Caye Caulker or San Pedro? This is a question that most travelers debate when visiting Belize. This post will help you decide if Caye Caulker or San Pedro is the best fit for you. Despite being very close to each other, and sharing some characteristics, the Belizean islands are quite different.
Both Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker offer a wide variety of things to do, including nice tropical vibes, warm ocean water, and good food choices, creating delightful travel experiences if you choose your destination wisely.
We will explain everything you need to know before choosing your next island vacation in Belize. We will compare the islands in terms of the following:
- General Beauty;
- Things to do and tourist attractions;
- Accommodation options;
- Food scene;
- Tourists & Crowds;
Caye Caulker vs Ambergris Caye (San Pedro) – Travel
If you are planning to visit Caye Caulker or San Pedro, the first thing you probably look for is getting that lovely tropical island vibe. Despite being neighbors and undoubtedly tropical, the islands are distinct.
Caye Caulker has much of a relaxed vibe, with very few cars and no real roads. The island is small, and you can walk everywhere as everything is close by. You can rent a golf cart, but you can easily walk or ride a bicycle. In fact, we strongly suggest it, as it is much more in line with the island vibe. The island also has a backpacker reputation, so it attracts many youngsters.
Ambergris Caye is very different. It has a relatively large town (San Pedro), and you need transportation if you want to go around the island. Most people rent a golf cart because it is the best alternative to getting to know the island. Ambergris Caye also attracts some backpackers, but it feels catered for a resort kind of tourists.
Driving the golf carts in San Pedro is fun, but it also turns the town into a chaotic place with carts all over the place and some people driving like mad.
After a few days on each island, we clearly preferred the vibe of Caye Caulker.
Both are tropical islands with palm trees, mangroves, and warm seawater. They are also protected by the massive Belize reef, which explains why there are barely any waves. However, Ambergris Caye is much larger and has a proper town (San Pedro) with 15 000 people living there. The rest of the island is mainly flat, with beautiful resorts along the coast.
Caye Caulker is very different, it only has a small village, barely any cars, and few golf carts. In general, it is much more pleasing and beautiful. You can easily hike or ride a bicycle along the beaches and between the palm and coconut trees.
Despite being much smaller, Caye Caulker is prettier but has fewer resorts. If you want a resort, then Ambergris has many more and better options.
This is where things get complicated. We expected that these islands had some paradisiac beaches, and it would not be easy to choose between them. We were wrong! Neither of the islands has paradisiac beaches because they don’t have much, if any, sand.
Thus, the coastline is mainly made of mangroves with private resorts in between. This is a bit disappointing, but there are alternatives – particularly the docks and piers. In both islands, it is particularly popular to use the piers to enter the water and swim. We found the public piers in Caye Caulker better than in San Pedro, however, if you have the budget to go to the resorts of Ambergris Caye, then you’ll have the best of both worlds.
Each island has a very famous area for swimming and sunbathing. Caye Caulker has has “the split,” the part where the island split after a hurricane a few decades ago. This is now the most popular area among backpackers. The water is crystal clear and beautiful, and the perfect place to swim on the island.
The northern part of Ambergris Caye has the “secret beach.” Don’t be fooled; it is anything but secret or secluded. It is the most popular site on the island to swim and sunbathe. You need to rent a golf cart to go there, but it is worth it.
All in all, Caye Caulker wins as we preferred the split and its piers. However, it would be very different if we had stayed in one of the good resorts of Caye Ambergris.
Things to do and tourist attractions
As we mentioned a few times in this article, the islands are very close to each other, which means that the main water activities can be done from each island. The crystal clear and warm waters of the barrier reef are the region’s main attraction.
So, from the islands, you can:
- Visit the world-famous blue hole;
- Go on diving tours;
- Snorkel with sharks, turtles, manatees, and stingrays;
- Kayak and SUP along the coast and the barrier reef;
- Go on fishing trips;
It is curious to note that Ambergris Caye is closer to the reef, but it is easier to find affordable tours from Caye Caulker. So, each island has its advantages… That being said, this is a tie, as the islands offer basically the same things to do.
When it comes to accommodation options, the islands are quite different.
San Pedro and Ambergris Caye have a much wider range of accommodations. It has many resorts with very different prices and luxury levels but also cheap hotels in the city, hostels, and AirBnBs. Despite this, the highlight of Ambergris Caye is the beachfront resorts with good restaurants, private piers, pools, and sometimes a small beach. If you are looking for this kind of trip/vacation, then Ambergris Caye is the answer.
Caye Caulker is a much more laid-back island. It mainly focuses on backpackers and budget travelers. Thus, the accommodation offered is much more inclined to hostels, guest houses, and cheap hotels. There are beachfront resorts, but only a few are higher-end resorts/hotels. In general, they are less luxurious and more budget-friendly.
In conclusion, a backpack will feel more at home in Caye Caulker and a luxury traveler in Caye Ambergris. However, there are options for each kind of traveler on both islands.
