Development on the Belizean island of Ambergris Caye is spreading north. Drive your golf cart (the preferred means of transportation here) across the new toll bridge (the small creek here used to be crossed by a hand-cranked ferry) and you’re on a potholed gravel road that winds through former palm plantations and creeps through swampy low spots for 25 miles up to the north end of the island.
A new power line has been strung along the road. It means the dozens of secluded beach homes, boutique hotels, beach bars and exclusive resorts of the northern beaches once off the grid can now hook up if they choose.
On an island like Ambergris, a bridge across a creek and a power line qualify as the march of progress. This march was supposed to have unleashed a flood of real estate and commercial development that would remake the entire north end of the island, covering it with condo blocks, luxury beach getaways and four-star retreats for the rich and famous.
But that was back in the heady days before the global real estate bust, and as we bumped along in our golf cart we suspected the folks north of the bridge who worried about their natural, laid-back, Robinson Crusoe lifestyle getting plowed under by condo blocks and mega resorts were breathing a sigh of relief.
That lifestyle is still very much in evidence along Ambergris’ northern beaches where the drumbeat of progress is still just a low rumble in most places.
We wound the cart around palms, past brush, and through potholes until we reached Akbol, a yoga retreat and beach cafe started about 20 years ago by Kirsten and Milio, a couple from Chicago. We interviewed them out on their dock for an upcoming project we’re putting together on Belize and the people who live and work here (and how you can join them—read about the pre-release of this Belize project here.)
We cast the occasional glance down the beach to a big palapa on the end of a nearby dock with a very inviting “BAR” painted on the roof. Naturally, after the interview, we decided to check it out.
We pulled the golf cart up to the dock in front of the aptly named “Palapa Bar”. Upstairs, under the thatched roof, about a dozen locals and expats were drinking, eating, laughing and watching NBA highlights on the bar TV.
It had been a long day, so we ordered drinks and sat on stools looking out over the Caribbean to unwind. It didn’t take long for the island attitude to take hold… a cold drink and a blue ocean will do that to you.
As we looked down at the clear Caribbean water lapping the dock poles 20 feet below, a dark shape glided out of the duckweed and cruised slow circles in the shallows directly beneath us. It was a manta ray, four feet from wingtip to wingtip. At just about the same time, a school of fish a little farther out jumped out of the water in coordinated waves of silver fins, leaping to avoid some predator working the school from below. A perfect island moment…
It just got better when a sunburned man in a muscle shirt and swim trunks paddled up to the dock with half a dozen big lobsters in the bottom of his kayak. A bar patron told us he was a local who lived on the bay side of the island and made a living diving for lobster and selling them to restaurants along the beach.
As the lobster man paddled away to the next restaurant down the beach, we agreed that this is what island life is all about. The march of progress is all well and good, but the reason for the march should be to make it possible for more people to enjoy exactly this kind of moment… when the sand and sea and all the things that live in and on them come into some kind of alignment on a tropical afternoon under a palapa to show you, clearly and convincingly, what “quality of life” really means.
Editor’s note: If you’re serious about plotting your route to this Caribbean paradise, we’ve invested heavily in creating the Ultimate Blueprint for A New Life in Belize. It’s a virtual boots-on-the-ground walk through of the best opportunities and most useful insiders that Belize offers right now.
More interactive than a report, cheaper than a flight, faster than a conference, this new “Belize Blueprint” makes Belize so easy, you could be living the tropical dream before margarita season is over. Full details here.