Where To Live
Ambergris Caye is the most popular, but also the most expensive, place for retirees to live in Belize. It’s a tourist center, well known among the scuba diving fraternity. There is a constant flow of American, Canadian and European tourists, together with many retirees from those regions. The island is just south of the Yucatan Peninsula, with a population estimated at 10,000
San Pedro is the only town on the island. It has three main streets – none of which are paved - two Catholic and several Protestant churches, numerous small, but well stocked grocery stores and many good restaurants. While some residents own cars, the most common form of transportation on the island is the gas driven golf cart. There is a small airport which offers a reasonably priced service, several times a day, to the Belize mainland, as well as a regular passenger boat service to Caye Caulker and Belize City.
Real estate costs, together with those in Belize City, are the highest in the country. In some parts, the asking price for beachfront lots can go as high as US$ 6 million, though the typical range is $50,000 to $300,000. Condominiums go for $120,000 to $400,000, houses for $150,000 to $500,000. Many properties are being offered at somewhat unrealistic prices, given the present financial situation. Vendors in Belize have been slow to recognize the downturn as being potentially a long term one. The market will adjust and deals are certainly possible. The rental marked is expensive because of the demand from local and tourist visitors, as well as from medical students who come to study at St. Matthew's University. Typical long term agreement rentals are $300 to $1,500 per month, for a one or two-bedroom apartment, and $500 to $2,500 per month for a house.
Though not frequently affected by hurricanes, Ambergris Caye was struck by Hurricane ‘Keith’ in late September, 2000. Hurricanes are a fact of life in the Caribbean, however, the local communities have developed the skills – and the composure – required to cope with and recover from them fairly quickly.
While most travelers to Belize tend not to visit Corozal, or pass through quickly en route to Mexico, Corozal Town and nearby Consejo village have a great deal to offer. The ‘locals’ are friendly and the blue waters of Corozal Bay, with its white, sandy beaches, are a great attraction. The Mexican City of Chetumal is an hour’s drive across the border, offering the opportunity for shopping at several, North American style big box stores, such as Sam’s Club.
Sugarcane is the main crop, and trucks groaning beneath the weight of this season’s production are a frequent sight on the Northern Highway. The climate is generally mild and rainfall is lower than almost anywhere else in Belize. The population is a mix of Mestizos, Creoles, Maya, Chinese, East Indians, North Americans and Europeans.
Real estate prices in Corozal are among the lowest in Belize, with North American style homes, with three or four bedrooms in Corozal Town or Consejo Shores, available for $75,000-$200,000. Belize-style homes [typically concrete built, or wooden framed with wooden siding can be purchased at less than $25,000. Waterfront lots are $35,000 or less, while those with views of the bay are $10,000-$15,000. Rental properties are relatively inexpensive, too. A modern Belizean-style house would cost in the region of $100-$200 per month to rent, while $300-$700 would provide a modern American-style house.
Cayo District - Western Belize
The Administrative Region known as ‘Cayo’ is the agricultural heartland of Belize. The major towns are San Ignacio, with a population of about 12,000, about 10 miles from the Guatemala border, and Belmopan, the Capital of Belize, with a population of around 6,000.
The country’s most accessible Maya ruins, Xunantunich and Cahal Peche, were built here twelve centuries ago at the confluence of the Macal and Mopan rivers. Caracol, a Mayan city larger even than Tikal lies forty miles to the south. San Ignacio has grown over the past twenty years from a few tourist lodges to a bustling center for tourism and agriculture. There is a large Mennonite community close by at Spanish Lookout, specializing in the manufacture of pre-fabricated, wood-built houses and furniture. The Mennonite’s are also heavily involved in agriculture. The breed of cattle they raise, along with sheep and goats, is the Brahma. San Ignacio’s population is largely Hispanic, though there are also Chinese, Creole and descendents of the Maya present in significant numbers. Caracol is reached by the road leading to the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Preserve and Lodge, as well as the ‘Thousand Foot Waterfall’.
