Kenny: Belizean Construction Worker or High Beam Gymnast?

When does your home building project turn into a performance?

When one of the workers uses fancy foot-work from high work spaces.

His name is Kenny and he has worked on many projects in Belize.

It shows.

He enjoys the challenge of scaling the heights where other workers would never go.

When asked if he feared heights, he calmly shrugged from his 10-foot high 2×4 perch and quips, “I’ve been lots higher than this.”

His fellow workers know full well and nod in agreement while commencing in typical construction banter. The giggling is infectious.

Below are some of the awkward, and at times, poetic positions that Kenny found himself in during this typical work week.

Enjoy the artistry, skill and sense of calm that Kenny displays.

Kenny has no problem measuring precisely from atop his wooden perch.
Kenny uses a bit of down time to rest while balancing on a 2×4. There really was no place else to go.
Leverage and balance are needed when trying to hammer from the top of a palapa. The heat and plenty of sweat doesn’t make the job any easier.
Kenny simultaneously balances and holds two 2 x 4 studs in a centered position to form the pitch of the roof. He sat and held it for about 5 minutes while his co-worker, Fred, measured and made slight adjustments to get the perfect angle. It probably felt like much more than 5 minutes to Kenny.
Holding the pitch takes strength and concentration while Fred measures. Kenny would hold it steady until the correct angle was drawn onto each board so they could be cut correctly … and then held again while it was nailed into place.
Hammering causes plenty of vibrations while Kenny tries to balance and hold a 2×4 into place with a vice grip. These planks are made of a Belizean hardwood, much heavier than the pine used in the U.S.
Expensive industrial zinc sheets were used for the roofing and had to be cut while in place using an angle grinder. Hot sparks flew into his legs, but Kenny held steady until the job was done.
Toes, knees and contorted muscles are all needed to steady yourself while measuring and marking at the very tip of the roof line. Not much to grab onto if you slip from this position, Nothing but concrete floor below you.
Their tools may not be the best, but teamwork and a desire to get it done right are key traits of a Belizean construction team. Here, Fred and Kenny feel the heat of a 95-degree day as they assemble the zinc roofing for our palapa project.
Even when Kenny was lucky enough to be at ground level, the team still took advantage of his long legs and arms to hold high framing into place. No rest for the weary.
Acrobats like Kenny need to be able to handle any tool at any angle.
The July Belize heat wears on any worker, especially during the early afternoon hours when many other workers take off of work for an afternoon siesta to escape the hottest part of the day. Kenny took a quick lunch and was right back at it to get the job done on time.
The team got done on time and was treated a feast of Relleno, a local dish of stuffed Chicken, stuffing and more in a dark tasty spice broth. Kenny used the time to ask question after question about Trump, American politics and share his views about the current state of America from his vantage point.

Steps to Building A Home on a Budget in Belize

So you’ve navigated the treacherous and confusing Real Estate process in Belize. You have successfully purchased the land and have valid papers to prove it. Good job!

Now you need to build your home, but your retirement funds and your common sense tells you NOT to finance your building project.

Another wise move! You don’t need a mortgage during retirement, correct?

Provided that you don’t have the full funds for your project in your pockets, you’ve decided that you will build over a period of time before retirement.

Maybe you have 3-5 years before retirement and a bulk of your retirement funds will be tied up for a few years.

So you can take your time, but it may not be so easy to find a Belizean construction team that will agree to your pay-as-you-go plan.

Many construction companies in Belize will require up to 50% down payment with one more payment at the end.  That’s the bad news.

The good news: Belize is filled with talented small construction crews who will work with you, providing that you can pay in chunks that will divide your project into a number of “mini-projects” that make sense.

That’s the route that we chose, mostly out of necessity, but also because we had contacts in Belize because my wife’s family resides there.

Let’s take a tour of our home building project, outlining the steps we are taking to make our retirement home a reality.

This may not be the most feasible route for you, but many of the steps are the same one’s that you will need to take.

Hopefully you’ll get some new ideas and encouragement along the way.

Step One: Agree on a Flexible Game Plan

The land that we will be building on has been owned by Linda for many years.

Long before she met me, Linda had decided she would one day move back to her hometown in Belize, a town she left at the age of 18 to make a life in America.

So she purchased a 75′ x 150′ lot in a new subdivision of Orange Walk town on the West side of the Northern Highway. All the while, she was making monthly payments from America.

