view of mangrove on the water in caye caulker

San Pedro or Caye Caulker: Which Belize Island is Right for You?

Given the mega-popularity of my post on all the amazing things there are to do in Belize, I get countless requests from people to help them plan their Belize vacation.

Probably the most frequent question I am asked is which island is better for a first-time traveler to Belize: San Pedro or Caye Caulker?

I’ve been to San Pedro three times and Caye Caulker twice, and after I’ve written so many emails about the pros and cons of each island I figured I’d save myself the trouble and list them all out here!

So, in case you’re weighing your options between San Pedro vs. Caye Caulker, I’ve got your back!

San Pedro

Allison Green in San Pedro wearing a bikini and sitting on a hammock
Living my best life in San Pedro (at Victoria House)
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San Pedro is actually the name of the town on the island of Ambergris Caye.

In fact, San Pedro is a big town by Belizean standards… it’s actually the second-largest town in Belize district (the first being Belize City).

It’s a favorite amongst divers and people in search of a relaxed beach holiday, and it’s my top pick for families and couples who visit Belize.

I’ve also visited with a friend and solo, so I can definitely also say it works great as a solo trip or a girls getaway.

(Yes, I’ve visited three times!)

Pros of Staying on San Pedro

It’s more local.

a golf cart on the island of San Pedro Belize

Being a somewhat large town, San Pedro has a bigger mix of locals, expats, and tourists.

If you’re looking to settle down for a bit and have the feeling like you “live” somewhere, San Pedro can definitely deliver that in a way that Caye Caulker cannot. There’s simply more to do!

As a result, you can have some interesting local experiences like the “world famous” Chicken Drop gambling game in every Thursday night…. Google it, or just go and be surprised.

There’s more diversity of food. 

A man cooking jerk chicken on a wood fired bbq in san pedro
The best jerk chicken I’ve eaten (and I used to live in Flatbush, aka Little Jamaica)

Being a bigger island, there are more choices of what to eat, with a wider variety of food.

I had delicious Salvadorean pupusas in town (if you haven’t tried them, you’ve simply got to!) and some of the best jerk chicken of my life at Randy’s near Victoria House.

The wood-fired pizzas at Sandbar are also fantastic, and there’s a taco truck at the ‘secret beach’.

Meanwhile, the food on Caye Caulker was just fine, but I found the choices to be much more limited than on San Pedro.

There are more upscale accommodation options. 

allison's legs in front of the pool view at victoria house

If you are looking for a luxury experience, San Pedro is definitely the choice for you.

It doesn’t even come close — there are virtually no luxury digs on Caye Caulker and even the nicer guesthouses won’t have a luxury feel.

It was fine for me as a pretty low-key traveler, but if you are going to Belize for a special occasion I’d recommend San Pedro hands down.

I stayed at the amazing Victoria House hotel and it was easily one of the top 5 hotels I’ve ever stayed in in my life!

There are more flights.

Flying over the belize cayes and mangroves while in a small plane to san pedro
Being a human drone is totally worth the extra bucks.

If your time is limited or you just hate boats, it can be really convenient to fly into San Pedro with Maya Island Air.

The prices are relatively reasonable and honestly, I think it’s worth it because you get amazing views as you fly. I recommend doing it at least one way if your budget allows.

When I visited San Pedro the first time, I flew into Belize City, took a taxi to the ferry and took the ferry to San Pedro, then when I went back I took the plane to Belize City airport.

It caused me less anxiety that I’d be late and meant I didn’t have to deal with Belize City again.

Caye Caulker also has an airport, but there are fewer flights, making it less convenient.

Cons of Staying on San Pedro

It’s more crowded. 

sunset view on san pedro island in belize

San Pedro is busier, which means that you’ll occasionally actually encounter real cars on the island (but mostly you’ll find golf carts).

While I found this to dilute the island atmosphere just a bit, many people won’t mind this, and with the crowds come benefits like more restaurants and bars.

It’s pricier. 

The view from our gorgeous pool villa at victoria house

Ambergris Caye is generally a tad more expensive than Caye Caulker, which caters to a more backpacker crowd.

While this is fine if your trip to Belize is a splurge or for a special occasion, if you’re looking to save money this is not the island for you.

However, if you do want luxury — definitely pick Ambergris Caye!

It’s harder to see the sunset.

Allison Green sitting in front of the sunrise in Belize
Sunrise spots are easy to find in San Pedro, but not so many sunset spots!

Most of the accommodations in San Pedro are located along the east side of the island, making it fantastic for sunrise….

