Just over two hours south of the U.S. and virtually untouched,
pristine Belize is paradise, concentrated
by Skip Knowles
The fellow in the plane seat next to mine had the look of a successful middle-aged broker, and smiled self-consciously as he told how he’d come to acquire a 100-acre fruit farm and a house in Belize.
On his first visit, he was sucked in by the Caribbean culture of the British protectorate.
“The people are extremely friendly,” he said. “They are not like everywhere else, where people just look at Americans as money.”
Then, while exploring, he found a patch of tepid jungle for sale far inland near the Guatemalan border for a steal. Not exactly coastal paradise, but an adventure-venture. Thrilled, he made the down payment using traveler’s checks, wiring the rest later.
He started planting fruit trees, and bought a house in the city, too, all for a fraction of stateside values. So my next question – whether he thought Belize is more like Costa Rica now or Costa Rica past – was fairly foregone.
“Much more like Costa 20 years ago,” he said.
Like everyone else, I came to Placencia, Belize for the water, fly rod in hand, but would soon fantasize about buying my own escape hatch to paradise.
If you fly fish, you have to go to Belize, the way surfers must see Pipeline and golfers must play Pebble. And yes, I’d leave with memories of shallow flats more alive with fish than I’d ever seen. But what makes you want to stay are mental snapshots of friendly smiles and a place unspoiled. Of rainforest hikes, beachside hammocks, island-hopping to tranquil bars, ice-cold cocktails under palm trees, pastel-painted boats waving as you pass. Hiking Mayan ruins and secluded waterfalls, jaguar preserves and unnamed caves. Empty beaches surrounding lagoons full of water clear as glass, thriving with sea turtles and manatees, animals endangered nearly everywhere else on the planet. Lagoons that open up to the second largest coral reef on earth.
Belize is a step back in time to the pristine. Like Costa Rica, only with a population of 274,000, not four million.
Not that the fishing was off. It almost never is. In fact, catching your first of the three prized flats species (tarpon, bonefish and permit) in Belize is practically considered cheating by some fly-fishers.
I wanted a permit, the huge, blunt-faced phantom fish of the flats, a powerhouse creature as unstoppable when hooked as they are difficult to stalk. I’d fished for years in the Florida Keys, where hunting for the spooky permit is akin to searching for unicorns, and seen only one.
Ah, Belize. Twenty minutes after we’d left Placencia and just five minutes after we stopped the boat on day one, our guide, Lloyd, was pointing to silvery permit fins flashing in the sun as they fed in two feet of water. I could not believe my eyes. We had shots at four permit schools in half an hour, before switching to bonefish.
Ten minutes into his bone fishing career, my partner nailed a nice three-pounder on the fly. That was just a teaser. The next morning, miles offshore, in just 12 inches of water, the first permit I cast to chased my crab-fly nearly to my rod tip. We saw 70-plus total (enough to cause full apoplexy), while turtles, spotted eagle rays, boxfish, huge schools of jacks and stingrays cruised past.
We caught too many fish to remember them all. Lloyd, a local legend, is always booked, most likely because of his deep passion as much as fish-finding skills. Most guides instruct your casting in a mellow soft voice, like they’re talking to pre-schoolers. But Lloyd is still freaked out about catching fish, and his voice gets higher and faster the closer you are to the target: “Right there. No! Right there! No-no! YES! RIGHT THERE!”
Life affords few second chances, but this amazing, tiny, English-speaking country, with a Caribbean soul and a lovely Spanish accent, seems to be one of them. Venture to the best parts of the gorgeous Caribbean with an eye toward real estate and it’s possible to feel like maybe you’re a little late. In Belize, you soon feel you’ve been granted another chance.
And not just for land. There is luxury to be found. Purple flowers lined the walkway to my luxury villas at Chabil Mar, an intimate-sized upscale vacation lifestyle development widely regarded as the most luxurious in the small fishing village of Placencia. The gleaming rich indigenous-wood floors, doors and furniture give the spacious rooms the feeling of being in a giant yacht cabin.
