Thanks to my brother Rob, Randall McKeown reached out to me regarding his podcast Passports and Postcards. He wanted to know if I might be interested in talking about Belize travel and what it is like for an expat in Belize. Unlike my brother, I am not a top toastmaster, however, I stepped outside my comfort zone and said yes. I was grateful I had a few cheerleaders who might have reached out and clobbered me had I not taken my first travel podcast opportunity.
- Passports and Postcards – Feel the Breeze in Belize Podcast on Spotify.
- Passports and Postcards – Feel the Breeze in Belize Podcast on Google.
- Passports and Postcards – Feel the Breeze in Belize Podcast on Apple.
As mentioned above, my toastmaster skills are questionable, which means my notes are usually a bit more polished than my talk. So I will leave you with my text answers to Russell’s questions, that I was given in advance.
- Laurie, you are the one behind the website tacogirl.com, can you tell us a little bit about you, and why the name “tacogirl”? It is a wonderful website full of so much Belize information. So tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
Thanks for the compliment on my website Randall and thanks for wanting to keep the dream of travel alive.
A bit of backstory.
Prompted by friends who had made their move from Cancun, Mexico to the island of Ambergris Caye, I decided to take a trip. By the end of my three-week January 2004 vacation, I was planning my move. I took the plunge in 2006 moving to San Pedro Town on Ambergris Caye, off the coast of Belize, Central America.
I did not know what the universe had in store for me, as it turns out, it had a good sense of humor and made this dyslexic and dysgraphic girl into a blog writer.
As for my blog, tacogirl.com, my name came before the website. I became tacogirl by joining Ambergris Caye.com message board to meet people both local and those from abroad with Belize in common. One day it hit me to start a blog for my friends and family and I decided to use the tacogirl name and thanks to the ‘Belize hungry’ message boarders, it took off fast. Of course, I have definitely eaten more than my fair share of tacos since I made my move to Belize. I also became a dual Canadian – Belizean citizen in Sept 2000.
- Can you give our listeners a feel for what life is like in Belize, pre pandemic…what are some of your favourite places.
Life in Belize pre-pandemic was pretty laid back and low-key. As far as the county goes, it’s an incredible place with amazing people, rich culture, and delicious foods.
Geographically, Belize is bordered to the north by Mexico, on the east by the Caribbean Sea, and south & west by Guatemala. It is one of the smaller countries globally at roughly 174 miles long by 68 miles wide with the entire country being only 8,867 square miles. It is a perfect destination for easy, fun adventures, and relaxation. Being less than a 3h flight from Houston or Miami and with Cancun to Belize option for Europeans makes for a convenient vacation.
As for different areas of Belize, one of the spots I really love, even though I already live on an island, is our sister island Caye Caulker. Many people say that the island is what Ambergris Caye used to be like before it got further developed – for me i’s always a dreamy, magical place. Nothing says funtastic tropical holiday like sandy streets and a charming colorful atmosphere.
In comparison, the mainland is also great to travel to as well, with Mayan Ruins and rainforests.
One of the spots I really like over there is San Ignacio. The draw about that area for me is it’s so hilly, it reminds me of being on the streets of San Francisco, which I absolutely loved. It’s a nice treat coming from living on a flat island for so long (since Jan 2006). Another thing I really enjoyed on one of my trips was my friend and I were able to walk to Cahal Pech Maya Ruins from San Ignacio Resort Hotel. So that’s a unique feature as far as a country destination, being able to walk to a large ruin from your hotel depending on where you opt to stay. That was a really big draw.
A third place I like, which a lot of people travel to, is Placencia. The peninsula offers a longer, wider stretch of beach and the barrier reef is further away, up to 1/2 h by boat versus 10 minutes off the coast of one of the two main Cayes. The other thing about Placencia, it’s well known with the claim to fame by being in the Guinness Book of World Records. It was recognized that the “Placencia Sidewalk” is the smallest main street in the world. So that’s pretty cool and a very pleasurable walking option. Placencia is a charming place, you really do feel like you are back in time a little bit and the world stops.
