Last updated on February 6, 2023 by Wandering our World
At the western edge of the Caribbean Sea lies the Central American nation of Belize, at the bottom of the Yucatan Peninsula. And if you are looking for a chilled Caribbean island for your vacation, you should definitely check out Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, two tiny islands straddling the Belize Barrier Reef where you can kick back, slide into a slower pace of life and embark on incredible memories like swimming with whale sharks or enjoying sunset walks on one of the world’s most beautiful coastlines.
Ambergris Caye, which is the larger of the two islands, stretches 40 kilometers from its northern point to its southern point and is a mere kilometre and a half wide.
This sun-kissed sliver of land, with its excellent beaches and snorkeling, is Belize’s most popular tourist destination. That means Ambergris Caye is busier than Caye Caulker, and has more options when it comes to resorts, activities, and dining out.
Caye Caulker lies less than ten kilometers to the south and is the sleepier, less expensive sibling to Ambergris Caye.
With zero traffic and sandy streets, Caye Caulker emits a super-chilled vibe and is ideal for recharging the batteries away from the madding crowds. That makes Caye Caulker arguably the better choice for a more laid-back, quieter vacation.
As you can already see, despite being so close to each other, Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker are actually quite different. Which is why it’s so important to work out which one suits you best.
So, let’s dive a little deeper into these two less-known Caribbean islands and see which has the best beaches, hotels, snorkeling, the best vibe, which is cheaper and even more! All so you can find your dream Caribbean vacation…
- Which Is Easier To Get To?
- Which Is Easier To Get Around?
- Which Has The Best Vibe?
- Which Has The Best Hotels?
- Which Is Better For Beaches?
- Which Is Better For Scuba Diving?
- Which Is Best For Snorkeling?
- Which Has The Best Nightlife?
- Which Is Best For Families?
- Which Is Best For A Honeymoon?
- Which Is More Expensive?
- What Time Of Year Is Best?
- Our Final Thoughts
Which Is Easier To Get To?
These two chilled cayes are relatively easy to reach, with their nearest major international airport being in Belize City.
Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport (BZE) is well connected with direct flights available from many major cities throughout the US. From farther afield, you will have to fly via one of these major UC cities and transfer down to Belize City.
To get from Belize City to the beaches on the Cayes is also relatively easy and not too time-consuming. The fastest option is to fly. The tiny airport on Caye Caulker (CUK) receives a few flights per day from Belize City, and the flight time is just fifteen minutes. These light-aircraft flights then continue on to San Pedro (SPR), the main and only town on Ambergris Caye.
Flights to the Cayes are operated by Tropic Air and by Maya Island Air, and are not as expensive as you may think. Plus you’ll get gorgeous birds eye views (like the photo of Ambergris Caye below).
If you’re in less of a rush or not so keen on the smaller aircraft, then there is also the simple and convenient water taxi option to reach your final destination. From Belize City Airport, you first need to get yourself to the ferry terminal, and the easiest way to do that is with a local taxi.
Make sure you agree on a price beforehand, and this journey should take around thirty minutes. There is no public bus service running to the ferry terminal, but there is also a shuttle service from the airport.
There are two ferry companies running boats across to the Cayes from the ferry terminal, Ocean Ferry Belize and Belize Express, but with no discernible differences between their services, you can just book a ticket on whichever one is operating the next ferry set to depart. The ferries take around 45 minutes to reach Caye Caulker, and afterwards continue on for another 30 minutes to reach Ambergris Caye.
Which Is Easier To Get Around?
Transport, and life in general, is pretty simple and straightforward on both islands.
Caye Caulker’s transportation options are extremely simple—the main option sits below your waist—your legs! The island is only eight kilometers long and a little over a kilometer wide, and the main way of getting around is by walking.
There are no real vehicles on the island, but there are a few bicycles and golf carts available to rent if needs be. Caye Caulker very much lives by its own motto, “Go Slow”, and you can expect peaceful streets (see photo below) and a slowed down vibe.
Ambergris Caye is a little larger and does have some vehicles to move you around the island. There are taxis and golf carts, and depending on your budget and length of stay, you may find taxi fares start to add up and become expensive.
So why not hire a golf cart for your stay, ot there is also the option of renting a bicycle. The journey to the island’s most popular beach is best made by taxi or golf cart, though.
Which Has The Best Vibe?
Whilst both islands have oodles of Caribbean charm, they both have their own distinct feel and vibe.
As the larger of the two islands, Ambergris Caye is a little more developed and attracts a slightly older tourist.
This island is a little more expensive for food and accommodation than Caulker Caye, and is a little bit more “Americanized” than its neighbor. The main town of San Pedro has plenty of options for food and drinks in the evenings, and in general, there’s a bit more to do here.