The dream started as a 75′ x 100′ lot that needed to be groomed and regularly maintained. Finding the correct team to do the work can mean the difference between progress or failure.

Over the years since then, she would see the slow development of the area every time she visited.

They were nice homes, some 2,000-3,000 square feet that are owned by local Belizean business people, but also others that are modest, 1,000 square feet or less.

Her goal was to “fit in”.  She envisioned a 20′ x 30′ wood structure built by skilled local mennonite builders that are finely crafted.

Time brought me into Linda’s life, and my frequent visits to Belize since then have given us time to talk and reshape the plan.

Seven Belize visits later the dream has grown into:

  • Selection and slight modification of a nice concrete duplex floor plan with built-in flexibility.

This will allow us to gradually build a 2-bedroom unit next to a 1-bedroom unit that can easily be converted into a comfortable 3-bedroom home by simply opening a door in a conjoining hallway.

It will also have a 30′ x 30′ concrete roof patio to take advantage of the nice breezes from the East.

A recent site plan shows the 54′ x 47′ duplex with backyard palapa and car port. The palapa construction was used as test project to see how the construction team would do under our watchful eyes. The one bedroom unit is shown on the left while the 2-bed unit is to the right. The hallway behind the bathrooms will have a steel door separating the two units.  The foundation is planned to be poured early in 2018.

The one-bed half will be finished first, utilizing furnishings we have been gathering for a number of years.

It will be rented out to a local who will also serve as a caretaker.

Then other half (2-bedroom) will be finished by relatives in the family as time permits. Hopefully within the next two years, the 2-bedroom section will be ready.

At that point, we can decide to either rent out the 2-bedroom portion or, if we are ready we can live in the other half.

We also will have the option to move in and utilize all 3 bedrooms as a single-family home. That’s total flexibility dependent on our desires and circumstances.

  • Future option to build a second floor rental unit by converting the 30′ x 30′ rooftop patio. 

This expansion idea came during our recent visit to Ambergris Caye.

We really enjoyed the small cabanas at Royal Caribbean Resort on the South side of the island.

As we marveled at the simple, but practical layout of the cabana, we knew it would be a perfect structure to build on the rooftop of our Orange Walk duplex.

This simple cabana design at Royal Caribbean Resort on Ambergris Caye is a simple, but stylish design, that was the inspiration for our 30′ x 30′ rental space. It will have bedroom, kitchenette, ample living space and large bathroom. Don’t be afraid to dream while you visit the many resorts in Belize.

Linda’s brother can handle the architectural needs on the fly which makes this a feasible idea for us. Just know that making these decisions on a whim can be costly when using an architect at full price.

The genius of this conversion comes from the desire to have family visit us from the U.S.  Having a ready-made place for kids and grandkids to stay will help us to stay connected.

  • Added flexibility to follow our dream to the coast while being a landlord

That’s right. Our dream doesn’t end there.

If you have read our blog on a regular basis, you know that Linda has a dream of starting a Bed & Breakfast or full-blown restaurant.

This could best be executed in a tourist area such as San Pedro, Caye Caulker, Placencia or Hopkins.

Rental income in Orange Walk will go a long way toward making our ultimate dream a reality.

We could easily hire a property manager to live in the one-bedroom unit and oversee the rental operation.

Bottom line: Dreaming and planning ahead allows you to chop any big dream into manageable projects that keeps you encouraged and moving forward.

Step Two: Pick a Trustworthy Construction Team

This is a lot easier said than done. Contractors run the gambit, and you need to know if you are dealing with one who runs a viable business that makes money by delivering quality construction on time.

In Belize, your choice of contractors come in several forms:

  1. A relative or friend who gained his experience by building his own home. Most will steer you away from this option and choosing this possibility is dependent on the amount of trust you have in your friend or relative. Be aware that the old adage that mixing business and family can be treacherous.
  2. A Belizean who has handled a number of projects successfully and pulls his team together when a project comes along. This option is more trustworthy, but can cause delays if the team is not available during your construction window.
  3. A construction company that builds pre-fab wooden homes either at their site or yours and delivers it to your site. These are mostly mennonites in Belize who make quality homes quickly, but they are made of wood which needs to be continually maintained over the years.
  4. A larger custom builder who designs and builds custom homes and handles all architectural, project management and subcontracting if necessary.  These are the best option to get your home done quickly when you can’t be in Belize to oversee the project. This option offers the least amount of flexibility in payment options.

