We were making for Caye Caulker, one of many coral islands dotted along the northern coast. Belize has impeccable eco-tourism credentials, and this modestly priced island (some are five-star only) is a little slice of paradise.
Arriving, we stepped from the wooden pier straight onto a white beach lined with palms, fishing boats and small grill stands selling freshly caught seafood.
It’s what you would call a ‘cosy’ island: you can stroll around it comfortably within an afternoon – but it has everything you could need: town, beach, harbour and spots of wild, uncultivated greenery, where local flora and fauna flourish undisturbed. (If you are strolling the circumference, watch out for the mangrove-covered southern tip, where crocodiles sunbathe in the shallows.) The town itself is a car-free haven of dirt roads, rickety wooden buildings in bright hues and palm trees, edged with golden sand. The streets – particularly the beach-front strip – are lined with stalls selling goodies such as grilled lobster, fried fish, rice and beans and fresh fruit – as well as cheery hawkers promoting glass boat, snorkelling and diving excursions.
We signed up to do a trip to the nearby Marine Reserve: a site teeming with sharks, rays and turtles. After an afternoon admiring the fearless fish, as the pink sun melted into an orange sea, the boat crew served us a post-snorkel snack: little cups of ceviche, fresh, zingy and perfectly salted by the sea air.
In the evenings, the place to be is the island’s small but renowned I&I Reggae Club: four precarious wooden floors of music and dancing that gets packed with tourists and locals alike, with the fun going on well into the early hours. Happily, for those who do overindulge the night before, this is an island of fabulous food – and it’s not only marine delicacies on offer. Travellers from the US and beyond have visited and fallen in love with island life, and many of those who stay set up their own hostels, guest houses or restaurants – meaning there’s a surprisingly diverse array of eateries.
Hunting for coffee on our first morning in town, we quickly discovered Amory Café – a local breakfast legend where you can enjoy everything from pancakes and plantains, to bagels and full fry-ups – all served with fragrant, fruity coffee and freshly squeezed juice. Sipping our drinks in the sunshine, watching strangers chat like old friends while a band played lilting Caribbean music in the street, we felt we could easily accept the popular Belizean catchphrase: ‘No shirt, no shoes, no problem’.
[Images : Belize Tourism Board]
do read Belize… according to him!