… but you tell me if you want to see the sunrise after an afternoon spent in an inner tube guzzling rum punch? 

Meanwhile, because of how big San Pedro is, it’s kind of a pain (though not impossible) to get yourself to a good sunset spot.

Despite spending more than two weeks of my life on San Pedro, I’ve still never seen a sunset there. Meanwhile, I forced myself up for several sunrises #forthegram.

Read Next: Your Complete Belize Packing List

Caye Caulker

view from a pier in caye caulker belize

Caye Caulker is one of the smallest islands I’ve ever been on!

It’s so narrow that you can walk from one edge to the other in about five minutes, and you can walk end to end in less than an hour.

While both islands are touristic, Caye Caulker’s smaller size means that the entire island runs off of tourism, whereas there’s more of a mix in San Pedro.

I love Caye Caulker’s relaxed vibe and its gorgeous sunsets.

Its motto is “Go Slow” and the locals take it as more of a law than a suggestion, quick to playfully tell off anyone who they deem to be walking too quickly.

It’s a place where time can just melt away a little too easily!

Pros of Staying on Caye Caulker

There are better tours (with better prices).

spotted eagle ray seen in hol chan marine reserve while snorkeling

Caye Caulker is set up to be the more touristic of the two islands, as opposed to San Pedro being more of a mix of tourist and local.

As a result, I found more tour and activity options there, though you can certainly find plenty of activites to do in San Pedro as well. I did an amazing snorkeling and sailing tour in Caye Caulker!

There are precious few places in the world you can swim with wild manatees that is ethical and done with an eye on conservation and preservation, so I’d jump at the chance to do it when I return.

Check out this 7-stop snorkeling tour which includes a stop to see the manatees!

It’s a younger crowd.

Allison sitting on a swing in Caye Caulker enjoying the sunny weather in the dry season

Caye Caulker is generally a more backpacker-friendly vibe than San Pedro, which is also great for couples and families.

I enjoyed the laidback vibe, though I get how other people could find it obnoxious.

It isn’t a crazy party destination, but it definitely is more set up for backpackers than any other kind of traveler.

It’s cheaper.

view from a pier in caye caulker belize

While Belize on the whole is not a great budget destination, I found Caye Caulker to be way more affordable than San Pedro.

Accommodations in Caye Caulker offer an especially good deal – you can find a decent guesthouse for $30-40 a night pretty easily, which is hard to find on Ambergris Caye.

My default choice when I travel now is low-key but private, and Caye Caulker was perfect for my needs.

Sunsets couldn’t be easier to get to.

people in the water at sunset on caye caulker

Given that the island is probably 500 meters wide at its widest point, both sunset and sunrise are close at hand.

Unlike San Pedro, you can easily get yourself over to the west side of the island to take full advantage of the gorgeous sunsets.

Grab a Belikin, sit in the sand, and enjoy that view!

There are better bars.

Allison's friend Janet in the water in Caye Caulker in an inner tube

Sip n’ Dip Bar has got to be one of my favorite bars in the world!

While I enjoyed Palapa Bar in San Pedro quite a bit, I loved that I could swing in the water (and drink), sit in an inner tube in the water (and drink), and sit in a hammock over the water (and drink).

Plus buckets of beer were cheaper here!

The Split is also a great place to drink and while away the time.

There are more beach dogs.

I guess this could be a con for some people, but I loved all the beach dogs running around owning the hell out of Caye Caulker.

Most of the dogs have homes, actually, but their owners just let them hang out and be dogs during the day.

There’s also a great animal shelter that does excellent work at keeping the dogs well-fed and in good shape and helps adopt out dogs and cats to forever homes.

Cons of Staying on Caye Caulker

It’s a younger crowd.

Allison's friend in Caye caulker at a beach bar

The median age at Caye Caulker ended up being fine for me and what I was in the mood for.

However, if you’re not into partying and lounging at bars, I can easily see how you’d run out of things to do in Caye Caulker after some time.

Meanwhile, San Pedro is bigger and has a more diverse age range it serves, so it’s easier to find a vibe that’s more suited to what you’re after.

I definitely wouldn’t recommend it for families, and while it’s fine for laidback couples I wouldn’t think of it as a romantic destination the same way I would think of a resort on Ambergris Caye.

The catcalling is slightly worse.

street sign in caye caulker

Both San Pedro and Caye Caulker are annoying to travel on if you’re a solo female traveler, as you will pretty much inevitably get harassed by the local men.

While I didn’t feel like my safety was threatened, I was annoyed at how much the men talk to you and get irritated with you when you don’t respond.

I found this to be less common on San Pedro.