You can find a list of these options by googling or by searching on Facebook, LinkedIn or other sites. Make sure to pay attention to comments and reviews on blogs, but realize that everyone has different opinions.

You can also talk with others who have successfully built in Belize. Realize, however, that most contractors are regional in Belize and may not travel a far distance to build your home.

Few people share a great experience, but they are quick to share a bad experience.

In the end, you need to chose based on your needs and circumstances.

Project One: The Security Fence (2015 – 2016)

Our first construction project was to securely fence in our land so that when we could have a secure place to store tools, etc. during construction. We were referred to a contractor by a relative who showed us many nice fences in Orange Walk that his team had built.

We stressed that we wanted the combination of cement block and chain link fencing to be done during a two week visit to Belize in 2015.

The contractor actually did his best to get done in the time frame, but a mixture of it being the rainy season and an underestimate of the money necessary caused the project to be 85% complete by the time we needed to head back to the U.S.

The fence was constructed in 2015, but we returned home and the contractor failed to cement three sides of the fence into the cement blocks. this caused us to have to fix it with patchwork in one corner on our next visit. He also failed to fill the blocks with concrete to make it more stable. His demands for more money to finish the work caused us to dismiss him from the project. Beware of this. Despite written estimates, signed receipts and being there for most of the project, the job sat undone for almost a year until our next visit. In our mind, he was taking advantage of our not being there.

Although we intended to use him for the home construction pending a nicely completed fence, we couldn’t move forward with his team due to a lack of trust.

Thankfully, we had a brother that brought in a small team to finish the fence, and build the 14-foot gates during our next visit in 2016.

The 14-foot rolling gates on both ends of the fence were nicely made in our absence shortly after our next visit in 2016. Linda’s brother oversaw the creation and installation and this helped us to gain trust in his team of local builders. Now that the fence was completed, we could concentrate on construction of the home.

You can see that to date, we have used a combination of options 1 and 2 above to get where we are, with mixed results.

Project 2: The Palapa (2017)

We were happy with how the gates turned out in our absence, so we decided that our July 2017 trip would be a great time to test the same team with construction of a small palapa in the back yard (see site plan above).

By doing so, we could see most of the carpentry and construction skills necessary to build our home.  We also could see how the team worked with Quidi, Linda’s brother, and if we could be confident the job would get done under his supervision.

We had a crude drawing of the palapa and only had a few requirements:

  • It had to have a concrete base and utilize a contractor’s grade zinc roof.
  • It also needed to be 6-sided with room for a fire hearth for outdoor cooking as well as Linda’s hammock.
  • We also wanted it done before we left back home two week’s later.

We met with Quidi when we got to Belize in July. We shared our duplex plans and our crude hand drawing of the palapa and left him to design it. We knew he had designed a number of homes in the past.

Quidi is a smart, capable guy who knows how to deal with a team and has all the skills to oversee the construction of our duplex. He lives only 6 blocks away from our land, so we are confident he will pay close attention during the construction process.

While he designed the palapa, we used a day to meet with two other possible contractors.

One was a person referred to us by Linda’s nephew who had little construction skills himself, but had a capable team.

The other was a larger contractor from Belize city. We happened to be renting his Orange Walk rental home during this trip.

The first estimate came back at more than we wanted to pay for a concrete home, but would be a good backup plan if things went awry with our first choice.

The second contractor to date has not gotten back to us and it became obvious that we did not fit into his construction windows.  Their work in Belize City was mostly commercial in nature, so they have bigger fish to fry.

It was a head-scratcher that they also failed to make any other recommendations to us along the way.

Needless to say, Quidi had a palapa plan, an estimate for construction and a team of four men ready to tackle the project when we met with him on Monday.

A separate blog post will soon be written to show the entire process of building the palapa, but until then, know that we were happy and sometimes amazed at the capabilities of his team.

The teamwork shown during the 5 days of full construction that it took to build the palapa built our confidence in this small team. You could tell that Fred (far center), Kenny (left) and Martin (right) had considerable experience and anticipated each other’s next move. They genuinely seemed to enjoy each other and didn’t mind that we were watching over the process along with Quidi.

