Belize’s Northern Cayes

The sun sets over the horizon turning a dramatic cloud covered sky from golden to deep purple.

Sunset at Caye Caulker. Photo © David Taus, licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.

By the 17th century, pirates discovered that the plentiful cayes (islands, pronounced “keys”) around the Belizean mainland were perfect for lying low, riding out a storm, drinking rum, and replenishing water and food supplies before setting sail for another round of pillaging and sacking. No doubt modern-day travelers to Belize’s largest, most visited islands engage in at least a few of these activities. The more popular cayes are Caulker, Ambergris, St. George’s, Half Moon, and Lighthouse.

The Northern Cayes are the crown jewels of Belize’s tourist attractions. They have the most experience catering to visitors, have developed several different scenes between them, and continue to be the most popular destinations in the country. By one estimate, more than 70 percent of visitors to Belize come to at least one of these islands during their trip. It’s not hard to imagine why—namely, immediate access to world-class diving, fishing, and snorkeling; hospitable Belizean islanders and fellow travelers from around the world; and an amazing selection of small, personable resorts and restaurants. Then, of course, there are palms, rum punches, boat rides, clear blue ocean, and island time. Enjoy, and repeat after the locals: “Go slow!”

Planning Your Time

What to do? Dive? Snorkel? Kayak around the island? How about a sailing cruise at sunset? Day trip to the mainland? Massage? Shopping? Deep-sea fishing? Or you can just lie back and read by the pool. Many visitors to Caye Caulker, Ambergris, and the outlying Belize atolls book their entire vacations on a single island—especially fishing and diving freaks on a mission. You can easily while away 7–10 days on any of these islands. Then there are the surf-and-turf tourists who do five days in the cayes and five days inland. Backpackers often include only a couple of days in the Northern Cayes (or at least enough time to get scuba certified) before continuing on their Central American tours. Even if you focus your vacation elsewhere in the country and have only a day or two, it’s still worth the trip to either Caulker or Ambergris, which are both less than an hour by boat from Belize City and worthy of the quickest of glimpses.

Excerpted from the Ninth Edition of Moon Belize.

Maps of the Northern Cayes

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