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Summary: Placencia, Belize

08.31.10

At the narrow tip of the eponymous peninsula, Placencia is a safe, comfortable, English speaking beach town. It’s an excellent relocation option, though toward the upper reaches of our budget.

Pros: Clean local municipal water, welcoming transplant community, miles of Caribbean beach and reasonable proximity to Belize’s numerous tourist draws including jungle lodges, river tours, remote cayes and some of the world’s best diving, affordable and plentiful domestic produce, English speaking.

Cons: Expensive for the region (though other parts of Belize are more affordable), dysfunctional domestic economy greatly reduces available goods, flights into and out of Belize are significantly more expensive than to and from neighboring destinations.

Distortions: Our studio would not have been appropriate for a longer stay; recent flooding in Honduras has caused a severe increase in litter washing up on the beach, tourism has been way down during the global economic turn down, we visited for 28 days starting in mid July.

The girlfriend and I loved Placencia. We even considered staying on for an additional month when a friend asked us to house sit her enviable apartment. But we feared that moving on was now or never so we steadied our resolve and bought a boat ticket out of the country. In fact, plenty of transplants mentioned that they ended up living in Placencia by canceling similar plans.

There are a few different local communities in Placencia, with plenty of overlap and intermingling. The Placencians, most of whom have lived in the town for decades rather than generations and many of whom have transplant parents, mix easily with the predominately American, Canadian and European transplants. The village’s small size leads to easy recognizability after only a few days out and about. The transplants that we met were welcoming and fun loving, a varied mix of ages and origins enjoying a continuous cycle of beaches, bars, beach bars, water sports, restaurants and work.

The multiple groceries were all within a short walk of each other; most of Placencia is. Rice and beans are local staples, unsurprisingly, as grocery selection is low and prices on imports high. A few American imports like Velveeta and Cheeze Whiz make the shelves intact, thanks in large part to their frightening shelf life, but other items like chocolate bars and cream cheese arrive worse for the wear, whether due to freezing or, alternately, a lack of adequate refrigeration in transit. Produce is widely available, both at the groceries and from well stocked trucks along the road. As with most places in the region, the key to avoiding disappointment is shopping from amongst the available goods rather than against a mental wish list. We prepared rice and beans, eggs (which were of excellent quality), pasta with olive oil and garlic and later with a cream cheese/Cheeze Whiz sauce, a bean and vegetable salad and a passable approximation of humus. Avocados, tomatoes,onions, bananas and mangoes were common snacks.

Eating out offered limited options but high quality. Pizza is widely available and generally in the style of New York. Barefoot, a local mainstay that relocated from the beach to the main road a few years ago has a well deserved reputation for good food (try the tamarind pork) and stiff drinks (a source of pride). Menu items come in around US$7.50 per person. Rumfish is higher end palm-tree Italian though it was hard to find a night they were open. Cheap local carryout centered around rice, beans, chicken, plantains and cole slaw and comes in either US$3 or US$6 portions. The larger portion was enough for The Girlfriend and I to split as a light lunch.

The infrastructure is average for the region; internet and electric outages were common, local buses were repurposed American school buses, major roads were well paved and all others were dicey. The major exception here is city water, which is entirely drinkable and tastes better than it’s counterpart in many American cities.

Entertainment centered around drinking (we spent about $200 or nearly 20% of our total expenditures on booze; the vast majority of that at bars socializing) but pulled in beach activities and diving/snorkeling regularly. Our snorkeling trip with Avadon Diving, who came highly and repeatedly recommended, cost us US$63 per person and was rumored to get down to US$35 with a package or understanding of frequent repeat business.

We dealt with Antony Whorton at Remax to tour the local real estate scene; their website can give you far more info than I can. Rental and house sitting was common among the expats and often they would have to move within/out of Placencia for the 3 month high season when rents can quintuple. We knew people with outstanding accommodations for US$500/month (no utilities). We started out our stay at Lydia’s Guesthouse and decided to stay on by renting her studio for US$300 a month, water, power, cable, internet and a view of the beach included. Ultimately we realized that it was too small to consider for any longer period, but Lydia is a wonderful landlady with other units available. She provided us with invaluable advice, let us use her washing machine, gave us all of the rum that the backpackers left behind and occasionally treated us to cookies and breads from her kitchen.

