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HOW TO RETIRE ABROAD AND WHERE TO GO!

img_0026How To Retire Abroad, And Where To Go!

The recent presidential election was the most contentious and polarizing in modern history. In the past it hasn’t been unusual to hear people say, “If so-and-so is elected I am leaving the country,” but I’ve rarely seen anyone actually act on that threat.

I have a hunch that since this election more people than ever will seriously consider the option of leaving the U.S. In fact, according to InternationalLiving.com, there was a 160% surge in searches for terms like “move overseas” and “expats overseas” the day after the election. Canada’s immigration website reportedly crashed on election night.

This new impetus to leave the U.S. aside, the trend to retire overseas was already underway. The Social Security Administration already sends over 660,000 checks to U.S. citizens living outside our borders. Retirees are looking to foreign locales for lower cost of living, especially more affordable health care, and warmer weather.

If living abroad appeals to you, the editors at International Living recommend five retirement havens that you may want to seriously consider.
img_0094MEXICO is a great place to live when it comes to stretching your dollar, as the exchange rate today is 20.07 pesos to $1. Combine that with already low costs for real estate, food, restaurants, entertainment and transportation, and a retired couple has the spending power to live very well on around $1,800 a month. Many expats choose to live in Mexico’s Colonial Highlands. Three popular towns in the region are San Miguel de Allende, Querétaro and Guanajuato.

img_0096COSTA RICA offers a choice of climates from beaches to rainforests to cool mountains. It also provides a low cost of living, excellent health care, modern telecommunications, arts and fine dining. More than 50,000 expats already live here in a variety of established expat communities.

img_0100PANAMA offers a comfortable lifestyle, in part because the nation is much more modern and developed than most visitors expect. In Panama City, all of the amenities of a world-class city are readily available. Yet expats can still find haircuts or taxi rides for only a couple of dollars, and dinner and a bottle of wine for two at one of the finest restaurants in Panama City is only about $40

img_0068BELIZE offers some big advantages—affordable living, economic stability, a strong retiree program and a wonderful climate if you like the tropics. Fans of fishing, sailing, swimming and snorkeling will appreciate its beautiful beaches and coastline. Moreover, it is an English-speaking country. For expats who are ready to move abroad but are daunted by the idea of learning a new language, Belize could be the ideal place.

img_0102img_0103In considering retirement destinations, Peru probably isn’t the first county to come to mind. We associate it mostly with llamas, mountains and the amazing Machu Picchu. But after a recent visit, InternationalLiving.com editor Jason Holland described it as “one of the world’s best kept secrets.”

He wrote: “Food is cheap—and very tasty. Rents are affordable even for those on super-low budgets—$200 to $400 gets you a nice place in a great neighborhood. The climate is comfortable…the people friendly…there are modern services…and the vibrant mix of music, festivals, indigenous culture and colonial history is evident everywhere you turn.”

Before you decide to move outside of the U.S., do thorough research. Find out about tax laws and residency requirements in both the U.S. and your possible destinations. Live in your chosen country for a several-month trial period.

Most important, consider carefully the emotional and practical ramifications of moving away from family and your familiar surroundings. Retiring abroad may be the right choice for you, but it is not a decision to make lightly.

 

TOP TEN MAYA SITES IN BELIZE!!!

 

Top Ten Maya Sites To Visit In Belize img_0044

Known as the epicenter of the ancient Maya world, Belize once was home to more than 2 million Mayas. Sacred temples, pyramids, advanced science, agriculture, mathematics, palaces, and awesome structures are their legacy. Without the use of iron or the wheel, the civilization reached its zenith at the time when Europe was in the Dark Ages.

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Detail from ancient Maya plate found at Actun Kabal cave in Belize.
This advanced civilization – supported by vast agricultural farmlands and trading centers, held sway for well over 2,000 years. The Maya Empire evolved around 350 B.C. in the tropical lowlands Belize and northern Guatemala and reached its apogee from 250 A.D. to 900 A.D. The arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century spelled the beginning of the end of the Maya civilization that had already began a decline with many of its great cities and monuments abandoned perhaps due to war, famine or break down of government structure.

The Maya civilization has permanently marked the landscape, as these top ten Belize Maya Sites show.

1. Xunantunich img_0105

Xunantunich means “maiden of the rock” or “stone woman” in Maya, and is situated on the Western Highway across the river from the village of San Jose Succotz. It can be reached by ferry daily between 8 am and 5 pm. This site is less than one mile from some lovely rapids of the Mopan River and provides an impressive view of the entire river valley. Xunantunich is a Classic Period ceremonial center. The site core occupies only 300 square meters but the periphery covers several square kilometers On the main palace building is an astronomical carved frieze.

