Rediscovering Ambergris Caye
My first visit to Ambergris Caye, Belize, I arrived in San Pedro Town, climbed down from the little plane, collected my suitcase from the runway where it had been off-loaded for me, carried it across the dirt road to the Sunbreeze Hotel, checked in, then set out to explore.
San Pedro, I discovered, boasted three dirt roads, a handful of rustic little hotels (most without hot water), a single nightclub, a school, and a string of dive shops. This unassuming fishing village was just beginning to attract the attention of intrepid divers. They were the only ones at the time who recognized any reason compelling enough to make the trip out to these well off-the-world’s-radar white-sand shores.
That first visit, I met with a real estate agent who greeted me dressed in cut-off shorts and bare feet and who took me for a tour by boat, which, he explained, was the only way to see much of the island. Remember, three dirt roads…
That was 23 years ago. Returning to Ambergris this week, I barely recognize the place.
The Sunbreeze is still here, but it’s double the size I remember and now includes conference facilities. Today it’s one of dozens of accommodation choices on this island, including four- and five-star international-standard resorts like the Victoria House at the island’s southern end and Coco Beach up north. Some of the roads criss-crossing San Pedro (yes, there are more than three) are even paved!
There are big grocery stores, furniture shops, spas, salons, a fitness club, golf cart rental agencies, and too many real estate agencies to count. It seems the agents (at least those I’ve met with) now wear shoes. And today you can drive the island nearly end to end, as we did yesterday afternoon.
“The condo market went crazy on the island four or five years ago,” our hostess for the tour explained. “At the upper end, they were selling for $500,000, $700,000, even $1 million.
“That market has disappeared,” she continued. “In fact, the market overall dried up dramatically a couple of years ago, but it’s returning. This first quarter of 2010, we’re seeing sales again, mostly at the under $300,000 level.”
One agent I spoke with tried hard to persuade me that this market is more than returning…that it’s moving up quick. “We’re still at the early-in stage here,” he explained. “I see a tidal wave of interest building and tremendous appreciation on the horizon.”
Maybe. More likely right now is a good time to hit these white-sand beaches in search of fire-sale opportunities.