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!
First though: let’s quickly talk visiting Belize in 2022 (because the world has changed!) and when is the best time to visit either San Pedro or Caye Caulker.
Visiting Belize Requirements in 2022
This post was updated May 23, 2022 and is up-to-date as of that day. However, policies may change in the future, so always check with the official Belize website.
Here are the current requirements:
- Fully vaccinated travelers do not need to show a negative test to enter Belize, but they must show proof of vaccination.
- Unvaccinated travelers must show a negative PCR result from a test taken within 72 hours of arrival or a negative antigen result from a test taken within 48 hours of arrival.
- Tests can be administered upon arrival for $50 USD cash — but if you test positive, you will have to enter mandatory quarantine in Belize.
- All travelers must purchase Belize travel insurance which you can do so here. It costs $18 USD for 21 days of coverage.
- Follow all Belize laws, such as masking in public and adhering to the curfew
- Follow any requirements that your home country requires for reentry
Best Time to Visit Belize
Being a tropical country, Belize has a rainy season and a dry season as opposed to the typical “4 season” model of non-tropical countries.
The wet season is between May and October, where you can expect rain about half the days and scorchingly hot temperatures.
I really don’t really recommend traveling Belize during the wet season!
Not only can the rain be a pain, it can also disrupt a lot of tours and activities, such as snorkeling/diving tours and cave tours, due to unfavorable conditions.
Hurricanes can also happen during this time of the year.
Between November and April, it is the dry season in Belize. This coincides with much of Belize’s peak travel season.
While there will still be occasional rainfall, storms will be much more dispersed, plus you’ll experience shorter periods of rain that are less disruptive to your plans.
Note that Belize can be incredibly popular (and expensive) over Christmas and New Years.
I suggest going during January through March for a better balance between good weather and good prices.
San Pedro is actually the name of the town on the island of Ambergris Caye. San Pedro is a big town by Belizean standards… in fact, it’s 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 – though I can definitely also say it works great as a solo trip or a girls getaway.
Pros of Staying on San Pedro
It’s more local. 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 there.
As a result, you can have some interesting experiences like the “world famous” Chicken Drop gambling game in every Thursday night.
There’s more diversity of food. 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. 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’s an airport. 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. Also, these views:
Cons of Staying on San Pedro
It’s more crowded. San Pedro is busier, which means that you’ll 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. 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. 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 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 (its motto is “Go Slow” and the locals take it as more of a law than a suggestion, quick to tell off anyone who they deem to be walking too quickly) and its gorgeous sunsets.
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). 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!
While unfortunately, I didn’t have the budget at the time to swim and snorkel with the manatees, I wish I would have splurged and done it on my last trip, as it looks like a truly amazing experience to get to swim with these gentle giants.
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. 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. 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. Given that the island is probably 500 meters wide at its widest point, 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.
Better bars. 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.
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. 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. Both San Pedro and Caye Caulker are annoying to travel on if you’re a solo female traveler, as you will inevitably get harassed every few minutes by the local men.
While I didn’t feel like my safety was threatened, I was annoyed constantly at how much the men talk to you and get annoyed when you don’t respond.
It’s more sales-y. 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
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
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.
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!
Read Next: The Best Snorkeling in Belize
7 Things You Must Pack for Belize
I’ve written an entire Belize packing list but if you just want the essentials, here’s what I think are the absolute essentials.
- Mosquito repellent & after-care: Belize has a tropical climate with mosquitos year-round, particularly in the rainy season. Zika, dengue fever, malaria, and chikungunya have all been reported there. While there’s no reason to cancel your trip on account of it, protect yourself with mosquito repellent (as a back-up, I carry around a few mosquito repellent wipes with me in my purse in case I forget to apply spray before leaving or that I can apply after swimming). It’s also inevitable that you won’t leave without a few bites, so bring some after-bite relief too (this is hard to find in Belize).
- Full-size travel towel: This travel towel is full-size so it’s big enough to use as a beach towel, thin enough to pack up super small for your luggage, and it dries super quickly in Belize’s humid climate.
- A guidebook: I use travel blogs a lot when I’m on the road but I also love having a guidebook to give me more specific, thoroughly researched information. Lonely Planet is my go-to guidebook and Lonely Planet Belize is no exception. I usually buy the Kindle version, but paper versions are also great fun to peruse.
- Reef-safe sunscreen: If you are planning to do any water activities, such as diving or snorkeling or even swimming, please use a reef-safe sunscreen like this one. The active ingredients in sunscreen are killing off coral in huge numbers. The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest in the world and is under threat. So please don’t use normal, chemical-laden sunscreen in Belize’s fragile ocean ecosystem!
- Filter water bottle or Steripen: Belize’s tap water is not drinkable anywhere in the country. I recommend traveling with a water bottle with a built-in filter that filters out nasty bacteria and viruses like this awesome LifeStraw bottle so you can reduce your plastic waste. Alternately, you can use a Steripen which sterilizes water using UV light. A great investment if you travel frequently and want to reduce your plastic bottle consumption!
- GoPro: If you go snorkeling or cave tubing or ziplining, you’re going to want a way to capture all of that action! A GoPro Hero 6 is currently the highest-quality option, but if you’re on a budget, the GoPro Session is also an excellent choice. Be aware that you need to buy protective casing if you want to take either of these cameras diving. They are only waterproof to 10 meters, and you’ll exceed that if you dive (most dives are at least 15 meters or so).
- Finally, don’t forget travel insurance! Whether you’re scuba diving, caving, ziplining through the jungle or just relaxing on the beach, don’t forget to purchase travel insurance! It’ll protect you in case of accident, injury, lost luggage, theft, or any other disaster that could befall your trip. I have been a paying customer of World Nomads for two years and recommend them highly. I’ve included a way to get a free quote below.
Note: I received a complimentary media stay at Victoria House, but all opinions are entirely my own.
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Allison Green is a former educator turned travel blogger. She holds a Masters in Teaching and a B.A. in English and Creative Writing. Her blog posts merge her educational background and her experience traveling to 60+ countries to encourage thoughtful travel experiences that both educate and entertain. She has been a speaker at the World Travel Writers Conference and her writing, photography, and podcasting work has appeared in National Geographic, CNN Arabic, CBC Canada, and Forbes, amongst others. Now based in the San Francisco Bay Area where she grew up, she has also lived in Prague, Sofia, and New York City.
29 thoughts on “San Pedro or Caye Caulker: Which Belize Island is Right for You?”
Thanks for this. I’ve been searching the web for some travel tips and this was perfect!
You’re welcome. Which island did you pick?
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!
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 🙂
This was crazy helpful – thank you for the clear distinction and details.
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!!!
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?
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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! 🙂
Hi Pauline! SP and Ambergris Caye are the same thing, really — SP is the name of the town, Ambergris Caye is the island. I think 2 in CC and 4 in SP is a great idea!
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 ?
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 🙂
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
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!
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.
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!)
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 ?
I would suggest San Pedro for you – Caye Caulker won’t have the same nightlife and restaurant amenities that San Pedro will have.
Hiya … just wanted to point out that Caye Caulker does have an airport and you can fly from Belize mainland direct . Hope this helps .
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
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.
Hey Allison, Who has the best beaches for laying out on the beach and swimming between the two?
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