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The Path Of Progress In San Ignacio, Belize

Breaking News From Cayo, Belize

Over the past three decades writing about Belize, I’ve often borrowed Morley Shafer’s line from the mid-80s, when he traveled to Belize City to film a segment for 60 Minutes.

“The good news from Belize,” Morley said looking up from a little wooden boat in the middle of the Belize River, “is no news from Belize.”

True then, true since, and true now, though maybe a little less so. This trip to Belize’s Cayo, I’m discovering news worth reporting.

The main town in this part of this country is San Ignacio. For the first 20 years I knew San Ignacio, it was a tiny roundabout with concrete benches, a main drag with hostels and hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and a river launch that was little more than a muddy hillside that you could slide down or drag yourself and your canoe up.

In more recent years, there have been more shops, more restaurants, more small hotels. Still, San Ignacio was San Ignacio, a middle-of-nowhere hub charming for its simple way of life but nothing worth writing home about. Now, San Ignacio is being spruced up. A town square has been created, with a park in the center surrounded by more high-caliber enterprises than I ever might have imagined for this spot, including Fuego, legitimately one of the best restaurants I’ve eaten in anywhere in the world.

Next-door is a pastry and sweets shop with a pink-and-white striped awning and a floor-to-ceiling display of oversized mason jars filled with gumballs, gummy bears, jawbreakers, and other candy you’ll recognize from bygone days.

We’ve been to Fuego twice, once for dinner and once for happy hour (for the US$2 watermelon mojitos). When we return to town next, we’ll try another of the new restaurants that friends have recommended. What a thing…to have a choice of fine-dining establishments in San Ignacio, Belize.

“How long have you been open?” I asked the manager of Fuego.

“About a year,” she replied with a big smile.

“I have to ask,” I continued, not wanting to insult but trying to understand, “are you busy? I mean, this isn’t a typical Cayo restaurant…
and you’re not charging typical Cayo prices.”

The US$2 happy-hour mojito special aside, prices at Fuego are real-world. Main courses are US$8 to US$16, which isn’t super expensive but, again, not what you might expect to pay in a restaurant in this part of the world.

“I don’t mean to imply your prices are expensive,” I added quickly, seeing the manager’s face fall in response to my question. “I want you to stay open, that’s all. I’m wondering if you’re finding steady clientele.”

“Yes, yes,” the nice young lady replied, her big smile returning. “We’re doing very well. Tourists are finding us, but the locals, too, are eating here. We’re the most popular date-night restaurant in all Cayo.”

San Ignacio also now boasts a pedestrianized thoroughfare lined with boutiques, souvenir shops, tour companies, and real estate agencies. I observe the advent of prominent town-center real estate agencies here with ambivalence. Nice, of course, for would-be buyers to have ready support. On the other hand, the arrival on the scene of foreigner-focused agents indicates the market has moved beyond the nobody’s-paying-any-attention point.

Still, prices can be absolute bargains, as little as US$1,000 per acre. Young Jackson saw a listing for 16.5 acres on the Belize River for US$22,000 that got his attention.

“Do you think Dad would lend me the money to buy that?” he asked. “That’s the kind of place I’d like to live…”

In other news from Belize, Skype is no longer outlawed. The local phone monopoly, BTL, used to interfere with Skype access. No more. Last year, the Belize government lifted all restrictions on all VOIP services, including Skype.

And Internet and cellphone access throughout the Cayo continues to improve. At the jungle resort where we’re staying, we are enjoying reliable wireless in the restaurant and bar areas (that supported video chatting with my mom on her birthday) but, alas, no access in the guest cabanas.

“We’re working on it,” the property manager told us when he checked us in.

Kathleen Peddicord

Editor’s Note: Belize is one of the top places in the world right now for an affordable retirement at the center of adventure. But, with the market moving, you need to check it out sooner rather than later.

Continue reading: Top Retirement Options In Spain And Italy

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