Cathi Bray talks to a number of expats in Belize about where they live in the country. How do Belize’s districts differ from one another?
District by district, expats in Belize talk about their new homes and why they live where they do.
Belize is a small country in the southern part of the Yucatan peninsula in Central America. The country is about the size of the US state of Massachusetts and comprises six districts. These are (from north to south), Corozal District, Orange Walk District, Belize District, Cayo District, Stann Creek District, and Toledo District.
The northernmost district, Corozal, borders Mexico and is home to many expats in Belize. The town of Corozal is its capital. Corozal has plenty of coastline with beautiful Caribbean views. It does not have much in the way of sandy beaches, though, as you may find elsewhere in Belize. But there are some decent beaches if you know where to look.
An expat who lived in Corozal for 15 years, Linda, enjoyed the proximity to Mexico. “More for fun than amenities,” she says. The amenities keep many expats in the area. You can find Sam’s Club, Walmart, US fast food franchises, medical facilities, and items unavailable in Belize, just over the border.
Linda now lives in the southern district of Toledo. She says she moved when Corozal became overcrowded with other expats. She says Punta Gorda, in Toledo District, feels the way Corozal used to. Laid back and beautiful during the day, with a howler monkey symphony each night. Tranquility is what she’s looking for at this stage in her life, and she found it again in Punta Gorda.
Orange Walk District
Orange Walk District’s nickname is the “land of sugar and honey.” Its capital, Orange Walk Town, is nicknamed “Sugar City.” In Orange Walk there are plenty of Mayan ruins, rivers, and jungle, all attracting visitors. But sugar mill is still the primary industry in the area. Today, the district has several cash crops and is a center of cattle rearing and rum production.
Orange Walk borders both Mexico and Guatemala, but is not an expat haven like other districts. Susan, who has lived there for five years, said she enjoys the birding. The jungles of Orange Walk have 400+ recorded bird species. She also likes hiking the ruins, canoeing on the New River, and cycling.
“Being closer to some larger towns and the sea would be nice”, she says.
But those things are not far away and being able to live so close to wildlife and nature has its advantages.
The Cayo District is the largest in Belize although Belize District has more people. Cayo covers a large part of inland Belize, including much of the Maya Mountain Range. It also contains the town of Belmopan, the capital of Belize. The largest town in Cayo is San Ignacio, which is where my husband and I live. Mark and his wife also live in Cayo. They have owned a home in the district for over seven years.
According to Mark, the couple lived an expat lifestyle for many years. They spent eleven years in Europe and a year in Asia before landing in Belize.
Their experiences as expats elsewhere made it easy for them to adapt to the challenges of Belize.
“The uniqueness and beauty Belize far outweighs any of the adversities: power, water, internet [shortages/outages], as long as you greet it with a warm smile and a positive attitude.” Mark, Cayo District
Mark can’t say enough about the Cayo district. The people, the wildlife, the jungle, the culture, and the community. He says they have never felt out of place or unwanted in Cayo. There is always something to do, somewhere to go, someone to visit, a new place to explore.
“If you get bored in Cayo, blame yourself. The biggest con is an expat coming here, or to any of the districts, with first-world expectations. Those with no tolerance or patience for different processes need not apply. Those are the ones I’ve seen fail to adapt and move on. Some take a year or more to figure out that Cayo is not for them because of the heat, rain, bugs, road conditions, dust, smoke, lack of Macy’s…”
The Cayo district is not for the faint of heart, but then again, neither is Chicago says Mark.
“Any place is what you make of it.”
The next district, heading east, is Belize District. This is the most populated district the country. Belize District includes Belize City, the largest city, and many islands off the coast.
Colette lives on Ambergris Caye, the largest island in Belize, in the town of San Pedro. She has been there for ten years and says she loves the community on the island. She loves that she doesn’t need a vehicle to get around, she can get where she needs to go on a bicycle or on foot.
“The view of the reef over the gorgeous turquoise sea is amazing, but it’s the people that make it special,” she said. I love being able to stand on a crossroad and see the water on both sides.” Colette, Ambergris Caye
Ambergris Caye is narrow enough in places that the Caribbean is visible on both east and west sides of the island.
“I love the incredible variety of shops and restaurants. I love how I can call my bank or the post office and they know my name from the sound of my voice. I love how I’ve lived here all this time and still haven’t done all the things I want to do here,” she says.
As for the negative side of Ambergris, Colette says she would like to see better traffic management. She would also reduce the number of large vehicles coming onto the caye, and hopes for a hospital, someday. She wishes there was better scrutiny of large developments and their environmental impact.
Fellow resident, Jane, says, “For anyone who ever dreamed of living on a tropical island in the Caribbean, it’s like a dream come true. There are government and small-town issues, of course, and growing pains. But we love living here.”
Stann Creek District
Stann Creek is the district that encompasses some of the central coastline and cayes. The towns of Dangriga, Hopkins Village, and Placencia are here.
Sandra and her husband Evan purchased, and are renovating, their home on the Sittee River. They love the diversity, the growth opportunities, the amazing beaches and the wildlife.
“We live riverfront, a few miles from the ocean. We have often said we wish we were closer to some of the larger centers with more shopping options. We also miss being able to go to the movies.” Sandra, Stann Creek District
Movie theaters are rare in Belize. You might find a bar or restaurant that will put up an outdoor screen and play movies from time to time. Apart from that, I only know of one actual movie theater in the country.
The Toledo District is the furthest south. It borders Guatemala and contains Caribbean coastline and cayes.
David lived here for seven years before moving further north into Stann Creek District. He said the pros and cons of Toledo are both that it’s the end of the road in Belize.
“It’s more peaceful, with fewer people, and a more relaxed lifestyle than other parts of Belize. Land is cheaper and more available. It’s easy to source items from Guatemala if needed. There’s cheap access to the rest of Central America by water taxi to Puerto Barrios, Guatemala. The jungle and the sea touch each other here, so there is no need to travel out of the area to experience both.” David, Toledo District
As for disadvantages, David said it can be more expensive to get manufactured goods to the area. Transport costs and lack of competition are a factor, here. It takes longer to get to Belize City if you are taking an international flight or have business there. And the tourist industry is undeveloped in the area, too. If your income comes from tourism, it’s not the most profitable part of Belize.
“Another advantage/disadvantage I like to bring up,” David says, “is that it rains more in Toledo. The advantage is that it is great for agriculture and livestock. It’s great if you want to live off-grid, as water [or the lack of it] ceases to be an issue. You can buy an inexpensive piece of land and set up your home, without having to worry about utilities. Between solar power availability and rain, it is not an issue here.”
The disadvantage is you may get wet.
“Belizeans see rain as a blessing. North Americans see it as a nuisance. Perspective.”
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Catherine “Cathi” Bray is a travel agent, freelance writer, and firearms instructor who splits her time between Belize and Texas with her husband, Tom and their Great Dane/Mastiff mix, Allen, and Poo-Hua-Hua puppy, Maya.