Belize Islands and Atolls
The waters off the coast of Belize are dotted with more than 450 beautiful small islands, known locally as cayes (“keys”), as well as tiny atolls that rise up from the floor of the Caribbean Sea. Some of these tiny islands and atolls are uninhabited, but visitors are increasingly being drawn to the rich abundance of marine life and gorgeous coral reefs that can be seen in the waters offshore.
Some of the most popular atolls and islands/cayes in Belize are:
As the largest island in Belize’s chain of offshore jewels, Ambergris Caye is geographically the closest point to the mainland. But what a difference that slice of the Caribbean Ocean makes. Ambergris is a symphony of white sandy beaches, mangrove swamps and prehistoric rock that rises up from the ocean floor to host every type of tropical plant, tree and flower you can imagine. At just 25-miles long, getting around is a no brainer, but visitors usually headquarter in San Pedro Town, where the drinks are cool, the people are warm and the resorts are all top drawer.
Measuring just five miles north and south and less than a mile across, Caye Caulker is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Belize. Less commercial and urbanized than its larger sister island of Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker offers a spectacular tropical island experience at very affordable prices. A few restaurants on the island provide fresh food and cocktails. Originally the destination of choice for artists, musicians and backpackers, today Caye Caulker still exudes a very funky, laid-back approach to life epitomized by its unofficial slogan of “Go Slow.”
If your main port of call in the country is Belize City, then the island of Goff’s Caye is probably your easiest and best bet to get a taste of island life in the country. With beautiful beaches and the sparkling Caribbean Sea, Goff’s Caye is a picture postcard tropical destination. The waters offshore are home to beautiful coral reefs replete with a rich abundance of marine life, including enormous sea turtles.
As atolls go, Half Moon Caye National Monument (HMCNM) is the furthest from Belize’s mainland and while it’s tiny, it has been given a very long name. In fact, this caye’s claim to fame is for the birds: It’s the nation’s oldest protected wildlife site and plenty of prestigious entities make sure it stays pristine, including Belize’s National Parks System Act of 1981, the Belize Audubon Society and this is designated a United Nations World Heritage site. Why so important? This is home to Boobies. Countless numbers of these noisy birds. So if you’re a birder, you may refer to this atoll simply as avian paradise.
At 30 miles long and 10 miles wide, it is he country’s biggest atoll, home to innumerable lagoons and shallow crystal clear waters perfect for diving and swimming. The atoll is just a 100 yards from the Belize Barrier Reef, making it a prime spot for world-class snorkeling, diving, and fishing opportunities. Most famous for its “wall diving” spots, the atoll also features several shallow water sea gardens, with a wide variety of colorful marine life, perfect for scuba diving and snorkeling.
If a Belizean tells you that Laughing Bird Caye is for the birds, it’s okay to believe him. This little isle situated within an azure lagoon is a popular place for visitors and residents who appreciate the nation’s ecological wonders. If you’re eager to see how it feels to perch on an island that’s just 1.4 acres in size, put this destination atop your Belize itinerary. That said, don’t let the size of this caye fool you because there’s lots to do here: swim, picnic, scuba diving or do nothing but lie on the white sand. You won’t be the first visitor to find contentment staring up at palm trees and cotton-candy clouds.
Located on the edge of the Great Blue Hole, the world-famous natural wonder, the atoll is the easternmost part of Belize, located approximately 50 miles southeast of Belize City.
The Great Blue Hole offers amazing vistas and underwater exploration opportunities as divers enter the portal to a gigantic cave, created during the last great Ice Age, making it one of the most popular dive sites in the world.
Named for the infamous English pirate John Glover, who plied these waters in the 17th century, using the atoll as a base to attack Spanish merchant ships loaded with gold and silver. Today, visitors to Glover’s Reef are drawn to the beautiful unspoiled nature, making the atoll a prime spot for boaters, campers, kayakers, and biological research teams. The large lagoon harbor is home to more than 750 different colonies of gorgeous coral.
Just beyond the edge of the atoll are deep drop offs, measuring between 50 and 2,500 feet deep, filled with hundreds of shipwrecks, making the area popular with treasure hunters and adventurous divers.
If you’re looking for a relaxing and intimate tropical island getaway, Ranguana Caye is ideal. Close enough to reach the mainland or nearby islands with ease, Ranguana Caye gives guests the chance to relax in comfort and luxury and enjoy delicious gourmet meals while admiring a stunning vista of the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean.
Guests of Ranguana Caye can enjoy snorkeling, paddle boarding, and kayaking in the waters around the island or sit back and relax in a hammock that sways to a gentle tropical breeze. Guests can eat and drink their fill, work on their tan, and enjoy fun beach games and barbecues while staying on this beautiful island getaway. Perhaps the most popular spot on the island is Bully’s Beach Bar, the closest thing to a pirate den that you’re likely to ever see.
This small island measures just five acres in size, but is the site of a tropical island fantasy, surrounded by pure white beaches and dotted with lush palm trees. Besides basking in the sun and playing in the surf, the caye is also popular with divers who want to explore the colorful marine life offshore.
Despite their ominous name, the Snake Cayes are amongst the most beautiful offshore islands in Belize. And, while it is true that a few serpents did once inhabit the islands, there is little risk to visitors who want to visit these gorgeous islands in search of bird species, sugar sand white beaches, and crystal clear waters.
The Snake Cayes are unusual because they are not part of the nearby Belize Barrier Reef, the second-largest barrier reef in the world. The Snake Cayes are officially inside the Port Honduras Marine Reserve and have their own separate coral growing on a ledge of limestone.
Located just 20 minutes by passenger boat from Belize City, the caye is a popular vacation spot for international visitors and locals alike. With plenty of beaches, and beautiful sapphire waters, the caye is a great place to enjoy swimming, snorkeling, or diving.
From Dangriga in Stann Creek District, it is just a 30-minute boat ride to South Water Caye, a coral island measuring approximately 15 acres in size. Just offshore is the South Water Caye Reserve, a 185-square mile protected habitat for hundreds of species of unique marine life. Divers come to the island to explore the deep drop-offs located just a few hundred yards offshore.
For some reason, these islands were given two names: Silk Cayes and Queen Cayes. Call them either when you travel here and you’ll encounter sugar-white beaches, the occasional coconut palm and water lapping along the shoreline, beneath which, a lively community of aquatic life awaits wide-eyed visitors. Spot vividly-colored fish, benign sharks (yes, they do exist), eagle rays and stingrays from your perch on the beach where a picnic is the perfect accompaniment to a day-long adventure.