Northern Belize: Solitude, Friendship, And Society
Life in Northern Belize is as diverse as its amazing landscape. Over the years, locals and expats have built their homes and lives beside secluded tropical rivers, amid noble hardwood forests, upon bucolic traditional farms, within sleepy rural villages, and along breezy Caribbean seashores. They are attracted to a simple, friendly life in a place which is refreshingly off-the-radar.
Northern Belize is a region encompassing a landmass of only about 2,500 square miles, but it stretches from the Caribbean Sea to the forests of Central America. The population of under 50,000 people means you can enjoy plenty of solitude; a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the world. It is truly where the Caribbean and Central America meet. These combined backdrops are enhanced by ancient and contemporary influences.
From the rich Maya history evident throughout the region, to the relatively recent contribution of the Mennonite community, Northern Belize has benefited from its diverse population.
The new wave of North American expats is now making this discovery. The towns of Corozal and Orange Walk provide most of the municipal services, but for First World shopping trips and experiences, Chetumal, Mexico, is right across the border.
The proximity from Corozal to Chetumal, the capital of the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico, provides an important connection to the Yucatán Peninsula. The connection is more than historic and cultural, it is also social.
As a gateway town, Corozal extends the reach of Belizean citizens, residents, and visitors to Cancún, Merida, and points beyond. In turn, it is a major port of entry and welcomes thousands of visitors to Belize every year.
Often appearing in the top ranks as one of the happiest places on earth, Belize is known for its hospitality, so new friendships are quickly and easily made. Corozal has an established expat community, but the broader Northern Belize region is drawing more attention and attracting people with various interests. So if you want to go sailing around Sarteneja, horseback riding at Chan Chich, kayaking at Orchid Bay, fishing at Bacalar Chico or bird watching at Crooked Tree Lodge, you are sure to find a friend to join you.
The diversity of activities available to you in this part of Belize is reflected also in its diverse population. You can dine seaside in Corozal with a Mestizo, drive through sugar cane fields in Orange Walk with a Creole East Indian, buy exotic hardwood furniture from a Mennonite in Shipyard, and dance at a casino in the Free Zone with expats, all in the same day.
Americans and Canadians particularly are drawn to Belize by the warm climate, the low cost of living, and the access to the Caribbean Sea. Expats gravitate to Northern Belize largely because of the convenient access to Belize City, Ambergris Caye, and Mexico. As many as 2,000 expats live in the Corozal District.
While some expats are prepared to be pioneers and carve a homestead out of the jungle or plant a farm, the majority either settle in a town like Sarteneja, Corozal, or Orange Walk. Most head to one of the expat pockets like 4 Mile Lagoon or Gringo Lane in Corozal or in one of the planned communities like Consejo Shores, Orchid Bay, or Progresso Heights.
Because property taxes are so miniscule in Belize, so too are the municipal services. Consequently, many folks opt for a community with a homeowners association where they can maintain a North American standard of living.
You’ll find expats running all manner of businesses from restaurants and bars and bed and breakfasts to construction and farming. Many expats have gratefully retired and spend their days deciding which book to read next or which restaurant to boat over to for lunch.
On the second Tuesday of each month, expats gather at the Purple Toucan in Corozal to catch up, meet new and old friends and have some good food. The Corozal District maintains a Friendship List so expats can stay in touch, announce events, and know what’s going on.
Belize’s capital city was moved in 1970.
Belmopan is Belize’s capital these days, but it used to be Belize City, the country’s largest city. The capital was moved inland from Belize City after Hurricane Hattie (the last storm of the 20th century to reach category 5 status) devastated the coastal city in 1961, destroying 40% of its buildings, barely a single one escaping some kind of damage.
In 1962, the high-ground site of Belmopan was chosen by a committee, and work was started in 1967. The first phase was completed in 1970.
The name Belmopan was coined as a mix of the names Belize and the river Mopan, the country’s longest river.
Despite the numerous expats here in Northern Belize and excluding most waterfront property, the market for real estate is still priced for the Belizean market. This is an unusual circumstance, as most of Central America and the Caribbean has adopted “gringo pricing”—a phenomena where real estate values inflate to North American levels due to the presence of expats. Except for in the most heavily touristed areas, like Ambergris Caye and Placencia, Belize real estate remains a relative bargain.
Over the last 10 years, a number of “next generation” expats have made their home here. Many of these baby boomer expats have been well-funded and have built higher quality homes. These homes are usually built by local craftsmen and make great use of the abundantly available local hardwoods with exotic names like Santa Maria, Cabbage Bark, and Bullet Tree. Mahogany is just a regular everyday hardwood here. The skill of the local Belizeans with these hardwoods, as well as in the use of concrete, is on par with most builders in North America. This has kept building prices down but increased the value of homes in the area.
Developments such as Consejo Shores, and Progresso Heights, have been in place for years and have survived the ups and downs of the real estate markets. Newer developments like Orchid Bay are continuing to raise the bar with the community amenities and services that expats are looking for, like underground electricity, reverse osmosis water, swimming pools, and restaurants. There are also new projects on the drawing board that will offer additional options for those looking for seafront, farm land, fly-in communities, and/or off-grid living.
There is no shortage of raw remote land available for the intrepid; however, for the less adventurous, it is often easier to start their offshore life in small master-planned enclaves where like-minded individuals gather. Within these developments, owners can have their independence but still find community and maintain a higher quality of life.
Solitude, friendship, and society abound in Northern Belize, and if you are looking for one or all of them, you will find them here.