The seafront widens into an expansive, soft-sand beach lined with lime green, yellow, orange, and plum-colored kiosks. They tempt you with margaritas, beers, and sweet treats. Occasionally a golf cart drives by, but most people get around on bicycles, or on foot.
The island of Caye Caulker is classic Caribbean—a rare find these days. Life is simple, laidback, and close to nature. It’s a perfect spot if you enjoy swimming, diving, fishing, and snorkeling. A growing arts scene is attracting painters and other artisans who appreciate the quiet lifestyle and draw inspiration from the unspoiled, natural beauty.
And right now, Caye Caulker is sitting in a “sweet spot.” It still feels old school, with its palm-lined beach and two-story clapboard homes (no high-rises here). With fewer than 2,000 residents, there’s room to move, and barely any traffic. Yet the island has reliable electric power, water, and internet service. There’s a rich mix of restaurants, bars, and coffee houses. And it’s English-speaking, which makes it easy to adjust to life here.
Best of all, it offers great value compared to most other Caribbean islands. A long-term rental here typically goes for $1,000 to $1,200 a month. By contrast, a similar rental in the Bahamas or the British Virgin Islands would run closer to $3,000 a month. And from what I hear from expats on the ground, it’s much more difficult to get residence and/or start up a business in many of the more saturated Caribbean spots.
If you’ve dreamt of immersing yourself in the Caribbean island lifestyle, but didn’t think you could afford it, take heart: The window of opportunity is open—for now.
Diana Moore and Tim Nutley, an expat couple who recently moved to Caye Caulker from Indiana, say they spend an average of $1,470 a month, all expenses included. “It’s much cheaper for us to live here. In Indiana we spent $2,500 to $3,000 a month,” she says. “We can live on just $1,500 on the island and our quality of life has improved.”
In part, their low cost of living is because, with the help of island friends, they found a well-priced, two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment that rents for just $650 a month. Admittedly, that’s an unusually low rate. Still, with a six-month or longer lease, you can find properties from $1,000 a month. If you want to give the island a test run, budget at least $1,970 a month, all in.
You can buy, too. A 70-by-100-foot off-ocean lot can be bought for $35,000, while a two-bedroom, two-bathroom, 1,000-square-foot condo lists for $275,000. Prices have risen over the last few years. But there are still good deals to be found.