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Joined: Apr 2000
Posts: 3,054
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2006 (Part 1)


Just back from another trip around Belize, and here's a quick recap of what I saw and heard:

"September and October are always bad, but it's been a long time since it was this bad."

"We had a record June, but then things went south in July - it wasn't this bad after the hurricanes."

"Everything looked great ... until July and August."

"August, September and October were really slow. November hasn't picked up much."

Those are just some of the comments I heard from hotel, lodge and resort owners around Cayo, Placencia, Corozal, Belize City and San Pedro. Almost everyone I talked with said the same thing: The first half of the year was excellent, but in the early summer the bottom fell out.

Tourism operators have various explanations:

The bandit incidents in Cayo of course had a major impact there, but they spilled over into other areas, including Placencia. First-timers to Belize don't really have a good grasp of Belize geography, so if they hear of crime in one area they may decide to cancel or postpone a trip to anywhere in the country. One lodge owner said they lost US$150,000 in cancellations, so they were ready and willing to contribute to the fund to get the Guatemalans responsible out of Guate and into a Belizean jail.

The U.S. Department of State travel advisory that remains in effect clearly is hurting business. You can see the advisory, posted July 18, at

I'm told that a meeting set up with the U.S. embassy people in Belize to discuss this didn't come off because representatives from the Belize Tourism Board didn't show up.

Others thought that the election in the U.S. might have kept some Americans at home. Some ascribed the problem to lack of European tourists -- Europeans hate to have to go through the U.S. to get to their final destination. Still others think the residual fear of terrorist attacks in the U.S. and Britain has an impact on international travel. Some think that rate increases at hotels and the general increase in prices in Belize, in part due to the GST, play a role. A few said they thought the increase in the number of condos in Placencia and on Ambergris Caye was hurting hotel and restaurant business, as owners now stay in their condos and prepare meals there.

Probably it's a combination of reasons, but personally I think the biggest cause is the perception of crime, and the cautionary advisory about the Cayo bandit incidents and other crime in Belize posted since July on the U.S. Department of State web site.

The good news: Bookings for the Christmas season seem excellent everywhere. Most hotels report good, though not record, bookings for the rest of the high season.

As always, some hotels are doing well even as others struggle. When I was in Placencia in mid-November, Turtle Inn was 100% booked and the larger Robert's Grove was about 75% full. Victoria House in San Pedro was bustling with guests, especially in the gorgeous new villas section, and places like Banana Beach in San Pedro also were doing a good business. At the more modest end of the scale, Martha's Guesthouse in San Ignacio said its new annex was already 100% booked for January through April.

Anyone who returns to Placencia or San Pedro after being away for a year or so will be amazed by the number of condominiums going up. More than 500 condo units are currently under construction on North Ambergris Caye alone, I'm told. Reef Village, Las Terrazas, The Phoenix. Pelican Reef, Grand Caribe, Mirador, Belize Legacy and Blue Reef are just a few among the many projects currently under way on the island. The Placencia peninsula, as I reported in my last Rambles, has some 1,500 units either under construction or planned. I don't expect all of the Placencia condos to actually get built, but from the talk you hear San Pedro is going to get dozens of more projects in the next year or two. Hopkins is also getting a wave of new condos. Even Caye Caulker is getting a couple.

Developers are doing business plans and projections on the backs of envelopes, and the excavators and dump trucks are running full out.

To me, it looks like a classic bubble that's about to burst. Already, I'm hearing about condo projects that are hitting up their owners for extra bucks, special assessments and higher monthly maintenance fees just to keep things afloat. I think many of the condos will sell, and some have been pre-sold, but not many owners plan to live in Belize full time. Most will use the units just a few weeks a year. The owners are buying on the expectations of getting cash from the management company for their share of rental fees from the rental pool. But unless Belize gets a lot more tourist boots on the beach, these condos are going stay empty much of the time, and the owners can take the rental income projections with a grain of salt.

I'm also hearing about some serious softening in prices. Units that were going to sell for six hundred grand are now available for around US$400K, and when you look at the listings in the windows of real estate offices you'll see a lot of markdowns. Yet, in my op, they're still overpriced on any rational ROI basis, though in the long run the owners may get price appreciation, especially on beachfront property.

New condo buyers are hit with the 10% GST and 5% stamp duty upfront, so a buyer of a US$300,000 condo has to fork up US$45,000 in cash on top of that. The real estate guys say that doesn't have a big impact on sales. Yeah, right -- the average middle class family has US$45K in cash laying around that they're just going to hand over to the Belize government to give away to its pals and cronies.