Caye Caulker has been attracting backpackers since the 60s and retains this simpler vibe. Everything is smaller and more quaint here, and with no paved roads or traffic, it’s much easier to slip into that chilled Caribbean state of mind.
So If you’re looking for a chilled backpacker vibe, then Caye Caulker is definitely the place for you.
Which Has The Best Hotels?
We all look for slightly different things in a hotel, but the general view is that Ambergris Caye has slightly more upmarket and more expensive accommodation options than Caye Caulker. The average prices for hotel rooms are also a little higher on Ambergris Caye, which is why the backpackers tend to prefer Caye Caulker.
If you are looking for a bit of luxury when selecting your hotel, then you should focus your attention on Ambergris Caye and the resorts of Matachica Beach Resort & Spa and Xanadu Island Resort. Both of these resorts are close to San Pedro, and both are beachfront with views out across the Caribbean Sea.
For a more budget-friendly option on Ambergris Caye, check out Sandbar Beachfront Hostel & Restaurant. This excellent hostel has a swimming pool and plenty of hammocks to chill in, too.
Featuring an outdoor pool and a hot tub, Seaside Villas is one of the top choices on Caye Caulker. With free WiFi throughout and good amenities in the rooms, this is a popular choice and is a few steps from the beach.
Colinda Cabanas is another good option on Caye Caulker. The hotel offers complimentary bicycles, snorkeling gear, and kayaks, and they have their own swimming pier, perfect for a cooling afternoon dip.
If you are looking for a cool backpacker hostel, have a look at the Go Slow Guesthouse. It is just around the corner from the main strip, and still very close to the Split (the gap between the two halves of the island).
Which Is Better For Beaches?
With both islands surrounded by calm, blue waters and being a stone’s throw from the Belize Barrier Reef, they both have some good spots for topping up the tan. As the larger island, there are a few more better beaches on Ambergris Caye, but Caye Caulker has a couple of good beaches too.
Both Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker are split into two sections, with the north and south parts of Ambergris Caye being connected by a bridge – the Boca del Rio Bridge. And this area is where you can find the most popular beach and swimming areas close to San Pedro.
If you venture a bit farther, head to Secret Beach, dubbed Ambergris Caye’s worst-kept secret, for the island’s top beach area. It can get a little busy here at times, but it’s a beautiful spot and perfect for a dip in the Caribbean Sea.
The area where Caye Caulker is divided in two is known as The Split. Unlike Ambergris Caye, there is no bridge connecting the two sides of the island. The water is a little deeper here, and it’s the best place for a swim on the island. It’s also a cool place to hang out and is good for snorkeling and parasailing. It’s also the home of the island’s favorite beach bar, The Lazy Lizard, which has incredible seaside views.
Which Is Better For Scuba Diving?
Both islands are home to a few dive centers, and the scuba diving in the region is very good, with one of the world’s most famous dive sites a short boat ride away…
Being in close proximity to the world’s second largest barrier reef, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, means divers are naturally drawn to the area.
This reef stretches over 1,000 kilometers from Cancun in the north to the Bay Islands of Honduras in the south and passes right by Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye.
The main reason this region pulls in divers from around the globe is the dive site known as the Great Blue Hole. The Great Blue Hole is a giant marine sinkhole near the center of Lighthouse Reef, a nearby atoll.
Jacques Cousteau famously rated this as one of his favorite dive sites in the world, and its unique topography and marine life will leave you in no doubt as to why. There’s a very good chance of sighting Caribbean reef sharks here, and, for the very lucky, maybe a hammerhead or two!
The Barrier Reef is also a popular spot for whale shark sightings, but again, you need a bit of luck to be in the right place at the right time…
The best dive sites in the region are easily reached from either island. If scuba diving is going to feature in your vacation, you can rest assured that you won’t be missing out by choosing to stay on one island over the other.
Which Is Best For Snorkeling?
If venturing beneath the waves is not for you, then fear not. You can still enjoy the marine life in the area. There are plenty of snorkel tours on both these islands, and this is how to get the best out of the islands’ snorkeling.
It is possible to snorkel directly from the islands, but it will not be as impressive as if you join a snorkel tour out to the Barrier Reef. Some of the bars and restaurants along the beaches have areas for snorkeling, and many have created artificial reefs to attract the fish.
On Caye Caulker, the best snorkeling from the beach is at The Split, and on Ambergris Caye, you should head to the north of the island, where there is less boat traffic.
But if you are a keen snorkeler, you should definitely join a half-day or full-day snorkeling tour out to the reefs. The best two locations, aside from the great Blue Hole, are Hol Chan and Mexico Rocks, two protected areas with excellent marine life. Keep your eyes peeled for turtles and nurse sharks!
Which Has The Best Nightlife?
