buyers are hit with the 10% GST and 5% stamp duty upfront, so a buyer of
a US$300,000 condo has to fork up US$45,000 in cash on top of that.
The real estate guys say that doesn’t have a big impact on sales.
Yeah, right -- the average middle class family has US$45K in cash laying
around that they’re just going to hand over to the Belize government to
give away to its pals and cronies.
Mark my words:
Look for a fire sale on condos in the next couple of years. And if
you’re buying a condo, don’t book on paying the mortgage with income from
the rental pool for a while.
a reputation as the most expensive destination in Central America, but
you can still find some excellent values in Belize, both in travel and
in real estate. In fact, in many cases it is actually cheaper to
travel or live in Belize – at a level of health, hygiene and amenities
that are acceptable to most Americans or Canadians – than in some other
countries in the region. Sure, you can travel or live cheaper in
Nicaragua or Guatemala than in Belize, but you’re living or traveling on
a different level than in Belize.
for instance, remains a good value. You can get a hotel room in a
new or completely renovated hotel for 40 to 60 bucks, complete with a new
bed, A/C and cable TV. You can get a delicious dinner for under US$10.
Real estate is also still affordably priced. You can rent a nice
house for US$250 to $600 a month, and buy a building lot for around US$15,000
to $25,000 or an attractive, modern house for US$100,000 to $200,000.
and Caye Caulker in many ways offer similar value for the money.
seeing more hotels, resorts and lodges that are raising their rates by
20% or 30% or 40% or more. Places that use to cost US$150 are now
$300, and some are getting up into stratospheric rate territory, US$400
to $800 a night. Simple breakfasts at hotels often are US$10 or $12,
dinners $30 or more. The average tour is now approaching $100 or more per
person, and many are twice that. Hotels try to hit you up for US$10
to $15 for internet access, I was at a modest restaurant in San Pedro,
the kind where you sit on stools, the other night and the dinner special
was BZ$65. In a grocery, a fifth of One Barrel was US$12 and Belikin
was near US$10 for six bottles. A car rental costs US$90 a day, plus
10% tax and various other charges, and gas is still near $5 a gallon.
can pay those rates, but it’s also the case that the vast majority of Americans
and Canadians, and presumably Europeans as well, don’t pay those kinds
of prices back home. When they travel, they stay at places like Fairfield
Inn or Hampton Inn, where a big, recently refurbished room with king bed,
cable, free broadband internet, free local calls, free included breakfast
runs around US$100, and no service charge. They eat at restaurants
where they might pay US$10 to $14 for a full dinner, or at McDonald’s where
you can get a double cheeseburger and fries for US$2 from the value menu.
Beer is under four bucks a six-pack. A car rental is usually US$30
to $50 a day, and gas is US$2.10.
If Belize can
offer a truly special experience, visitors may be willing to pay extra
for it. Frankly, though, I’m getting concerned that too many places
are trying to increase revenues simply by raising rates without offering
a better product. If the experience isn’t there, and the value isn’t
there, Belize is going to lose business.
are asking the U.S. prices for condos and building lots. They may
get a few suckers to buy at these prices, but anybody who spends time in
Belize doing due diligence will figure out that US$200 to $400 a square
foot for a condo or house borders on the obscene.
The U.S. may
have its “tax-and-spend liberals,” but Belize seems to specialize in grab-and-tax
politicos. New taxes are blooming in Belize like bougainvillea on a wall.
Businesses that are suspected of making a little money are being audited
right and left by the tax guys. Maybe the name of Belize's capital
should be changed to Taxopan City.
The Goods and
Services Tax (GST) of 10% impacts just about everybody. The GST went into
effect in mid-2006.
to be in Canada when the GST was implemented there in the 1990s, and the
impact on business was considerable, because consumers saw the price of
restaurant meals, store merchandise and nearly every item they bought suddenly
increased. With the GST, the selling price of most items includes
the tax, rather than being added on as a sales tax at the cash register,
so buyers perceive it as a price increase.
Used to be,
I rarely saw a motorcycle on the roads in Belize. Now, they're fairly
common, especially around Belize City and on the main, paved roads.
