Palencia, Belize: Tiny Beach Town Grows Up

Palencia, Belize, used to be a day’s drive from Belize City on a long, rutted road that few dared to travel, and a plane ride ended in a …

Palencia, Belize, used to be a day’s drive from Belize City on a long, rutted road that few dared to travel, and a plane ride ended in a cloud of dust on a dirt strip. Now, the outpost for the world’s second-largest barrier boasts both a paved road and airstrip along with many more luxury amenities that are attracting travelers looking for a slice of Caribbean paradise. Boutique hotels and shops now line the streets, and visitors can find most anything they want in terms of accommodation and cuisine. Even so, Palencia remains an isolated oasis and a beautiful place to live thanks to a cost of living that hasn’t risen with the accessibility. For more on this continue reading the following article from International Living.

The tiny plane rocked on the wind currents as it approached the landing strip…just a rutted dirt lane that stretched like a ribbon through a cleared spot in the jungle.

As we circled just offshore and narrowed in on this target, all we could see behind us was the neon-blue waters of the Caribbean. Breathtaking.

Finally, with wheels safely on the ground we pummeled forward in a cloud of dust to the terminal…a wooden lean-to with a crooked radio antenna perched precariously on top.

On this, my second trip to Belize, in 1980, I’d come to dive the world’s second largest barrier reef, just offshore the small towns of Seine Bight and Placencia in southern Belize. Flying by tiny sea plane was the easiest and fastest way to get here…as the dirt road from Belize City was perilously rutted and would take an entire day (if you were lucky and popped only one tire).

In 1980, there were but a sprinkling of hotels to choose from, and only a few small restaurants serving local specialties like stewed fish or chicken, and of course, Belize’s famous beans and rice, made with a healthy dose of coconut milk.

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Bicycles were the preferred mode of transportation up and down the one dusty road that paralleled the water. You could get a Belikin beer at a shack along the road…sometimes cold, if the iceman had cometh earlier that day. If not, opt for a rum punch, made with fresh fruit juice. Reggae played and hips swayed until a couple of hours after dark when everyone retired to sleep with windows open in hopes of catching a bit of that luxurious sea breeze.

Placencia, Belize: A Lot Has Changed Since the 80s

Today…for better or for worse…little Placencia has changed. The airstrip is paved and the terminal buildings boast air conditioning and modern communication equipment. It’s safer and easier than ever to get here…including by road. The highway is paved all the way from Belize City and along the peninsula itself.

There are a string of small boutique hotels along the shoreline (including one owned by filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola) and they serve gourmet meals (Thai, Chinese, sushi…) and cocktail confections of all kinds. Want a bottle of Dom Perignon? You can get it now in Placencia. And if you prefer to rent a home or condo and cook your own meals, you can do that, too. There are a couple of modern grocery stores where you can buy all the supplies you’ll need.

In fact, if you’d like to buy a home or apartment and stay here forever, chances are good that you’ll find the perfect place…and at the perfect price point for you. (If you long for a Caribbean lifestyle, Belize lives up to its reputation as the least-expensive English-speaking destination in the Caribbean.)

On a recent tour of real estate properties along the peninsula, we found oceanfront lots—one with a small house on it—selling for less than $120,000. As a local real estate expert told us, even though land in Belize has steadily appreciated over the years, the recent economic downturn is causing some foreign owners to sell. These circumstances have created the ultimate buyer’s market right now, he says.

We saw more than a few bargains like this. 

So who’s Placencia for? Maybe you…if you who want to get away from it all and live a laid-back Caribbean lifestyle in peace and quiet. No shirt, no shoes, no problem—that’s the mantra here. And I suspect that will never change, no matter how many fancy restaurants pop up here and there.

Despite the changes of the last 20 years—which in truth have made the peninsula a far easier place to live—the Placencia community remains small and organized. Some work as fishing or diving guides, or give massages at small spas or on the beach, some are retired and watch it all from the comfort of their covered porch.

They all, though, support their local school kids and soccer teams, happily join committees to plan the next art show or fishing tournament…and they also still listen to reggae and dance at the local beach bars and toddle off to bed early so they can get up and do it all over again the next day.

This article was republished with permission from International Living.


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