Belize is an entire country that feels like a small town. Never is this more evident than during La Ruta Maya. The scenes at end-of-day village checkpoints are like big family reunions. Campsites are pitched, Belikin beer tents are set-up, local specialties are prepared over open fires, and children run and play, in the river and on its banks. The starting point, San Ignacio, is in Belize's Cayo District, the fastest-growing region in the country. This is the country's eco-adventure hub, with all the elements of a fun and sustainable lifestyle—plenty of fertile land, fresh water, sunshine, and wildlife, all supporting a friendly community of hard-working Belizeans and expats. Cayo is also home to Carmelita Gardens, the first master-planned, off-grid, sustainable gardening community in Belize. Carmelita Gardens is located near the start of the race, so the paddlers will be fresh as they pass through the community on the morning of Friday, March 6. To mark the occasion, Carmelita Gardens is sponsoring a March Harvest Tour (March 5–7). Participants will be able to cheer on the competitors in person, while also exploring both the Cayo District and the Carmelita property. In addition, you'll have a chance to speak with expats and Carmelita owners in residence about their experiences reinventing their lives in this unique spot. The three-day tour includes airport pickup, accommodation, meals, and ground transportation. The cost is US$399 per person, US$699 for a couple. If you'd like to know more, get in touch here. Jim Hardesty
Each unit has one bedroom, one bathroom, and a kitchen. The 672-square-foot cottages and suites also include a living room and two porches. The studios, which are 336 square feet, have no living room and just one porch. Cottages are independent buildings, while the suites and studios are part of two "stately country houses," as Phil calls them.The River Club will have a restaurant, laundry, and gift shop for guests and River Club owners. Owners and guests will also have access to the other amenities in Carmelita Gardens, most notably the Belize River, which borders the property.Carmelita Gardens is a unique sustainable community. The entire project is off-grid with each house designed and built with solar electric systems, cisterns for rain catchment (common in Belize), and eco-friendly wastewater-processing systems.Just 15 minutes from Carmelita in one direction is San Ignacio (the biggest town in the Cayo and an important local meeting place) and just 15 minutes in the other direction is Spanish Lookout (the main Mennonite village in the area...the place to go for building supplies and labor). Living at Carmelita, you'll feel like you're enjoying the best of country life (as you would be) while enjoying quick, easy access to grocery stores, restaurants, bars, hardware stores, and services.Development at Carmelita Gardens is well underway. Five houses have been completed, and another five are under construction or in planning stages. The 20 River Club units will add significantly to the size of the current community while also providing a critical necessity—comfortable places for lot owners to stay while overseeing the construction of their own homes. These homebuilders are a built-in and eager rental market.An important element of the plan for Carmelita Gardens (as you might guess from the name) is its gardens. The garden and orchard areas will be communal. Residents will be able to participate as much or as little as they like planting vegetables and picking fruit. That's the lifestyle appeal of Carmelita Gardens. However, the appeal of the new River Club units is more straightforward. This phase is intended for the investor buyer looking for rental yield. I'd say, though, that the ideal investor in this River Club opportunity would also appreciate the lifestyle on offer and the community being formed at Carmelita Gardens. Property investments in another country are always best made when they're a marriage of personal and profit agendas. As a River Club owner, you could plan to use your unit as often as you'd like. As I've said, these haven't been designed for full-time living but would make for great holiday homes.Rental yield projections are hard to put together for any rental property in Cayo, especially one targeting the middle of the market as the River Club is. On one hand, as a River Club owner, you would have no competition for your unit. On the other hand, you have no occupancy track record to reference. How many travelers in this region would be happy to pay a bit more for better-than-low-end accommodation and how many would welcome a more affordable option to the pricey high-end jungle resorts? No one could say right now.However, as I've pointed out, I think that the core market for these units will be Carmelita Gardens lot owners needing places to stay while they build their houses. Thinking longer term, I think you'd also see traffic from visiting friends of owners who were clever enough not to build guest rooms on their own lots.Projecting a conservative annual occupancy guesstimate of 40% and an average nightly rental rate of US$100, you could realize a net annual yield from an investment in one of these units in the double digits. Drop either the nightly rate or the occupancy rate in half (to be ultra-conservative), and you're still looking at a solid 5% net annual yield…plus use of the place yourself a few weeks a year if you wanted.Bottom line, I see this as a great investment for anyone who has any interest in spending time in this part of the world.Four of the 20 total River Club units have been sold to Carmelita owners. Live and Invest Overseas readers are the first outsiders to be invited to participate in the opportunity.You can request more details, including floor plans, from Phil and his team here.Lief Simon
