Going Slow in Central America: Exploring Caye Caulker’s “The Split” in Belize

When visiting the Cayes in Belize, most travelers are quite divided over their love for either Ambergris Caye or Caye Caulker.

Ambergris Caye is slow and laid back, but Caye Caulker truly defines the word slow – so much to the point it’s even their motto.

On Caye Caulker, the motto is "Go Slow"
On Caye Caulker, the motto is “Go Slow”

The small island is located about 20-30 minutes by speedboat from Ambergris Caye and has a population of less than 3,000 people.  The lodging tends to be geared more towards budget travelers and the vibe is ultra casual.  Pack a pair of closed toe shoes and people will probably look at you like you’re from another planet.

There are a number of small restaurants and bars on Caye Caulker, but the most popular is probably the Lazy Lizard at “The Split”.  It continues to draw in so many people they are currently undergoing an expansion to add a second level.  It’s here that many of the island’s festivals and parties are held throughout the year so the added space will be beneficial.

Lazy Lizard at The Split on Caye Caulker
Lazy Lizard at The Split on Caye Caulker

Admittedly, I have always pledged my allegiance to Ambergris Caye.  I’m definitely not alone in favoring the bigger island, with a larger central town.

Dorian Nuñez, owner and editor of Ambergris Today, finds Caye Caulker’s pace a little too laid back.  And, yes, perhaps he’s a little biased growing up on Ambergris Caye, but, hey, I have to find my back-up wherever I can get it.

I’ve always found Caye Caulker to be nice to visit for lunch while snorkeling or diving nearby, but its overwhelming popularity with so many travelers has been lost on me.

Until now.

I just returned from my annual escape to Ambergris Caye, and one of my local friends wanted to hang out one afternoon in Caye Caulker.  While he picked a bit of a stressful day in that we had to be back early to get ready for the big Halloween party in San Pedro, I agreed to go and see if I could see a different side of the island – through a local’s eyes.

We started the morning on his boat fishing for our lunch and snorkeling in search of the elusive manatees.  Then it was time to cruise over to Caye Caulker to cook up our catch and enjoy a few cold Belikin beers.

Catching our own lunch off the coast of Caye Caulker
Catching our own lunch off the coast of Caye Caulker

We docked in the area of Caye Caulker known as “The Split” which now divides the already tiny island into two.  What initially started as a small and narrow channel was widened by Hurricane Hattie in 1961, and is really “the place” to be on the island today.

Here you will find most of the island’s locals and tourists – whether it’s catching some rays on the sandy beach, sipping Belikins at the Lazy Lizard, or just swimming in the channel – The Split is quite an experience.

When we first arrived, it was miserably hot, and in usual fashion, I was already lunch for 1,000 hungry mosquitoes. Rather than add to my plethora of existing welts, I hopped in the water to escape.

It was here that I finally realized how doing absolutely nothing can be so therapeutic, and why so many people are drawn in by Caye Caulker and its “Go Slow” way of life.

While swimming around, I met a wonderful lady, Mary, who is a travel photographer on her way to Guatemala to teach photography for a few months.  We chatted for a bit about our world travels and our shared love of Belize. She’s developed quite a fondness for Caye Caulker and has yet to visit Ambergris Caye.

Mary and I cooling off in The Split on Caye Caulker, Belize
Mary and I cooling off in The Split on Caye Caulker, Belize

And then, one of those bizarre moments happens when you realize how small the island really is, and, well, how small the world of travel itself is.

Fellow travel blogger Norbert from Globotreks randomly paddles by on a kayak.

A bit of disclosure – I did know Norbert was on Caye Caulker doing a kayak trip some time that day, I just never expected to run into him out in the middle of the water.  For those who don’t know, Norbert is the latest “Road Warrior”, a joint project between Matador Network and the Belize Tourism Board.  They bring a different Matador U student down every three months to explore different aspects of Belize and help promote tourism to the country.

Norbert from Globotreks
Norbert from Globotreks waving goodbye to us as we head back to Ambergris Caye

While I admit I probably won’t be looking to stay on Caye Caulker for a week or two at a time, an afternoon at The Split definitely provided a much-needed break.

Sometimes, you just need to take a break from all the diving/snorkeling, hiking, and exploring, and just literally do nothing.

Now I’m diggin’ the “Go Slow” motto…

…If only I could find a way to adapt that into life back in Taiwan!

How to Get to Caye Caulker

If you want to visit Caye Caulker while in Belize, you can either go direct from Belize International or Belize City Airport on Tropic Air, Belize’s regional carrier.  Another option is to take a water taxi from the mainland or Ambergris Caye.  And many tours will include a stop in Caye Caulker if you are just looking to explore the island for an afternoon.

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