“You have to try a Lizard at The Split.” Renee, my Belizean friend who lives in the city told me this, when she learnt I was heading to the caye. So we did.
Caye Caulker is an interesting place. Arguably more Caribbean than Central American, the caye is a place where reggae beats are a constant soundtrack to rastas trying to sell illicit drugs, to fresher-than-fresh seafood being consumed alongside tall rum-and-juice mixtures, to tourists being roped into snorkelling trips to the world-renowned reef.
We visited Caye Caulker with one main thing in mind: diving the Blue Hole, a world-famous dive site. Oddly enough, we spent four days on the island and diving is the one thing we did not do.
We stayed at Pause, an aminal sanctuary/hostel/campground located down a quiet street on the tiny island. We were able to pitch our tent for the very reasonable 10 USD / night. The sanctuary is run by a lovely and very chatty woman named Madi, and the constant presence of cats and dogs is actually quite nice after travelling for quite some time.
If you must, it’s possible to rent a bike or hire a golf-cart taxi to get around Caye Caulker, but there is really no need. Front Street contains the highest concentration of bars, restaurants, and accommodation options, and can be walked end-to-end in maybe 30 minutes (at a leisurely Caribbean pace, of course). At the top end, you’ll find The Split. A hurricane tore through Caye Caulker some years ago, and left, in its wake, a break, a channel, a split through the centre of the island. The other half of the island remains largely undeveloped, with a large section of it a devoted nature reserve.
On this end, up popped The Split – a bar/restaurant/dock where most of the caye comes to see and be seen in the midday sun. The lizards are frighteningly strong, the buckets of beer a bargain, and the people-watching endlessly entertaining. It was the sort of place you could imagine going completely off the handle on a public holiday or if you had a large enough group for someone’s birthday. You could jump off the dock at any point, beer in hand, to cool off from the sun, emerge again to Vybz Kartel and Gyptian playing over the bar speakers, and be hot and dry again in a matter of minutes. If this isn’t a slice of the Caribbean, I don’t know what is.
And what, you may ask, did we do for the other three days? We ate, we kayak-ed, we recuppearted (road weary tends to come on a little quicker in these parts, as health is a bit of a battle at times). I was getting over a bad cold, so I spent most of my time in a hammock, Skyping friends and becoming increasingly excited for the prospect of reunions in the not-too-distant future. Tim managed to explore a bit more, including several kayak missions. One, an epic entire island circumnavigation (not through the split, either. Around the whole thing.) Another involved coming across a team of spear-fishing kids and accompanying them on their adventures.
And then there was The Blue Hold Dilemma. You’ve seen a photo of it, even if you wouldn’t initially think of it. It’s the one that’s in all of those earth-from-above photography books, of a deep, dark blue hole (yes, it is aptly named) in the ocean, surrounded by much lighter and brighter waters, and encompassed in a horeshoe-shaped reef. It’s a world renowned dive location and I’m sure many divers would jump at the chance to dive it, regardless of the price. But. It was going to cost us around 380 Belizean dollars (190 USD) each to do the dive trip. The spot is a decent boat ride away from the caye and the trip includes three dives; one at the Blue Hole, and two reef dives. This was steep for diving in the area, as we had just paid 95 USD for two cenote dives in Mexico. The more I researched, the more friends that I spoke to, the less keen on the idea I became. Here is the basic conclusion that I reached:
The Blue Hole is a world-renowned dive site because it is so unique. It’s essentially an ocean cenote – on a dive you descend to depths of around 40 metres inside cavernous rock walls with stalagtite and stalagmite formations. There is a chance of seeing sharks on your dive – reef, hammerhead, or tiger sharks have all been spotted in the Blue Hole, but in general marine life is limited. It seems rather common practice on the dive and snorkel trips from Caye Caulker to bait and feed (and in some cases, even play with) the marine life in order to enhance the experience for the tourists. Any environmentalist, animal rights activist, or well-educated person could tell you that this is far from ideal. As a diver, you want to minimize your impact as much as possible, and not-infrequent tales of impact do discourage one from wanting to dive, even though Belize is often marketed as an eco-tourism destination. Apart from any ethical concerns, it seemed quite likely the Blue Hole would be crowded, which kills the joy a bit as well as tampers with visibility. We were not enthralled by any of the dive shops that we spoke to and, for me, being comfortable with the company is key. Friends of mine who had done it ranged in opinions from a complete miss to something well worth doing. In the end it didn’t seem as though the dive would be outstanding, in a large part because we just came off of cenote dives in Mexico and they blew me away. It would be hard to compete with that, so soon. I think it would be well worth doing if you had the spare cash and/or if you wanted something different to dive and hadn’t experienced anything like it before. I’d love to dive it at some stage, but perhaps after a bit of a hiatus from diving, when it will appear more magnificent. There is an option to do live aboard dive trips out of Belize as well, which could be a very good option as this puts you at the Blue Hole before the drive trips from the Cayes.
With that decision made, we were free to while away our sunny days on the island and prepare for our departure to Belize proper.