The Great Belize Debate…Island or Mainland?
Today’s blog is a guest post by Lessons in Belize blog by Pepper Carpenter. She is documenting her journey from her home in Placencia Belize and sharing the valuable lessons as she travels to and lives in different districts of Belize.
After visiting the island of Ambergris Caye in 2013, Pepper was hooked! Returning several times to explore the many diverse areas of this beautiful country, from Corozal on the northern border, San Ignacio in the Cayo district to Placencia in the south and the beautiful islands of Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, it came down to two choices.
Ambergris Caye or Placencia Belize?
Traveling to Belize on vacation four years ago, I had no idea how this quaint little country would change the course of my life. After my vacation, and looking at upcoming retirement, Belize quickly became a viable option.
My research reinforced the fact that you must visit the different regions to get the “real feel” of Belize. On my first visit, I booked three days in Caye Caulker, three on Ambergris Caye and one in Corozal. I was skeptical of what this trip would entail, having experienced the “tourism photos” luring you to the perfect vacation location, only to find reality was quite different.
Yes, Belize does look like this! Arriving first in Caye Caulker, I was pleasantly surprised. I loved the quiet, peaceful ambiance. I loved the beach bars, quaint little hotels, the friendly people and the beautiful crystal blue water. Many people say this is a reflection of how San Pedro was 20 years ago, before the influx of tourism. As I left Caye Caulker, heading to San Pedro on the water taxi, one local laughed and said, “ah….you’ll take the slow boat to San Pedro and the fast boat back, San Pedro is full of golf carts, busy streets and lots of people.”
That was exactly what I found when we arrived in San Pedro. Golf carts buzzing by, busy streets and tons of tourists. But who said that’s bad? We loved San Pedro too, just for different reasons. More people means more options for stores, more restaurant choices and probably a more secure investment. On my initial visit I was intrigued with the island and the people. There is always something fun to do, lots of light heartened tourist enjoying a few days on the island, or retired expats loving their well deserved retirement days.
After a few days in San Pedro, I flew on Tropic Air to Corozal, on the northern border. Having heard this area was great for retiring expats, with the major advantage being the proximity to Mexico. I landed at the airport, hired a taxi to look around for a few hours and soon realized it would not be a long term option. Corozal is attracting many retirees for the location and quiet, peaceful community, but it seemed a little too remote for what I wanted. With it being more so on the bay, it is hard to compete with the crystal blue waters of Ambergris. Prices and general cost of living are more reasonable being on the mainland and property seems cheaper, but for me….San Pedro was a better fit. Although it was definitely a tourist area, it still seemed to check many of the boxes in my search requirements. Back to San Pedro!
Now fast forward four years. Owning in San Pedro has provided a great experience and wonderful options. But now at retirement age, I had to ask myself; do I stay on the island or is it getting too busy? There is a difference between “vacationing for a few weeks”, staying as “snowbirds” for a few months and “living full time”. You question yourself about living permanently in a “vacation spot”….are there too many tourist….too many golf carts? Many friends in San Pedro said, “oh, don’t move to Placencia, they roll the streets up at 8 pm…. it’s too slow down there.” Well, that doesn’t sound too bad; a quiet, peaceful fishing village on the coast, nice restaurants, accessible shopping and markets. Just another testament that people choose different locations for different reasons and what best fits your needs at specific periods of your life.
I spent months looking at options in Belize. Placencia continued coming up in articles, real estate listings and travel blogs as a peaceful, quaint village on the mainland coast. I had not ventured to this southernmost region of the country, but felt it was worth a short trip after reading about the beauty of the beaches and uniqueness of this small fishing village. After the first visit, I have to say, I loved it! Yes, I loved Caye Caulker….but a little too slow. Yes, I loved San Pedro….but a little too crowded and fast. For me, I’ve found Placencia to be “just right”. It’s apparent the core values and kindness of the Belizean people are what makes this little country so appealing, regardless of which region you choose.
Having been here a few months now, I’m learning my way around. Granted living in the village, there is only one street that dead ends on the Placencia Pier, so exploring is easy. A great life long resident I met on the pier shortly after arriving is the epitome of the kindness of the Belizean people. He graciously shared his stories of how the village has progressed over the years and his outlook on things to come. It was like sitting on the porch with your grandpa when you were a kid. Priceless memories! His family owned restaurant and fishing tours are a favorite in the community; Omar’s.