Another place that we considered had two units, a dark one bedroom ground floor apartment for US$325 a month and an airier two bedroom upstairs for $375, both set in a pleasant garden. I don’t have the exact amenities recorded, but I know internet was included and I believe electric and cable as well. If you’re in town, contact Lee at The Secret Garden for info. If you need to contact her from afar, let me know.

We came in comfortably at US$1100 for two people for 28 days. A partying diver living alone, sparing no expense but with local (non-import) tastes lives for US$15k to US$18k a year. A shut-inn author living alone and trying to crank out a novel in peace could probably get by for about US$8k, two bottles of rum a week included. Neither of these estimates account for medical expenses, should they be necessary.

If there is any info that you’re interested in that isn’t covered here, let me know. I’d be happy to include some comments now and make sure not to neglect that info in future summaries.

And for those of you playing along at home, detailed expense info can be viewed here and downloaded in a variety of formats including .csv.

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9 Responses to “Summary: Placencia, Belize”

  1. Stephen Day Says:

    I was perusing the internet for some serious details on living in Placencia and boy did I find it here. Thank you so much for posting this! Do you know if it would be hard to find a job there? Also do you have some numbers of whom to contact for rentals? Did you feel safe at all times? Thanks so much!

    • cgearhart Says:

      Glad to help, Stephen. I don’t have any numbers for rental contacts; We stayed at Lydia’s guesthouse (anyone in town can direct you there) while we looked for rental and ended up renting a studio from her. She had better options than the one we exercised. You really just have to ask around town though. Ask every bartender or waiter you see. Go down to the Barefoot, a local bar/restaurant on the main road, and ask around.

      In Placencia I always felt safe, but thefts and break ins are a constant problem. Look for a rental with bars on the windows and sturdy doors/locks. We have friends who were burgled while sleeping in their homes. Generally, the further you go from the heart of town the more crime you encounter. But again, there was very, very little violent crime in Plancencia, including muggings.

      Jobs will depend heavily on your industry; it’s a small town so unless you provide a tourist related service, there probably isn’t much market. Like anywhere, work permits can be downright impossible or completely unecessary.

      • Emily Snider Says:

        I’m a massage therapist but a US citizen…any work for someone like me? We are actually planning to move our whole family down as soon as possible- dropping everything and getting out of here. I just want to be sure I can provide a life for my family, a real life with good people and happiness. We have some money to go on but not for more than 6 months or so. Any information would be greatly appreciated.

      • cgearhart Says:

        1) It would probably be illegal (as in “under the table”), though this gets tricky.
        2) It’s a common practice everywhere I’ve been. I can’t speak to the ins and outs of it, but Placencia seems like as good a place as any for massage. There are a handfull of resorts in the area. You might also try Ambergris Caye, which is going to be more expensive but might offer more work. I would contact some resort owners/managers in the area and ask them how the process works; they might even sponsor employees, making it legal.

        Secret Garden is a local spa. It might be worth dropping Lee a line.

        Before you drop everything, take an exploratory visit or two. I can’t stress this enough.

      • Emily Snider Says:

        I was wondering if I could promote myself, gain clients & be considered “self employed”. It seems to be a bit of a loophole… But if there are times of the year with little to no tourism it might be tricky. I contacted Lee, awaiting a reply :)
        As for taking exploratory trips…we would love to but it is not an option for us. My reaserch is extensive and we do have the option of arriving in an area, deciding its not right and leaving before we get settled. Also there is an abort option haha.

      • cgearhart Says:

        I’ve always wondered about the “I started a business” vs “I’m self employed” distinction; the prior is almost always legal, the latter is less clear. I’d love any info you run across.

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