Mark my words: Look for a fire sale on condos in the next couple of years. And if you're buying a condo, don't book on paying the mortgage with income from the rental pool for a while.

Belize has a reputation as the most expensive destination in Central America, but you can still find some excellent values in Belize, both in travel and in real estate. In fact, in many cases it is actually cheaper to travel or live in Belize - at a level of health, hygiene and amenities that are acceptable to most Americans or Canadians - than in some other countries in the region. Sure, you can travel or live cheaper in Nicaragua or Guatemala than in Belize, but you're living or traveling on a different level than in Belize.

Corozal Town, for instance, remains a good value. You can get a hotel room in a new or completely renovated hotel for 40 to 60 bucks, complete with a new bed, A/C and cable TV. You can get a delicious dinner for under US$10. Real estate is also still affordably priced. You can rent a nice house for US$250 to $600 a month, and buy a building lot for around US$15,000 to $25,000 or an attractive, modern house for US$100,000 to $200,000.

Cayo, Toledo and Caye Caulker in many ways offer similar value for the money.

However, I'm seeing more hotels, resorts and lodges that are raising their rates by 20% or 30% or 40% or more. Places that use to cost US$150 are now $300, and some are getting up into stratospheric rate territory, US$400 to $800 a night. Simple breakfasts at hotels often are US$10 or $12, dinners $30 or more. The average tour is now approaching $100 or more per person, and many are twice that. Hotels try to hit you up for US$10 to $15 for internet access, I was at a modest restaurant in San Pedro, the kind where you sit on stools, the other night and the dinner special was BZ$65. In a grocery, a fifth of One Barrel was US$12 and Belikin was near US$10 for six bottles. A car rental costs US$90 a day, plus 10% tax and various other charges, and gas is still near $5 a gallon.

Many visitors can pay those rates, but it's also the case that the vast majority of Americans and Canadians, and presumably Europeans as well, don't pay those kinds of prices back home. When they travel, they stay at places like Fairfield Inn or Hampton Inn, where a big, recently refurbished room with king bed, cable, free broadband internet, free local calls, free included breakfast runs around US$100, and no service charge. They eat at restaurants where they might pay US$10 to $14 for a full dinner, or at McDonald's where you can get a double cheeseburger and fries for US$2 from the value menu. Beer is under four bucks a six-pack. A car rental is usually US$30 to $50 a day, and gas is US$2.10.

If Belize can offer a truly special experience, visitors may be willing to pay extra for it. Frankly, though, I'm getting concerned that too many places are trying to increase revenues simply by raising rates without offering a better product. If the experience isn't there, and the value isn't there, Belize is going to lose business.

Likewise, developers are asking U.S. prices for condos and building lots. They may get a few suckers to buy at these prices, but anybody who spends time in Belize doing due diligence will figure out that US$200 to $400 a square foot for a condo or house borders on the ridiculous.

Lan Sluder/Belize First
Joined: Apr 2000
Posts: 3,054
OP Offline
Part 2


Belize City
Katie Valk of Belize Trips took me to the Riverside Tavern, on Mapp Street just off Freetown Road, the restaurant and bar owned by Barry Bowen. This new spot is a big success. One reason is that it has plenty of safe parking - the lot is fenced and guarded. Another is that it has the best hamburgers in town. Since the restaurant expanded its kitchen, it will be upscaling its menu a bit, with more steaks and prime rib from Bowen's farm. There are also plans to add more outdoor seating on the river. Where's the beef? At the Riverside.

Corozal Town
Corozal is still as sleepy as ever, but things are happening at the margins. The Las Vegas Casino is open, joining the two other casinos at the border adjoining the Free Zone. I understand it's not doing as well as expected, but perhaps with the season starting things will perk up. Las Vegas has broken ground on a new 300+-room hotel, which if it opens will be the largest hotel in Belize by far. The casino's market is almost entirely Mexican, as to visit the casino tourists in Belize have to go through the border exit process and pay US$18.75. So a couple pays nearly 40 bucks just to go gamble - what sense does that make?

While Corozal sleeps, Chetumal prospers. A new Sam's Club has just opened, and the city's restaurants and hotels are doing boom business.

The new Mirador Hotel near the site of the old market in Corozal has amazing views of Corozal Bay from its fifth floor patio, but you better spend some time on your Stairmaster before you visit, as there's no elevator, and the stairs are steep and narrow. The rooms are comfortable and affordable (US$35 to $90), with A/C and cable TV, and new furniture from the owners' furniture store. Some have good views of the bay, though I can't figure out why the stairs are on the bay side of the building, taking some of the best views. Indeed, I can't figure out why you'd spend this much on a five-story hotel and not put in an elevator. A Chinese restaurant will open at the hotel shortly. Currently, there's street parking only, but the hotel may get the use of a nearby vacant lot for parking.