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El Castillo tops off the peak at Xunantunich
The highest ruin is 133 feet tall, the second tallest ruin in all of Belize. Well-preserved sun god masks decorate one side of the structure. Six major plazas, more than 25 temples and palaces and a new museum are just some of the reasons why Xunantunich is one of the most visited sites. The Belize Tourism Development Project has invested over half a million dollars to fully excavate the site and make it more visitor-friendly.

Directions

Take the Western highway for approximately 70 miles, until you reach Santa Elena town. Take the road that leads to Succotz village which is just before reaching Benque Viejo del Carmen. At this point you should see a ferry on the right hand side of the road and a sign for the Maya temple. You cross the ferry free of charge and Xunantunich is a three minute drive from there. Check out our full article devoted to Xunantunich Maya Ruin.

2. Altun Ha img_0107

Altun Ha is located 31 miles north of Belize City on the Old Northern Highway. A two-mile dirt road connects the main road to the site. The area around the Altun Ha is rich in wildlife including armadillos, bats, squirrels, agouti, paca, foxes, raccoons, coati, tyra, tapir and the white-tailed deer. Two hundred species of birds have been recorded and there are large crocodiles that inhabit the Maya-made water reservoir. Altun Ha, a major ceremonial and vital trade center during the Classic Period, has two principal plazas. The most significant find of Altun Ha is the “Jade Head”, which represents the Mayan Sun God, Kinich Ahua; it is the largest object carved of jade in the Maya civilization.

Directions

From Belize City, take the Northern Highway for about ½ hour just after passing Sandhill Village. Take the Old Northern Highway on your right for 14 miles. On your left, take the Rockstone Pond Road towards the reserve for 2 miles.

3. Caracol img_0108

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Caracol Maya Ruin western Belize
Located on the western edge of the Maya Mountains within the Chiquibul Forest Reserve, Caracol lies on a high plateau of 500m above sea level that drops into a deep valley to the northwest and rises into hilly terrain to the southwest. The site was discovered in 1938 by Rosa Mai, a logger looking for mahogany. That same year the Archaeological Commissioner, A.H. Anderson, visited the site and named it ‘Caracol’ (Spanish for ‘shell’).

Caracol – Although one of the most challenging Belize ruins to reach, the trip to Caracol is also one of the most scenic drives. It is the largest known Maya center within the country and holds “Canaa” (Sky Place), the largest pyramid or man made structure in Belize at 140 feet tall. A large part of Caracol is largely being discovered, but numerous carved monuments populate the area, and the main reservoir is an engineering masterpiece.

Directions

Caracol is a 2-½ hour drive from San Ignacio town. Take the Cristo Rey Road and drive towards Mountain Pine Ridge until you reach Douglas D’Silva Forest Station. From there drive another 45 minutes until you reach the Caracol Archaeological Reserve.

4. Cahal Pech img_0111

Cahal Pech is located on an imposing hill that overlooks the twin towns of San Ignacio and Santa Elena. The name of the site means “Place of Ticks” in the Yucatecan Maya language. This name was coined in the 1950’s when the area around the site was used for pasture.

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Maya Ruin at Cahal Pech near San Ignacio Belize
Research in 1988 found ten mounds. Excavations show that Cahal Pech was inhabited from 1000 B.C. to around 800 A.D. The central part of the ruins provides a beautiful panoramic view of the surrounding area. Thirty- four structures, including temple pyramids, two ball courts, an alter and five plain stelae fill the 2 acre area.

Directions

Take the Western highway for approximately 70 miles, until you reach Santa Elena town. Take the road that leads to the San Ignacio Hotel, until you reach a “Y” intersection with a stadium on the left. At this point you should see the sign for Cahal Pech Village Resort and Cahal Pech Maya ruins. Proceed up the road, Cahal Pech Archaeological Reserve is on your left.

5. Santa Rita img_0110

A Mayan ruin in northern Belize that dates from 2000 B.C., Santa Rita is what remains of Chactemal (modern-day Chetumal, Quintana Roo Mexico) an ancient Mayan city that is the genesis of the Mestizo people after the first European contact in the region. Santa Rita controlled trade routes within the boundaries of today’s Mexico and Guatemala. Excavations have revealed fishing net sinkers and other objects, which point to Santa Rita’s coastal importance. Remains of rulers with jade and mica ornamentation, as well as others with gold ear decorations, show that the Mayan city had a commanding role for trade in the Yucatan Peninsula and surrounding areas. Santa Rita is located on the outskirts of Corozal Town and is bordered on the east by the Caribbean Sea.

