Belizeans joke that money isn’t the only thing North Americans have to learn to convert when they visit, but the Belizean-American time conversion too. The money is easy: $1 USD is equivalent to $2 BZD. The time conversion is the opposite, though, and you multiply the minutes by two. People take their time to do things, which could be said for the entirety of Belize, but it’s a completely different timezone when you’re miles off the mainland. You see, there’s a certain pace to every caye in Belize, and we’ve got over 450 of these individual islands. And what you miss by not rushing, you more than make up for with unhurried meals, extra-long sightseeing excursions, and lingering one-on-one conversations. Ahh, what a marvel it is to be Caribbean.
An island itinerary for most in Belize is modest: walk around, regain a sense of direction, and try to disprove the traveler’s adage of getting bored on an island. After all, there’s rum, fine-sand beaches, and an almost narcotic atmosphere of barefooted nonchalance. But what if you’re looking for hustle and bustle on cobblestone streets, live music that spills out onto the beachfront, and hermit crab races? Well, there are Belize islands with that too.
KICK IT UP A NOTCH ON THE NORTHERN CAYES
Picking up the pace, islands with full-on constituencies like Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye means an almost overwhelming roster of options of what to do in the day—and night. They both have their own airstrip, is chock full of resort and restaurant options, plus plenty of watery adventures to keep you entertained offshore. The Belize Barrier Reef faces both islands within eyesight, but that’s about it for commonalities.
Rustic bars line Caye Caulker’s sandy streets and bear the mantra, “no shirt, no shoes, no problem,” while its intimate, family-run accommodations exude “welcome home.” At five miles long and a mile across at its widest point, the petite but perfectly formed island of Caye Caulker is perfect to roam around by SUP, kayak, bicycle, golf cart, or barefoot with a verified “go slow” schedule. Hand-feed giant yet tame tarpon, visit the Seahorse Reserve at sunset for sweeping seascapes against anchored sailboats and socialize on the island’s most popular spot at The Split.
Measuring about 25 miles in length, Ambergris Caye’s white sandy beaches melt into an eclectic yet vibrant island vibe; resorts line its shores while humming golf carts—the main method of transportation—make for the most fun traffic jams yet. It’s likely the country’s number one destination, with a pace to match: rooftop dining with 360 views of the Caribbean Sea atop Alaia Belize for when you’re feeling fancy, rush hour starting at 5 am thanks to zipping tours and dive boats, and there’s live music fitting of La Isla Bonita.
A SPEED TO SAVOR ON SOUTHERN CAYES
Pulling out from the river mouth of Dangriga, the culturally rich fishing town on Belize’s Southern coast, the captain pulls the engine. The metallic percussion of punta rock from a dockside bar and shouts of fishermen cleaning their catch give way to a cottony silence as the Yamaha four-stroke outboard engine hums head-on into the channel. Dangriga’s unpainted cement buildings and beachside palapas slowly melt into the coast, putting 14 miles between it and South Water Caye. Sitting directly atop the reef in the country’s largest marine reserve, the island floats into view, as if corals had risen directly from the deep. Trailed by salt spray, it’s a feast for the eyes meant to be savored on island time: slowly.
On islands like South Water Caye where you can choose to stay with resorts like Blue Marlin Beach Resort, spend days lounging inside colorful hammocks, throwing a hand line off the dock, or just cozying up with a good book on your favorite lounge chair. Slow starts to your day may mean gently floating above coral, rays, and starfish. You dry off in the sun and head back to the resort for puffy fry jacks and a recalibrating cup of freshly squeezed orange juice. The agenda for the rest of the day? Sweet nothing.