The little English-speaking country of Belize has long been known for its handful of Caribbean islands lying just offshore the mainland, especially Ambergris Caye of Survivor fame. However, another face of Belize is also beginning to attract attention.
This country’s lush, mountainous interior, known as the Cayo District, is drawing the notice of retirees interested in a lifestyle that values self-sufficiency and independence more than Caribbean sand and seashores.
Many people, reaching this stage of life, are reminded of what’s really important. This realization is spurring a new generation of folks looking for opportunities around the globe to embrace a self-sufficient, resilient lifestyle. In this context, Belize stands out.
As recently as a few years ago, the numbers of foreign retirees living in Belize’s Cayo District numbered only a few dozen. Today, small but ever-expanding communities of expats and retirees seeking a back to basics lifestyle have established themselves in this pristine land of rivers, waterfalls, and rain forest.
Here in the Cayo, colorful flowers and fruit-laden trees bloom year-round, and diverse species of birds are everywhere. In the Cayo you also find well-manicured productive Mennonite farmland. The region is reminiscent of the hills of Pennsylvania. If not for the palm trees, you might not know you were in Belize. The soil in the Cayo is fertile and rich, and the Mennonite farmers who work it produce most of Belize's food supply.
Important to a sustainable lifestyle is solar energy, and Belize’s Cayo District enjoys plenty of sunshine year-round. Water, too, is in abundant supply, meaning it’s easy to grow fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs. In the self-sufficient communities forming in this region, gardens and orchards are interwoven among the housing lots so that owners can grow their own food. You can participate directly by planting and harvesting or you can simply take advantage of the fruits and vegetables grown onsite and made available for residents.
Self-sufficient living comes with lots of advantages. One is that "self-sufficient" infrastructure is relatively low-cost. As a result, it’s possible to buy a serviced lot in a self-sufficient community in the Cayo for as little as $25,000.
"As soon as we got off the plane in Belize for the first time, we immediately felt comfortable. It felt like coming home, even though we'd never been here before." That’s how expat-retiree Kathy Suits describes her experience of discovering Belize. She and her husband Jim knew from the start that Belize was the place for them. During their first visit to the country, when they heard of a particular self-sufficient development community in the Cayo, they recognized, again, that it was what they were looking for.
“We drove out with the developer to see the property,” Kathy says. “It was everything we had expected and more—a green and verdant part of this country where people embrace a sweet and simple lifestyle. We were hooked immediately and bought a lot on the river.”
When they discovered Belize, Kathy and Jim were both already retired from the U.S. Air Force and looking for where to go and what to do next. It took them only six months from their first visit to the country to engineer their relocation from Washington state to San Ignacio, the main town in Belize’s Cayo District. “We just knew it was the right choice for us,” Kathy says. "We feel like we've retired to Mayberry.”
Kathy and Jim are now renting a house in San Ignacio until their custom home in the self-sufficient community where they’ve invested is complete, later this year. They visit the site several times a week, checking on construction progress. Their new home, when it's finished, will look out over the Belize River and feature a large kitchen and living area with adjoining bar. "We've designed the place for lots of company," Kathy says. "I love to cook, and Jim is perfecting his bar-tending skills.” This living space will open onto their pool and deck, facing the river below.
“We wanted a self-sufficient lifestyle, but we also wanted community,” Kathy says. “We’ve found the place where we can have both those things, where we and our neighbors can be self-sufficient together.”
Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter. Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.