This site of Santa Rita was first settled by Maya farmers around 1000 BC. Evidence for this early phase of occupation is provided by Swasey style pottery that represents some of the earliest ceramics discovered in the Maya lowlands. In the late Preclassic period, from 300 BC to A.D. 300 the settlement expanded but continued to be based primarily on agriculture.

The modern town of Corozal was founded in the mid 1800s and encircles the ancient city of Santa Rita. At its height this site extended from present day Paraiso in the north to the south end of Corozal. This site, bordered on the east by the sea, is situated on a limestone plateu typical of northern Belize which supports a low forest where game abounds. Just north of the center is the Rio Hondo. Along its banks there are large areas of swampland where the Maya created raised fields. These supported the cacao plantations for which the province was famous. The seacoast gave this site access to a wide variety of marine resources. Santa Rita is located on the outskirts of Corozal just off the main road leading to the Mexican border. Frequent buses between Belize City and Corozal pass by this site. There are several flights from Belize City. Accommodations are available in Corozal Town.

Directions

From Corozal Town take the road that leads to the border with Mexico. At the northern exit to Corozal Town continue straight up the road intersection that leads to the town hospital. From there Santa Rita is a short distance further on your right just before reaching the Coca Cola distribution depot.

6. Lamanai img_0117

Lamanai is the Maya word for “submerged crocodile.” The site’s name – “Lamanay” or “Lamayna” was recorded by Franciscan missionaries in the seventeenth century. It is one of the only sites retaining its original name and is among one of the largest Maya ceremonial centers. Most folks visit Lamanai by road through San Felipe, Orange Walk, rather than by boat. A “jungle cruise”, the road trip is an excellent chance to see birds, exotic plants and crocodiles. The site itself is even more spectacular; situated on a major trade route, Lamanai is one of the longest occupied Mayan cities and was inhabited for over two millennia. Lamanai has more than 719 mapped structures, including two 16th century Christian churches as well as an intact 19th century sugar mill. Due to the extraordinary length of time that Lamanai was occupied, one can explore several periods of Maya construction techniques, from the Classic Period to the Post Classic. Lamanai was the Maya Temple featured in the 7th episode of ABC’s The Bachelor in February 2012.

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The ruins at Lamanai in the northern Orange Walk district
Directions

Lamanai is on the banks of the New River Lagoon and the most interesting way to travel to the site is by means of water taxi up the river. The trip by river is also a nature-lover’s heaven for numerous species of water birds live along this rich and diverse waterway. You may even be lucky enough to view iguanas and crocodiles as they sun bathe on the river banks. There are also many species of flora and fauna to be seen at the Lamanai reserve.

Another route to Lamanai is via the all weather dirt road (approximately 28 miles) which runs from Orange Walk through several villages including San Felipe and Shipyard. The site is located in the village of Indian Church.

7. Cerro Mayan img_0118

From 400 B.C. to 100 A.D., Cerros, or Cerro Maya, was a pivotal coastal trading center. With a Spanish name that translates to “Maya Hill”, Cerro Maya is located on a peninsula across from the town of Corozal and in the Bay of Chetumal. Archaeologists believe Cerros must not have survived long because of a shift in trade routes. At the height of its day, the city distributed salt from mining communities and traded chert tools. Today, Cerros is partially underwater, but what remains is stunning – including five temples (one that is 72 feet high) and related plazas, a large canal system and a beautiful panoramic viewed from the top of the temples.

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The Maya ruin at Cerros across from the Corozal Bay.
Cerros was occupied in the late Preclassic period and underwent several modifications in the Classic period. For much of its history the site was an important trading center probably based on this sea-borne import of jade and obsidian. Its early decline was possibly few to the general shift of trade routes connecting the highlands and lowlands in the early classic.

This Cerro Maya (Maya Hill) archaeological reserve comprises 52 acres and includes 3 large architectural complexes dominating several plazas flanked by pyramidal structures. Tombs and ball courts have been excavated and artifacts found within them attest to the importance of the site between 400 BC and A.D. 100. This site’s proximity to the sea has resulted in the erosion of two large structures. One of these mounds, structure 5C-nd, contains large stucco masks that have now been replicated to the Institute of Archaeology.

Thomas Gann was among the first to recognize the existence of Cerros, but it was not until 1969 that keep their Peter Schmidt and Joseph Palacio visited the site and registered it with the Institute of Archaeology. The land on which the site is located was originally acquired by a Dallas-based company, Metroplex Properties. They subsequently established a nonprofit organization known as the Cerro Maya foundation whose purpose was to excavate the ceremonial center as a tourist attraction. Thankfully the foundation went bankrupt and the large-scale development of the site never materialized. Cerros was eventually surveyed, excavated and partially consolidated from 1973 to 1979 by David Freidel of Southern Methodist University. Freidel focused on the ceremonial center, and on the importance of trade at Cerro Maya. More recently the Belize Institute of Archaeology has conserved the Preclassic masks exposed my Freidel in the 1970s.