Aside from being a unique travel destination, another important reason I would urge you to add Belize to your travel list is post-Covid we need your help. According to the Statistical Institute of Belize, 39,000 people lost income in March 2020. It was a bitter pill to swallow when our tourism industry ground to a halt.
Thankfully now though, the Belize Tourism Board and the Government of Belize are trying to make it easier for travelers to come. With proof of a vaccine, you are able to enter without needing a Covid test. It makes it easy to pass through the Airport process. Overall, even if you need to get a Covid test to come, I have been getting reports that travel is fairly easy and they are keeping the process smooth. Current curfew hours are, Sunday to Wed from 10:00 pm – 4:00 am and Thurs to Sat from 11:00 pm – 4:00 am. For our current statutory instrument (#74 of 2021), check the Goverment of Belize Press Office Facebook page, it is usually pinned to the top with a clickable link in the message. Minors are 6:00 pm to 5:00 am, unless acompanied by an adult – read that part carefully if it applies to you.
Below is a Belize City aerial of the famed swing bridge and water taxi area. It connects the north and south sides of the city crossing Haulover creek which flows into the Belize River. I prefer to fly from the International airport, especially if I am lucky enough to be on a ‘milk run’. However, if you are budgeting you could consider taking the water taxi one way and flying the other, then you’ll see more of the country.
Relocating to Belize
- I understand that Belize has a large expat community. Can you tell me about it and what draws people from all over the world to move to Belize?
We do have a large expat community here and like myself, many people instantly fall in love and the wheels start turning. How can I do this?
Being that Belize is English speaking and tropical makes it appealing to expatriates. I also had Mexico on my list but without speaking Spanish, that got crossed off pretty easily. Same for any local closer to home tropical spot that would have been in America. No one was knocking on my door with a green card or some sort of job offer, which made it a challenging thing.
So personally, being Canadian and commonwealth, Belize was much easier for me to make my transition to. Instantly when I came on vacation, I knew I was going to make the jump and this was the place I was going to become an expat.
On our island Ambergris Caye, we do have a large-sized expat community – Americans, Canadians, and Europeans which represent a big share of the expat community. Middle Eastern and Asian populations are also predominant.
They are easy to connect with at local beach bars and through community-led organizations. A lot of people do tend to volunteer and also our fundraisers happen at bars because that’s the main island activity. The musicians and DJs are in support as well and everyone joins hands to help the organization. San Pedro bars also do lots of fun-themed nights weekly. So that’s an easy way to meet expats.
As far as other areas in Belize, places with larger expat communities are: Caye Caulker, Corozal, Placencia, and Cayo – all are popular expat destinations.
- Your love of travel started at a young age, can you tell us about one of your first travels and why it was memorable.
When I was younger our family went on ski or tropical vacations. It was clear I favored the beach over the ski hills. One of my most memorable trips was sailing in the British Virgin Islands during the Canadian winter. I can still remember how blissful I felt with my first taste of that underwater brilliance while snorkeling. Also endlessly enjoying ice cream and hot sunshine in December. It really struck home that this was a lifestyle I wanted more of one day.
- Why move to Belize from Canada? Now that you have been here for many years, can you tell our listeners on what to expect if they decided to make that permanent move.
The following quote sums up the feeling behind, taking the plunge to move abroad: Anais Nin — ‘And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.’
I knew long before the destination became clear, that I would relocate, and that my soul needed to live in the kind of tropical destination where I would holiday.
As far as what to expect it’s important to remember that this country is still young. So while things are modern in a certain respect, there are still some little differences. For example, the other day walking down the street, I stopped to pick up a treasure I found, it happened to be a marble. Every time I see one I stop and pick it up. It’s a reminder to me that kids here are still playing with marbles versus most of the world where that is a long-forgotten toy. That’s just something special for me.