A summary of the construction process included these steps:

  1. Day 1: Measurements, digging out framing sextagon foundation, Purchasing the madre cacoa hardwood posts, purchasing all other needed wood, hardware and supplies, sourcing the zinc to be used for the roofing.
  2. Day 2: Digging 2-foot deep holes for the posts, Setting and leveling posts, Pouring concrete into holes, Pouring 10-inch thick concrete floor.
  3. Day 3: Allowing all Concrete to set
  4. Day 4: Cutting posts to correct height, Constructing roofing frame and setting desired pitch of roof, Purchasing the Zinc for the roof to be delivered.
  5. Day 5: Cutting, setting and nailing zinc to the roof, insulating roof with foam to prevent leaks, Constructing a decorative apron and securing roof to posts with L-brackets.

The successful completion of the palapa, although a small project, accomplished a number of important things for us:

  • We now have a structure for the construction crew to escape the Belize heat.
  • It also affords Linda a place to oversee the construction process during our visits
  • It allowed us to get to know the workers by name and approve of their handiwork
  • It gives us confidence that the construction can progress under the watchful eye of Quidi and supervisory skills of Fred
  • It cemented in our mind, that we now have a team that could accomplish any construction process.
  • We could enjoy the second week of vacation filled with future dreams instead of construction worries.

Bottom Line: Take your time picking a construction company that fits your situation and project and learn to enjoy even the snarls along the way.

Step 3: Aggressively Revise your Timeline as Necessary

Now that you have the confidence in your team, be as aggressive as your budget will allow.

We have broken our timeline into six phases with a projected finish date of September of 2022, but if we aren’t quite done at that point, we won’t be disappointed. We will still be closer to our goal.

Here is our projected Timeline:

  • PHASE 1: November through December 2017: Construct an 18′ wide x 25′ Carport in the back left corner of the yard with a 6′ x 18′ storage area in the back. This area will be ample room for tools and construction materials that we send from the U.S. to Belize. We also will run electrical from the main hookup to the storage room. We will not be there to oversee this project.  PROJECTED COST: $7,000 U.S. or $14,000 BZ
  • PHASE 2: January 2018 through February 2018: Excavate and build cement block duplex foundation up to 24″-32″ above the ground level. This will also include running plumbing and electrical from the main hookups out at the back fence line to the laundry room area in back that will double as our utility room. PROJECTED COST: $15,000 U.S. or $30,000 BZ
  • PHASE 3: January 2019 through March 2019: Build the outer cement block wall of the structure, including windows, outer doors and cement upper patio area. Fill concrete into blocks and run all internal electrical, plumbing and  butane lines (for stoves and hot water heater). PROJECTED COST: $27,000 U.S. or $54,000 BZ
  • PHASE 4: January 2020 through April 2020: Build roofing infrastructure for master bedroom and all other areas outside of the patio. Also attach zinc roofing and create drainage gutters and water-gathering system. PROJECTED COST: $8,000 U.S. or $16,000 BZ
  • PHASE 5: January 2021 through September 2021: Build interior walls and Drywall one-bedroom side of duplex, install kitchen and bath furnishings, flooring, interior doors, ceiling treatments, lighting and other finishing. PROJECTED COST: $9,000 U.S. or $18,000 BZ
  • PHASE 6: January 2022 through September 2022: Build interior walls and Drywall two-bedroom side of duplex, install kitchen and bath furnishings, flooring, interior doors, ceiling treatments, lighting and other finishing. PROJECTED COST: $12,000 U.S. or $24,000 BZ

Note: After Phase 5 we can start rental of the one-bedroom side of the duplex. Also, all outside patio areas will be finished after the move-in date and will be done as time permits.

Total Projected Cost of the Duplex: $78,000 U.S. or $156,000 BZ.

Our duplex is perfect for our situation and fits our budget and our goals. Note that the front red door that Linda wanted shows proudly while the door for the one bedroom unit is hidden from the front. That’s to give the impression that it is a single family unit. Be sure to share your plans and dreams in the comments area below. We can’t wait to read your story!

If you think we are underestimating our budget, you might be right, but these prices are based on having some of the materials already in our possession.

Your budget will vary based on size of home, quality of materials used, etc.

Our desire is to show you our plan as a starting point for your plan. Creating a home “on a budget” is our goal. Is it yours?