Directions

Cerros can be reached by a short boat ride from Corozal Town. Boats can be hired in town from your hotel guest services. But you can drive to Cerros by road crossing the ferry at the south side of the town and from there passing such picturesque, lagoon side, villages as Chunox, Progresso and Copper Bank. This site is located within an area of extensive wetlands, therefore, it is advisable to use insect repellent and, if possible, long sleeve shirts and trousers

8. Barton Creek Cave img_0119

Barton Creek is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Cayo District. In addition to its natural beauty, the site contains a wide range of cultural remains that were left within the cave as offerings by the ancient Maya. Artifacts, hearths, modified cave formations, and human remains were deposited on ledges above the river indicating that the cave was of great ritual importance to the ancient settlers of the region.

Directions

Barton Creek is an hour’s drive from San Ignacio Town. Take the Georgville exit and drive about 10 minutes or approximately 3 miles to the Cool Shade exit. Drive another 35 minutes until you reach the Barton Creek Orthodox Mennonite Community. The site is located just outside the village

9. Nim Li Punit img_0120

The name Nim Li Punit is derived from a carving on one of the site’s twenty six stelae, which depicts a figure wearing a large headdress. In the Maya Kekchi language, Nim li Punit means “the big hat.” The monument on which this carving appears is the longest stela in Belize (Stela 14), originally located in an area called Plaza of the Stelae. These ruins over look the Toledo coastal plain, milpas and rain forest. Having only one main plaza, one pyramid, one ball court and a few moderately sized buildings, Nim Li Punit fall is smaller compared to masterpieces found in other areas. But it has a large number of stelae; twenty-five large, often huge, stone slabs and pillars, eight of them carved, populate this small area. In fact, one of the stela is the tallest carved example in Belize. Due to this curiosity, Nim Li Punit is believed to have served as its dynasty’s worshiping place.

Directions

From the City Of Belmopan, take the Hummingbird Highway for 45 miles until you reach the Southern Highway Exit. Turn right onto the Southern Highway and travel an additional 50 miles (about 1 ½ hours) until you reach Indian Creek Village. Exit to the right on the gravel road and continue for about half a mile until you reach the reserve.

10. Lubaantun img_0121

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The Maya ruin at Lubaantun in the southern Toledo District.
“Place of the Fallen Stones”. This Late Classic ceremonial center is noted for its unusual style of construction distinctive of southern Belize. The large pyramids and residences are made of dressed stone blocks with no mortar binding them together. The buildings on top of the pyramids were made from perishable materials rather than masonry and hence do not remain. The name is Maya for “Place of Fallen Stones. Lubaantun is located north of the Colombia River, one mile past the village of San Pedro Colombia, in the Toledo District.

Directions

Lubaantun is north of the Colombia River, one mile past the village of San Pedro Colombia, Toledo District and is accessible by public transportation. From the City Of Belmopan, take the Hummingbird Highway for 45 miles to the junction of the Southern Highway Exit. Turn right unto the Southern Highway and travel an additional 70 miles (2 hours) until you reach the Silver Creek cut off. Travel through the villages of San Miguel and San Pedro Columbia. Exit right on the all weather gravel road and continue for about 1 1/2 miles until you reach the reserve.

 

Top Ten Things To Do In Belize!

img_1917img_1907List  Of Top Ten Things To Do In Belize

Tourist mini bus Belize City
Cruise ship passengers touring downtown Belize City on a locally made minivan
Thinking about the top Belize attractions and what to do in here? Well there are countless activities to keep you busy. Sun, sand and beach, tropical rainforests, mountains, extensive cave systems, the mostly unexplored remains of the ancient Maya civilization, diverse cultures, people, music and cuisine.

There is so much to see that even the most jaded traveler will have an experience that will leave lasting memories. The Belize.com editors have compiled this Belize Attractions – Top Ten Things To Do In Belize List to get you started.

1. Dangriga and Hopkins Village img_1913

Music On The Beach – Hopkins, Belize
Impromptu beach party with Garifuna musicians at Hopkins Village.
If you are searching for the real Belize, beyond the facade of painted-over made-for-the-tourist destination, Dangriga and Hopkins is as close as it gets. Dangriga is known as Belize’s Culture Capital – the birth place of the world-famous Punta Rock music genre and a hotbed for the continuing evolution of other indigenous music forms such as Paranda music. Dangriga Town is the capital of the Stann Creek district. Hopkins is a quaint village few miles the road on the way south.