New villas sold out quickly, and can now be reserved as vacation rentals. Dianne Bulman who built and developed Chabil Mar calls Belize the “land of opportunity, where anything is possible,” and it is hard not to agree. Each night, I threw open the French doors and let the ocean breeze and sounds of the waves fill the high ceiling of the room, walking out on the balcony at dawn to see the sun climb out of the ocean a hundred feet away. Doves cooed by the infinity-edge pool, which appeared to spill over into white coral-sand beach considered the prettiest beach on mainland Belize.
“Placencia is the hottest real estate market on the mainland,” says Bill Shea, with Three Palms/Coldwell Banker in Placencia. “Although the market here cooled along with everything else in the Caribbean, in the past three months we are getting traction again. The new airport coming in is one key, the charm and the best beach in Belize doesn’t hurt either.” Click to View Related Video
Now Bulman is taking her vision across the street to her new project “The Peninsula Club,” a 60-acre marina development surrounding an new 88-slip inland marina across the street from Chabil Mar and a hundred yards from the world famous Turtle Inn, Frances Ford Coppola’s Bali-inspired resort. With only 50 marina homesites (four sold in three months) and a marina-side 16 unit villa project appropriately called The Riviera, this development has a nice mix of residential options for a vacation or retirement home. And the fishing just off the beach from Peninsula Club is considered some of the best in the world for bonefish and permit. This ambitious vision has been a dream of Dianne’s since she came to Belize for the first time in 2003 from her native British Columbia. “I love the Belize people and the laid back lifestyle it offers but the services side of vacationing or living here was behind most of the Caribbean,” she said. So in this tiny piece of peninsula paradise (now the Peninsula Club), the masterplan offers a full-service marina, marina village with boutique retail shops, restaurants, bank, dive shop and a medical clinic with helipad.
Just north of the Placencia Airport are other ambitious developments on this tiny strip of land between the Caribbean Sea and the Mayan Mountains. At Coco Plum, developer Stewart Krohn has designed a master-planned development that features both beautiful beachfront lots and lots on the lagoon side of the Peninsula where Stewart has carved out sites surrounded by naturally inspired channels of water. A separate project under the same name at the south end of Coco Plum is the Villas at Coco Plum. These luxury resort style villas are situated on a beautiful beach complete with a small pier perfect for relaxing with a chilled Belikin, Belize’s official beer. Click to View Related Video
Probably the most aggressive and progressive development on the mainland just up the peninsula from town is the Placencia Hotel and the new project Copal Resort. This luxury resort-style development offers villas and penthouses in a beachfront setting complete with a casino. With full resort amenities this is probably the most modern luxury development in the country.
How did it all hide away this long? Belize is less than two-and-a-half hours by air from Houston or Miami to its 200 miles of coral wonderland. Time it right and you can dive with whale sharks, the largest fish on earth. I settled for snorkeling amid waving purple sea fans and blue-green parrot fish, which nibbled at the coral with a loud chunk-chunk-chunk. Jumping in the water is obligatory after a morning of hunting bonefish around Ragged, Douglas and Saltwater Keys, in the Water Key Range.
So is reconsidering your departure. The service was superb at Chabil Mar, where the concierge bumped back my small plane charter to allow another day of adventuring amid hundreds of palm-covered islands.
Back on the plane home, the soon-to-be ex-pat broker told me Belize is still a secret, unknown. In fact, the whole country was outraged, he said, when sportscaster Bob Costas, in an Olympic broadcast, introduced athletes from “the island nation of Belize.” Oh, well, might as well be an island nation.
It’s not an isle, of course, except in the unknown, escapist sense. But it won’t be so for long.
“Roads are coming, prices are going up,” Wright said. “But it’s still off the radar of most Americans. You ask and they don’t where it is.”
Source: Luxury Living International