Things move at a much slower pace. People need to remember it’s always good to carry a pocket full of patience and a good sense of humor. It’s also helpful to draw on the experience of others before you, especially if you are planning on making your expat journey. It can be challenging and you never know what mood the immigration office might be in when you arrive. Overall I can’t complain. I might have experienced minor discord but honestly, I have just felt blessed and happy to be here.
As far as making a permanent move goes, for most people, I would recommend testing the waters first with an extended stay. This would give you a better idea of what you personally need for the cost of living and what your habits are like. For example, some people who have a bigger budget will dine out more often. Other people with a set pension or budget will save dining out for special occasions and tend to cook at home. Others move here and work which puts them in a whole different category as well. So it all depends on how you plan to make your move in regards to what you will need to do budget and paperwork-wise.
Just being well thought out and doing your due diligence is important. Don’t expect that because you come from a certain country and things worked a certain way, that it’s going to be the same here. Be respectful of the local customs and observant of where you are. And if you hit a rough patch at immigration one day, you can always head over to Estel’s for breakfast afterward and remind yourself why you are here.
- Laurie can you tell our listeners what you are working on or what future plans you have.
As for future plans, due to the Covid shake-up, I have been working on a new blog direction called “Hand Up.” There is an old Kriol saying in Belize “Han wash han.” Translation – sometimes we need other people to help fulfill our purpose, and cooperation benefits everyone.
I decided to form Hand Up as an initiative to help Belize’s many worthy non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) by giving them a specialized hand to help them on their missions, be it environmental, human, or animal.
So far, two of the current 8 NGOs in my program have been sponsored.
Saga Humane Society was sponsored for 6 months by a small global group including local Islanders – Judy Hargrove Allen, Joy Quyle, The Baker, Jana and Matt Hill, and international blog readers, Dalke Design Group from Tempe Arizona, and Maureen Schulz-Sowder from Colorado who also made a $100 USD donation.
As a result of sponsorship, $1350 BZD and numerous supplies were fundraised in advance from local individuals and businesses. This was done in conjunction with SAGA Humane Society 80’s themed fundraiser at Iguana Juan’s Restaurant – where due to Covid rules, only a limited number could attend. Click through if you want to see what hot 80’s fashions hit San Pedro.
Thanks to Victoria House Resort for their one-year sponsorship of RRR Response in the Hand Up Program. RRR and I are working together and in the process of identifying and documenting areas of vulnerability on the island that need to be addressed. Our first focus has been on speed bumps, ropes, and road dips – all of which are currently hazards. We have been teaming up with our San Pedro Town Council Mayor, Wally Nunez, regarding the increased road safety of Ambergris Caye. He liked our proposal and we are forming a plan. I also got a first aid kit donation from vacationer Nicole Newman, and found a great volunteer, Bill Carole, who happens to have speed bump experience. How wonderful is that?
Feel free to reach out by email if you want to help support a worthy organization, or if you have experience in helping NGOs and are willing to brainstorm. Click through to learn more about Hand Up and the other organizations waiting for sponsorship. You can also help tacogirl blog Covid bounceback efforts with a donation via PayPal.
Don’t forget to schedule some animal time on your vacation, join the Saga volunteer dog walkers or go play with the kittens, you will be glad you did and the animals love the attention.
About Passports and Postcards
The podcast is almost a year old and over 41 episodes have been recorded. Passports and Postcards is heard on every continent, in over 70 countries, and over 500 unique cities. Randall Mckeown started with a dual focus to keep the dream of travel alive and to talk about how the hospitality and tourism industry is working to build back traveler confidence. Russell used to be a travel advisor for 7.5 years until COVID shut down his travel business.
He is also an author and has three books written, with the fourth one about halfway done. Two of the four books are travel-related with the last one he is currently writing is called “Drinking Dingle Dry”. All about visiting Ireland and seeing some of the not so highlighted attractions.