Dangriga does not have many beaches and it can be described as grungy. It has more of an urban nature where you go to immerse yourself in the local culture especially during festivals and celebrations like National Garifuna Day on November 19.
Hopkins is smaller but has a marvelous beach and a way laid back village lifestyle. The beautiful beaches at Hopkins have sparked development of many new resorts and hotels in the area but the village itself remains a cozy and relaxed family-type environment.

Both Hopkins and Dangriga are Garifuna settlements; the people are a distinct ethnic group emanating from the intermingling of West African slaves and indigenous Amerindians from South America. The Garifuna originated on the island of St. Vincent and arrived here in the 1800s via Honduras, reason why most Gariganu (plural of Garifuna) have Latino surnames.

The Gariganu have their own language and rituals separate from the Creoles who they resemble due to their shared West Africa heritage. Both Dangriga and Hopkins are the type of places where, if you are lucky, you may get invited to an impromptu dance party, which will include drumming and genuine Garifuna culture. Both destinations are accessible by the southern highway by public transport or private motor vehicle, or you can catch a local flight or even a boat ride. If you are early to Belize in the tourism season, you will be wise to catch the John Canoe Festival.

2. Maya Ruins and Templesimg_1910

Maya Ruins are one of the main Belize attractions and make the country stand out from other one-dimensional destinations such as manufactured beaches, concrete roads and franchise fast food joints on every corner.

The area was once the very center of the ancient Maya Civilization and they have left their mark in one of the largest concentrations of temples and underground ritual chambers, as well as a magnificent repository of art in gold, jade, obsidian, pottery, elaborate stone carvings and paintings.

This vast civilization that reached its apex when Europe was in the Dark Ages virtually disappeared about a thousand years ago but their descendants remain in the indigenous Maya consisting of various sub ethnic groups including the Yucatec, the Mopan, the Ketchi and the Xol. Some of the best known Maya sites include Xunantunich, Caracol, Altun Ha and Lubaantun. But we suggest you make up you mind after looking at our Top Ten Maya Sites To Visit In Belize.

3. Take a Hike 

The country has one of the lowest population densities in the world ranked at 209 out of 239 countries – a little under 400,000 inhabitants spread over 8,868 square miles (22,960 square kilometers) – that is about 1 person per 36 square miles. This rank is right up there with The Pitcairn Islands (U.K.) that have a population of 67 inhabitants spread over 1.9 miles.

Biking through the rainforest img_0133

Taking a hike or mountain bike tour in those wide open spaces is a relaxing way to get around, have fun and learn more about Belize.

Most jungle resorts have nature trails, guided or self guided. On these trails you can hike along well defined paths that include signs and unobtrusively marked points of interest. Various plants and trees will have small wooden signs with their local and scientific names, and in some case their medicinal use.

One such area is the Don Elijio National Park named after noted Maya Shaman Elijio Panti. Other resorts have scientific and nature conservation points of interest such as butterfly or iguana breeding programs and nature trails that outline these programs.

Other visitors may just decide to take off on their own. The country is well served by bus transportation. Armed with a Map Of Belize and print outs from websites such as this one, you can plan your own itinerary. Just jump on a bus and take off.

4. The Beaches 
A coastline that extends some 175 miles along the gorgeous Caribbean Sea has you covered if you love the beach, snorkeling, diving or plain beach-combing or relaxing on a hammock strung between two coconut trees. Some of the best beaches are on Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker, Placencia, Hopkins and southern Belize.

Thanks to the Barrier Reef that protects the coast, our beaches are relatively safe. The visitor will not experience much surf or undercurrents. For adventure on the high seas you need to venture outside the reef – this offers spectacular deep sea fishing and SCUBA for the adventurous.

Visitors looking for the ultimate secluded beaches, enticing warm waters and a laid-back Caribbean Latino style will find the cayes (islands) running along Belize’s stunning Barrier Reef, the perfect haven. More than 200 islands are spread over the turquoise waters off the coast offering a wide variety of popular attractions and activities. Visitors are sure to find the Belize vacation that perfectly suits them.

5. Jaguar Preserve (Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary) img_0024

The Jaguar Preserve has one of the most extensive jungle hiking trails in the country. Plants are identified along the trails and animals are often seen.

A bus will drop you off at the Maya Center along the Southern Highway, and from there you can catch a tour bus or taxi for the remaining 7 miles or hike it. The best part of this adventure is that the Jaguar Preserve has its own quarters available for rent by visitors.