It’s more sales-y.

Allison Green sipping a coconut out of a straw in Caye Caulker
I definitely got guilt-tripped into buying this disgustingly strong rum coconut

In addition to the catcalling, people are more likely to call out to you to try to sell you a coconut, get you to look at their tours, etc. than on San Pedro.

While it’s easy enough to ignore, sometimes you just want to walk unimpeded – it’s easier to do this on San Pedro (although sales-y pitches still happen, it’s less frequent and easier to avoid).

The food is fine but nothing special.

You’ll have better choices in San Pedro (and San Pedro also has its very own local chocolate shop!)

Read Next: The Belize Bucket List: 21 Epic Things to Do in Belize

Overall Verdict: San Pedro vs. Caye Caulker

view of mangrove on the water in caye caulker

While I don’t think there’s one better island, I would say that San Pedro is better for families, couples, and people who prefer a bit more of a town vibe than a beach vibe.

Meanwhile, Caye Caulker is perfect for solo travelers, backpackers, and young couples on a budget.

San Pedro is also better if you have limited time due to the fact that they have an airport which can speed up transfers; Caye Caulker is better for people counting their coins.

Where to Stay in San Pedro

The view from Sandbar

If you’ve decided on San Pedro, I have two excellent recommendations that I’ve stayed in firsthand, which span pretty much the entire gamut of prices you can expect in Ambergris Caye.

For travelers on a budget, Sandbar Hostel is an excellent choice.

The hostel is impeccably clean (they sweep the sand out of the dorm rooms seriously every few hours, which is a really nice touch for people like me who really dislike sand) and it has a nice downstairs bar to socialize at.

The restaurant is good, though slightly overpriced, and it has a sandy beach in front with some nice sun loungers, although the water is really shallow and not good for swimming.

The master bedroom at Victoria House, which takes up pretty much the whole second floor
The view from our gorgeous pool villa

For travelers who want something truly special, I can’t rave enough about Victoria House. The villas are insanely luxurious, the staff is wonderful, and the views of the Caribbean couldn’t be more spectacular.

I also loved the two pools and found it an amazing place for sunrise. If you’re looking for a special, romantic place, this is the best place to pick in Belize.

Check prices, reviews, and availability here, and be sure to book early as rooms here often sell out. It is pricy, but there are often good deals on the cabaña rooms.

Where to Stay in Caye Caulker

If you’ve settled on Caye Caulker, I have some thoughts.

I stayed in Sea & Sun Guest House and loved it. The wifi was excellent (for an island), the rooms were spacious and clean, although my room didn’t have its own bathroom but rather a shared one.

There is no AC but it wasn’t too hot with the fans.

I loved that the guesthouse included free bike and kayak rentals, which is a really nice touch. However, they don’t have dorms so if you are a solo traveler it’s not a great choice.

If you’re looking for a hostel there are a few, although I can’t say I’d recommend all of them. Go Slow is what I tend to recommend to people

41 Comments

  1. I’ve been doing a lot of research on Belize and I’ve enjoyed your blog the most 🙂 thanks for the info! My husband and I chose San Pedro! Do you have a blog to help decide whether to stay north or south of San Pedro? LOL!

    1. That’s awesome, thank you Patricia! I think it depends on how close to town you want to be – north is harder to get back to town but has nicer beaches, south is easier to town but maybe not as nice of beaches 🙂

    1. You’re welcome girl! They are similar but very different in terms of vibe and price so it’s definitely good to break it down and pick one over the other. Enjoy!!!

  2. Great tips. Thanks! Our family (including a 21-yr-old and 18-yr old) will be visiting San Pedro in a few weeks. We are so excited! We look forward to snorkeling, paddling, hanging out. Do you have any favorite walks on the Island?

    1. That sounds lovely! I like walking along any stretch of the beach, really, and walking up and down the stores on Main Street and Front Street is always good fun!

  3. My husband and I (mid-40’s) spent 5 nights on Caye Caulker and it was amazing! We didn’t go to San Pedro because busy is just not our thing. As for the food, did you try Errol’s Fry Jacks or Chef Kareem’s Jerk Chicken? Those 2 alone make me want to head back to CC. And yes, if you ever go back, head out with Caveman’s Tours to Shark Ray Alley. Our first stop was to swim with the Manatee’s but there were already 3 boats there, so we kept going and stopping on our way back to CC. Loved that the guides said that was too many people to swim with them and that their job is not only to give their guests a great experience, but also to protect the reef and it’s inhabitants.

