Fifteen years ago, Diane and David Hisle took a vacation from the Caribbean island of Nevis to visit a friend in the interior of Belize. At the time they were living on a 65-foot schooner called The Alexander Hamilton. Life on board was good, and the couple had no plans for a change. Yet what they found in the small riverside town of San Ignacio enchanted them so much that they never left.
“Traveling inland to San Ignacio opens the door to a totally different experience. Iguanas, toucans, and Mayan ruins are as much a part of Belize as the diving, snorkeling, and fishing that the country is known for,” says Diane.
“You’re only one-and-a-half hours from the barrier reef and numerous cayes. We have the local Mayan ruins, and the Tikal ruins in Guatemala are just a short drive. For shopping, fine dining, or a change of culture, a drive to Flores, Guatemala, or Chetemal, Mexico, takes just over an hour.”
A big draw is the low cost. “Driving around town, you can easily find a two-bedroom house to rent for $300 to $500 a month,” says Diane. “The water bill is about $10 a month. Cable is $22. Phone and Internet service is $100 a month. Someone to help with housework will cost about $15 a day, while lawn work or landscaping services run $15 to $20 a day.”
But what really attracted the couple was the locals’ friendliness. “We hadn’t planned on staying so long, but we were stuck in town for several days because of heavy rain,” says Diane. “We were overwhelmed by the care and assistance from the locals, and it made us feel as though we’d been here for a lifetime.”
Then, as fate would have it, a local approached them with a deal. Not planning on a move, they expressed no interest but decided to take a look at the place out of curiosity. “Driving up the hill to the 15-acre property on the outskirts of town, we were blown away by the beauty of the land and then by the price—$1,000 per acre,” says Diane. “A small home, requiring some renovations, was included. We were sold.”
For three years, David worked tirelessly with his local Belizean helper, Narciso, turning the property into a beautiful homestead. The house was built with large overhangs, ceiling fans in every room, high ceilings, windows on all sides of the house, and French doors opening out onto the large screen porch across the back of the house, overlooking the river.
Nowadays, David fills his days reading or working in the garage, tinkering with his latest old Land Rover restoration. Diane may head to the market, where local Belizean and Mennonite farmers bring their fresh produce and fishermen bring their fresh catch. Usually she turns the trip into a social affair and gets together with a friend.
San Ignacio’s expat community is varied and active. The transplants come from Germany, England, Canada, the U.S., Switzerland, South Africa, and elsewhere. They are retirees, business people looking for new opportunities, photographers, writers, farmers, and on and on. One of the couple’s friends, Andre, is heavily involved in the Rotary Club. His wife, Nan, has her own pottery studio and kiln.
Another friend, Gale, grows cocoa. Betty does volunteer work at the local library, sells her bakery goods, and spends her free time working on beautiful, self-designed quilts. Diane says, “One of our favorite things to do is throw pot-luck dinners; this way it is not too much work or expense for anyone.”
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