Bottom Line: You might not think that our timeline of 6 Phases is aggressive, but it is quite aggressive for our retirement goals. We have 5 years before “retirement age”. Stick to a game plan that is aggressive for you without causing too much stress along the way. Remember, part of retirement is developing the correct mindset towards the process.

Dental Mission Trip Helps 163 Belize Patients, But Helps American Dental Staff More

The staff of St. Charles Family Dentistry in St. Charles, Illinois was challenged in late 2015 to meet specific revenue goals for 2016.

The reward for meeting that goal included a one-week trip in July 2017 to serve the children of Northern Belize with complimentary dental care.

Dr. Edward and Lynn Lipskis have participated in a day of complimentary dental care in Chicagoland every year through the “Dentists with a Heart” program, so they are no strangers to helping those who can’t afford dental care.

In fact, many Chicagoland dental practices join them in this annual Valentine’s Day gesture to the community.

Staff at Lamanai
Little did the team know that a week in Belize would change the way they view the world. Giving back is a direct route to getting back more in return. Here, the staff at St. Charles Family Dentistry experiences the wonder of the Lamanai Mayan Ruins.

So a trip to Belize was a natural extension of the program and a chance to show their staff about the needs of those in a third-world country.

Preparation for the July 2017 trip started in late 2016. Dr. Ed, Dr. Lynn and Dr. Dana visited Northern Belize to lay the ground work for the trip with Pastor Antonette Young of United in Christ Evangelical Church in Orange Walk Town who would serve as their local coordinator for the project.

the scope of the trip was determined and all logistics were discussed 6 months ahead of time. Pastor Young used her contacts in the Northern Belize area and selected two elementary schools in two distinctly needy villages.

Trinidad, about 20 miles West of Orange Walk in the Orange Walk District (off of San Antonio Road) and Santa Marta, a village about 30 miles Southeast of Orange Walk in the Belize District (off of the Old Northern Highway) were selected due to their close proximity to Orange Walk, which served as base for the mission activities.

She met with local school and health personnel to secure the help of a few local dentists to help oversee the dental procedures and serve as on-site consultants.

 

Dr Edward Lipskis discusses a treatment plan with Dr. Gustuvo, a consulting Belizean Dentist.

Hotel De La Fuente in downtown Orange Walk provided the 10 staff members who came with discounted rooms thanks to the generosity of owner Landy De La Fuente.

Hotel De La Fuente on Main St. in Orange Walk served as headquarters for the mission trip.

He also coordinated a boat tour down the New River to the Lamanai Mayan Ruins for the dental team after a few busy days of dental procedures.

During two days, 163 dental procedures were completed. Everything from cleanings to extractions were performed in make-shift dental offices in school classrooms.

Because of the lack of full dental facilities, the creative staff used portable camping stoves and pressure cookers to sterilize instruments. Much of the necessary tools and supplies were donated by Henry Schein, Inc. headquartered in New York through Henry Schein Cares, their global corporate social responsibility program.

Below you’ll find highlights of the two days of dental care as well as photos of the rest of the week which was used to reward the staff with relaxation, tourist opportunities and other team-building activities.

DAY ONE: SANTA MARTA

Even before the team was able to settle into their first day of work, Dr. Ed was asked if he could visit the Regional Hospital in Orange Walk to see if he could assess the needs of a patient that was in a car accident the day before and was in need of dental surgery. Even though Dr. Ed was thrilled to help, after assessment, he knew he wasn’t able to help because the person’s jaw was broken and needed to be wired shut before any dental help could be offered. Above, the team waits outside the hospital before heading to Trinidad.
Even though the setting wasn’t perfect, the team was organized and up to the challenge. First, the prep tables needed to be organized for efficient work flow.
Dr. Lynn didn’t waste any time getting right to it. With no adjustable dental chairs, much of the work was done with hunched backs and inadequate lighting, but makeshift camping headlights helped out quite a bit.
Although Dr. Ed spends most of his time back in the states on Jaw-related dentistry, orthodontics and lecturing, he was happy to get back to the basics while in Belize.
Patience, a little humor and a helpful mother were sometimes necessary to get children to open their mouths. Most have not seen a dentist before and according to Belizean officials, this is the first dental mission trip ever in their country.
Dr Dana Lipskis handles much of the general dentistry in Illinois, so she was in her element here, although limitations kept her from being able to complete typical fillings. Planning will be necessary to include full-service dentistry in any future mission trips.
Linda Castillo works in administration in St. Charles and because she is originally from Orange Walk, she was relied on for much of the translation necessary. Her heart for the Belizean people made a mission trip to Belize an emphasis for her.
Invention is the mother of necessity. Dental instruments were sterilized through the use of small camping stoves and a pressure cooker. When he wasn’t sterilizing instruments, justin captured the entire trip with his photography.
Alyssa used all of her charm to execute her hygiene duties. Use of a battery-powered tooth brush is taken for granted in the U.S., but was a new experience for these children. They no doubt had much to talk about at their homes that night. Wouldn’t it be nice to see one of these brushes in the hands of every family member in Belize?