Between Belize City and San Ignacio, lies Belmopan, the new capital of Belize. The Government of Belize was forced to abandon its former residence in Belize City after Hurricane Hattie struck in 1961. The U.S. Embassy, the British High Commission and the consulates for Brazil, Costa Rica, El Salvador, India, Mexico and Venezuela are located here. Most of the other national consulates, including the Swedish and German, are still located in Belize City. The Czech Republic Consulate is located in Orange walk – a 90 minute drive north from Belize City.
South from Belmopan, along the scenic Hummingbird Highway, are barely explored caves, wild rivers and national parks. Small farms are still available for sale at between $10,000 and $50,000.
Placencia, in southern Belize, has some 16 miles of beachfront along the Caribbean, coconut palms a-plenty, a lagoon, where manatees are frequently seen, two small villages - Seine Bight and Maya Beach - a few dozen hotels and restaurants and an increasing number of foreign-owned homes. A new casino is being constructed, along with a new airport, which will cater to direct flights from North America (Miami). Within a short drive lies Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Reserve, renowned for its diverse bird and plant life and for being one of the few places where the wild Jaguar can still be seen.
A large number of building lots have been sold to foreigners who plan to live by the sea, someday. Many, however, are ‘Spec.’ homes, built with selling on in mind. Real estate costs here are moderately high. A beachfront lot will cost $800 to $1,000 per foot. Lots on the lagoon are less expensive.
Now that the original, rough road surface has been paved, the drive from Dangriga to Placencia takes less than an hour. The town, itself, still retains much of its earlier, tourist character, but is undergoing a rapid transformation into a residential area for retirees. There is little North American-style housing available for sale or rent, and most expatriates are building their own homes, with building costs ranging from $35 to $75 or more per square foot, depending on the type of construction. The recent financial upheaval across the globe has left many developments and houses incomplete. Bargains are on offer if you are able to adapt or complete one of these. There is little, local color to be found, here, that isn’t focused on tourism, fishing, sailing or scuba diving. There are, however, numerous locally run bars which cater to the locals and offer newcomers the chance to assimilate. Many are owned and operated by ex-pats. The nearest major shopping and administrative center is Dangriga, in Stan Creek, though there are several local grocery stores in nearby Seine Bight and Maya Beach which offer local produce and a fair selection of canned and processed goods.
Punta Gorda, in southern Belize, offers unspoiled Maya villages and provides for onward travel to Guatemala and Honduras. Over the next few years, as paving of the Southern Highway is completed and the road is extended into Guatemala, this area is expected to ‘take off’, both in terms of tourism and as a place for expatriate living. “PG,” as it is known, is Toledo District’s only population center, with around 5,000 people, most of them being ‘Garifuna’ (descendants of the Carib, Arawak and Mali peoples), Maya and migrants from Guatemala. Maya villages, which haven’t changed in centuries, are located around ‘PG’. Cayes and the south end of the barrier reef offer good snorkeling and fishing. Lumber, fishing and catering to the occasional tourist are the only industries.
Undeveloped land is inexpensive, with prices starting at 200 dollars for an un-cleared acre of land. Few North American-style homes are for sale in the area. Quality rentals are disproportionately expensive due to a lack of supply and continual demand from American missionaries.
Other Locations Worth Consideration
Hopkins, in Stann Creek, between Dangriga and Placencia, is what Placencia was like twenty years ago. Expatriates are moving to Hopkins and real estate developments nearby. New small hotels and boarding houses are being opened here and at Sittee Point. There are several restaurants in Hopkins, such as the ‘Swinging Armadillo’ and ‘Under the Mango Tree’, offering local food. Others offer Chinese and Western style food. There are a few stores in the village, providing locally grown fruit and vegetables, as well as canned and processed foods. Locally caught fish can be purchased almost every day. Other fresh meats can be purchased in Hopkins, or in Dangriga, 26 miles away. Dangriga has an excellent fish market, too, offering a fresh selection of fish, conch and lobster.