Ambergris Caye or Caye Caulker?

{Context}

While planning my trip to Belize I knew I wanted to split our time between San Ignacio and one of the islands. But I didn’t know which island to choose – Ambergris or Caye Caulker.

So I started researching:

  • Google searches
  • Asked friends
  • TripAdvisor

There were articles from other travel blogs that basically pointed out the main difference between the two islands:

  • Caye Caulker is MUCH smaller than Ambergris and life in Caye Caulker is at a very slow pace – as their motto is “Go Slow”.
  • Because Caye Caulker is smaller, there’s more to do on Ambergris
Ambergris-Caye-Caulker-Belize-City
Here’s a map showing Belize City, Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye.

{Size Difference Between the Cayes?}

Ambergris  Caye: 25mi wide and a little more 1mi. wide. Population: 14,000
Caye Caulker: 5mi. north-to-south and a little less than 1mi. east-to-west. Population: 1,300

{Main Differences Between Belize’s Two Popular Cayes}

Main differences, apart from size, that might influence your travel plans:

  • Ambergris Caye (in general) is more expensive than Caye Caulker, so you see more backpackers on Caye Caulker.
  • The airstrip on Caye Caulker currently closed so you have to water taxi from Belize City or Ambergris Caye.
  • Caye Caulker is closer to the Blue Hole and Hol Chan Marine Reserve.
  • Ambergris Caye has better beaches than Caye Caulker

{Caye Caulker vs. Ambergris Caye Analogy}

If I had to describe it to someone, I’d say Caye Caulker vs. Ambergris Caye is like Kauai vs. Waikiki in terms of pace of life. Hopefully you’ve been to one or both of these Hawai’ian islands to understand my analogy).

On Kauai you feel like time has stood still. Whereas, Waikiki is bustling with cars, people, shops, and restaurants.  In this analogy Caye Caulker is like Kauai and Ambergris like Waikiki.

{Beaches}

Neither Caye is great for beaches. If you’re looking for a beach holiday and expecting beaches like you see in Southern California, Hawaii, Costa Rica, Thailand, or Australia you’re in for major disappointment regardless of which Caye you choose. There aren’t really beaches to lay out.

I saw people laying out on many of the docks (meaning literally laying out on the wooden dock) but don’t think this is going to be you laying out on your towel in the sand. These Cayes are for laying out on loungers or hanging out at bar/restaurant patios and enjoying the ocean views.


{So…Who Should Go To Caye Caulker?}

  • Anyone who plans to spend a significant amount of their time snorkeling
  • Better for couples and families with teenage or adult kids vs. little ones
  • Anyone NOT planning to go to the mainland for day trips
  • Anyone who’s REALLY looking to get away from normal fast paced life

Majority of time at the Blue Hole and Hol Chan: I specified significant amount of time because Caye Caulker is closer to Hol Chan Marine Reserve and the Blue Hole. If that’s going to be a big part of your trip then you’ll appreciate the closer proximity. I don’t want to make it sound like you can’t go to Hol Chan from Ambergris…you absolutely can. Most tourists go snorkeling 1 day and if that’s you, then staying on either Caye is fine.

Mainland trips from Caye Caulker: And I specified anyone NOT planning to go to the mainland for day trips because the airstrip on Caye Caulker is currently closed. It’s been closed since October 2017 and there’s no information about when it will re-open. If you want to do the ATM cave or visit Tikal, for example you’ll have to first take a water taxi to San Pedro, Ambergris Caye and then fly from there.

It can be done but adds more logistics and timing considerations to your schedule. ATM and Tikal are both full day events so you’ll have to figure out what time to fly into the Maya Flats airstrip and what time to go back.

Skydiving: Additionally, anyone planning to skydive – that’s available from Ambergris Caye, not Caye Caulker. But you can easily take the 30 minute water taxi from Caye Caulker to San Pedro and back, with no worries.

