Comfort And Convenience In Cayo?
“Belize has great resort product,” Belizean businessman Ian explained to me last night, “both budget and ultra-high-end, places that go for US$1,500 per night.
“And many of these resorts—Chaa Creek, Blancaneaux, and Ka’ana, for example—have made names for themselves. They are established destinations. People from all over the world seek them out. However, Belize’s regions and towns themselves, other than maybe Ambergris Caye, they remain unknown.
“San Ignacio, for example,” Ian continued, speaking of the place where we were sitting enjoying the early evening breeze, “this isn’t a destination. Nobody’s planning a trip to San Ignacio or anywhere else on the Belizean mainland.
“And this is a shame because some spots in this country are destination-worthy…or, well, they could be. But right now nowhere in mainland Belize supports traffic, not tourist traffic, not business traffic, and not retiree traffic. I feel a responsibility, as a Belizean businessman, to try to change that.
“So I’ve embarked on a program of local destination development, starting here in San Ignacio. The first step was this square we’re looking at right now. Do you remember,” he asked, looking at me with a big smile, “what this place used to be? This was a parking lot for old, broken-down buses.”
“Yes, I remember,” I said.
“But the government committed to an investment here,” Ian went on, “and they followed through…and today we have this little public square with trees and benches and an office for the tourist board over there.
“Now I’m trying to help with stage two of the development of San Ignacio, with an investment in local businesses and services surrounding the square, like my restaurant over there and this coffee shop here, which we opened just a few weeks ago. Others are making similar kinds of investments. See those tour companies over there?
“And there…that big building at the end of the square? Belize Bank just foreclosed on that building. They’re going to open a Belize Bank branch there. That will be a great anchor for everything we’re trying to accomplish here.
“The next big government-supported phase of development will be a river walk,” Ian continued.
“Ah, that will be nice,” I said. “Right now there’s really nowhere to come out of the river. You’re reduced to dragging yourself and your canoe up a muddy slope…”
Ian chuckled agreement.
“Development in Belize comes in spurts,” he went on. “For years and years, nothing happens…then there’s a push. That’s what is happening right now, here in Cayo…”
After our conversation with Ian, Lief and I walked next-door to his Fuego restaurant to meet friends, including Belize developer Phil Hahn, for dinner.
“There’s a buzz about Cayo now,” Phil said as he sat down at the table. “Used to be that no one outside Cayo had ever heard of this place. Now when I speak of Cayo in the States, people recognize the name…they have an idea what this part of Belize is about and are interested to learn more.
“Cayo’s time is coming,” Phil continued…
Like many things I’ve seen and heard this Belize visit, I accepted that news with ambivalence. The growth in Cayo means more jobs and a noticeably improving local quality of life. It also means that one of my favorite places in the world is more comfortable and convenient than ever.
But comfort and convenience? In Cayo? Somehow that seems to take some of the fun out of it.