I guess the price of gas, which reached more than US$5 a gallon before
it fell back a bit recently, is driving the interest in motorcycles.
a Real Estate Agent
I look around, there are more real estate agents in Belize. It's
rare for a week to go by without somebody opening a new office. Some
of them are gringos trying to make a buck while waiting for a real job.
But a lot of the real estate agents are Belizeans. Do they actually
sell anything? I don't know. Some do, I assume. There’s
even a new Multiple Listing Service, of sorts, in Belize. I take
the mushrooming growth of real estate offices as a bad sign. It's
a leading indicator of a real estate bust.
been wired for a long time, but now the internet is ubiquitous in Belize.
Cybercafés seemingly are on every corner. It's the rare hotel
that doesn't offer internet access in some fashion, whether wireless or
via a DSL Ethernet network or broadband satellite. Even the smallest
places offer connections. For example, D'Nest Inn in Belize City
with just three rooms and Coral House Inn in Punta Gorda, with four, both
offer free and speedy wireless (and at D'Nest Inn you can also plug into
their DSL Ethernet hub). BTL is even promoting its WiFi Hot Spot
at the international airport (there's a fee, of course).
A few years
ago, hotels started putting in swimming pools. Now, everybody is
putting in air conditioning. Even the jungle lodges. Maruba and Jaguar
Paw have had A/C for years. Now, even fairly rustic lodges such as
Lamanai Outpost Lodge offer cold air in at least some rooms. Mopan
River Resort has added A/C in all its units. Air conditioning has
long been a staple in the upmarket hotels in San Pedro, Belize City and
Placencia. But, now, even budget hotels routinely have A/C.
It seems to
me that Belize is becoming an angrier place than it used to be. Belize
has a reputation for being laid back, accepting, a no-shoes, no-shirt,
no-problem kind of place. In some ways, I fear, that's changing.
The guy robbing a store in Belize City gets the money and then blows away
the shopkeeper, for no reason. Drivers blow their horns to warn other
drivers to get moving. And have you seen the terrible blow offs and
rants that go on over the internet? Post a question on a Belize bulletin
board and you risk that half a dozen irate, but anonymous, boarders jump
on the poster, accusing you of every ecological, economic, and anti-Belizean
crime on the books.
Thought I'd Never See in Belize
Mas Fino en
Bridge Over the
River Channel to North Ambergris Caye
Belize City Cleaned
in the Bush
Traffic Jams in
(US dollars) Homes on Ambergris Caye
and a Resort with a Swimming Pool on Caye Caulker
Real Estate Subdivisions
A Night on the
Town in San Pedro with Dinner and Drinks, US$200 for Two
Four Cruise Ships
Berthed Off Belize City at One Time
Here are some
of my picks for the best in Belize, in a variety of categories. Your
mileage may vary:
to Stretch Your Dollars: Caye Caulker; Tobacco Caye; Corozal
Town; Placencia Village
Budget Lodging: The Trek Stop, Cayo; Hotel de la Fuente, Orange
Walk Town; Casa Blanca Guest House, San Ignacio; Martha's Guest House,
San Ignacio; Hotel Aguada, Santa Elena, Cayo; Lydia’s Guest
Lodges: Chan Chich Lodge, Gallon Jug, Northern Belize; The Lodge
at Chaa Creek, Cayo; Blancaneaux Lodge, Mountain Pine Ridge; Hidden Valley
Inn, Mountain Pine Ridge; Ek’Tun Lodge, Cayo
Lodges for Not a Ton of Money: Black Rock Lodge, Cayo; Pook's
Hill Lodge, Belmopan; The Lodge at Big Falls, Toledo; Five
Sisters, Mountain Pine Ridge; duPlooy’s, Cayo
Eco-Lodges: duPlooy's Lodge, Cayo; Mama Noots, near Dangriga;
Black Rock Lodge, Cayo
