Caye Caulker: The Lobster Capital of the Caribbean
Caye Caulker is a Backpacker’s paradise chok full of welcoming hostels, reggae music, and a vibrant Caribbean community. On just five miles by 1 mile of land, tourists can experience fantastic food, unreal dance parties, and some of the best snorkeling on the planet.
The island of roughly 2,000 inhabitants sustains a strong fishing economy and growing tourism industry. Since the country declared independence in 1986, Belizians have cultivated a unique food culture that focuses on local ingredients, outdoor cooking, and my personal favorite seafood, lobster.
During the summer's peak lobster season, fishermen on tiny motorboats collect thousands of lobsters a day. While some use traps and the occasional net, many fisherman dive deep to the ocean floor with just a pair of googles and a hook. They use a technique of catching that utilizes a tool called a shade, which is essentially a large piece of sheet metal on the ocean floor that is slightly propped up with a rock to let lobsters hide underneath. When the fisherman dives down, he lifts the shade and grabs as many lobsters as he can before they scurry off to find other hiding places. Tourists can try to catch their own by paying a fisherman a few dollars to join their boat for the day.
All along the island’s main road, barbecues are set up each night displaying the day’s freshest catch. Lobsters, hog fish, and snappers cover the grills and get served alongside beans, rice, and a Belizian fried dough called a Fryjack. A lobster dinner at a restaurant costs around $10, but if you’re smart you’ll make friends with a fisherman who will sell you whole lobsters for about $2/each, and you’ll grill them up yourself. Or make ceviche, tacos, stews, sandwiches, you name it. Alternatively, if you plan on going fishing (which you should absolutely do), most restaurants will cook them up for you for a small fee.
During my 10 days on the island, I ate lobster for breakfast, lunch, and dinner at less than what it would cost for a meal in Manhattan.
What to do:
Take the snorkeling trip with Island Boys. They have the most extensive snorkeling tour on the island, including a guided tour of the world’s biggest living reef, Hol Chan, a fishing lesson, and a full dinner featuring your day’s bounty. After a day of snorkeling, watch the sunset from Koko King, a brand new luxury resort featuring one of the best beaches and bars on the island. For around $40/day, you can rent a swinging cabana and drink piña coladas while perfecting your ideal Instagram vacation selfie.
Where to stay:
I stayed at Bella’s hostel, which was quite literally the best hostel I have ever stayed in. The community that surrounds this place is unmatched. The owners plan nightly dinners, tours, and nights out. I was only planning on staying on the island for three nights, but this hostel was the reason why I ended up staying for ten. However, since my last visit the owner Nicole switched over to a new hostel called Drifted Coconut Hostel, so if you can snag a bed there, I’d say do it.
What to eat:
Lobster, conch ceviche, fryjacks, fresh juices (and coconuts), and more lobster.
What to bring:
Simple, lightweight sundresses, a bathing suit, and a pair of flip flops. You seriously don’t need anything else. No one wears makeup or gets dressed up.
What to look out for:
Bugs! At night, mosquitos and sand flies hover around most meeting places, so remember to douse yourself in repellent every day. I prefer using a lotion repellent because it lasts longer. Check out this picaridin cream from REI.