Belize: An Adventurer’s Paradise
For a couple interested in residential offerings, it’s fun and instructive to rent a private water taxi for several hours and tour the coast, stop for lunch, and maybe pick out your favorite oceanfront lot.”
— Matt Brown
As Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula stretches toward the Caribbean Sea, it signals the southern edge of the country, where it then shares a border with Belize. An otherworldly place of sultry beauty, ancient Mayan relics, and flourishing culture (and eco-tourism!), it’s all framed by the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere and dotted with luxury resorts and communities tucked on tropical cays and islands.
Belize is an adventurer’s paradise, with the teal waters of the Caribbean Sea beckoning on the east and a fascinating rain forest ecosystem in the highlands to the west. The country is only 68 miles across, so it’s easy to spend the morning drifting with sea turtles on the reef and the afternoon exploring the ruins of the ancient Mayan pyramids of Caracol and Xunantunich.
But most importantly, Belize is a place intently balancing its emerging and bountiful popularity with its boundless commitment to sustainability and environmental protection. National Geographic recently released its list of “Best Places to Visit in the Upcoming Year,” and Belize received high praise for its protection of the Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve coral reef by banning all offshore drilling, passing a law to phase out single-use plastics, and taking steps to protect mangrove forests, home to the endangered manatee and countless other aquatic species.
That commitment will have to be girded as resort operators like Marriott, Wyndham, Hyatt, Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons, and Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville have plans to build resort communities in Belize within the next several years. Even Leonardo DiCaprio and a business partner have purchased a private island called Blackadore Caye for $1.75 million with plans to sensitively develop a restorative, 68-villa eco-resort.
Belize, formerly known as British Honduras, gained its independence from the crown in 1982. But, Queen Elizabeth still graces the dollar, English is the official language, and the government is a parliamentary system that believes in contract law like Australia and Canada. Unlike some other Caribbean countries, real estate purchases are fully titled and deeded (rather than leased for 99 years or not allowed at all). There is no inheritance tax, no capital gains tax, and residency is relatively easy to gain.
The country is easily accessed (just a four-hour flight from Chicago and two hours from Miami or Houston) through the international airport in Belize City (BZE). The islands are reached by a short 20-minute airplane ride or water taxi.
Much of the popular resort and residential activity resides on Ambergris Caye, a long narrow strip of land (you’re never further than 500 yards from water) and the largest of Belize’s offshore islands. And although the Belize mainland is essentially a rain forest, the island only gets about 1/5 of the rain as inland (to be safe, the dry season runs from January to May). Ambergris Caye also restricts cars and trucks to commercial purposes, so everyone drives a golf cart or ATV.
Among the existing island resorts is the opulent Grand Caribe just north of San Pedro, the main city of Ambergris Caye. The waterfront Ramon’s Village Resort in San Pedro is an elegant slice of thatched-roof heaven, and the Grand Baymen Condo Resort also beckons on the Ambergris beachfront.
Local Coldwell Banker realtor Matt Brown suggests a creative idea for exploring Ambergris Caye. Brown reveals, “For a couple interested in residential offerings, it’s fun and instructive to rent a private water taxi for several hours and tour the coast, stop for lunch, and maybe pick out your favorite oceanfront lot.” Matt Brown moved to Belize in 2011 from Canada and saw the potential in this English-speaking country for an easy transition into an incredible new life in a pristine location.
On the mainland, the family Coppola (as in Francis Ford) offers two embracing resorts: the waterfront Turtle Inn near the charming Creole fishing village of Placencia in south Belize, and the Blacaneaux Lodge, which actually was the Coppola’s tropical paradise hideaway in the rain forest from 1980 to 1993, when they opened it to the public as a 20-room luxury resort.
Perhaps the most valuable asset for all of these resorts is their relationships with trusted dive shops, fishing boat captains, and interpretative eco-guides who help Belize’s wonders come to life.
One of those wonders is the Great Blue Hole, the largest aquatic sinkhole in the world that spans three football fields in diameter and over 400 feet deep, located about 40 miles off the Belize coast on Lighthouse Reef. The Great Blue Hole came to modern attention when Jacques Cousteau explored it in 1971. Just this last December, Cousteau’s grandson Fabien joined with billionaire Richard Branson to fully map the hole and discover its coral fringes and ancient stalactites. Needless to say, the Great Blue Hole is on many a recreational diver’s bucket list. Search the Discovery Channel to view the December exploration.
Another wonder was stumbled upon in 1989 when the rain forest revealed to researchers the Actun Tunichil Miknal (Cave of the Stone Sepulcher or ATM), a Maya sacrificial burial site hidden nearly a mile underground and the resting place of the “crystal maiden,” a complete skeleton of a 20-year old woman that sparkles from crystal calcification. Accessing the cave requires precarious rock climbing and underwater swimming and is accordingly highly regulated. National Geographic ranks ATM at the top of its new list of “Sacred Places of a Lifetime.”
You will also want to explore the Altun Ha and Lamanai Mayan sites, visit the tidy Belize Zoo, where its lush landscaping will have you thinking you’ve stumbled into the jungle. There is also cave tubing on rushing underground rivers, plus myriad zip-lining options. Try hiking the lush jungle trails of the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, the only jaguar reserve on the planet. Or, just luxuriate in the old-world charm and secluded stretches of beach on Caye Caulker.
For more information and travel details, visit online at www.travelbelize.org.
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