The entrance fee is $10, camping is $5 per person/ night and the dorm is $20/ per person night; The cabins range from $40-55 per night. You must bring your own food and water, although they will rent you cooking equipment or tents. Some visitors prefer to purchase a visit to the Jaguar Preserve as part of a tour package that includes full transportation.

The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary was established as a result of a jaguar study conducted in the area by Alan Rabinowitz. Besides being the home of Belize’s largest cat, the sanctuary protects the headwaters of two major river systems.. Over 128,000 acres of lush jungle are surrounded by the Cockscomb Mountains.

The Jaguar sanctuary is accessible to both the casual visitor and the serious naturalist through a series of well-kept nature trails. The Victoria Peak trail is only accessible during the dry season and experienced guides are required for this mountain ascent.

6. Museum of Belize
Located just off Queen Street (one of the main downtown streets in Belize City), right next to the Central Bank in the Fort George area, you can find the Museum of Belize at the corner of Gabourel and Hutson streets. The museum is a beautifully restored brick building that was built as a colonial prison in the 1800’s, and operated as Her Majesty’s Prison until 1993.

Built on two levels several cells have been been restored to original condition complete with cat o’ nine tails, chain balls and graffiti by the original residents. Originally built to hold one prisoner per cell, at the time of the prison’s closing, each cell held 6 to 8 prisoners.

The prison at one time had its own bakery and reputedly produced the best bread in Belize as it had a wood fired oven.

National heroes in the struggle for Belizean independence were imprisoned there by the British Colonial government including parliamentarian Phillip Goldson and labour leader Antonio Soberanis.

Other aspects of colonial prison life are covered in the permanent exhibits. The museum has an exhibition that focuses on the Maya and colonial history of the country including its rich past as a haven for pirates and buccaneers. On display are priceless Maya artifacts dating back some 2500 years.

7. Canoe or Kayak Down The River

Born in the Maya Mountains in Guatemala, the Mopan River flows into Belize and with the Macal River forms the Belize River. This primary watercourse flows across the country to the sea. Before roads were built in Belize, the rivers were the main mode of transportation and commerce. You can rent canoes for the Mopan and Macal Rivers and powerboats are also available for fishing cruising the various rivers that include the New River, Temash, Sarstoon as well as inland lagoons.
In The River near the City Of Belmopan
Most tour companies and resorts offer Class II and III rapids (beginner level), and their guides are certified by the local tourist board. Additional instruction is given throughout the runs, which include reading the white water, learning about obstacles, and surfing the river waves.

Although it is not a wilderness river, abundant bird life and huge iguanas are encountered on the river at nearly every bend.

Amateur and professional canoe racing enthusiasts make their way here every year for the annual La Ruta Maya Canoe Race. This race is held on time trials and begins at San Ignacio through various villages and settlements such as Banana Bank, Bermudian Landing, Double Head Cabbage and Burrel Boom before the finish line at the Haulover Creek on the sea at Belize City.

8. Go For The Big Islands

Belize has more than 200 islands – many secluded and less traveled. But we have big islands and a nice peninsula for those looking for the sun, beach and amenities such as gourmet restaurants, fine wines, clubbing and the finer things in life. If this is your preference we recommend Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker and the Placencia Peninsula in the south as among the best attractions.
Belize beach girls hanging out at Caye Caulker. Yes, these are REAL Belize next-door girls.
Ambergris Caye is the big island, but before that it was a peninsula of Quintana Roo, Mexico until the Mayas dug a channel making it officially an island and eventually part of Belize. Gotta love the Mayas. Ambergris Caye is a stunted version of Cancun with most anything a visitor from the developed world would want. Dozens of shops, quality pizza and fast food, gourmet dining, luxury hotels and condos – some in the multi-million dollar range, and golf cart traffic jams. Ambergris Caye has lots of space – most folks do not realize the island is larger than Barbados. But the population is jammed up inside San Pedro Town.

Caye Caulker is a a couple miles away from Ambergris Caye and much smaller and attracts budget travelers and those looking for a more village style atmosphere. Both islands are an hour away by water taxi from the mainland, or a fifteen minute flight. Placencia is in southern Belize and approximately two and a half hours drive by road. Or a half hour flight from the Belize International Airport.

Placencia used to play second fiddle to Ambergris Caye but this is changing rapidly. It’s advantages over Ambergris Caye include better beaches, access by highway, sea and air, and much more surrounding land especially in the Dangriga, Hopkins and Seine Bight areas. Added to this is the rich culture of the Garifuna with their music and traditions. And far less congestion, crowding and golf cart traffic jams.

