I have lived in the Belizean jungle for over 8 years but I have spent most of my adult life on, in and around the ocean. When I need my salt water fix, I like to go to Tobacco Caye. This 5 acre hump of sand on the barrier reef has a hook in me like the hook my Dad had in this 4 foot barracuda. Despite my love for the island it has its drawbacks.
At first glance this tiny place seems like everything one could want from a tropical paradise; palm trees swaying in the island breeze, the sound of the waves lapping at the shoreline, lots of hammocks, the promise of snorkeling in an aquarium-like environment, smiling locals greeting me in their Caribbean dialect & conch fisherman selling their haul from their dugout canoes. As I walk around the island though I cannot help but see the dilapidated structures in various states of disrepair, garbage strewn nearly everywhere, most of the docks are falling apart and several of the locals who work on the island wear a permanent scowl. I think it’s the garbage that makes them surly.
The island is primarily made up of 6 “Lodges” that provide accommodations and food. Nearly all are very modest and consist of a small cabin or room with a couple of beds and a bathroom with a cold shower. On my three visits here I have found the food to be consistently mediocre with only a few exceptions. The Lodges are generally leased out by the owners and some change hands every few years.
On this visit my wife and I are less than a month from moving away from Belize but the opportunities out here threaten to draw us in. As I write this we have been here 4 days and two Lodges have either asked or insinuated that we could take over their leases. This isn’t my first day in Belize and I see the challenges of running a business out here but there is no doubt in my mind that we could make it work. Running Barton Creek Outpost for 8 years has given us some insight into this business and Jacquelyn and I have been discussing how we would do a few things to make minor improvements and do some marketing to bring more people in. I also know this, it is easy to look at other peoples’ challenges and talk about how you would fix them, walk a mile in their shoes and things often look different.
Regardless of what we would do here I am sure of this, someone could seriously benefit from taking their game to the next level on Tobacco Caye. Only two of the six lodges have websites, only one place appears well kept and almost no one has a staff that excels at customer service.
Here is a look at the Lodges of Tobacco Caye:
Reefs End Lodge
firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
011-501-542-2419 or 011-501-670-3919
2 Cabanas at $50US per night
1 Cabana (The Honeymoon Suite) at $100US per night
All three cabanas are right on the water and worth the money.
A large hotel-like structure with 4 rooms upstairs and 4 rooms downstairs, all facing the water.
Upstairs: $40US per room per night
Downstairs: $30US per room per night
Meals are as follows: Breakfast $10, Lunch $10, Dinner $15US
I like Reefs End, I stayed there and went fishing with them twice and we caught fish and had a great time. Their guides were good. Like many other small “resorts” in Belize, their facilities & equipment could use some work. Overall, I would recommend Reefs End Lodge, the price is good, the location amazing, the people helpful and they are one of only two places where you can get online. The owner and the manager were interested in us and wanted to make sure we were happy and that goes a long way with me.
Lana’s on the Reef
No web site or email
011-501-665-5661 or 011-501-532-2424
4 Rooms, $40US per person & includes three meals.
2 Rooms have 2 double beds, 2 rooms have 1 double bed. These are very basic accommodations.
Snorkeling is $25US per person and fishing is about the same.
Camping for $10US per person, per night if you have a tent.
Lana’s is being run by long time islander A.C. and his wife Julie. We had used A.C. for outings on our two previous trips to Tobacco Caye and like him. He is very friendly, knows the area well and works hard to accommodate, once you go on an excursion with A.C., you are friends. He took us fishing this trip and we caught fish like we have each time before. Julie was also friendly and helpful, she gave some us some medicine when our baby had a fever and she arranged for us to get a few things from the mainland. They are both good people and their place is just right for the lower budget, backpacking type crowd. The accommodations are very simple, don’t expect much except good service and good company.
Tobacco Caye Lodge
$55US per person, per day includes three meals, double occupancy
$99US per day, single occupancy
Three, duplex-like cabanas. These are well kept structures and maybe the only rooms on the island with a fresh coat of paint.
