No cars, no buses, no lorries – Caye Caulker, Belize is a utopia for bicycles. A vision of a world where people get around on foot, by bike or electric golf carts.
The end result is one of the most charming, laid back destinations in all of the Americas. Couple this with endless sunshine, some of the world’s best diving sites and delicious food – it’s amazing travellers can ever drag themselves any further away than the coral reefs that hug the island.
Cycling the entire length takes 15 minutes. At the far end, you can see the island of San Pedro. Despite being just a short boat ride away, the two islands are a world apart.
“Don’t go to San Pedro” you’ll commonly hear fellow travellers warn. What is it that can be so different about two islands that, on the surface, seem so similar?
On a diving tour, I found out.
Where Caye Caulker is peaceful, laid back and inviting. San Pedro is an overwhelming blast to the senses. The charm of the island has faded behind noisy, busy and congested streets. Its slightly larger size has brought about development and along with it, cars and motorbikes.
It can be argued that this is the cost of progress, but the stark contrasts show the clear differences between two visions for our towns and cities.
Walking around Caye Caulker, you see cyclists of all ages. There are dads cradling their kids in one arm and controlling their bikes with the other. There are children riding with their friends sitting on the handlebars. There are people with a box tucked under their arm. Old, young, fit, overweight. The only thing you don’t see is lycra. Cycling here is a completely normal activity.
The bikes themselves are mountain bikes and cruisers. The cruisers in particular fit in nicely with the style of the island. When you see a cyclist pull up to a shop, they’ll just drop their bike outside. On the odd occasion you spot a locked bike, it will be secured with a flimsy lock.
The island has a couple of bike repair shacks which are always busy. For tourists there are many places where you can rent a bike. However, I never felt the need to. There was nowhere I had to be, so I took my time to walk around the island.
Half way through my stay, my laptop decided to break. In Belize, it’s not as easy as in London to head down the shop to buy a new laptop or get it repaired. I asked the hotel owner whether I could send it back to the UK. She told me it would never leave Belize! Just as there are advantages to tiny Caribbean islands, there are difficulties. Spending a couple of hours in a hammock however, will generally help you forget them.
Keeping Caye Caulker car-free I’m sure is partly a result of conservation efforts and also a necessity due to the tiny size of the island. The locals and the government are well aware of the importance of preserving the island and the marine life surrounding it. I don’t believe anyone here would welcome cars on to the island.
In London we’ve long accepted cars in our city. We’ve come to expect it to be scary at times, we’ve come to expect noise and pollution and not being able to send children out on a bike ride without a fear of traffic.
London is certainly no Caye Caulker, but it’s a shining example of how a small community can exist without cars and how great a place that can be to live.
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.