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On the other side was a cavern with ledges along both sides. Up ahead was the boy, waiting for me. A little farther inside the cave, I was able to stand up. The boy, now upright, too, led me on, from the first cavern to a second one and then a third. All along the sides were ledges littered with clay pots, most in pieces but some whole. I confirmed with Mick later that these pots were Mayan artifacts. "The country is lousy with them," he told me. "The Smithsonian and others come down and catalog as many as they can, but there are just too many. They're everywhere in the caves." In the third room, the biggest, the ceiling of the cavern reached what seemed like cathedral height. In the center of the circular area was a big, round, table-shaped rock. The boy and I stood in silence staring up and all around, then he said we should go before it got too late. I followed him back to the first cavern and then watched as he hoisted himself up and pulled himself through the small opening. If he can do it, I guess I can do it, I thought to myself and hoisted and pulled until my arms were through and then the boy helped pull through the rest of me. Back out above ground, the rain had stopped, but the hillside was wet and slippery. We slid and scrambled back down toward the boy's family's home, arriving just in time for dinner. The boy's family was seated around a homemade wooden table situated outside, alongside the door to the house. The mother was serving when we approached but stopped when she saw me. I was head to toe red mud. The lady went inside her house and returned with a small bar of soap. She handed the soap to me and pointed down the hill in the direction of the river. I walked down the hill to the river and waded in to my knees. I bent over and splashed water on my arms and legs then used the soap to scrub off the worst of it. Rinsed and a little more presentable, I returned to the family dinner table. After dinner, the boy walked me to the room next-door and said good night. I slept on the floor, on a straw mat, with the windows open to the breeze and the night sounds. I fell immediately asleep. The next morning, after breakfast, Mick's man returned to take me back to Chaa Creek. Arriving in Belize City last night for this two-week visit, Lief, Jack, and I walked out from the international airport and headed in the direction of the one-room rental car shop on the other side of the parking lot. As we approached, a friendly lady approached. "Hello, I'm Marilyn. This is my husband Eddie." I looked over to Lief for help. Had this couple been sent by local friends to greet us? Were we supposed to give them a ride somewhere? Who were Marilyn and Eddie? "Here, let me help load your bags into the back of the SUV," Eddie offered. "Then you can come inside with me to fill out the paperwork," Marilyn added. Ah, these were the rental car agents. They'd been standing in the parking lot with our rental car waiting for us to show...even though our plane had been two hours delayed. Marilyn and Eddie had walked across the parking lot to check in with TACA to confirm our arrival time...then they'd brought the car out front and hung out around it until we appeared on the scene. Welcome to Belize. "I wonder if they stand out in the parking lot waiting to greet every customer," I said to Lief later. "Maybe. Best I could tell from their website, I think their rental fleet consists of a half-dozen cars," he said. We set out from the airport along one of the country's three paved highways. When the paving ran out, we bumped and jostled over a rutted thoroughfare of exposed limestone that I think takes the prize for the worst road I've ever traveled. Turns out, our lodge wasn't at the end of that road, as Lief had thought. So we got to drive the worst road I've ever seen twice last night, 30 minutes in and then 30 minutes back out to the main highway. Going in and then coming back out, we had to cross a plank bridge. "Do you think that bridge can accommodate this vehicle?" I asked the first time we approached it. "Where's your spirit of adventure?" Lief replied. Belize is Belize. A land for the intrepid. I've got two weeks to remember what that feels like. Can't wait. Kathleen Peddicord Editor's Note: Belize is one of the top places in the world right now to retire and live the adventure of your lifetime. If you're considering this part of the world, don't miss our upcoming Live and Invest in Belize Conference. We'll be opening registration for the Live and Invest in Belize Conference in a few weeks. However, today you can get your name on the event's Hot List for special discounts and VIP perks. Do that here now.