Neither of the islands offers good shopping opportunities. San Pedro is much larger, so it has more shops, but we didn’t see anything worth mentioning. You may see some typical local clothes and handicrafts on either island, but nothing remarkable.
We can’t really vouch for any island on this topic. We didn’t go out on any of the islands at night, and we are far from the best people to discuss this issue. From what we have read, San Pedro has a few bars and nightclubs, but as we said, we can’t attest to their quality as we haven’t tried them.
We thought the nightlife in Caye Caulker would be livelier, as it has a younger crowd and vibe, but we haven’t seen any lively bars or nightclubs on the island. So if you want to party, you are probably better off in San Pedro.
The food scene is quite similar on both islands. If you are a backpacker or a budget traveler, you won’t find many differences in terms of dishes, quality, and prices. It will mostly depend on the restaurants and eateries you choose than on the island itself.
San Pedro has more luxury resorts and supposedly caters more to high-end travelers, but we haven’t seen it. We haven’t stayed in resorts, so we can’t discuss their food.
However, we can say that San Pedro isn’t only about high-end food and resorts. It also has some good inexpensive eateries. Caye Caulker doesn’t have many resorts or luxury restaurants, so it probably has a slight disadvantage here. However, it has a street joint selling delicious lobster at 15 USD per person…
The weather is the same on both islands. They are very close to each other, so there aren’t any noticeable differences. therefore this is not something to be aware of when choosing between staying in San Pedro or Caye Caulker.
That being said, this doesn’t mean that the weather at any given time is the same on each island. It is perfectly normal to rain on one island and not on the other. This is tropical weather, after all…
We felt that, in general, both islands are relatively safe and haven’t had any problems. During the day, it felt completely safe, and we haven’t seen anything indicating otherwise. We felt a bit uneasy at night in San Pedro because you could see a few drunk (or worse) people around, but nothing happened.
However, we need to mention that San Pedro is much larger and more prone to criminality. If safety is a major priority, I would suggest staying in Caye Caulker or at least not walking around at night in San Pedro.
Caye Caulker has a clear advantage in this topic as it is closer to Belize city and much smaller. As it is closer to Belize City, it is much faster and cheaper to reach San Pedro by boat. The boats going to San Pedro stop at Caye Caulker.
Caye Caulker is much smaller, so you can easily walk or ride your bike everywhere. So, you don’t need to pay for transportation, which may be important if you are on a tight budget. Ambergris Caye is much bigger, and you need a golf cart to get to know the island and particularly to visit the secret beach and the northern resorts.
Nevertheless, we must highlight that driving around the sterrato roads of Caye Ambergris is really enjoyable on a golf cart. It is a necessity but also a fun activity. Don’t skip it.
When planning to visit the islands, we thought that Caye Caulker would be cheaper than San Pedro, but the reality was different. The prices in Caye Caulker and San Pedro were very similar:
- Food and groceries are expensive on both islands, as we would expect. But, similar things cost more a less the same. Though San Pedro seemed a little less expensive;
- Accommodation prices depend much more on the amenities than on the islands. The average price is higher in Ambergris Caye than in Caye Caulker, but that’s because Caye Caulker has much more hostels, and Ambergris Caye has more resorts. In fact, we felt that the hostels in Caye Caulker were expensive for what they offered.
- Transportation is cheaper in Caye Caulker than in San Pedro. Both reaching the islands and traveling within the islands are cheaper in Caye Caulker because the island is smaller and closer to Belize city.
- Tours are similar and reasonably priced on both islands, though it’s easier to find good deals in Caye Caulker.
Tourists & Crowds
The islands cater to different kinds of travelers, so you will find different tourists. Caye Caulker is younger, more laid back, and fun. Naturally, you will find mainly backpackers, low-budget travelers, and many long-term travelers.
Ambergris Caye brings more families and higher-end travelers. They are usually a bit older and looking to relax under the sun in a nice resort.
Surprisingly there were many Europeans on both islands, particularly in Caye Caulker. Due to proximity and language, we expected to find many more Americans and Canadians.
Conclusion – Ambergris Caye or Caye Caulker
As we are mainly backpackers, we felt more at home in Caye Caulker. However, the important is to match your expectations and the kind of traveler you are with the destination. So, Caye Caulker is a better option if you:
- are a backpacker;
- prefer a laid-back vibe;
- want to save time and money on transport;
- prefer to walk everywhere;
- want the most beautiful and insta-friendly island;
Ambergris Caye is the better option if you:
- Are looking for high-end resorts;
- enjoy fine dining;
- like to have beaches within your accommodation;
- want to have fun driving a golf cart;
- want to include bars and nightclubs in your island trip.
Can you visit both Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye?
Yes, and it is very simple. There are several daily boats between the islands, and it is a short trip (less than 1 hour). So, you can spend a few days on each island and see for yourself – this is what we did.
Or you can even have a day trip from one to the other. If you opt for the day trip, it makes more sense to stay in San Pedro and have a day trip to Caye Caulker, as the island is much smaller and easier to visit in a short time.