While you won’t find mega clubs and mass hedonism on either island, you can enjoy a few “adult beverages” and enjoy the chilled nighttime vibe of either island.
Ambergris Caye, and the town of San Pedro in particular, is where you will find the most choices for nightlife, but it’s far more low-key than some of its more noisy neighbors, like Cancun.
In San Pedro there are enough choices of bars and restaurants that you can eat and drink in a different place each night, and may even stumble across some live music on some nights. There are a few upscale choices too, and some of the bigger hotels have good restaurants right on the beach.
Caye Caulker is much smaller, has more limited choices, and an even more laid-back nightlife scene than Ambergris Caye. And you will probably find that you will be visiting the same places multiple times during your stay.
For bars, The Lazy Lizard and Sip N Dip, near The Split, are both popular for a cocktail, and the shuttle boat across to the north side of the island can get you to the Northside Beach Club and back, as long as you head back before midnight!
Which Is Best For Families?
The simple fact that Ambergris Caye is bigger than Caye Caulker means it has a little bit more to offer families. There is more choice in accommodations, and the options are bigger and more amenity-rich than the options in Caye Caulker. And if you are looking for a swimming pool, you will have more luck in Ambergris Caye.
Being the larger of the two destinations, Ambergris Caye also has more restaurants to choose from at meal times and a few more activities to keep everyone entertained on the island. With the island being more “touristy” and more “Americanized,” the food choices on offer might be a bit more suitable for younger children on Ambergris Caye too.
In terms of snorkeling or scuba diving options, there are trips running to the best spots from both islands, and you won’t miss out by choosing one over the other.
The main difference, though, is that the hotel choices will be more family-friendly on Ambergris Caye.
Which Is Best For A Honeymoon?
If you are looking to plan a honeymoon and are considering these two islands, the more traditional honeymoon choice would probably be Ambergris Caye. But it depends on what you are looking for from your honeymoon.
Both can offer peace and tranquility, but if you are also looking for a bit of luxury, then you may find the choices on Ambergris Caye to be a little more to your liking.
One popular honeymoon choice on Ambergris Caye is Pelican Reef Villas Resort. The resort is located just to the south of San Pedro and is a pleasant and peaceful location with stunning views across the ocean.
If a more low-key honeymoon is your preference, then there are some nice and peaceful options on Caye Caulker too, with Island Magic Beach Resort being a popular choice for its location.
But overall, between these two islands, Ambergris Caye is probably the better choice for a honeymoon, as it also has more choices for bars and restaurants.
Which Is More Expensive?
With Caye Caulker being a backpacker destination, the prices for most things are a little lower here compared to Ambergris Caye. Once flights are taken care of, the next biggest slice of budget is normally allocated to accommodation. Ambergris Caye has the more upmarket hotels of the two, but it does also have some backpacker-style hostel accommodation too.
Caye Caulker has more options for backpackers, and there are also a few mid-price hotels to choose from too. But you will probably need to budget a lot less for your accommodation here than on Ambergris Caye.
Ambergris Caye is a little larger, and you may need to use the transport available a little more often, or even rent a golf cart for your whole stay. On Caye Caulker, many places are reachable on foot, so you will need to spend less getting around the island.
Overall, the prices are a little higher on Ambergris Caye, but not ridiculously so…
What Time Of Year Is Best?
There is no discernable difference between each island’s weather patterns, as they are right next to each other. Being tropical locations, they both experience plenty of sunshine throughout the year, with average temperatures consistently being in the mid to high twenties.
The busiest months for tourism are January through March, and hotel and flight prices will be a little higher during these months. From June onwards, there’s increased rainfall, and the temperatures rise a little, into the low thirties, which brings higher humidity.
There is also an increased risk of a hurricane blowing through the area from June onwards, so understandably the islands are a little quieter during these months.
Ambergris Caye vs Caye Caulker: Our Final Thoughts
These two Caribbean islands can both pack a punch when it comes to delivering a great vacation. With them being right next to each other, there’s no advantage to choosing one over the other in terms of climate, with the main differences between the two locations being the size and the vibe.
If you’re looking for a super-chilled backpacker vibe and a relaxed pace of life, then maybe Caye Caulker is the better choice for you. But if you prefer to have a little more going on and more choices for bars, food, resorts and nightlife, then Ambergris Caye should suit your needs better.
Regardless of which destination you choose, pack your flip-flops, sunscreen, and a snorkeling set and relax into the Caribbean way of life. Take things easy and slow down to enjoy your relaxed and laid-back Caribbean vacation.
And also, if you still can’t decide between the two, why not split your time between the two? Spend a few days relaxing on Ambergris, unwinding from your hectic lifestyle, and then head across on the ferry to Caye Caulker, where you can unwind and sink into the Caribbean pace of life even more…