JANUARY 4, 2016
Shifting to Island Time on Ambergris Caye, Belize
By Ann Kuffner
Every morning, when I wake up and hear the birds singing outside my window, and watch the sunbeams that stream into our bedroom, I thank my lucky stars for being able to live a more laid-back life on the little Caribbean island of Ambergris Caye, Belize.
When my husband and I left California behind, I promised myself that we’d make time to socialize in Belize. Our busy lives in the San Francisco Bay Area didn’t leave much time for socializing…and we were dreaming of a more simplistic lifestyle. Here, on Ambergris Caye, we have a different challenge: It’s difficult for us to keep up with all of our new friends!
Still, these days we aren’t in a big hurry. We’ve shifted to island time. We now have all the time we need to see friends and neighbors…to walk on the beach…or to enjoy all that Ambergris Caye has to offer.
The extraordinary beauty of this Caribbean island and the more relaxed lifestyle were the factors that first drew us here. It was a place where we could walk the beach with our dog and watch the frothy waves breaking on the barrier reef in the distance. (The best part of this beach? Everyone who lives here can enjoy this spectacular scene daily since the beach is public.)
But, after a few years of coming and going, it was the sense of community that really sold us on living on Ambergris Caye fulltime.
Some tourists get the impression that expats sit at a beach bar sipping piña coladas all day…but there’s so much more to life here. Sure, you can sit by the beach sipping cocktails if you want to…but the expats we spend time with are active, health oriented, and socially involved in the community.
We truly didn’t expect to develop such a rich and diverse social network on such a small island…but Ambergris Caye is a magnet for interesting people from around the world.
Visitors and expats come to kick back and savor life…and the Belizean residents are friendly, helpful, and tolerant. We regularly spend time with a mix of Belizean and expat friends.
Some of us work at least part of our time. Others volunteer regularly. But the majority of our friends agree that the social lifestyle on the Isla Bonita is satisfying.
There are many things to do, and organizations to join on Ambergris Caye—most of them on the colorful, quirky little town of San Pedro.
So what do we like to do?
Well, Belizeans love to party—which means that almost every month there is a free colorful festival or event to attend. These festivals are fun and cheap. Local food can be had for about $7 a plate. Drinks run $2.50 – $3 for beer, or $5 for a rum and coke.
They’re also a great opportunity to catch up with neighbors and friends while enjoying local entertainment and food. I particularly enjoy the Lobster Fest in late June. Everyone shows up at the Town Square to sample the mouthwatering lobster delicacies, exotic drinks, live music, and enjoy the lively social scene. We typically devour a few scrumptious lobster dishes, priced at $5-$12 each. My favorite is curried lobster…
On Sunday afternoons Belizeans and expats alike head out for beach BBQ and entertainment. You can find great BBQ chicken, meat or fish, usually priced from $7.50 – $12.50 for a full meal plate.
Most live music on Ambergris Caye is free—performed in view of the Caribbean Sea. That means Sunday’s the day to indulge in BBQ, enjoy the vibes from a live band, and catch up with neighbors.
While in the Bay Area, my husband and I made regular day trips to the Napa Valley’s wine tasting rooms. So the weekly event we most look forward to is Friday evening at Wine de Vine. It’s our favorite hot spot for catching up with friends, or entertaining guests for business.
They sell diverse wines and cheeses. Although not cheap, they have the best wine and cheese on the island. This is our weekly treat. A glass of wine typically ranges from $5 – $11, depending on the vineyard and quality.
About once a quarter, Wine de Vine also offers a classy dinner event at one of the best local restaurants. These events remind us of our days in California, frequenting wine country restaurants and vineyards. The menu includes multiple courses—each paired with a fine wine. The wine pours are generous. The price ranges from $50 – $90 per person for the dinner and wine pairings.
The more health conscious are catered for here, too. For such a small island, we have a surprising number of options for gyms and yoga studios.
I pay less than $50 a month at a local gym, which has up-to-date and well-maintained equipment. Or, if you prefer, you can take a water aerobics class for just $5, or a yoga class for $5 – $10. Prefer to take a free yoga class? Then you can join the expats who independently get together to do yoga, for free, on the beach or a dock.
And when you want to get away from it all, just head a mile or two out of town. There, it’s tranquil and lush—a totally different world…
If you’re thinking of moving to Ambergris Caye, rest assured: It’s easy to meet people here if you are friendly and get involved. The bigger challenge will be how to find time for all of your new friends!
Editor’s note: In seven great retirement towns, you can live the life you’ve always dreamed of…on a Social Security budget.
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