, shading hammock groves where barefoot backpackers sip belikin beers while dozing in and out of the heat. the unofficial motto of belize is, ‘no shirt, no shoes...no problem,’ and it’s not difficult to understand why when you’re on caye caulker.
cars are banned on the island, which only extends five miles long and less than a mile across. people get around on foot, beach cruiser, or golf cart - though even a golf cart seems like too much horsepower for the laid-back beat here. a friend of mine and i rented an airbnb just a few blocks off of front street, the main drag. front street is flanked with beach bars, restaurants, and shops, all that run along the beach. straight down front street leads to “the split,” which is a popular swimming area among backpackers.
backpackers, expats, and rastafarians have the run of the island. it’s a small community where the locals know everyone by name and backstory. all industry on the island runs around tourism and the sea. if you’re not a fisherman, then you’re leading snorkel or dive tours out to the barrier reef and beyond to the famous blue hole. and if you’re not working on the sea, then you’re serving its fruits fried up with lemon wedges and a bottle of belikin, or you’re renting out rooms. regardless of chosen profession, life is, above all, stress-free.
all the tourists will be hanging at “the split,” specifically at the lazy lizard, where drinks are pricey by island standards and gringos abound. making the lazy lizard your chosen watering hole would be a mistake, unless you’re only looking to mingle with other americans. still, it’s definitely worth a stop to catch the sunset over a game of corn and an over-priced panty ripper (rum, pineapple juice, grenadine). when you’re not at the lazy lizard, you should be at the sip ‘n dip, the preferred local bar packed with residents of caye caulker, or belize city residents over to the island for a weekend of relaxation. drinks are infinitely cheaper here, where the music pulses all afternoon and drunk patrons jump off the dock into the bath-temperature caribbean sea. hours at sip ‘n dip start and end early, though, because locals tend to run their schedules with the sun. if you are in desperate need of an after-hours spot, consider barrier reef sports bar & grill, which draws a late-night crowd, though mostly of a white variety.
one of the best meals you can grab on the island is at maggie’s sunset kitchen, just a block back from front street near “the split.” seafood kebabs, shrimp, lobster, rice, beans, fried plantains - you name it, maggie’s got it and it’s cheap and delicious.
all along front street are loads of companies offering snorkeling tours, diving tours, sunset cruises, etc. truth be told, they are all relatively the same price and all relatively the same experience. there’s not much to do on caye caulker besides unplug and unwind so if you’re absolutely in need of activity, these are perfectly great options. of course, the more experienced diver you are, the more fun this will be for you because the barrier reef is one of the best dive sites in the entire world.
i have to admit it took a solid 24 hours for me to detox my usual fast pace out of my system, to the point where i was almost uncomfortable my first day there. wifi was barely connectable, if it even existed. time was more of a guideline, and directions were more like suggestions. it took some getting used to. but in a world where everyone is obsessed with clicks, likes, insta-moments, and next swipes, it was a welcome and necessary change of pace to turn the noise way down to low. turns out sometimes all you need to realize life is just fine is the beach, a bikini, a bike, and a beer.