South of Ambergris Caye and 35km northeast of Belize City, CAYE CAULKER – whose name derives from a local wild fruit, the hicaco, or coco plum – has long had a reputation as a sleepy, laid-back fishing village, an image now rather outdated. Long an important stop on the backpacker trail in Belize, it now attracts families as well as upmarket travellers. The beautiful, palm-clad island is still a relaxing, traffic-free escape, but with many more opportunities for comfort and entertainment, and its wide spectrum of hotels runs from basic backpacker dormitories to luxury, poolside lodging.
Until about twenty years ago, tourism existed almost as a sideline to the island's main source of income, lobster fishing. Although the lobster catch increased for many years after fishing cooperatives were set up in the 1960s, the deployment of more traps over an ever-wider area led to the rapid depletion of the spiny lobster, once so common that it could be scooped onto the beaches with palm fronds. Their numbers remain low today, and in some years the creatures are so scarce that the fishermen call it quits by mid-January, a month before the end of the legal season. Despite this, there are always plenty of lobsters around for the annual Lobster-Fest, held on the first weekend of July to celebrate the opening of the season.
Caye Caulker's eight-kilometre length is split into two unequal sections by the "Split", originally a small passage cut by local fishermen that's since grown into a swiftly-moving boat channel, widened by successive tropical storms. The main village, and most hotels, are on the northern end of the south island.