Laidback Living With a Beachside Hotel in Belize

My husband David and I have a lot of people ask us these days, “What do you do all day?” On the surface, it looks pretty easy. “It” is running a boutique resort in Caribbean Belize—often doing it remotely.

Sure, we still have the work that comes with running a resort: managing staff, managing bookings, and the like. But we also have a lot more free time on our hands. And the best part? Thanks to the internet, we can do our work from anywhere. So while we are lying on the beach, having lunch at a seaside café, or relaxing on the veranda in the sun, we can still take questions and make bookings, instead of sitting inside an office in Ohio.

Not too long ago, Placencia, Belize, was considered a remote fishing village, hard to reach but with abundant natural beauty. It sits at the end of a 16-mile-long peninsula lined with pristine beaches. As far as your eye can see, you are surrounded by the sparkling Caribbean Sea, palm trees, exotic birds, and flowers.

Three years ago, David and I came here to see if this tropical paradise was a place where we might open a business. We chose Belize because it is one of the few places in the Caribbean that is still rustic—untouched in many places—while still growing and affordable. Plus, it’s English-speaking, which makes doing business much easier.

We can always sense when we have found the right place, and we sensed this in Placencia. We wanted a property that we could put our own touches on and create our own version of paradise. And we wanted to be somewhere with a lot of unfilled niches, not a saturated market.

When we stepped onto Las Amigas, as the property was called at the time, we knew this was it. It was two rustic cabanas and a shed, on a half-acre lot facing the Caribbean, within walking distance of everything in the village.

We got a sense from the locals that they wanted more tourism dollars, while restaurateurs told us that Placencia needed more high-end lodging. We put in an offer on the spot; we knew that a similar half-acre on the sea would cost at least three times as much in the U.S.

We went from a 2,000-square-foot home in Cleveland to living in a 300-square-foot, one-room cabana, with no air conditioning and a tiny bed. We lived this way, in constant construction, for almost a year, before we opened Caribbean Beach Cabanas, which then was a three-suite hotel.

The suites were as luxurious as could be found in the village—with air conditioning, cable television, higher-quality furnishings, and linens—but we didn’t feel quite done yet. After a year of higher occupancy and prices than we’d thought possible, we decided to double down. We built a two-bedroom, two-bathroom home at the back of the property: a manager’s suite. We found a wonderful expat couple, who to this day live on site and are our eyes and ears on the property. This has freed us up to spend more time enjoying the wonderful lifestyle we now have here.

This past year, we felt so confident about the direction of Placencia, and had such positive feedback from our guests, that we added a pool and two additional suites.

Placencia has been mentioned in many publications, including The New York Times, as one of the places to visit in 2017. Major new resorts are opening or have opened, and they are bringing more attention to the village. A new housing development is also opening in Placencia. All this growth is creating an even greater need for amenities in the village; we got our first late-night pizza place earlier this year.

And it won’t stop there. If you’re looking to set up a business by the Caribbean, Placencia should be on your radar. We still need more wine bars, high-end lodging, shopping, gyms, and higher-end dining, among other things.

Finding the right people to work with—people that we trusted, and that we knew would provide the same level of service to guests that we would provide—was one of the biggest game changers for us. We are in contact with our staff every day, and we keep track of each detail of our business. You can’t run a successful business remotely, especially in another country, without a great deal of passion and a strong desire for ongoing improvement.

The lifestyle in Belize is much more casual than that in the U.S.: Flip flops are the norm, and one of the most charming changes we have encountered is the lack of materialism. Locals, tourists, and expats all hang out together, and it is a very warm and friendly environment. It’s affordable, too. We estimate our groceries are about 60% of what we spent in the U.S. And you can find housing with views of the beach for about half the cost of a beachfront apartment in the U.S. Behind our hotel, a three-bedroom, beach-view apartment with a large veranda rents for $1,350 a month.

When we return to the U.S. now, we have a bit of reverse culture shock at the pace of life. I’ve forgotten what it feels like to have a long list of consumer-driven needs. In Belize, you just get out of the habit of buying “things.” Instead of paying for a movie, going to a mall, or buying a round of golf, we now walk on the beach, take a bike ride through the jungle, dolphin-watch at the pier, visit a waterfall, swim in the Caribbean, enjoy a grill outside, or just relax in a hammock by the sea. We walk or cycle everywhere. We can do yoga on the beach instead of inside. And we never have to grab our coats or warm up the car to run errands.

It’s been a wonderful and eye-opening experience to be surrounded by a culture that embraces natural and simple living.

Editor’s Note: “No shirt, no shoes, no problem” is just one of the slogans used to describe Belize. It’s the best place we know for laidback Caribbean living…at a price you can afford. We’ve put everything we know about making Belize your new overseas home into one in-depth guide, Escape to Belize: Everything You Need to Know to Retire Better, Invest Well, and Enjoy the Good Life For Less. In it, you’ll find everything you need to know about living and working in Belize, including where to live…how to buy or rent real estate…your residence options…and more.