The Cayo is Belize's most popular place for expats seeking a sustainable lifestyle. In this part of this country, you find rushing rivers, flowing waterfalls, and lush jungle landscapes. Colorful flowers and fruit-laden trees bloom year-round, and vibrant and diverse species of birds are everywhere.
In the Cayo you also find well-manicured productive Mennonite farmland. This region reminds me of the hills of Pennsylvania, where my father grew up on his family's farm. If not for the palm trees, you wouldn't know you were in Belize. The soil of this region is fertile and rich, and the Mennonite farmers who work it produce most of Belize's food supply.
The expats living in the Cayo are a diverse group, but most all of them are interested in pursuing a sustainable lifestyle and many are living off the grid. I spent 30-plus years working as an environmental engineer/manager prior to moving to Belize, so this option in the Cayo appeals to me.
The main agenda of this most recent Cayo visit was to check on progress at Carmelita, the sustainable community on the banks of the Belize River where Mike and I bought a lot about two years ago. The visionary behind this development, Phil Hahn, refers to it as "Agrarian Urbanism." For Mike and me, Carmelita represents escape. Our plan is to build a little place here where we could escape if ever we chose to long term and live off the grid. Meantime, our second home at Carmelita will be a great place to escape the next big hurricane out on Ambergris! We don't get hit often, but, living on a Caribbean island, you always know it's a possibility.
Before we discovered Carmelita, Mike and I had considered buying a piece of property in the Cayo and building on our own. We've successfully built several homes on Ambergris now and feel confident we could do it in the Cayo, too. But we've come to appreciate the benefits of living in a community of like-minded people. When we learned that Phil was designing a community that would fit our needs, it seemed a no-brainer to invest. It's easier and less costly to let the developer do the legwork.
On this return visit, we saw that Carmelita is ramping up. Three houses are currently under construction, two on the river. By year end, five homes will be under way. The designs and the quality of the workmanship are impressive, but perhaps the best part is how little capital you need to own here. The initial cost of building a sustainable property is higher than for a traditional home, but, in the Cayo, everything is relatively cheap. And, building sustainable means a reduced cost of living over time.
What does it mean to pursue a "sustainable lifestyle"? At Carmelita, it means solar energy for most power needs. Year-round, we have plenty of sunshine in Belize, and it's now possible to buy decent solar panels in this country. Most of the homes at Carmelita will have generators, but these are for back-up.
For cooking, residents at Carmelita will rely on propane. Note, though, that Belize is funding a variety of innovative bio-gas research projects. The country is determined to become energy independent.
Water isn't a problem, as there is an abundant supply. What you need is a strategy for treating the collected water. Each home at Carmelita will include a cistern to store rainwater. The rainwater then will be treated with an internal filtration system.
For wastewater treatment, residents at Carmelita have two options--a septic tank with discharge wastewater gardens or installing high-tech, low-discharge toilets.
Fresh fruit, veggies, and herbs will be grown on the property, and many fruit trees have already been planted. The community will have access to a local source of fresh chickens (and eggs) and other animals, and each owner is being encouraged to plant a garden and to co-op with his neighbors.
On this visit, we had a chance to meet with others who have also bought at Carmelita, the folks who will be our neighbors, including some who intend to live at Carmelita full-time. They, like us, are committed to reducing their environmental footprint. Some want to live off the grid for political reasons. Some are independent-minded survivalists. All this makes for interesting company.
Editor's Note: Both Ann Kuffner and Phil Hahn will join us in Belize City for our next Live and Invest in Belize Conference, scheduled for Jan. 30 – Feb. 1, 2013. More details here.Continue Reading:
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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.
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