Placencia and Ambergris Caye are two places in Belize very popular with tourists and expats. You will find countless online debates about which one is better, more-loved, or more livable. As an expat who has lived in both places for five years, I can attest that they offer distinctly different lifestyles.
Placencia is said to feel like Key West 40 years ago. It looks like a 1950s Caribbean postcard. It is a tranquil, funky, artistic little village that has a small-town feel. It is quite rustic, and the heart of the village sits at the southern tip of a gorgeous 16-mile peninsula, surrounded by palm trees, guesthouses, wood shacks, and small hotels, with sparkling Caribbean waters on either side.
Ambergris Caye is a 25-mile island in northern Belize that is where the fun is. It has some of the prettiest water in the world, and some of the craziest fun you can have. Live music and the Jimmy Buffett life can be seen everywhere you look. Although some say it is too busy and has too much tourism for their tastes, there are still plenty of areas that are undeveloped, quiet, and tranquil.
Most people are drawn to the description of one of those more than the other—and many expats live in one, and vacation in the other! As far as day-to-day life, you are still going to be living in a beach town that is gorgeous, where living outdoors and open-air everything is the norm. There is little materialism, and the focus is on beach fun. Both have ample expat populations, community events, and ways to volunteer and give back. Both places have a come-as-you are attitude.
In Placencia, you are more likely to have a vehicle, as you can drive right onto the mainland. In Ambergris, you are going to get around via golf cart. Now imagine getting groceries in a golf cart and you can start to see where some of the differences lie. Ambergris is a bit pricier because everything has to be shipped onto the island. But, you have vastly more options for everything in Ambergris, and Placencia is still considered somewhat remote. Ambergris has about 10 times the population on a 25-mile island as compared to Placencia’s 16 mile peninsula. You are going to have a warm, small-town feel in Placencia where everyone knows your name and you find welcoming groups gathering at a handful of hotspots in the evenings—happy hour is king and there isn’t too much nightlife, it is very tranquil. On Ambergris Caye, you can expect a special event several times a week, and there are also three distinct neighborhoods to choose from. One common negative cited about Ambergris is that it can be busy and crowded—but you don’t have to live in town. There are two much more tranquil neighborhoods to pick from north or south of downtown San Pedro.
Overall, if you are looking for small-town, tranquil beach life, Placencia is going to be your speed. If you are looking for a party and tons to do, meeting people every night of the week, Ambergris is probably going to be the right speed.