You don’t need to be a seasoned Belize visitor to know about the stronghold the picturesque islands have on travelers. And as more Covid-19 restrictions wane, so are travelers’ hesitance to go island hopping in Belize this summer. In fact, recent studies show Americans are booking summer vacations at record rates, meaning the islands are about to be bustling again. If you’re one of those who can’t wait to tan on icing-sugar sand amidst the Caribbean breeze, there are a few things you need to know about the fascinating islands in Belize.
1. There are more than 400 of them.
Sure, many are familiar with the snorkeling hotspots and the famous neighboring islands of Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker. But did you know Belize actually has more than 400 cayes? Hundreds of small islands are peppered throughout the Caribbean Sea, some stretching as far as the Port Honduras Marine Reserve. Not all are inhabited – in fact, few are – but many of them are found to be in clusters.
2. Many are marine reserves.
With Belize’s dedication to protecting the environment, many of its conservation efforts involve the reef. There are several sites within the Caribbean Sea and the Belize Barrier Reef that are considered marine protected areas, or MPAs for short. This means that they are considered areas for conserving biodiversity and protecting endangered species, among other purposes. One of the most visited marine reserves is the traveler-favorite Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Located just a few miles out from Ambergris Caye, Hol Chan is home to a multitude of wildlife such as nurse sharks, rays, and even manatees. Other popular marine reserves for snorkeling include South Water Caye, Turneffe Atoll, and Glover’s Reef Marine Reserves.
3. Some are so small, that only a few people can fit at a time.
Unlike those of the Greek Islands, Belize’s cayes tend to be very small. Its largest inhabited island is Ambergris Caye and it measures about 25 miles from north to south. Caye Caulker comes in at about five miles and is easily walkable from one end to the next. Others, however, are so tiny they often resemble a speck of paradise splashed against a postcard. The Silk Cayes, for instance, is a stunning trio of charming islands whose biggest one houses a few palm trees, a singular restroom, and a couple of picnic tables. Some say snorkeling trips out to Silk Cayes can be on a first-come-first-served basis due to its limited capacity. But the wait is worth it. The small island is popular for its miniature size and serves as an ideal base for otherworldly snorkeling.
4. Some of them cost less than a condo in NYC.
Belize holds hundreds of private islands, and it goes without saying that many of them are for sale. Private islands in Belize, despite their high demand, still remain an undervalued market. When compared with purchasing an apartment in New York City, a private island in Belize can be cheaper. New York City is notorious for its sky-high cost of living, even higher now post-pandemic. When looking to actually buy an apartment or condo, though, the median price can be upwards of US$1.85 million. In Belize, a private island, like Funk Caye, can cost a mere US$1.5 million instead.
5. One inspired a Madonna song.
Saving perhaps the most well-known fun fact for last, one of Belize’s very own islands allegedly inspired a beloved Madonna song. The pop queen’s bop “La Isla Bonita” is said to have been about San Pedro, Ambergris Caye’s only town. The song was released in 1986 and contained the lyrics, “last night I dreamt of San Pedro.” While it is unclear whether the artist indeed dedicated the song to the infamous caye, she considered it a tribute to the “lovely Latin American people.” Many San Pedranos wear the legend like a badge of honor and have adopted the moniker “Las Isla Bonita” – meaning beautiful island – for San Pedro.