    1. Yes I ate at both – so fab, especially the jerk chicken (which is one of my favorite foods!) good to know about Caveman’s Tours – will keep an eye out for them on my next trip to CC 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

  4. Great post Allison. My wife and I (mid 30’s) just booked an 11 day trip for the end of July. Originally I was thinking of just going to CC the whole time but now I’m thinking we start there and then go spend a couple luxury days in SP and take the flight back to Belize city. We are mostly interested in diving and possibly some sailing tours too. By the sounds of your post it seems like its probably better to book those excursions while in CC, and SP more suited for enjoying restaurants and bars and beach relaxing? Thanks for the great info.

    1. I think you have a solid plan! While I love CC, 11 days may be a bit much as it’s quite a small island. I’d allocate maybe 6-7 days for CC and 4-5 days for SP. There aren’t really a lot of beaches on SP though so I recommend staying somewhere with a pool and making small excursions to places like Secret Beach etc. I’d recommend renting a golf cart if you wanna do that though which can be a bit pricy, around $50/day.

  5. Greetings,

    Under your cons for Caye Calker, you say it’s a younger crowd and if you’re looking to party you might run out of things to do. I would usually interpret a younger crowd to be the partying type? Unless you mean younger to be more ‘teenagers with families?” And it’s mentioned that San Pedro has the romantic atmosphere, so then are you saying that San Pedro can be more romantic but also is the place with a more vibrant vibe/things to do? I’m a solo traveler and prob prefer the place with a bit more vibrant/partying feel to it. Thanks for any clarifications.

    1. Hi Mike, I think I must have missed a “not” in there – if you’re NOT looking to party, you may run out of things to do. I’ll go back and check that 🙂 For a solo traveler looking for a more party atmosphere, I’d definitely pick Caye Caulker. SP is best for families/couples who want to stay at a resort, in my opinion

  6. Hi Allison!!

    Thoughts on doing Caye Caulker for two days and then going to SP for the remaining 4? Also have you been to Ambergris Caye? We are thinking of doing a day there when we get to SP.

    Let me know your thoughts! 🙂

  7. Hi ! Your post is very good !
    I am struggling to decide )) as I am going with my 12 year old son and at the same time I want to spend less . So thinking if CC is a party island that might be too much specially in the nights ? Is it to noisy ?
    Thanks )

    1. Hi Svetlana. It is not very noisy except if you are very close to a bar. I would suggest reading the reviews of the accommodations and making sure past guests didn’t report it being too loud when you are booking 🙂

  8. What tour do you suggest to go swim with manatee. We are going end of February and staying in San Pedro
    How is boat for sea sickness thanks so much lori

    1. Hi Lori! I know Anda de Wata and Ragamuffin have tours in Caye Caulker; try Searious in San Pedro, perhaps? For me, the waters are pretty calm (and I have pretty serious motion sickness) but I do suggest bringing some motion sickness pills just to be safe!

  9. Hi!, we are 2 girls going to Belize in April. We are older in our 60’s but very active. We want to have a bit of both beach party and town party. Where do you think it would be best for us. Staying 4 days. From there we are going into Guatemala for ruins. Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

    1. Hi Carmen! I suggest San Pedro — there are more tours offered from there. There are definitely party vibes in San Pedro too, but it is more for all ages as opposed to Caye Caulker which feels very backpackery and young (think kids in their 20s mostly!)

  10. Hello, looking to visit Belize in October for my Birthday turning 47 not your normal 47 year old more like a 37 year old body and fun. I am a little boogie so I will need my amenities. Looking to have some nightlife and delicious food good restaurants. Where do you guide me ?

  11. Hiya … just wanted to point out that Caye Caulker does have an airport and you can fly from Belize mainland direct . Hope this helps .

  12. I loved reading your blog. My family is trying to plan a trip to Belize. We have 3 kids – 17, 19 and 21. Love the laid back vibe and want to keep expenses reasonable. Our main goal is to do some snorkeling. I did not realize there was an opportunity to swim with manatees. We would also love to do one of the cave tours. Just trying to figure out where to stay, so that we can do both excursions. Would it make sense to spend a couple of days on CC and then on the mainland for the cave tour? Thank you

    1. Yes, that sounds like the perfect plan. I’d stay on CC for the majority of your trip. You can see if a tour company will organize a trip to the ATM cave from the island, or I’d suggest staying in Belize City and booking an excursion that departs from there if you don’t have time to go all the way to San Ignacio.