As you venture from the pier you’re on the infamous Placencia Sidewalk. It winds through the village, passing shops, restaurants and beach bars. Local fishing guides can be found near the pier for easy access to daily fishing trips or snorkeling at some of the local cayes. Taking your time to visit the shops, chat with the vendors and have lunch at the numerous restaurants that line the sidewalk is a day well spent.
I’m amazed at the number of restaurants in this small village. I am trying hard to visit them all and I have to say, I have not been disappointed! I’m learning the best spots for a great happy hour with awesome service, drinks and appetizers:
Mojos lounge and restaurant on main street, near the pier, has quickly become a favorite. Half-price drinks and appetizers make this a favorite spot in late afternoons!
The Pickled Parrot just off the sidewalk is a favorite of expats and tourists alike. Providing an atmosphere of beach bar and local hangout, their lunch specials are a draw to this great little hangout in Placencia.
Ricks Cafe is a great restaurant located on the Peninsula sidewalk. Whether it’s pizza, ceviche’ or some awesome fresh sushi….this place is a must while visiting Placencia.
Fusion is a unique beach bar/restaurant that is becoming a Placencia favorite. Hang out for lunch and drinks at the pool and beach, or come in the evening for a five-course romantic dinner.
For retirees who spend extended periods of time here, it seems to be working well. I live in the village, so there is no need for a car, or golf cart. There are several fruit and vegetable markets throughout town, a few larger grocery stores, as well as a few small grocery stores. If I decide to take a weekend trip inland, I rent a car for a few days. Getting around the village with my bike is perfect, it gets me wherever I may need to go and helps to stay healthy in the process.
I’m finding another great advantage of living on the mainland is the accessibility to other areas of the country. A recent trip inland to San Ignacio was a short three hour drive. finding a great Jungle Lodge, Maya Mountain Lodge & Wellness Center for a reasonably affordable trip to the ruins, waterfalls and infamous San Ignacio Saturday Market! Having the airport just of the edge of town makes it easy to fly in from Belize City International or Municipal airports, about a 25 minute flight. Both local airlines, Tropic Air and Maya make several flights per day.
An issue of conversation is the upcoming docking of Norwegian Cruise Lines on their private island of Harvest Caye. The island is located just off the coast of the Placencia Peninsula and from the reports and photos, it is going to be huge. From my condo, I can watch daily as the boats go back and forth to the island, many transporting heavy equipment. A village resident who said there are around 300 locals working on the island to meet the November deadline. Reading the cruise line reports, the first ship will dock mid November, with several ships per week to follow. Although they will tender guests into the designated areas in nearby Independence/Mango Creek area. The question is whether these tours and cruise customers will venture into the Placencia Village. People are watching closely as to how this will affect the area.
I seem to have a better fit in Placencia Belize. I love the small town feel, people greeting you good morning, kids walking to school, and riding their bikes in the afternoons. Small, simple pleasures that we took for granted as kids, and wish our grand kids could enjoy back home.
Here’s how you spend the afternoons in San Pedro, on Ambergris Caye:
Here’s how you spend the afternoons in Placencia:
It’s really difficult to compare Placencia and San Pedro, as it’s similar to asking a parent which child is your favorite If you’re a parent, you know what I’m talking about. You love them both, don’t want to say anything negative about either one, as they each have such great qualities.
Placencia would be the “mild mannered middle child” that was so easy to raise, made good grades, a little quiet and calm , peaceful loner, never caused a problem and came home on time. San Pedro would be the “wild child teenager” who never had a dull moment, had some crazy wild ass friends, maybe bailed out of jail once or twice, stayed out too late and caused you to worry and age increasingly fast. You still love them all!
However, as we age, there comes a time when we must answer the critical question;,” Which of these children do you want to live with when you are old?” For me, I love my “wild child” characteristics of San Pedro. The hustle and bustle of golf carts. There is always a beach BBQ, a Sunday Funday, Poker Run, party catamaran or happy hour at your disposal.
Stores are easily accessible and restaurants are on every corner, but for me, I need the calm, peaceful slow nature of the “mild mannered middle child”and that is Placencia!
There are enough stores, but not too many, great restaurants everywhere, several beach bars, and a few expat hangouts.
So coming to Belize was to seek a slower pace of life, lead a healthy lifestyle and to enjoy the intense beauty of this small quaint country. I have found that here in Placencia! I’m loving my lessons in Belize!
(However, I reserve the right to return to visit my “wild child San Pedro” when I get bored)!!!