I toured Las Palmas again, and it's looking great. Charlie, who was a chiropractor back in the States, and his beautiful espousa Marina, have done a fine job with this property. Basically, the old Nestor's hotel has been rebuilt from scratch, from the foundation up. The rooms, as at Mirador, all have A/C and cable. Priced at US$45 to $55 double, this is one of the best values in town. The restaurant space is being totally renovated, and a new restaurant will also open here soon.

All my old favorite places to stay - Smuggler's, Corozal Bay Inn, Coco Banana and Tony's - are still good and one-third the price of comparable lodging in San Pedro. Casablanca in Consejo was closed when I went by, but it'll reopen soon. Casablanca has one of the most romantic and lovely locations in Belize - too bad it doesn't get more business.

Patti's Bistro is still the best restaurant in town, and the best value. Cactus still has cheap, tasty Mexican food. The fajitas and other dishes at the palapa bar at Tony's Inn are as good as ever. Tony's is popular, and the setting can't be beat.

Quite a bit is going on around Consejo. Bill Wildman's Consejo Shores is still my pick for the best residential development in Belize. What a quiet, beautiful area! Bill says more houses have been built at Consejo Shores in the past couple of years than in the previous two decades. Mayan Sands and Wagner's Landing both are seeing some activity and building, and a lot of other bayfront property in the area has been sold, though few homes have been built so far.

The golf course at Xaibe may actually be built, I'm told, and the little 9-hole course at Consejo Shores is looking good.

Tourism in Cayo is still feeling the impact of the bandit incidents. Although the last incident was almost six months ago, and two of the ringleaders are in jail in Belize, occupancy is still way down at most hotels.

San Ignacio town, which for a while was going through a restaurant and hotel boom, has lost some tourism businesses. You wouldn't know it, though, by the number of cars and the trouble you'll have finding a parking place. The Royal Indian has closed. Serendib has changed hands, but the food is still about the same as always. Bob Jones at Eva's is still there, dispensing cold beer, hot food and good advice, and the buyer of the famed tourist info center and restaurant, the former owner of the Tikal Inn, will be around soon to learn the ropes. Jones says he looks forward to more time for fishing and seeing parts of Belize he hasn't had time to see. Hode's and Sanny's are still popular dining spots (Sanny's is only open for dinner now.) Well-run downtown hotels such as Casa Blanca Guest House and Martha's seem to as busy as ever.

Outside of town, lodges have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars of business due to the U.S. State Department travel advisory and the perception that crime is a concern. In fact, driving around Cayo I've never felt safer. It's a beautiful area, with little reason for tourists to worry.

Congratulations to Lucy Fleming of Chaa Creek, outgoing president of the BTIA. She had a rough year, to say the least. Chaa Creek, by the way, has never looked better, and the lodge has upgraded several of its duplex cottages into gorgeous new suites.

I visited a spell with John and Judy at The Trek Stop, which has 10 popular budget cabins in San José Succotz. They say they are restarting the shuttle between Belize City and San Ignacio and may even add another van, so they can meet more flights. Advance booking is necessary.

Spanish Lookout gets more and more amazing. Where San Ignacio looks like a typically rundown Central American town, Spanish Lookout looks like a prosperous part of western Pennsylvania. Route 30, the road from near Georgeville to the Mennonite settlement, is a gorgeous paved highway, and many of the roads around Spanish Lookout are also paved. The Mennonites do their own paving. The stores and small shopping centers are doing a land office business, and even gas is cheaper in Spanish Lookout than in San Ignacio.

Since I started coming to Belize almost 16 years ago, only San Pedro and Placencia have changed more than Belmopan. Belmopan has turned into a bustling small city, with an increasing number of stores and restaurants. The University of Belize campus and the growing government presence have helped transform the area.

Have you seen the new United States embassy in Belmopan? The old embassy in Belize City was an old wooden building brought from New England in the 19th century. The new embassy on Floral Park Road in Belmopan near the hospital is a huge fenced and gated compound, massive and brutalist (though, I grant you, not as ugly as some of the Belizean government buildings in Belmopan). It cost US$50 million to construct.

