A private island between Silk Cayes Marine Reserve and Gladden Split
Located approximately an hour off the coast of Placencia, Ray Caye (formerly Hatchet Caye) offers private island accommodations at a more sensible price than some other private islands, right on the barrier reef.
Ray Caye sits on the edge of the Silk Cayes Marine Reserve and Gladden Split, an area recognized for some of the best diving and fishing in Belize. The small island offers nearly a mile of pristine beachfront with stellar snorkeling right off the pier. At night, you'll want to make your way back out to the pier and watch the school of spotted eagle rays that circle the blue lights every night.
Accommodations at Ray Caye range from a main house to oceanfront cabanas. The oceanfront cabanas are best, especially the honeymoon cabana as it's the only detached unit. The tradeoff is the honeymoon cabana is situated right next to the pier, so you might have more foot traffic to contend with versus the other units. The remainder of the cabanas are more like duplexes, featuring an adjoining door for groups or families traveling together. Most cabanas have one king bed, but there are several units that have two queen-sized beds.
Each cabana offers ocean views and some units are tucked in behind the mangroves, offering more privacy and tranquility. Each cabana has its own deck, hammock, and semi-private beach area. Furnishings are simple and have a definite beach feel. The dedicated sitting area with big windows is a great spot in the afternoon to relax and read a book. Rooms have air conditioning and Wi-Fi, but expect the internet to be extremely slow. Even at the restaurant we struggled to get Wi-Fi to work, especially when all the kids were off the yachts and in the bar trying to stream videos. Internet speeds in Belize can be painfully slow, even on the mainland, so you shouldn't expect lightning fast speeds in the first place on an island served by satellite feeds.
While Ray Caye advertises itself as a private island, you may run into some outside guests in the restaurant and bar. Yachts and charter companies traveling in the region either dock at the island or anchor just offshore. They are allowed to visit the island's bar and pool area while the crew replenishes supplies. While the non-island guests are allowed in the bar and restaurant, there is a sign that only registered guests are allowed past a certain point, which includes the private dock where you can go snorkeling.
During my stay, there were three large yachts docked there, but these parties also rented cabanas so there we no outside guests at any point while I was there. If you really want the private island experience at Ray Caye, the entire island is available for rent for up to 30 people. You can choose to allow daytime visitors on boats or pay extra and only boats who are in distress will be allowed access.
Given that Ray Caye is an hour away from Placencia Village, there are no other options for food and drink while you're on the island. The selections are limited to what's fresh and able to be delivered. If you have a very strict diet, this would be something to discuss ahead of time. Given that supplies have to be brought from the mainland, it shouldn't be a surprise that food and drinks cost more on a private island. As far as resorts go though, the food and drinks aren't that much more expensive than what you would pay back on the mainland.
Meal times are set and it's best to get there early if you want to enjoy a leisurely meal at your favorite table. Daily options typically include some sort of seafood and beef or chicken for mains, as well as different appetizers and desserts. Don't miss trying the daily lionfish specials, which is what the Lionfish Grill takes its name from. Lionfish is a non-native, invasive species in Belize, and dive masters try to kill as many as possible to help the native reef marine life survive. Thankfully, a number of restaurants have taken to including lionfish on their menus to help promote sustainable tourism. Lionfish is a relatively mild white fish and you'll find it served in a variety of dishes, including tacos and fritters.
While fishing is not allowed in the protected reserve around the island, spearfishing for lionfish is. Guests who want to help with Belize's lionfish problem can get a trident and head off in search of the beautiful, but dangerous, fish. If you catch one, the chef at Lionfish Grill will gladly prepare a meal with it that evening.
There is plenty to keep you busy every day of your stay, or you can relax and do absolutely nothing. Use of non-motorized water toys is included in the nightly rates and the dive shop offers complimentary mask, snorkel, and fins for your stay as well. Travelers who want to book a fishing trip, diving, or guided snorkeling adventures can arrange ahead of time or talk to the dive shop. Depending on the time of year you visit, it may coincide with Belize's whale shark season (typically sometime in April to June). Gladden Split is where you'll find them each year, and Ray Caye can arrange snorkeling trips during whale shark season. The resort also has an arrangement with a scuba diving outfit for going deeper.
Ray Caye doesn't have a centralized office and concierge desk on the island. Your main point of contact is the bartender and/or server in the restaurant. There is a small staff and everyone lives onsite. They are professional, friendly, and customer service was never an issue. They can help to arrange tours and even settle up your bill on departure day.
Every afternoon the staff takes a well-deserved break and you'll find them playing a game of volleyball on the island's grass-covered court. Guests are welcome to join the staff or you can schedule your own game at any point during your stay.
While Ray Caye may charge extra for transfers and food/drink, it's still quite affordable for travelers who want the luxurious private island experience without the almost $2,000 a night price tag you'll find at Cayo Espanto. This is a great private island experience with abundant marine life, right on a nature reserve.
Web Address: www.raycaye.com
Total Number of Rooms: 12
Published rates: Room rate $275—$420 a night; all-inclusive rate $1,300—$2,200 a night
Review and photos by Erin De Santiago