    1. Swimming is hard on both islands because they’re cayes with really shallow waters that go quite far out from the beach itself. The Split at Caye Caulker is the only place you can really truly swim in deeper (aka non-wading) water on a public beach, so I would say Caye Caulker… but beach and sand is a relative term. Frankly neither are very sandy and most beaches are artificial

  13. We have 5 adults and a week. Would we be bored on Caye Caulker after 4 days? Where would be another spot we could easily spend a couple days? Can we snorkel without having to pay for an “excursion”? How easy is it to get to Caye Caulker if we fly into Belize city? Thanks

    1. Hi, I don’t think you’ll get bored, but if you do, a day trip to San Pedro is really easy to do. You can’t snorkel without paying for an excursion really as the waters around Caye Caulker and San Pedro are super shallow and you’d have to wade out quite a long ways to be able to actually even be able to swim… and even then it’d be more sea grass than coral reef, so maybe you’d see rays or something but not any fish life. It’s really easy to get to Caye Caulker from Belize City – there are flights and water taxis.

  14. Great comparison! I’ve always been drawn to Caye Caulker due to its laid-back vibe, but reading your post has given me some food for thought about San Pedro. Can you provide more insight on the cost of living and job opportunities on these islands? It’s something I’ve been researching for a potential move and would love to know more specifics.

    1. I think that honestly San Pedro would be the place you’d want to move if you are looking to permanently relocate. But I’m not sure how much in the way of job opportunities there are for non-locals unless you have tons of tourism or hospitality experience, unless you’re in a specialized field like diving etc. I’d check Rebecca’s blog at sanpedroscoop.com as she has a lot of good info on living on the island.

  15. Thanks for that review! My son (19) and I (59) are wanting to spend a few days in Belize at one of these two places, or should be try both??
    Our main reason for going is to go diving, but we’re not crazy divers…maybe just one dive trip a day. I’m leaning towards SP just because of the variety. I was there 20 years ago and don’t remember much about it. Do we need a golf cart? Where do you reccomend staying…resort (hotel) or a VRBO and also where? Do the dive companies pick you up or do you need to get to a dock/beach somewhere? We want to go on June 7th or 8th for a week or so and haven’t booked anything yet. Any dive company recommendations or who to stay away from?? Thanks!!

    1. Hi Dave, I’d suggest San Pedro of the two for a multigenerational trip, Caye Caulker is more of a backpacker/friend trip kind of island IMO. On one of my trips, I went to SP with my mom and her boyfriend and we all had a great time.

      You might need a golf cart for certain days. It really depends where you are staying on the island, too, if you’re in town or you’re up north. Golf carts can be expensive so I suggest staying somewhere that’s in biking distance from the center — many hotels will offer free bike rentals and it’s a really fun way of getting about the island. Some hotels may have their own dock but most don’t so you may have to meet them. I recommend Chuck and Robbie’s near Sandbar Hostel.

      IMO the beaches in San Pedro aren’t really that nice (most are artificial, cement with sand on top, leading to a seawall) so it’s worth it just to stay closer to town to make your life more convenient. The water is beautiful to look at no matter where you go but there are very few places on the island you can actually really swim especially on the east coast where all the hotels are because the shore is sooooo shallow.

  16. Thanks for that information. Any recommendations for a place to stay by the dive shop? I find it hard to navigate a map of hotels. We don’t need a 5star resort, just something with 2 beds A/C, pool and a good location.

  17. ….any thoughts on the sandbar? I’m trying to figure out if they have private rooms or is it just a hostel.

    1. I think I got all your messages too late but I loved the Sandbar! I stayed there my first trip to SP. I stayed in a hostel but I thin they have private rooms too, and it looks like it got a big makeover since my very first trip there back in 2015!

  18. Thanks! We booked at the Blue Tang, all I saw was good reviews and the price was very fair…plus they have breakfast!! Do you know if I have to bring sunscreen, or can I buy it on the mainland or in San Pedro. We can get by without checking a bag, but would need to check a bag if we bring sunscreen.
    Also, any hints on renting a golf cart, where to go or not to go? Is it pretty safe on the island?? Thanks!

    1. You can definitely buy sunscreen in San Pedro! Just expect to pay quite a bit for it, but definitely cheaper than checking a bag.

      Renting a golf cart, you can rent online here via Viator: https://www.viator.com/tours/Ambergris-Caye/golf-cart-rental/d5072-257574P1?pid=P00039131&mcid=42383&medium=link&campaign=san-pedro

      I have a full San Pedro guide that may be helpful: https://eternalarrival.com/things-to-do-in-san-pedro/

      The whole island is really safe… no place you shouldn’t go. If you have a golf cart, definitely make the trip out to Secret Beach. It’s no secret, but it is stunning 🙂

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