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 that 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’s 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, Mérida, 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.
A common thread that I’ve seen among these people, both expat and Belizean, is the combination of kindness and spirited independence. It is, at first, disarming but soon becomes their most endearing quality. If you want to go sailing around Sarteneja, horseback riding at Chan Chich, fishing at Bacalar Chico, or bird-watching at Crooked Tree Lodge, you’re 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 sugarcane fields in Orange Walk with a Kriol 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 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 homeowner’s 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 weekends, expats gather in Corozal at Jam Rock or at Jah Mundo to socialize, play darts or a hand of cards, and have some good food. If you’re near the Cerros Peninsula, Cerros Sands has a great restaurant where a group of expats play darts on Saturdays. There are a few Facebook pages dedicated to life in Northern Belize such as Corozal Living, Expats in Belize, and Belize Expats, so expats can stay in touch, announce events, and know what’s going on.
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.
Developments that have been in place for years have survived the ups and downs of the real estate markets. Newer ones 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 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.