Coming from Tampa Bay, Florida, my husband, Scott, and I have always been warm weather people. Back in the U.S., we worked taxing jobs—Scott as a firefighter and emergency medical technician, and me as an emergency trauma nurse. Knowing all too well how short life can be, we longed for adventure in a tropical climate.

We had come to Ambergris Caye—Belize’s largest island—on our honeymoon and loved it. We spent our time diving, fishing, and exploring the cays and atolls. The waters and reefs were incredibly beautiful and we instantly fell in love with the island and its friendly people. Another big plus is that English is the first language.

By 2007, we were seriously considering a move and in February that year, we found a local watering hole for sale on Ambergris Caye. The next week, we flew down to take a look at it, and the rest is history.

In buying the bar, we’d gone totally out on a limb. We arrived with nothing but our determination, hopes, dreams, and of course, our bartender guide book. Our goal was to find a niche and create own our little piece of paradise.

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Jodie and Scott Harnish found their dream tropical life by running a bar on Belize’s stunning Ambergris Caye in the Caribbean Sea.

When we started Palapa, it was just Scott and me. Now we have a staff of 18 wonderful employees. Initially, the business was a small bar stretching about 300 feet out over the water. Today, it’s in a different location. In 2016, we had to move after losing our premises to Hurricane Earl. Our staff, who are like family, stayed and helped us rebuild in 144 days.

Running a restaurant and bar brings some challenges, especially on an island. We had to learn how to source groceries and liquor. Being off the mainland also means certain items have to be flown or sent to us on a barge or water taxi. But getting supplies has become much easier over the years as the island has become more modern.

Every year, we try to come up with new activities, drinks, and food. We listen to our guests, and many of our best dishes and tropical cocktails have come from them. Plus, it’s great when they come back and see their creation on the menu.

We love just watching our guests have fun. We have inner tubes you can float on while beers are sent to you on a zip line, and there’s also a floating raft and sundeck. It’s also great hosting parties and musicians. We’ve made so many lifelong friends.

It feels very rewarding when we look back now on where we started. By moving to Belize, we’ve gained so much wisdom and experience. And we’ve had the opportunity to experience this beautiful country. Occasionally, people still ask us why we moved here. One glance at the view from the sundeck, and the answer is obvious.

International Living