Like other tourist areas, Hopkins is in a building boom. Lots of new expat homes, and condo developments like Hopkins Bay. Will they sell? I don't know, but cookie cutter projects like this one don't appeal to me. I can't imagine what long-time residents of Hopkins think about projects like this, where each unit costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I also visited Sanctuary Bay but got, shall I say, a cool reception. After the folks there found out who I was, I was informed there was nobody available to show me around, and I was told not to drive around anymore by myself, as I might "get lost." What I did see, however, is that not much has been done here, and that the project looks absolutely nothing like the web site. I was a little creeped out by the whole thing. The road into Sanctuary Bay is quite good, though, and I take it that many of the lots in Phase I have been sold.

I got a warmer reception at Beaches and Dreams, where Tony and Angela Marsico from Alaska are doing some good things with this small beachfront property. Gibnut gumbo! Yum!

I won't bring up again all the development and environmental issues facing the Placencia peninsula, except to say that anybody who is not brain dead would have to worry about the future of the peninsula. The McMansions being built on filled swamp land at the north end of the peninsula don't look like sustainable development to me, any more than does a 1,000-unit project on a peninsula with a current population of only a couple of thousand. New, high-density condo projects are planned for several areas. That's in the face of the fact that, with a few exceptions, most of the existing condo developments and hotels stay empty much of the time, especially in the summer and fall. Even if they can sell out these projects, who is going to stay there? The owners aren't going to live there full-time, and unless the BTB gets its act together and Belize gets more air service from Canada and direct service from Europe, there will be a lot more empty properties like The Placencia. I have stayed there and visited there many times and rarely see more than a handful of guests rattling around this big property. I asked the guy on the front desk why that is the case. He said, "It takes eight or ten years to build an image for a new hotel and get people to try it." Tell that to the investors. We will build them, and they will come? Maybe not.

Bella Maya still hasn't opened and doesn't even look like it's close to opening.

There's little infrastructure in place on the peninsula, and yet here are all these foreign developers ready to put up multi-million dollar projects. The peninsula road is pretty bad, but not as bad as it was a few weeks ago in the rainy season, when at times it literally was impassable, even for four-wheel drives. Some of the larger hotels with guests coming by road are bringing them into Independence and boating them over the lagoon. There is talk again of paving the road, with a loan from the Caribbean Devel

Lan Sluder/Belize First
Joined: Apr 2000
Posts: 3,054
OP Offline
Part 3

There is talk again of paving the road, with a loan from the Caribbean Development Bank. Maybe it will happen this time, but we've all heard that many times before.

I will say that Coco Plum II is one project that has put its money where its mouth is. Stewart Krohn has paved the project's peninsula road frontage, and this road and the internal roads are absolutely fantastic. Krohn himself has a house on the peninsula, has been visiting there for over 30 years, long before there was a road or airstrip, and I think is going to build another house there. This long-term connection to the peninsula makes a difference, I think, and I wish more developers (hey, like Ara Macao and Bella Maya) had closer connections to the peninsula than just dollar signs.

So what else is happening on the peninsula besides real estate? There's a new French restaurant in the village, French Connection. Long-time visitors to Placencia will remember another French restaurant, La Petite Maison, which was in its day the best restaurant on the peninsula. I had dinner at the French Connection with Bob and Risa Frackman of Robert's Grove and with a young American who is attending cooking school. For Belize, the FC serves remarkably sophisticated food such as lobster and crab bouillabaisse (BZ$35) and a chorizo and baby octopus starter (BZ$16). I enjoyed dinner, but my favorite restaurant on the peninsula remains the Bistro at Maya Beach Hotel. I stayed one night at Maya Beach Hotel and loved being at the hotel and at the restaurant. It just has a nice, laid-back atmosphere and excellent food.

Wendy's in the village has expanded again and is still a wonderful place for local food at a good price. Yoli's, on a pier Bakader near Harry's Cozy Cabañas, is the hot new nightspot. Food is prepared at Merlene's nearby and brought out the pier to Yoli's, which is a terrific place to enjoy a Belikin and the sea breeze. Afterwards, stop by Tutti Fruiti for a real gelato. This is still the best ice cream in all of Belize.

There weren't many tourists on the peninsula while I was there, but Turtle Inn and the Inn at Robert's Grove were both bustling. Robert's Grove was hosting a group of travel writers (a tour set up by the BTB), and the grounds and suites look fantastic, as always. Turtle Inn is completing a new group of cottages plus a new swimming pool and restaurant. When completed shortly, Turtle Inn will have 25 units, with three pools and three restaurants.

