Bewitching, bedazzling, gay Belize

Spellbinding may seem like hyperbole, but it is the only word that seems to do Caye Caulker justice. Beyond the dazzling 40-minute speedboat journey to the island from neighbouring San Pedro, the heart-droppingly slow and rich pace of life running through the veins of the island, or the idyllic diving location amongst one of the most biodiverse marine reserves in the World, there is something unknowable about Caye Caulker that bewitches you.

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Caye Caulker has a unique geography that seems conjured up by a Robert Louis Stevenson novel. During a Hurricane named Hattie in 1961, the island was split into two, and you can now travel by boat from one side to the other – although I’m sure you will spend most of your time on the main split. The main ‘split’ is where most honeymooners and visitors congregate: an intriguing mix of fresh lobster grill restaurants, colourful diving centres, a heady local disco, several playful bars, lush natural pools and local pastel-coloured residencies. The other split is worth visiting if you have an extra half-day and has just been bought by a resort hotel but will provide you with merry cocktails in their inflatables.

Koko King, Caye Caulker | Photo: Briona Baker

Caye Caulker | Photo: Meritt Thomas

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Although Caye Caulker may not be the first place you think of as a ‘gay destination’, the liberal nature of the island is visible anywhere you may look

On one complete circuit of the main split, which can be accomplished by foot in under 90 minutes, you’ll be enchanted by the ‘Go Slow’ signs, and the otherworldly pastel coloured shacks and housing, as well as the freedom to be yourself here. Men hold hands with men, women with women, and no one bats an eyelid. Although Caye Caulker may not be the first place you think of as a ‘gay destination’, the liberal nature of the island is visible anywhere you may look.

Ambergris Caye | Photo: Meritt Thomas

Good fortune followed me on this solo journey through Central America. I bunkered down at Bella’s guesthouse, run by a dry-humoured Dutch woman, and found it conveniently placed at crawling distance from the all-day swinging beach bar – The Lazy Lizard. However, if you are looking for accommodation, Belize Island Paradise, and The Royal Palm Island are nearby and look stunning. I befriended a cheerful cohort of travellers: an Australian coffee chain owner, a Columbian writer, another gay (and slightly gorgeous) solo traveller, and an American psychologist, providing excellent company for my five days on the island, as we searched under every pebble for new experiences.

Photo: Pritham Bhatia

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On every couple of blocks, you’ll find a ‘fry jack’ shack – a Belizean speciality of fried dough stuffed with your choice of all manner of local ingredients, providing a hearty breakfast for under $1

Food is quirky on this paradise island and an essential ingredient in the Caribbean cocktail of Caye Caulker. On every couple of blocks, you’ll find a ‘fry jack’ shack – a Belizean speciality of fried dough stuffed with your choice of all manner of local ingredients, providing a hearty breakfast for under $1. We paid a visit to one of the famed islanders seafood restaurants for dinner, ‘Wish Willies’. After ordering and paying for just one main each, we were subject to the infamous Caribbean hospitality, where Willie came and sat down with us, regaling us with stories of his travels and time on the island, while he ‘cleared the barbecue’ for us, laying down plate after plate of smoked sea bass, lobster, tiger prawns, jerk chicken, curried conch, and jugs of electrifying Rum punch on the table – all very generously on the house. With heavy stomachs but light hearts, we headed down to the one club in Caye Caulker – Island Sky – to dance off our bellies with an eclectic but up-for-it crowd under a limbo stick.

Caye Caulker | Photo: Meritt Thomas

Photo: Chase Fleming

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Aside from diving, though, sitting in the natural pool off the tip of the north end of the split, the water shimmers in opal and iridescent colours – more crystalline than azure or turquoise

Hungover days were spent waist-deep in bath-warm waters, soaking up the atmosphere and watching the boats flypast from The Lazy Lizard. As a solo traveller, I didn’t mind too much being on my own, but around me were couples of every flavour and sexuality, some honeymooning, some travelling through, some planning to dive, on Caye Caulker. Don’t forget that this is also the home of one of the Blue Hole, a massive underwater sinkhole named one of the greatest wonders of the marine world. Aside from diving, though, sitting in the natural pool off the tip of the north end of the split, the water shimmers in opal and iridescent colours – more crystalline than azure or turquoise. Coupled with the island’s naturally flat topography, you can spend hours watching every ripple ricochet off into eternity.

Photo: Pritham Bhatia

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I was astonished to find that this was better than the majority of deep dives I had already done around the globe

If you manage to prise yourself away from sunbathing, diving and snorkelling, here is undoubtedly some of the Worlds best. I used to scoff at the idea of snorkelling, much preferring the weight and depth of serious scuba, but since I was on a budget and had ears sensitive and playing up, I decided to snorkel the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. I was astonished to find that this was better than the majority of deep dives I had already done around the globe. The visibility is crystal clear, and the colours and coral, even at surface level, are more photogenic than a magazine. As you float on the surface looking down, effortlessly being carried by the gentle Caribbean current, be prepared to be taken breathless by marine trenches covered in rainbow marine life, and teeming with large green turtles. As for recommendations, I’m happy to mention ‘Frenchie’s‘ – one of the island’s oldest scuba and snorkelling providers, who consistently send out experts to guide you on your dive.

Photo: Reisetopia

After satisfying myself with physical activity, as well as evening hours on the local rum, I found myself on a couple of nights stealing myself away from the fizz and buzz of the island and hunting down one of the many secrets, isolated decks or beaches to gaze at the setting sun. Picture a cinematic horizon on the scale of the images in ‘The Lion King’, with pink and tangerine hues that feel almost too neon to be real, and you’ll get some idea of what it’s like to be beneath the Belizean sun. After a year of solo travel and becoming a bit of a numbed beachbum, I must admit, I’ve never felt such an escapade, such ‘I got away from it all’, mixed with that humbling sensation of awe, on Caye Caulker

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