Best Places to Live in Retirement — Belize

Best Places to Live in Retirement — Belize

We have had a timeshare for 30+ years, and whenever I would try to find a tropical beach to visit, by exchanging our week, I would start by seeing if there was anything available in Belize. Why?

Why Belize?

Belize BeachBeaches? Oh My Gosh, yes!

Tropical — well, sub-tropical! Close enough!

Stable Government, Economy — for decades!

Mixture of Locals + Expats — all over the place!

Language & Currency — English and the US $

So how about the intangibles? Let’s make a visit and find out just what it’s like, beyond the tourist-brochure descriptions.

 

Solo Visit

Nadine was still working, so after our Christmas trip to Puerto Vallarta (more on that later) I booked myself to San Pedro, Belize, for a week-long stay. San Pedro is not the country’s capital, but is seems to be the unofficial Expat capital, located about 20 minutes (by air) from Belize City, where the main international airport is located. It is situated on the romantically named Ambergris Caye — you really need to google Ambergris, you’ll find out why I labeled it “romantic”.

In Belize, they pronounce the ‘s’ in Ambergris, unlike the original French pronunciation. Further, they pronounce their Cayes (there’s more than just Ambergris) like Keys, as if they were in the Floridian chain. They claim about 450 of them, some only as large as atolls, and the vast majority of them uninhabitable.

There are several tourist-worthy destinations in Belize but my interest has always been just one: the barrier reef. Second longest in the world (to Australia, of course), the reef runs the full length of the country. In the north you can actually swim the 300 meters from shore to the reef, but it gets progressively further from shore the farther south you travel; at the southern end, it is some 85 miles distant.

San Pedro, Ambergris Caye

Once you arrive by air in Belize City, you have two options for getting to San Pedro, which is the usual jumping-off point for visiting the reef: by air or by boat. As I researched which was preferable, it seemed to be a.50-50 proposition in most of the accounts I found. A Taxi from the airport to the dock to catch the ferry is relatively expensive ($25) while the hour-and-a-half ferry ride itself is cheap.($28 round trip). Some advisers cautioned against that due to the dock area being relatively dangerous for tourists, especially burdened with luggage. Other advice just glossed over the dock area, implying “no problems, nothing to see here!”

The air route cost/benefit ratio is just the opposite of going by boat: the 20-minute trip runs around $150 round trip, no taxis required, and there are flights leaving every 60-90 minutes all day. No difficulties since you never leave the airport, your luggage is taken care of, and you have no worries about sea-sickness or winds and waves. I chickened out and bought a round-trip ticket on Tropic Air; after my week on Ambergris Caye, I now know I will take the ferry if ever there is a return trip!

The Town

Downtown San Pedro BelizeSan Pedro is a thoroughly charming place! One of the best things about it is the near-total absence of automobiles. How can that be, you ask? Simple: everyone owns and drives.a golf cart! There are a few electric carts but they are mostly gasoline powered, and they come in a variety of configurations. Most are of the type you would see on an American golf course: bench seat for two with (sometimes) another bench facing the rear for additional passengers. Alternatively, the main seat is backed instead by an area that could hold a golf bag or, here in the city, packages from your shopping trip.

There are a few of the larger carts that have 3 or more seats under the canopy, and they mostly bear logos of one of the island’s larger resorts. You will also see “pickup truck” carts — a square or rectangular box takes up the space behind the driver. You’ll find all manner of things piled and stacked into those boxes: mattresses, paint buckets and tarps, sometimes even entire families hanging on as they go around corners! An afternoon’s entertainment just by watching traffic!

If you’re just a visitor, or you’re permanent but you don’t own your own cart, there are taxis available. Every vehicle that you see that’s a full-sized auto, I was told, is a taxi for hire. Unfortunately, they are few and far between; if you’re not at the airport during flight-arrival hours, you could wait hours for one of the vans to pass by. I did get lucky one night, leaving a restaurant, when a passing private cart stopped and allowed me to pay for a lift to my hotel. Oops, don’t tell anyone; I think he could get in trouble for doing that!

Other Areas

Expats can be found all over Belize, not just in the most scenic, most water-sport centric part of the country. Further inland from Belize City, on the way towards Guatemala, are the Mayan Highlands. The conventional wisdom is that, if what you want is self-sufficiency, off-the-grid retirement, there are communities here that will suit you perfectly. The region offers mountainous climates, rushing rivers and agricultural centers. There are even colonies of Mennonites who emigrated here from the US in the late 1950s, and they are primarily engaged in agriculture and furniture making.

On the coast but farther north there are a few small expat communities. Corozal is the largest, and the primary draw to living here is proximity to Chetumal, in Mexico. This border crossing is most known for it’s duty-free shopping, including large Walmart-sized centers.

At the other extreme is Placentia, in the south. Situated at the end of a long narrow peninsula, the community offers one sand-packed road and housing is available both on the ocean side and the lagoon. Several distinct communities have formed, but the total population only reaches around 3,000 full time residents. The national highway extends no further south, so resupply of depleted pantries must be accomplished to the north.

Conclusion

I would love to live in Belize!. Nadine would love to live in Belize! Her idea of perfection is never having to drive a car again, walking and golf-carting everywhere we needed to go. Not having to work on Spanish fluency and still being able to converse with all the locals.

But it is not to be…. Sad, but true! Health care, so vital to our personal quest, is best achieved in Belize City or, as one long-time expat told me, by flying to Mexico! Not a high recommendation, and a deal breaker for us. Nadine doesn’t want to believe it, so we’ll have to “rove” there sooner or later so she can judge for herself, but at least initially, Belize drops to the bottom of our top group….

On to the next candidate: Panama!

 

 

 

 

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