I finally met Bill ("Barnacle Bill") Taylor in person. I'd missed him the last several times I stopped by. Bill is one of many great characters in Belize, and one of the reasons it's such an interesting place.

Jenny Wildman is opening a new art and crafts gallery in Maya Beach. It will be called Spectarte (, 501-523-8019). I'm happy to see more galleries opening in Belize - this is the kind of business the country needs, instead of more souvenir shops.

San Pedro
I've already talked about the massive condo development taking place on Ambergris Caye. With all the new rooms available, most hotel operators are saying that while business is still pretty good, occupancy rates are down and won't break any records in 2007. Still, San Pedro is still by far the most popular visitor destination in Belize, and unlike most other areas it doesn't go completely dead in the late summer and fall. With Caye Caulker, it's Belize only true year-round resort area, which is a boon for hotel owners. San Pedro is a place where tourism businesses are actually making money.

I love to eat, and you can eat better on Ambergris Caye than anywhere else in Belize. My top picks on the island include Rojo Lounge, where Jeff and Vivien prepared fresh spider crab and another crab appetizer that were so good I couldn't believe it, and I'm not even that much of a crab lover. Blue Water Grill is consistently good - you just can't go wrong there. My all-time favorite dish here is the coconut shrimp appetizer. And Amy Knox's Wild Mango's delivers a tasty new wave Caribbean product in large portions. Rendezvous is also terrific, and although I didn't eat there I'm told Rico's at Banyan Bay has really improved, with food better to match its glorious seaside location. All the old standbys like Papi's, Caramba, Elvi's and Caliente are still going strong.

El Fogon opened with a bang, as did the San Pedro outpost of Chon Saan Palace, but locals say both seem to have failed to live up to their early promise. I'm still mourning the closing of Jade Garden and Taste of Thailand, two of my fave eateries on the island.

The breakfasts are still marvelous at Estel's, where I shared a table with Josh Berman, who is updating the excellent Moon Belize Handbook, and Marty Casado, of and fame.

Tim Jeffers of Banana Beach and Peter Lawrence of Pedro's tried to lure me into a poker game at Pedro's Sports Bar, but I didn't bite. I did enjoy a rum and tonic or two at Peter's bar, which has become quite a spot to hang out. More than one person told me that Pedro's now has the best pizza in town. Pedro also is adding some air-conditioned rooms to his hostel.

I understand Victoria House is getting a new chef, a young man from Japan. The resort itself finally has the physical facilities to match the service and setting. The new villas are among the most beautiful beach accommodations I've seen in Belize, and there's a new infinity pool with black marble (so there are now two main pools at the resort, plus two private pools at individual villas.) Even the old casitas have been redone, and they look lovely. Brent and Janet have done a first-rate job with this property.


Lan Sluder is the author of Fodor's Belize 2007, Living Abroad in Belize, San Pedro Cool and other books on Belize. He has been banging around Belize for nearly 16 years. His web site is

Lan Sluder/Belize First
Joined: Oct 2000
Posts: 717
Thax Lan for the updates. It's always good to read your inputs. Much appreciated......Richard :p

Joined: Oct 2003
Posts: 345
As always, great stuff. Thanks much!!!

Joined: May 2006
Posts: 3,299
Great updates, thanks for posting Lan.

San Pedro based Belize Blog since 2007 - great travel resources & discounts

Joined: May 2003
Posts: 539
Great read, Lan. Thanks for sharing your insights.

Joined: Jul 2004
Posts: 203
Lan, I enjoyed your update. As for the tourism drop, I don't know the cause, but I can speak from the experience of my own difficulties this year planning my trip for Winter '07. Last year, I planned my Belize trip by getting on USAIR, finding the lowest price in high season, seeing what dates that fare was available, and taking it. The result? A $360 or so fare (after taxes) during the time I like to go--an awesome price.

USAIR has undergone a lot of changes. This year, I had to get on the website, put in specific dates, and when the dates wouldn't work (b/c US isn't flying so much down there), I had to put in new dates. The result this time? Three choices: A non-stop flight Sat to Sat for around $740 after tax; a non-stop flight from Sun to Sun (not desirable for work reasons) from around $620 after tax; or take a lower-cost flight on another airline and spend a whole day on the trip because of layovers. Granted, that shouldn't be enough to turn away a traveler, but after so many cheap and quick trips flying out of Charlotte, it's made me look this winter for something a bit more convenient and/or inexpensive.

Joined: Jul 2002
Posts: 484
Very very informative and, I think, dead on with respect to your real estate musings. Thank you. smile

Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 84,392
Hey Lan, it was great to get together again!!

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