Hotels: Turtle Inn, Placencia; Blancaneaux Lodge, Mountain Pine
Ridge; Victoria House, Ambergris Caye; Portofino, North Ambergris Caye
Restaurants: Rojo Lounge, North Ambergris Caye; Capricorn, North
Ambergris Caye; Harbour View, Belize City; Rendezvous, North Ambergris
Condotels: Chabil Mar Villas, Placencia; The Phoenix, Ambergris
Caye; Grand Colony, Ambergris Caye; Bella Maya, Placencia;
Sueno del Mar, North Ambergris Caye
Bars: Sugar Reef, Placencia; I&I, Caye Caulker; Palapa Bar,
North Ambergris Caye; Rojo Lounge, North Ambergris Caye; Putt-Putt,
Small Hotels: Coral House Inn, Punta Gorda; Casa Blanca
by the Sea, Consejo, Northern Belize; Iguana Reef Inn, Caye Caulker;
Seaside Cabanas, Caye Caulker
The Bistro at Maya Beach Hotel, Placencia; Rendezvous, North Ambergris
Caye; Rojo Lounge, North Ambergris Caye; Harbour View, Belize
City; Chon Saan Palace, Belize City
Accommodations: Azul Resort, North Ambergris Caye; Seascape Villas,
North Ambergris Caye; Caye Chapel Island Resort (villas), Caye Chapel;
Grand Colony, Ambergris Caye; Cayo Espanto, near Ambergris Caye
D'Nest Inn, Belize City; Villa Boscardi, Belize City; Lazy Iguana
B&B, Caye Caulker
Glover's Atoll; Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Ambergris Caye; Silk Cayes,
Turneffe Atoll; Glover's Atoll; Lighthouse Reef Atoll
Peninsula Road to Placencia; parts of the Old Northern Highway; golf
cart path on North Ambergris
That Don't Take Forever to Reach: South Water Caye; Placencia
Peninsula; North Ambergris Caye
Little Islands: Silk Cayes, Southern Belize; South Water Caye,
off Dangriga; Half Moon Caye, Lighthouse Reef Atoll
Resorts: Caye Chapel Island Resort, Caye Chapel; Inn at Robert's
Grove, Placencia; Hamanasi, Hopkins; Turtle Inn, Placencia
Belize Experiences (not requiring extreme physical effort): Caving
at Actun Tunichil Muknal; snorkeling with nurse sharks and sting rays at
Shark-Ray Alley; diving with whale sharks at Gladden Spit; seeing the barrier
reef for the first time
Belizean Experiences: Belize Zoo; Belize Botanic Gardens, duPlooy's;
cave tubing, Caves Branch River
Shops: Caesar’s Place, Cayo; National Handicraft Centre,
Belize City; Maya Centre Women’s Co-op, Maya Centre
Adventures: Hiking to the top of Victoria Peak, Cockscomb Preserve;
skydiving into the Blue Hole, Lighthouse Reef; going on Lost World
adventure trip with Caves Branch Adventure Co.; exploring the Columbia
River Forest on the Maya Divide trip
Travel Agents: Katie Valk, Belize Trips; Barbara Kasak,
Hotels: Banana Beach, Ambergris Caye; Lodge at Chaa Creek, Cayo;
Inn at Robert’s Grove, Placencia
Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, Northern Belize; Chan Chich Lodge, Gallon
Jug, Northern Belize; New River Lagoon, Northern Belize
Spotting: Belize Zoo; Chan Chich Lodge, Gallon Jug, Northern
Belize; Programme for Belize, Northern Belize; (also, in the Petén,
Views: Views into Guatemala from El Castillo, Xunantunich; the Blue
Hole, Lighthouse Reef Atoll, seen from above; views around Baldy Beacon
area, Mountain Pine Ridge; also, panoramic jungle views from Temple IV,
Lodges: El Pescador, Punta Gorda; El Pescador, North Ambergris
Caye; Turneffe Flats, Turneffe Atoll
Hummingbird Highway; through the Mountain Pine Ridge to Caracol; through
Programme for Belize and Gallon Jug lands
Local Markets: San Ignacio (Saturday); Punta Gorda (Wednesday,
Saturday); Belmopan (the old market, daily except Sunday)
Mayan Sites: Caracol, Lamanai, Xunantunich (plus Tikal in Guatemala,
Off-the-Beaten-Track Spots: Sarteneja Village, Northern Belize;
Blue Creek Village, Northern Belize; Blue Creek Village, Southern Belize
Villages: Hopkins; Sarteneja; Crooked Tree