In the midst of an insane summer work travel schedule, hopping over to the Caribbean for a "break" seemed a backwards choice. I had hardly gone longer than 48 hours without repacking my Rimowa, and my body no longer reacted to time zone changes. My trip to Belize with BFF Emily ended up being the most invigorating, relaxing, eye-opening one I'd ever taken.
I flew Delta via Atlanta, right into Belize City. Originally we'd planned to take the water taxi. Upon arriving, the $60, 10-minute puddle jumper journey over to Caye Caulker won over the 30-minute taxi ride into town, followed by an hour water taxi.
I was kind of over flying by this point, and then I realized this also kind of didn't count as flying. Our Cessna flew us over perfectly turquoise waters and teased with views of islands sprinkled throughout them. (Maya Island Air and Tropic Air both have regular, frequent flights between Belize City, Caye Caulker, and Ambergris Caye. Their journeys are pretty much loops - so your plane may stop on one island en route to another or back to Belize.)
Landing at Caye Caulker's airport gives you an immediate, genuine taste of how the island operates: simply. We cruised through the dirt runway until we arrived at just yards of the airport's office. This is my dream airport: no bullshit. An airport operator offered to get me a taxi (which, on this island, is solely golf carts). This Caribbean bliss is gas vehicle-free. My taxi ride lasted the 90 seconds it took for us to literally go around a corner and arrive at my hotel: Weezie's Caye Caulker.
I was greeted by Kiki, one of the managers, and Danny, a staff member who took the best care of us through paddle board, kayak, and other experiences. Our room wasn't quite ready, so I took my welcome Belikin to the pier to revel in the quiet beauty.
After settling into our loft room, our priorities were simple: rum, food, ocean view. We cruised into town on our bikes and stopped at the Barrier Reef Sports Bar & Grill. Jamal made us killer piña coladas, and Charles took great care of us while we snacked on coconut fried shrimp and ceviche. (Later in my trip, I learned the Sports Bar is part of the regular local nightlife program - go here in the evening until they close at midnight, be sure to stand ON your chair or stool when they announce free shots, and then head to Reggae Bar for the hour this place is bumpin'.)
Getting around the island is easy and charming. Riding your bike 5 minutes to scoop up plantains and avocados is no hassle. Additionally, the setting is comfortably familiar and warm, both literally and figuratively. It's impossible to spend 15 minutes in public without striking friendly conversation with a local. People are kind and open.
Caye Caulker, like much of the region, is a seafood lover's haven. We established the mission to taste ceviche everywhere we went. A first stop and high point was Roses. The menu is the physical display of today's catch. This ceviche remains a top 3 contender from the 11-day trip.
Closer to the north end of the island, before the split, are a collection of beach-side eateries and vendors, including the intriguing Fair, which samples the best of - you bet - classic American fair food.
An indisputable peak of my trip was my first diving experience through Belize Diving Services. I fervently squashed any fears I'd normally battle and just went with it, and the experience was amazing. Our instructor, Ilya, was the most patient, kind, and informative person you'd want by your side 60 feet below the water's surface. I walked away SDI certified and planning my next dive.
The end of a vacation is generally bittersweet. It means kissing goodbye a relaxing, idyllic aberration from our regular routines. On the other hand, it means returning to the familiar, comfortable, and predictable. My journey out of Caye Caulker, from the Cessna, through customs in Atlanta, landing in O'Hare, and finally riding the Chicago blue line into the West Loop to prep for classes the next morning was more emotional than I expected for a few reasons. Some of the tears were easy to explain, while others seemed an illogical emotional spasm. A few days later I realized my 11 days on Caye Caulker maximized my happiness : complexity ratio. I'd experienced heights of happiness and freedom given very simple, raw, ingredients - friendship, nature, and community (okay, maybe some nitrox and rum, too :p ). This, in contrast with my "regular" life, in which I work so incredibly hard for something I cannot pinpoint or define, shook me. I haven't figured out any answers or a path forward, but this reaction has at least triggered the beginning of a course correction.
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Stay. We loved Weezie's. Kiki and Leo will take the best care of you, and Danny and Roberto will make sure you are set with outdoor activities and bike transport. I spied Iguana Reef Inn during our first scuba lesson, and it is very charming. Alternatively, there are numerous homes available for rent to experience a more established, homey feel.
Shop. Laca Laca Toucan is a favorite among tourists, with a variety of goods from Central American artisans and even imports from the U.S. and China, but don't expect loads of locally-made goods. Chat with street vendors to learn where art and carvings are made. Be sure to stop in to Red Flower Gallery & Boutique and say hi to Paulette and Angelle, her adorable pup. Paulette offers beautiful local goods, including her own paintings! She also devised a natural, neem oil-based bug repellent - stock up on this day 1!
Savor. Roses and Rainbow top our list of favorites. Go to Lazy Lizard to watch the sunset. Don't deny yourself fry jacks from Errylyns - but be sure to go before they stop serving this breakfast dish at noon. Finally, don't fear street food. The best meal I had was stew chicken, rice & beans my favorite Belizean surprised me with on my last night.