While traveling through Belize in general can be quite affordable by many backpacker and budget traveler standards, the line begins to blur when you look at some of the more popular island stops in the country.
Caye Caulker is regarded as the backpackers’ island of choice in many instances, though its overly laid back atmosphere leaves some travelers longing for more. If you are hoping to just get lost on a small island and completely unwind, Caye Caulker is the perfect spot for that. Whether you spend a day relaxing at “The Split” or renting a bicycle and cruising around the tiny dirt roads, you are not likely to find a place more chill than Caye Caulker.
Caye Caulker’s bigger and more well-known neighbor Ambergris Caye has more nightlife, bars, and restaurants to choose from, but it is often skipped over by budget travelers due to lodging costs. The island has definitely seen a boom in luxury resorts, a few with per night rates exceeding the monthly travel budget for many long-term travelers.
However, the island’s main town of San Pedro is home to a hostel, Pedro’s Inn, which is a happening place to be not only for tourists, but also as a regular hang out for many locals. Unfortunately, during high season, rates at the hostel may fluctuate so you may find that for just a bit more, you can get a beachfront standard private hotel room.
If you are looking for an affordable hotel option in Ambergris Caye, consider the Conch Shell Inn, which is right on the beach, and conveniently located near dive shops, the water taxi dock, and many of the town’s bars and restaurants.
The Conch Shell Inn offers 10 rooms, each with a shared verandah or patio. It’s a no frills place that has a loyal following from many divers, one of the main tourism draws to Ambergris Caye.
During off-season, April 15 to November 14, you can snag a room on the ground floor for $64 US a night, or an even better deal is to book for five or seven nights for with more of a discount. Five nights is $288 (savings of $32) and seven nights is $381 (savings of $67). All rooms feature one double and one twin bed, which can make it comparable to many hostels elsewhere when split between two or three people.
While air conditioning is available (for $10 US per night), the ocean breezes that blow through the large ocean-facing windows make it unnecessary. All rooms include wireless internet (free), mini fridge, television, and Tempur-Pedic beds – a huge upgrade from most hostel and budget hotel beds.
The hammock on the second floor is the perfect spot to relax in the afternoon while catching up on a blog post or two, and there’s no shortage of people watching opportunities from the verandah.
With its ideal location right in town, popular bars and restaurants are just steps away. Next door is Cholo’s Sports Bar, a popular locals’ hangout, and just around the corner from Conch Shell Inn is one of my favorite spots, Lola’s Pub. Kayleen (one of the owners) and Trevor (one of the bartenders) are the people to chat up as they have the scoop on what’s happening around town and can share some of the island’s “must visit” spots.
If you are a morning person, the Caribbean Sea facing side of the island offers stellar sunrises and the Conch Shell Inn provides a great spot for photographing them…if you can drag yourself out of bed at 5am after a night of partying.
The one drawback to the Conch Shell Inn is you are not likely to just show up and book a room. With only 10 rooms and a pretty popular following, it’s often sold out, especially during holiday and peak periods. I was there during a sold-out week — Valentine’s Day, President’s weekend, and Carnaval. So, if you have a firm time on when you plan to visit San Pedro, email for information and any other deals they may be running, or you can book directly online as well.
You may be thinking this is not very budget-friendly. Obviously everyone has their own definition of “budget “ based on their way of travel, but as far as island accommodations go, the Conch Shell Inn is a steal for its oceanfront location right in town. It’s one of the best deals on the island – especially when compared to many of the $300 and $500 a night options for larger beachfront resorts and luxury condos.
My stay at The Conch Shell Inn was complimentary as part of a media tour, but all views and opinions are my own.