I have stayed at Tobacco Caye Lodge on two separate occasions and the accommodations were good. They might be the best maintained place on the island. On this trip we did not stay there but I went by several times to speak with the staff, have a meal and make use of their snack shop and bar. The staff was mostly friendly although I was surprised several times to find the bar not open and when it was the bar staff was less enthusiastic than I would have imagined. Additionally, the person now managing the place, Captain Fermin, was dismissive with me and could not be bothered with several attempts by me to give him business. He might be a good Captain but he is not a personable man and I give him an “F minus” on customer service. He is not the person to be managing that place and his attitude trickles down through some of his staff, as one would expect.
Tobacco Caye Paradise Cabins
3 Cabins have 1 double bed
2 Cabins have a both a double bed and a single bed
1 Cabin has 1 double bed and 2 single beds
$40US per person includes 3 meals a day
This is a very cool spot, I have wanted to stay here on 2 previous visits but had been unable to get in touch with them to work it out. Their tiny cabins are well kept, very simple and over the water. Nearly everything about the place is well maintained and I interacted with nearly all of their staff while I was there and everyone was great. I like this place, they are doing a good job.
The Blue Dolphin Lodge (formerly Gaviota)
011-501-542-2032 or 011-501-665-9837
6 Cabins with both a double bed & a bunk bed
3 of those have private bath
$40US per person for private bath, includes three meals
$30US per person for shared bath, includes three meals
4 Other rooms:
1 with both a double bed and a bunk bed, private bath
$40US per person, per night, includes three meals
1 With ½ bath & double bed, $35US per person per night, includes three meals
2 Rooms with two bunkbeds per room, shared bath, $30US per person per night, x 3 meals
We stayed 2 nights at the Blue Dolphin and I liked it just fine. The cabins are nothing but cheap huts but they don’t pretend to be anything else and that works for me. If you need more than a cheap hut, stay somewhere else. The lady running the place, Tina, was very accommodating as was her hard working husband, Giles. We ate there once and had a nice lunch. The place was very simple, clean and the people were friendly.
011-501-802-0030, 011-501-660-6870, 011-501-636-0971
4 Rooms total:
3 Rooms with a double bed
1 Room with a single bed
$15US per person, per night, no meals
Monthly rates available
Common kitchen available for guest use
I have not stayed at Fairweather Place but I would. The rooms are very simple but very clean and the building is well maintained. There is fresh paint here and there and Pandy (the Owner) has even painted some funky, colorful designs on the bedroom doors, not a big thing but an indication that he goes the extra mile to make the place nice. For only $15US per night I love it, I can cook my own food in the guest kitchen or have meals at one of the other lodges on the island. I think this place is a great value, it is cool and the owner is on site and cares. Well done.
The other fixture on the island is Tobacco Caye Marine Station. This is a privately funded marine education center that brings groups to Tobacco Caye and customizes programs to fit their groups. They have been on the island since 2008 and the station managers, Sean and Jen, run a tight ship. The place looks great, their snorkeling gear (rentable for $7.50US per day) is in excellent condition and you can hook up to their wifi for a small fee.
Most places on Tobacco Caye need a fresh eye, I guess it is easy to get used to dilapidated buildings and an abundance of trash. The buildings cost money to fix but the trash would be easy to pick up and it would go a long way to making the place look better. The reef that the Caye is on is absolutely covered with trash. Owners have told me it comes from the countries to the south and if they pick up trash it will be right back the way it was in two weeks, so they don’t. It would be a monumental effort to clean that reef but if I had a lodge close to the reef I like to think I would clean up the immediate area anyway.
Another potential sticking point for visitors is that nearly everyone’s gear is not well maintained. Almost all the boats, motors, fishing poles, snorkeling gear and dive gear reflect their 3rd world status. We brought our own fishing gear and I am very glad we did. I can see where guests would be disappointed in the condition of some of the gear, as some Tripadvisor reviews reflect.
I think at some point a smart, industrious person with some money to invest will swoop into Tobacco Caye and make one of these places great. I don’t think it would take much, good marketing, a dynamic staff to help make the place fun, serve better than average food, maintain the gear, offer wifi, and provide cash advances on credit cards (there are no ATM’s). Someone will come in, do it right and they will suck the business from the other places so fast their heads will spin. I wish it could be me but the timing is all wrong. Check this out to see the lodge for sale at a reasonable price and offering owner financing.
There are some downsides to Tobacco Caye but the upside wins in my book. I wouldn’t hesitate to go back or to recommend it to my friends. If I wasn’t on the way out of Belize I’d probably move out there.