Placencia and nearby areas provide more of the real Belize experience. And from there you can drive to or hike to the vast unexplored southern Belize and even drift down to the fabled Rio Dulce and Puerto Barrios in neighboring Guatemala. From Puerto Barrios it is an easy hop by land into Honduras and other points south – think Roatan, Puerto Cortez, Puerto Limon and San Pedro Sula.

9. The Belize Zoo img_0021
Visitors to the Belize Zoo get to handle a friendly resident.
The internationally acclaimed Belize Zoo was started as a refuge for wild animals that had been used in making documentary films. An award-winning British documentary filmmaker Richard Foster made the first film on Belize wildlife here – Amate The Great Fig Tree for Partridge Films. The film is centered on the complex ecosystem that revolves around this magnificent tree found in Belize.

After completing the documentary Richard handed over the location used in the film, along with the animals, to expat environmentalist Sharon Matola who after years of hard work and with support from international organizations, transformed it into the Belize Zoo.

At the zoo you will not see drab concrete cells with iron bars like those common in other countries. Instead, the resident fauna are housed in as natural an environment as possible. Imagine a natural and real tropical rainforest with discreet enclosures interwoven into the trees and plants.

The zoo exhibits over 150 native animals, all orphaned, born at the zoo, or rehabilitated pets. The enclosures are described by visitors as large, airy and comfortable with natural pens.

Several of the animals native to the area are nocturnal, thus a visit to the zoo may be the only way to see them. The zoo is located 31 miles west of Belize City on the Western Highway. A related establishment, the Tropical Education Center is located across the highway and caters to wildlife researchers and students,

Bus transport passes by regularly, and if you are comfortable standing by the side of the road waiting for the next bus this is the economical way to go. You may also take a cab and ask the driver to wait for you – would cost about $60. so it might be wise to split a a cab. Some visitors make a day of it and rent a car, visiting both Xunantunich ruins, San Ignacio and the zoo in one day.

10. ATM Cave At Caves Branch – Actun Tunichil Muknal 

Prospective visitors have heard about this spectacular one day river run, better known as the ATM Cave, that travels for miles underground. The Caves Branch River is a unique river that races through the karst foothills of the Maya Mountains in central Belize.

Its headwaters lie deep underground in a mysterious cave, and after it emerges on land it flows for 30 miles through the Belize tropical rainforest before linking up with the Sibun River.

During its run through the jungle it encounters numerous limestone hills, and instead of flowing around these obstructions it plunges through them in a wonderland series of caves, some of which are more than 2 miles long – imagine roaring down-river for two miles underground! No amusement park park can compare. The Caves Branch river passes through these caves with enough clearance for adventurers to navigate through them.

There are several tour companies that offer cave tubing packages. Most are for a medium length but an adrenalin pumping run designed for Belize cruise ship visitors with limited time. Others will do the entire day if they have the time.

 

What Expats MOVING TO BELIZE need to know!

img_1897 img_1898There are many reasons why Expats choose to move to Belize. Its warm climate, diverse cultures and the overall relaxed lifestyle of the country are just a few of the reasons. Moving to Belize, however raises several questions for expats and the whole process appears daunting especially when you may not know what to expect when it relates to the health care system, the education system, cost of living and other aspects of your new life in Belize. Here, we will provide you with a guide that we believe all expats moving to Belize should know.

Healthcare in Belize

Belize has a relatively well established medical care system both at the private and public sector level. In Belize, there are hospitals or poly clinics in every major city and town in the country with eight public hospitals and approximately 70 public health facilities that you can have access to. Anyone can attend these clinics or hospitals. Having medical insurance is recommended but not mandatory, for expats that are moving to Belize to gain access to healthcare.

There are two main private hospitals in Belize- Belize Medical Associates and Belize Healthcare Partners which are both located in Belize City. These private hospitals offer Pharmacy, Radiology, Laboratory and Operating Theatre Services. They employ doctors specializing in several disciplines including Paediatrics, Neurology, Dermatology, Internal Medicine, Obstetrics, Gastroenterology and Urology. These private hospitals are considered the best in Belize due to the higher level and type of care given by the doctors and staff at these institutions. The cost of a consultation at these private institutions range between US$25.00 – US$30.00 while the cost of a doctor visit at a public hospital is usually free or at a very low fee.

Education in Belize

Expats moving to Belize with children should also be well informed about the education system in Belize. Belize offers many private and public educational institutions. The Belize school system is based on British education, which is broken into three levels: Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary. Children enter the education system at the age of five and begin their eight years of primary education. They attend two years of Kinder referred to as “Infant” classes in Belize, followed by six years of Grade School which is known as “Standard” classes in Belize. They then spend four years in High School/Secondary School. After which, students enter into the Tertiary Level system at Sixth Form which is a two-year course, where a student can earn an Associates Degree in a variety of majors including Science, Arts, Business, Sociology and Psychology. There are several Sixth Forms throughout the country including St. John’s College, Junior College, CorozalCommunity College and Muffles Junior College. Thereafter, a student may choose to attend the University of Belize or Galen University to attain a Bachelors Degree – this may take between 2 to 4 years depending on the major that the student chooses.

