Ecotourism and oceanfront main attractions

Nestled in the Caribbean, Belize's barrier reef, the second-largest in the world, and Mayan ruins are drawing tourists and property buyers. A growing eco-tourism sector and an English-speaking populace add to the attraction.

Where is it? Belize is a small Central American country on the Caribbean Sea, bordered by Mexico and Guatemala.

What's so special about it?

The country was previously known as British Honduras until 1973. It gained independence in 1981, after more than a century as a British colony, but it remains part of the Commonwealth and English its official language. Two-thirds of the country is covered in lush forests and the 386-kilometre coastline is guarded by a barrier reef. With a population just under 300,000, Belize is a small nation. However, it is emerging as a forerunner for investment in Central America. Belize was named "the best long-range investment site in the Caribbean" by Caribbean Dateline Magazine.

Best-kept secrets Belize has strived to develop its eco-tourism market. Its jungles and reefs are home to a diverse array of flora and fauna, including endangered species such as the manatee and jaguar. Tourism is now the second-biggest industry in the country, accounting for 18% of GDP.

Who's who? Belize has young and growing population as its birth rate is among the highest in the world. Its most notorious resident is Shyne, a Belizean-American rapper who is part of P. Diddy's entourage. Francis Ford Coppola, after visiting the country filming Apocalypse Now, bought two resorts there. Actor Tim Roth got married in Belize, and Leonardo DiCaprio reportedly owns a $3.5-million island off the coast.

What's the property market like? The upsurge in tourist numbers has meant that property prices in Belize are rising steadily, but real estate is still affordable. Local experts estimate increases of about 15% annually and as much as 30% along the coast. Like Panama and Costa Rica, Belize is also targeting the North American retirement market with special incentives. It is trying to establish itself as a tax shelter, as there are no capital-gains or inheritance taxes and property taxes are very low, at 1% of market value.

Buyers' guide There are no restrictions on foreigners buying property in Belize. All negotiations and paperwork are done in English. However, non-nationals must obtain a licence from the Minister of Natural Resources to buy or hold land in excess of a half-acre in cities or towns, or 10 rural acres. Amandala is Belize's main newspaper and has an online version. When sourcing agents it is best to go through the Association of Real Estate Brokers of Belize (AREBB).

Where are the best places to live/buy? The largest city is Belize City, which was Belize's capital until 1970, when Belmopan was built. These are the most populated and busiest areas. For good property values, look to areas around the coast, especially around the Placencia Peninsula. What's the rental market like? Tim Kellow from A Life Extraordinary, a resort developer in the area, believes that growing tourism will mean high demand for rental accommodation. There are also generous government incentives for local and foreign investors to develop resorts, tourist infrastructure and services along the coast. Agents estimate that in a few years, a $436,294 property will generate a rental income of about $40,397 a year, more than a 9% return. Figures from the Global Property Guide, however, put rental yields at approximately 4% to 4.5%.

Average property prices?

As a small market, property agents sell everything from apartments and villas on the coast to islands off the coast. Prices are low -- you can get a small property in rural Belize for $5,000 or a simple home in a village for about $15,000 -- but in the top beach resorts you can pay up to $500,000. On average, prices are around $3,000 per square metre for prime tourist locations. Taxes and costs Belize has no capital gains or inheritance taxes. Income tax is currently 1.75%.


Area 22,966 square kilometres Population 291,500

Currency Belizean dollar ($1 = 2 BZD)

Weather Sub-tropical, temperature from 10C to 35C. Transport Belize has two airlines Maya Island Air and Tropic Air; there are a number of boats, ferries, water taxis, and the Novelo's Bus Line goes around the country. Going out Popular late-night spots are the Bellevue Hotel and at the Fort George Bar overlooking the harbour. The punta style of music, similar to reggae or calypso, is played across the country. Eating out Dinners usually feature some type of rice and beans, meat and salad or coleslaw. In rural areas, the Maya use a lot of corn or maize. The Garinagu on the coast prefer seafood. There are a lot of restaurants and fast-food outlets. Talking at meals is considered rude.

Shopping There is duty-free shopping and Belize is comparable to other Central American countries for cheap prices.

Belize agents - Belize Islands: - A Life Extraordinary: - Someplace Else: - Belize North Real Estate:

Useful contacts - Embassy in Guatemala (handles Belize): tel 502-2363-4348 / [email protected] - Belize Consular Representatives in Calgary: tel 403-215-6072 / [email protected] - Amandala Online: - AREBB (Association of Real Estate Brokers of Belize):