Living the Dream in Balmy Belize

Nadege Thomas lived in Toronto, Canada for 22 years where she was a successful financial planner. But as the pressures on her sector mounted and the cold weather wore her down, she began to yearn for an easy life in a balmy, tropical environment.

“After 22 Canadian winters, I had had enough of the cold and was looking for a warm place,” she says.

For as long as Nadege could remember she’d envisioned one day owning and operating a resort hotel or B&B and today, she and her husband, Tom, run the Mystic River Resort in sunny Belize.

Nadege likens it to living in paradise. She is enchanted by the wild verdant jungle, meandering rivers, Maya history, lush vegetation, and abundant produce. They live comfortably and—during slower times—they regularly take jaunts to the U.S. and Canada. The couple met in Belize and began the project together. Tom had come from Oklahoma in 1991 and become a Belizean citizen.

In October of 2007 they found the perfect property for the eco-tourism resort: 75 acres above the Macal River for $325,000. It is located seven miles from San Ignacio, near the charming village of Cristo Rey.

“I wanted exotic woods inside, Mexican tile on the roofs, concrete buildings, big patios, and oversized showers,” Nadege explains. “I asked Tom to build showers that I could stand in—arms spread—and not touch any walls. I also wanted each room to have a fireplace and a view of the river.”

In 2008, they built the first guest accommodations. They then applied for the restaurant/liquor licenses in December. By the end of that month they had the licenses they needed to open.

The Mystic River Resort opened in December of 2008. Nadege predicted it would take five years to break even. “In much of 2009 our main visitors were people who got lost and showed up at our place by mistake,” she says.

But a client clued her in to TripAdvisor. (Since 2011 Mystic River Resort has won six TripAdvisor Awards for Excellence.) And she hired a Toronto firm to develop their website. Once they focused on advertising, the business quickly picked up. “Now most of our guests come from the U.S., roughly 80%. The rest are divided between Canada and Europe. Our primary visibility is through our website, and we now have travel agents marketing us in the States and the U.K.”

Every year business has grown. But Nadege and Tom have chosen to keep plowing the profits back into the business. They bought and planted citrus trees and planted an organic garden. In 2011, they built the yoga deck over the river. They bought horses and started to offer horseback riding…and made a pond with ducks and geese. In 2013, they built a greenhouse and a spa. And they bought goats. Nadege is now making delicate goat’s milk cheese and using it in featured restaurant dishes. Their business has steadily grown.

Looking back, Nadege’s business income prediction was realistic. “I can honestly say that after five years in business, we are not yet breaking even. But we will make a profit very soon! This is a labor of love first, a business second. And Tom and I feel that we live in paradise—so this is a great work/life balance for us.”

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