Clear turquoise waters lapping gently against soft white sand. Palm trees rustling in the warm breeze. Fishing boats bobbing on the horizon. Birdsong and island tunes all around…
Ambergris Caye, Belize, is unadulterated, unpretentious Caribbean…the sea, sand, and sunshine of the Caymans or the Virgin Islands without the price tag.
San Pedro town, a former fishing village, is the center of activity and home to a growing expatriate community of North Americans and Europeans catered to now by dozens of restaurants, shops, art galleries, and community organizations. You could settle in here quickly and easily, as the language (like everywhere in Belize) is English.
The real estate market, for both buying and renting, is developed, meaning you have many options at all price points. You can buy a condo for as little as US$100,000 or invest up to US$1 million or more, and you can rent for as little as US$600 to US$700 per month.
Life on Ambergris is relaxed and friendly, carefree and sunny. Adopt this island as your home, and you’d enjoy most all services and comforts of home. And you’d certainly never want for like-minded company.
That’s one face of Belize. Back on the mainland, life is very different.
Mainland Belize can be broken down into four zones: Belize City; the northern coast around Corozal; the southern coast around Placencia; and the interior Cayo.
Forget Belize City. This isn’t a place you’d want to live. The city has a reputation for being poor, dirty, and unsafe…and that reputation isn’t for nothing. I was in the city a month ago and found it cleaner and more pleasant than I remembered from my most recent preceding visit. You, however, seeing it for the first time, especially certain neighborhoods south of the river, might find the whole scene appalling.
But Belize City is not representative of mainland Belize.
Following the highway from Belize City south (this is one of but three highways in the entire country!) you come to Dangriga, Hopkins, Placencia and then, way down south, Punta Gorda. This is perhaps the most culturally diverse part of the country, home to the Garifuna, black Carib Indians known for their pounding and sensual song and dance. It’s really something to see, alone worth a visit to this region.
Following the coast north from Belize City brings you to Corozal, where life couldn’t be more laid-back. This is a part of the world where you can still arrange a home of your own directly on the beach with nary a neighbor around…if that’s what you’re in the market for.
Corozal is also home to the Orchid Bay community, the private development of longtime friend Phil Hahn that oozes Caribbean charm and that I’d say is the most well-conceived and -executed development in the country to date.
The fourth face of Belize is my favorite. Inland, in the rain forest, is the Cayo District, a land of mountains and Mayan ruins, rivers and waterfalls. This is Belize’s frontier, a land where a man (or a woman) comes to stake a claim and make his own way. The wide-open spaces of the Cayo appeal to the adventuresome and the independent. Living here, you’d enjoy lots of elbow room and far-reaching vistas.
You’d also enjoy a higher level of support than you might expect. I was surprised and delighted during my most recent visit to Cayo to find many more shops and services than existed when I was in this part of the world last.
I found my favorite haunts, including Eva’s, the café and expat meeting spot in the heart of San Ignacio, Cayo’s main town. Today, though, Eva’s is hardly the only place for an expat to connect with his fellows.
Alas, development is coming to the Cayo. I acknowledge this with melancholy exuberance. Cayo is one of my secret favorite places on earth. Now it’s easier than ever to spend time here more comfortably than ever.
I need to stake my claim now, I guess, before the market moves past me.
Kathleen Peddicord www.liveandinvestoverseas.com