The cost of Education varies. Public primary Schools are considerably cheaper than their private counterparts as public primary schools are free with the exception of a small yearly registration fee, books and uniforms. Private Primary schools such as Island Academy in San Pedro amounts to approximately $3,000+ a year.

The cost of a High School education in Belize also varies depending on the institution. Saint Catherine’s Academy, for example costs $500 a year (tuition & fees). Furthermore, attaining a Bachelor’s Degree at the University of Belize would cost around $675 a semester, which is tuition for 15 credit hours. In order to be enrolled in any school in Belize, a student Visa must be acquired from the Immigration Department. The cost of the student visa for primary and secondary schools is US$25.00 per school year, and the cost of the student visa for the tertiary level is US$25.00 per semester.

Immigration Process

The Immigration Process is one of the most crucial questions that expats have when moving to Belize. If you are moving to Belize wishing to one day retire then you should consider these two options to be able to reside in the country. These options include becoming a Qualified Retired Person or becoming a permanent resident.

The Qualified Retired Person Program (QRP) is manned by the Belize Tourism Board and was implemented to assist all those individuals moving to Belize. Benefits of having QRP status includes exemption from all taxes on income and receipts, exemption from all import duties and taxes on personal effects upon first importation into Belize and exemption from all import duties and taxes every five years on a personal motor vehicle.

To be qualified for this program you must be over 45 years of age, be a non-resident of Belize and have a pension of at least $2,000.00 USD per month. If you acquire QRP status you will be allowed to come and go from Belize without the need for an additional visa. However, this does not give you “Residency” status, you will be able to work but not be gainfully employed and you can never qualify to become a citizen of the country through the QRP Program.

Requirements for expats moving to Belize include filling out an application form and providing supporting documentation that include a Birth Certificate, Marriage Certificate, Police Record, Passport Copies and Proof of Income.

If you would prefer to eventually become a citizen of Belize then applying for permanent residency is the best option for you. You can only apply for the Belize Permanent Residency after you have continuously resided in Belize for one year. This application is done at the Immigration Department Office in Belmopan City. The application process involves filling out an application form, taking an HIV test, submitting a police record and giving two recommendations. Once your application is approved you will be able to seek employment without the need for a work permit and travel in and out of the country with no restrictions. After 5 years you can then apply for full citizenship. The application fee for permanent residency for U.S. Nationals is US$1,000 per person, but the fee may vary depending on your nationality.

Life Style and Entertainment

One of the main reasons expats choose to move and retire in Belize is for the laid back lifestyle that the country emanates. If you are in need of a relaxing environment with delicious fresh cuisine, beautiful weather and amazing adventures, Belize is the place for you.

Belize has many attractions, world-renowned – for land and water lovers alike. Expats moving to Belize should know that there are many activities that you and your family can partake in while living in Belize. You can visit the Great Barrier Reef which is the longest in the western Hemisphere. You can visit our many beaches and go, fishing, snorkelling and scuba diving. You can also visit the Mayan Ruins which are scattered across the country such as Altun Ha and Xunantunich.

Belize also offers a lively night life for those expats moving to belize as there are several restaurants and night clubs through out the country.

Cost of Living

The Cost of living in Belize is also one of the reasons why many expats are moving to Belize. In general, Belize has a very affordable cost of living. It is not the cheapest country in the Caribbean or Latin America, but it takes less to live in Belize than in most places in the US, Canada or Europe. It is believed that a couple can live comfortably on approximately US$1,500 per month. You will find that dramatic savings can be found in domestic labor, utilities, food and construction. Below are the average costs of living expenses that may be incurred while living in Belize. The cost of living also varies depending on the location that you choose to reside. The below amounts are in US dollars.

Rent: $700
Electricity: $100
Gas: $25
Water: $25
Cable TV: $25
Telephone: $80
Internet: $80
Groceries: $300
Entertainment: $200
Miscellaneous: $300

These are just a few important topics that all expats moving to Belize should know and should do some research on. If you are moving to Belize and want more information the Belize Tourism Board and Belize’s Immigration Department can provide some more useful information. Are you moving to Belize or have moved to Belize? Leave us a comment and let us know about your experience so far.

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Belize is Mother Nature’s Best Kept Secret!

 

 

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