There is a debate ongoing between the two most popular islands in Belize.
Which island to visit? Which island to spend your invaluable vacation days on? Which island is going to give you your ultimate Belize experience?
I had heard from countless friends and acquaintances their experiences and memories from the island they went to, and their stances on both of the islands including which to visit (and often why I didn't need to visit the other), yet rarely did these people visit both Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker.
I (Stephanie, co-owner of Sapphire & Elm Travel Co.) began my year of travels in Belize. I made it of particular importance to visit both Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker in order to experience everything the islands have to offer. Moreover, I needed to stay on the islands until I felt that I had a great grasp on the activities and vibes, so that I limit any potential bias.
Here is what I found: Ambergris Caye or Caye Caulker - which is the better Belize island?
Ambergris Caye, Belize
Ambergris Caye has a population of roughly 14,000 people. The island is 25 miles/40km long and 1 mile/1.6km wide.
The town of San Pedro offers countless options for accommodations, dining, shopping, nightlife and more. The surrounding area includes more hotels, restaurants, shops, bars and nightlife. Ambergris Caye is large enough that I highly recommended getting a golf cart to get around, especially if you want to explore north of the bridge.
Caye Caulker, Belize
In contrast to Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker has a population of roughly 1,500 people. The island is 5 miles/8 km long north to south, and less than 1 mile/1.6 km wide.
The island is so small there is no town, however there is a congregation of establishments that make up what is called Caye Caulker Village. There are roughly 30 tiny hotels, dozens of restaurants, and a handful of shops. You can walk around the main island, no golf cart necessary.
Both islands are white sand beaches surrounded with idyllic crystal blue waters created by the barrier reef on the eastern coast, and mangroves on the western coast. Both islands are actually comprised of two parts. Ambergris Caye has a bridge connecting the two islands, so you'll often hear "north of the bridge". Whereas there is no bridge connecting the two parts of the island in Caye Caulker. This area of Caye Caulker is known as "The Split".
For both islands, the main attraction is the barrier reef. This barrier reef is second only to Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
These two islands are the most popular islands in Belize. However, Ambergris Caye and the town of San Pedro is much more frequently visited. Ambergris Caye is much busier, more locals and more tourists.
Perhaps the best way of explaining the difference between the two islands (according to some locals) is:
Ambergris Caye - "Go Fast"
Caye Caulker - "Go Slow"
There are signs all over Caye Caulker reading " Go Slow". I even got a "speeding ticket" from a local when I was power walking to catch a boat for my snorkeling trip!
The vibe on Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye was the biggest difference for me.
While staying in San Pedro, I went out a lot at night for after dinner drinks, dancing, an AC/DC cover band, etc. The town of San Pedro, while lots to do, felt almost dirty and charmless to me. As a solo female traveler, I felt uncomfortable going out for dinner at night alone.
However in Caye Caulker, the town is quaint. The roads aren't paved, they're dirt/sand roads. The vibe is slower, more chill, you don't feel like you need to go, go, go. You can relax and enjoy, even though there is still a lot of activities to engage in.
I enjoyed both islands very much (to me, outside of San Pedro redeems Ambergris Caye), however, my heart connects with Caye Caulker more so than Ambergris Caye.
At the end of the day, this is still just my opinion. Carly might prefer Ambergris Caye to Caye Caulker, you might prefer Ambergris Caye to Caye Caulker. We are all different; we all have different preferences and wants out of a trip. This is the reason that Carly and I started a travel agency that creates completely custom vacations. No pre-packaged, non-negotiable itineraries because no two people, groups or trips should be the same.
Contact us to plan your Belize vacation.
Note: Belize has roughly 240 miles/400km of coastline. There are more than 200 islands (or cayes) in Belize, many are uninhabited mangrove islets, about 20 are large enough for cabanas and overnight stays. After Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, I was fortunate enough to sail to another four islands. There are many, many more islands to explore.