There is something for everyone in Belize, whether you want a rural or urban location, jungle or beach, serenity or hustle and bustle. You can island hop or live on the mainland. Despite its small size, Belize is a beautiful and diverse country. Because of its small size, you can get around fairly easily and quickly. People inland sometimes take a weekend break at the cayes or on the coast, and vice versa. Some people move to Belize, settle in one part and then move to another. Quite a few have started off in Corozal and ended up in Cayo or elsewhere. Others have spent time on the cayes and then come inland to Cayo. Which part of Belize suits you depends on your geographical predilection, how much of a social life you want, what your interests and hobbies are, and how much you rely on modern luxuries and utilities. That’s the beauty of Belize—everyone is different and most find something to their taste.
On the whole, people don’t move to Belize for the urban experience because there really isn’t one and most are looking to get away from the frantic bustle of city life, preferring a secluded spot in the jungle or by the sea. The urban centers that are in Belize aren’t like those in North America. The few that come anywhere near the description are a lot smaller and have less to offer than you would experience in a big city in Europe or North America. San Ignacio is quite busy and a few expats live there or on the outskirts. Belmopan is tiny, but will gather momentum as it grows. With the establishment of a few diplomatic missions the social life in Belmopan is picking up. Belize City is not so popular due to its reputation of bad security, but it has a bit more variety. Most expats don’t live there but do visit occasionally.
Regarding bugs and reptiles, it doesn’t matter where you live in Belize; you will encounter vast quantities of them, and they are often worse during the rainy season. They can be a mild irritation, but the variety of flora and fauna makes up for it. How active your social life is also up to you. It’s easier to wander into bars and restaurants on the cayes and in Placencia. Of course, the more involved you are within the community, the more people you will get to know. If you have children and want to place them in private schools, that will narrow your living choices down to San Pedro and the Belmopan area.
Prime Living Locations in Belize by District
Corozal is in northern Belize, close to the border of Mexico. Its proximity to Mexico is one of its attractions. Just over the border in Chetumal there is access to large shopping malls, cinemas, and good medical care. If you need to stock up on luxuries or have a taste of so-called civilization, Chetumal is a short drive or boat trip away. Most of Corozal is flat with some beautiful lagoons and well-known nature reserves, and has some ancient Maya ruins such as Cerros and Santa Rita. Its main attraction is the long coastal stretch, which dips into the crystal clear turquoise waters of the Caribbean. There are a few small beaches with firm, hard white sand, but mainly there are piers stretching out to sea. Although part of Belize District, Ambergris Caye is close by. A few people are scattered around, but on the whole people live in developments around villages like Consejo. There is a large concentration of expats and quite a few clubs and activities which contribute to a decent social life. There are also some good restaurants in Corozal. The area has the least rainfall in Belize and, allegedly, the fewest bugs!
Cayo has a combination of wild, rugged, emerald green jungles covering hills and valleys, reaching down to the Mopan and Macal Rivers. If you have a pioneering spirit, and really want to get away from it all, Cayo is a good place to be. You can buy several acres, live off the grid if you like, and build your own house. The upside to Cayo is that a social life (if you want it), one or two up-market hotels, several beautiful jungle resorts, and a few decent bars and places to eat are not far away. Belmopan is still slowly coming to life, but the twin towns of San Ignacio and Santa Elena are growing and vibrant, and are good places to get most of your shopping done and catch up with people. The Guatemalan border crossing is not far at Benque Viejo and the Guatemalan town of Melchor offers a bit more variety and markets. It’s beneficial to be so close to Belmopan for all official requirements. But the real draw is living life on the wild side, away from the hustle and bustle of towns, and in the beautiful, tranquil jungle. It feels like you’re away from everything, although your closest neighbors may be five minutes down the road. There are several ancient Mayan ruins: Caracol, Xunantunich, Cahal Pech, and El Pilar. There are some fantastic places to go riding and plenty of spots to go canoeing. Up in the Mountain Pine Ridge are there are waterfalls and caves that will take your breath away. Cayo offers an adventure-filled, outdoorsy way of life.
There are over 400 islands off the coast of Belize, some are close to the shore, others are far out towards the barrier reef. Quite a few have accommodations. Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker are the largest (but still quite small) cayes and embody the Caribbean dream lifestyle. The pace is slow and laid-back. In parts there are white sandy beaches, plenty of piers, and stunningly beautiful, crystal-clear, turquoise waters. The social scene is good, as most people live in San Pedro or the built-up area on Caye Caulker. Tourism is the mainstay economy for both islands, so there is a large variety of restaurants and bars to cover all budgets and tastes. Belize is also known for amazing diving and snorkeling, and all other water sports are on offer, including sailing and fishing. Access to and from the cayes is quite easy with regular boats and flights to and from Belize City and Chetumal.
Of all the districts, Stann Creek has something for everyone. It has a stretch of coast that is the closest in Belize to the barrier reef. It has the Sittee River area, which is known for its amazing birdlife and fishing. The river is deep enough for large boats to sail up and down, and the Caribbean is just around the bend. Not far to the west, the craggy, jungle-clad peaks of the Cockscombe Range stretch into the district, including Belize’s second highest point after Doyle’s Delight, Victoria Peak (3,675 ft). Beaches are nice in Stann Creek and all manner of water sports are available. Hopkins Village is a social spot with a few restaurants and cafés. Further south lie several high-end resorts. Traveling down the Placencia Peninsula leads to Placencia Village, a wonderful, warm place, popular with tourists. Most of the village is made up of brightly colored, wooden clapboard houses and it has a wonderful beach. To the west of the peninsula lies a lagoon. If you enjoy a social life, this is a good place to be.
If you really want to get away from everything, you can’t get more remote than Toledo in southern Belize. It has the only true rainforest in Belize, which offers marvelous opportunities to trek and explore caves and rivers. There are several Maya villages where you can stay and get a genuine cultural experience. Toledo has a long coastline stretching to the border with Guatemala and beautiful cayes, which are less visited by tourists and allow you to explore and enjoy the marine life in peace. It receives the highest level of rainfall in Belize and has rich and varied plants and wildlife. Traditionally Toledo has been the least developed part of Belize and few people have bothered to make the trip down south—their loss! Since the Southern Highway was paved, people are becoming more interested in Toledo and visitor numbers are increasing. There is a sizeable expat community living here who wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else. Although it is similar to Cayo, there are Cayo residents who go down to Toledo for a break.
Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Living Abroad in Belize.