Since getting married in Montego Bay, Jamaica, vacation has almost always meant a Caribbean destination for me and my wife Annette. And one year, while on the island of Cozumel, I looked at Annette and said, “It’s costing us less to stay in this all-inclusive resort than it costs to live at home.” That began a 10-year quest on my part, to convince her that we were meant to retire somewhere in the Caribbean.
Two years ago, I talked Annette into trying the island of Ambergris Caye off the coast of Belize. While we both love the azure waters and sandy beaches of the Caribbean, as a diver I was itching to experience the second largest barrier reef system in the world.
The deal was sealed when Annette realized that she could do her corporate job remotely overseas. I, on the other hand, could apply social security—supplementing my income by doing freelance work online. Living in Belize would also allow us to delay taking my pension and her social security, helping us stretch our income even further and allowing us to grow our investment portfolio.
For us, Ambergris Caye is perfect. This island suits us like a favorite pair of jeans or bedroom slippers. Each day begins around 5:40 a.m. with the sun rising over the Caribbean, and an unobstructed view from every room. The scenes are like something from a postcard. After morning coffee and a bite to eat, Annette logs in to her computer and does her work until early afternoon, when she is free to enjoy our time together. I have started doing a little writing, and I’ve also started training for my dive master certification, so I have plenty to focus on while Annette satisfies her employer.
The cost of living here is reasonable on our reduced income. We live on the north side of the island, just a half mile from the bridge into town, making it convenient and giving us less congestion to contend with. Rent for our 1,200 square-foot, two-bedroom condo is $1,200 per month. You can expect to spend between $600 to $800 for a one-bedroom unit. You can travel by foot, bicycle, or golf cart depending on your needs and budget. Since we can, we rent a golf cart with a monthly bridge pass for $425.
Heading into town and enjoying local cuisine at local restaurants is very reasonable. So much so that in some cases it’s less expensive than shopping and eating at home. A local favorite for breakfast are “meat pies;” a small pastry filled with meat and gravy that cost just $0.50. One place serves three or four breakfast tacos for $0.50. Lunch and dinner portions can be had for $5 to $7.
In the afternoon, we either head to town for a few errands, or to the beach, or the pool, or just putter around enjoying each other’s company—something we never found the time for back in the States. It really is amazing that in such a short time we have met so many new friends, locals, and expats alike. You can’t travel very far without seeing a familiar face and the greeting is always the same: a friendly smile, a wave, and often times a brief visit to catch up on what’s happening. Back in the U.S. we were always running from one place to the next trying to complete the day’s tasks before time ran out. Here, you learn not to worry about completing your list. There is always tomorrow.
I’ve also started diving regularly again, and the reef here is truly magical. Diving is so popular that the local marine life is almost domesticated. It’s like visiting an underwater pet store. I’ve pet numerous fish and gotten some great photographs and video. Nurse sharks accompany you everywhere, wanting to swim and play, and looking for the occasional snack (in the form of a speared lionfish). The coral formations and canyons are breathtaking, and the water is clear and warm. It is truly a diver’s paradise.
As we continue to get acclimated, we are constantly amazed at our good fortune. Life is simple and real, beauty is everywhere, and people are genuine and kind. While island life may not be for everyone, it’s perfect for us. Whatever your need for a work-life balance, you can find it here. You can stay as busy or carefree as you like. If you value people, relationships, and a simple life, with abundant beauty, and local charm, this may be as good as it gets.
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