{So Who Should Go To Ambergris Caye?}

My recommendations are:

  • Families with younger kids (younger than teenagers) might like Ambergris more, as there are more things to do there. Additionally it is convenient because you can fly directly there vs. taking a 45 minute water taxi.
  • Anyone who’s gonna diving or fishing. Even though Caye Caulker is closer to the Blue Hole, there are many more dive shops on Ambergris – therefore more options. Since the Blue Hole is an expensive trip, worthwhile for you to get the most out of it with more options.
  • Anyone who doesn’t want to deal with the additional logistics of getting to Caye Caulker.
  • Anyone looking for more nightlife options.

{Airstrips in Belize}

Luckily the country has setup a pretty good infrastructure to get to each of the major cities like San Ignacio, San Pedro, Hopkins, Dangriga, and Orange Walk.  As I mentioned above, currently (as of October 2017) the airstrip on Caye Caulker is closed.

For anyone interested in flying in from San Pedro to do the ATM cave. You’ll fly to the Maya Flats airstrip which is about 15 minutes from San Ignacio town. So it’s really close. In fact everyone on my ATM tour flew in that morning from San Pedro. My husband and I were the only ones actually stay in San Ignacio.

{Getting There}

Flight from Belize City to San Pedro, Ambergris Caye: 13 minutes
Water Taxi from Belize City to San Pedro, Ambergris Caye: 1hr. 15 min.
Flight from Belize City to Caye Caulker: 10 minutes, but currently unavailable
Water Taxi from Belize City to Caye Caulker: 25 minutes from BZE airport to Ferry Terminal + 30 minute water taxi.
Water Taxi from Caye Caulker to San Pedro (vice versa): 30 minutes

My experience: We flew on Tropic Air from the Maya Flats airstrip in San Ignacio to San Pedro with a 20 minute layover in Belize City. And we took a water taxi to Caye Caulker from there. I liked flying because we got to see the views from above.

Alternatively we could have de-planed in Belize City and taken a water taxi.

View-from-flight-to-San-Pedro-Caribbean-water

{Similarities on Both Cayes}

  • Both islands are geared for tourism
  • No cars allowed on either island. You can rent a golf cart on either.
  • Both are English speaking
  • Offer a variety of activities

{Our Stay on Caye Caulker}

We decided to go to Caye Caulker and now after going and spending time on both Cayes I’m really glad we chose that vs. Ambergris for our first visit to Belize because:

  1. Caye Caulker was so different compared to our fast pace lives in San Francisco.
  2. We weren’t interested in diving, but we wanted to go snorkeling.
  3. Vegetarian food on Caye Caulker wasn’t going to be an issue.

We didn’t rent a golf cart – we just walked everywhere. And we spent two out of our 4 days there, sipping on cocktails and reading on the oceanfront deck of our hotel. We were there from New Years Eve until thru the first week of January, which is peak season and it still felt empty, whereas Ambergris felt packed and hectic.

When we went to San Pedro, I felt like I was in an outdoor market in New Delhi, India twenty years ago. Loud “cars” (golf carts) whizzing by leaving a trail of the gas odor, dense little shops, rows of parked “cars”.

golf-carts-amgergris-caye

I’m glad we visited to see it but also glad we stayed on Caye Caulker. Next time we visit, we’ll stay on Ambergris, to try something new.

{Conclusion}

Whether you choose Ambergris or Caye Caulker, you’re going to have a great time! You honestly can’t go wrong with either one and it really comes down to your preferences, time and budget.

I hope you found this info helpful! If you end up going, I wish you a BRILLIANT time! I really hope this article helps you prepare and get everything you need! Let me know what you thought of it! I love hearing from our readers, as well as your fun, funny, interesting, and helpful stories from your travel experiences! You might like to follow us on Facebook and Instagram too, where we share a lot of different content and images.


Samta-Ajay-Caye-Caulker-sign

 

 

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