Tobacco Caye is a tiny island off the coast of Belize, popular with travelers. Hammocks, novels, group meals and a healthy dose of snorkeling are likely to fill your day, on one of the few islands that won't break the bank in a country that normally excels at doing so.
At only about 200 feet wide and 400 feet long, the atmosphere is intimate and social, but relaxing and friendly (you can circle the island in less than 5 minutes). About 20 Belizeans reside here permanently, but there's no school, so children spend the week on a nearby island, and come home only on the weekends to stay with their families.
Far from deserted, there's very little space on the island that isn't occupied by something. Hurricane Mitch leveled most of the island in 1998, pretty much everything you see now has been rebuilt since then.
Boats make the journey from Dangriga in about 20-30 minutes and charge Bz$40/person. If you're staying at Tobacco Caye Lodge or Reef's End, you can arrange a time and come on their boats for the same price, or just turn up at 8:30-9:00am at the dock and ask around at the Riverside Café when a boat will be leaving (they depart from the dock directly in front of the restaurant).
From Tobacco Caye, at least one boat usually leaves around 9am each morning heading back to Dangriga. If you're interested in heading somewhere else like Glovers Reef or Thatch Caye you may be able to hire a boat to take you direct, or ride along with some snorkelers who are heading there, which saves a trip back to Dangriga.
Tobacco Caye lies in a natural reserve. There is a BZ$10/day fee for being in the reserve (and thus on the island.) The government official who collects the fee shows up irregularly. Students can get a better deal. The island is small but big enough to avoid the official while he is collecting his fees.
Kick off your sandals when you arrive to the island, and plan on leaving them in your room. You'll be walking around the island for the duration of your stay, might as well feel the sand between your toes. If you're a great swimmer and have some energy to burn, consider trying to swim a loop around the island... the hammock will still be there when you get back. Needless to say, there are no roads or vehicles of any sort on the island... not even a single sidewalk.
- Sunrise – generally occurs off to the east.
- Sunset – usually spotted out west.
- Locals – observe their daily routines and skills.
- Swim. The only exercise you could possibly hope for, short of bringing a yoga mat. While the island is almost entirely covered in sand, the water's edge is rocky, and no sandy beach exists. Several piers scattered around make for easier sea access.
- Snorkel. About the only activity in the immediate vicinity of the island. There's a reef along the south edge, which you can swim out to and see a decent amount of things and a bit of coral. Much better is to hire one of the men with a boat to take you a bit further south (1km) where the sea life is much richer. Day trips and 1/2 day trips that visit several snorkeling spots include mangroves to spot manatees, the reef near Thatch Caye, or Glover's Reef. Renting snorkel gear costs BZ$15 everywhere.
- Dive. At the moment only possible with Reef's End. It is very pricey though. They rent diving gear for BZ$50, and a single dive goes for BZ$100. They run trips to the beautiful Glover's Reef, the infamous Blue Hole, among others.
- Watch 'em gut a fish. Around sunset, on the western pier in front of Tobacco Caye bar, local fisherman prepare their fish (or ones caught by fishing tourists) and wash them here at the dock, drawing a little crowd of onlookers. Fish guts may not be that interesting, but the animals that swarm in to eat them are... you'll likely spot a variety of birds, stingrays and even a moray eel all converging on the scene.
- Paddle : Kayak & SUP. You can kayak or SUP (Stand-up paddle) around the island. You can rent gear and equipment at Tobacco Caye Paradise. Rentals are $35 per day or $10 an hour.
- Bring a book. If none of the above appeal to you, or you've already done them once today, find out what happens after Sally catches Bob with Sue.
The only restaurants are those attached to the resort you're staying at. Most all of them have communal tables and everyone eats together at the same time... the meal bells usually ring around 7am, 12pm, and 6pm.
Reef's End also runs a proper restaurant where most meals are BZ$20 and drinks go for BZ$10.
Gaviotas has a snacks stand behind their rooms, with plenty of imported doritos, cokes, batteries and even Starbucks iced coffees (?!).
Tobacco Caye Lodge runs a little store next to the bar. It serves some fast food, like fried chicken with fries, for BZ$7-12.
Tobacco Caye Paradise breakfast $10, lunch $10 and dinner $15 Casual, belizean, family style meals.
You can order fish from one of the fishermen (you can even help with cleaning the fish if you feel like it) for about BZ$5 per person; and prepare it if you have access to a kitchen.
- Tobacco Caye Bar, (at the north tip of the island). 4pm-sleepytime. This little open air bar, part of the Tobacco Caye Lodge, is somewhat of a meeting point around sunset and after dinner. If you're staying at the lodge you can put it on your tab. Most drinks are BZ$5. edit
All the places have generators for electricity. Some of the smaller ones only run the generators at night.
- Tobacco Caye Paradise, (on the north tip), ☎ +501-532-2101 From North America 1-800-667-1630 ([email protected] web: www.tobaccocaye.com), . A place with good food and with rustic cabins extending over the water (2012) These are the only cabanas in the island built right over the water. They offer snorkeling, SUP and kayak for rental. Wi-fi available for US$5. Only place in the island that accepts credit cards US$80 per person - includes meals. edit
- Tobacco Caye Lodge, (on the northeast side), ☎ +501 520 5033 ([email protected]), . The best value and probably most popular place has several bungalows looking out towards the sea, under some hammock-strung palm trees. The food here is pretty tasty as well. Single Bz$90, double Bz$160 High Season 2012: double: 99 US$. edit
- Reef's End Lodge, ☎ +501 522 2419 ([email protected]), . The most expensive place is nice, but questionably worth the $$. Rooms US$65, Cabanas US$75. edit
- Blue Dolphin, formerly Gaviota's, ☎ +501 6659837. A decent cheap option, run by Belizeans. Bz$60 per person. edit
- Lana's on the Reef, (on the west side). Small rooms, good food when Lana owned it, but has otherwise not been getting the same reviews without Lana From Bz$80. edit
- Fairweather Place, ☎ +501 660 6870. A small two-story place, with three rooms on the upper floor, above the owners house (BZ$30 per room). The owner is a charming old man who claims to have been the first one on the island. It's not entirely appealing, but it's mentionable since they'll let you pitch a tent out front if you prefer to camp (about BZ$15 per tent.) You can use the shower and the kitchen. edit
Internet service is available at the Tobacco Caye Marine Station, located on the property of the Tobacco Caye Lodge. The cost is BZ$15 per hour to use a Station computer, and BZ$10 if you are travelling with your own computer. Tobacco Caye Lodge and Tobacco Caye Paradise offer WiFi for their guests. The locals might share the passwords for a small "tip".
The gift shop, actually the office of Tobacco Caye Lodge, has a public phone. Currently, it is broken. You also get cell phone signal on the island.
Mosquitos and sandflies are thankfully scarce here, making bug juice unnecessary. Sunscreen is wise though, if you're planning to be out in the water long or on a boat trip.
- Glover's Reef is about an hour east of here, and you can probably arrange a direct boat.
- Thatch Caye is about 20 min south... don't head there without a reservation at the expensive resort, who may be able to come fetch you. Alternatively, strike a deal with a boat man or ride along with some snorkelers.
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