Caribbean At Heart
“Geographically, Belize is in Central America,” writes Correspondent from that country Phil Hahn, “yet its strongest ties are to the English-speaking Caribbean. Similarly, it is a developing country on the path of progress, but boasts a secure foundation with a history of stability. The combination of these unique qualities creates a land of opportunity.
“And nowhere in the country is that opportunity more pronounced right now than in the district known as Cayo.
“This corner of the world avoided the over-speculation that ran rampant last decade in other real estate markets around the globe, including on Belize’s own Ambergris Caye, just offshore the mainland coast. This despite the fact that there is relatively little private land available in this part of the country. Most of the land in the Cayo in protected forest reserves, archaeological sites, and national parks. As the Cayo begins to attract attention, arable land and waterfront property are increasingly in high demand.
“Right now, though, this property market remains priced primarily for the Belizean. Yes, there are gringos here, but, for the most part, they arrived decades ago and assimilated into the local culture. They came to Belize as archaeologists, scientists, farmers, and other salt-of-the-earth types. While Cayo was still completely off the world’s radar, they settled in to enjoy lives full of Indiana Jones-type adventures.
“Now the next generation of expats is arriving in the Cayo. New developments are breaking ground, and pricing is beginning to cater to this new buyer. The effect is that property choices are expanding. Brand-new one- and two-bedroom homes are available in San Ignacio for less than US$50,000. Pre-construction luxury villas in the mountains, 3 miles from town, are on offer for US$119,000. Near the capital of Belmopan, an estate is for sale–a 3,200-square-foot main house with a 1,300-square-foot guesthouse–for US$125,000.
“One thing the Cayo doesn’t have is condos, probably due to the independent spirit of the people who tend to mirgrate here, as well as to the low cost of land. Those who settle here prefer to build on their own private pieces of land.
“Property ownership in Belize is ardently protected, and foreigners are treated the same as locals. Clear title is conveyed through a Land Certificate, and title insurance is available. In addition, all contracts are in English, and the country was founded on British Common Law tradition. For these reasons, Belize is a haven for anyone looking for straightforward undisputed land ownership.
“In fact, Belizeans are so adamant about maintaining control of their real estate that they vehemently oppose any increase in property tax. Understanding the people’s position, the Belize government continues to keep these taxes low. The highest rate of property tax is imposed on waterfront property, but it is still negligible. The assessment is based on a valuation of BZ$10,000 (US$5,000) per acre if the land is within a half-mile of the water or on an island. The property owner is then taxed 1% of that value. So an acre of waterfront property is taxed US$50 a year.
“This is a democratic nation of only 300,000 people, and the elected officials are under a microscope. There are two parties, the PUP (blue) and the UDP (red), and you will find that loyalties in Belize, like history and tradition, run deep. One marker of a great democracy is a free press, where citizens openly discuss the issues. That legacy is alive and well in Belize.
“Voter turnout is always high. When the polls open, flags fly, and every town and village throughout the country takes on a festival atmosphere. It’s wonderful to be in Belize on election days to watch the fervor of a young nation. I especially enjoy talking to those Belizeans who proudly remember Sept. 21, 1981, the day this country gained its independence, and I congratulate them for doing so well after only 28 years.
“Note, though, that Belize did not gain its independence as a result of any violence. This country has not been involved in a war since 1798, when the British, along with slaves, freedmen, and privateers, repelled the Spanish at the legendary Battle of St. George’s Caye.
“As the Open Road Travel Guide puts it, ‘Peaceful and non-meddlesome, blissfully unimportant, Belize rarely merits attention in any foreign newspaper…'”