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Caye Caulker

A half-hour away from San Pedro by water taxi and sharing essentially the same reef and sea ecosystems, Caye Caulker is very different from its big sister island, Ambergris Caye. It's smaller (with a population of around 1,500), less developed, way more relaxed, and less expensive.

Caye Caulker has long been a stop on the Central America backpacker trail, and it remains Belize's most popular budget destination, although more upscale lodgings are opening and the island now has several condo developments. Still, flowers outnumber cars 1,000 to 1 (golf carts, bicycles, and bare feet are the preferred means of transportation).

As you might guess from all the "no shirt, no shoes, no problem" signs at the bars, the living is relatively easy here. This is the kind of place where many of the listings in the telephone directory give addresses like "near football field." However, Caye Corker, as it's sometimes called in Belize (or Cayo Hicaco in Spanish, a reference to the coco plums on the island), isn't immune to change. Many hotels have added air-conditioning, and the island now has cybercafés and several upmarket restaurants and fairly upscale hotels. Still, Caye Caulker remains the epitome of laid-back, and as development continues at a fevered pace on neighboring Ambergris Caye, Caulker's simpler charms exercise even more appeal to those who seek an affordable and relaxing island experience.

For those used to researching and booking everything online, here's a caution about Caye Caulker: As is common with budget destinations, some of the tour operators and cheaper lodging choices on Caulker don't have websites. In fact, some tour operators work from a spot on the beach and have only a cell phone, if that. Those that are online often have websites that are done on the cheap, with poor graphics and servers that are down intermittently. Consider it part of the charm of Caye Caulker.

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