DAY TWO: TRINIDAD

As set-up for day two of work was underway, some of the kids were eager to gather and wait patiently for their turn.
The School doubles as the local hurricane shelter since many of the homes in the village are made of wood. These homes would not fare too well in a tropical storm. Perhaps they need an additional sign now that boasts “Dental Office”.
It took a bit of time, but Dr. Lynn was relieved that the final authorization to perform dentistry was signed by the local officials. Work can begin!
Dr. Lisa Reust gets the help of a father to open the mouth of this hesitant patient. Despite his best efforts and the training of Angela the Dental Assistant, this young boy would not cooperate and left untreated.
Sometimes it takes a team to convince a child to cooperate. Linda interprets the treatment of Dr. Reust for a young girl in Spanish.
Dr. Lynn ignores the heat and engages with a hygiene patient while Dr. Ed entertains a brother who watches his sister under his care. A number of adults were also treated during both days.
Stephanie does her best to communicate with this boy about how he needs to care for his teeth after he leaves. The second day beat day one in total number of patients seen.
The church van, used to transport the team the 20 miles to Trinidad, showed its age and would not start for the ride home. Tony, the driver, puts water in the radiator while the team waits for another vehicle.
The team was not going to let the unforeseen circumstances spoil their day. They were happy to reminisce in the back of this small pickup truck as they headed back to the hotel. The wind would be welcome and they would look forward to the next 5 days of fun to come.

THE REST OF THE WEEK: DISCOVERING BELIZE

After 2 successful days of serving the residents of Northern Belize, the staff celebrated with a boat tour down the New River to the Lamanai Mayan Ruins South of Orange Walk on Wednesday.

Then a bus ride down to the Ocean Club Resort on the Placencia Penninsula for 3 days of relaxation and tourism on the 16 mile long Penninsula.

The Ocean Club Resort sits about half way down the Placencia Penninsula with all of the rooms and amenities necessary for a stay on the seaside. The resort is outside of the main town down to the South, and offers all the relaxation and excitement you could want from a Belizean resort.
The team spent time by the pool bar, enjoying the drinks, the team-building, the cool breeze and sharing what each had learned during the week in Belize.

Casa Blanca By the Sea Hotel: A “Great Buy” or a “Black Eye” in Consejo?

Casa Blanca Hotel view from the sea
Casa Blanca By the Sea in Consejo.

Imagine bringing your boat up to this pier on the Northern tip of Consejo looking to experience Northern Belize.

The Casa Blanca Hotel looks like a jewel, inviting you for a night stay or two, for a few cocktails and some great Belizean food. You can’t wait!

But then you realize that the cast iron gates are chained. You can’t get in. The place is empty and you’ll need to find other parts of Northern Belize to whet your whistle.

Casa Blanca by the Sea is for sale.

The location that hosted local conferences, and tourists for a number of years is now empty due to the owners’ unforeseen circumstances.

It’s weird to read the reviews on tripadvisor.com. It’s also confusing that the same listing invites you to check out possible stay dates.

But that’s what happens when you close rather abruptly and the owners want to put it into the hands of someone who can take it on.

I know what you’re thinking. “I bet I can make a go of it as the owner of Casa Blanca!”

I thought the same thing when a local real estate agent showed us the place during our recent trip to Northern Belize.

Karen Wilkinson of Corozal Belize Properties in Consejo Shores told us the sad story of how the Hotel came onto the market. She showed us the rooms, the land, the bar and the kitchen.

You could still envision a bustling business within its walls.

Enjoy this pictorial of our tour and decide for yourself if Casa Blanca is worth a look.

THE ROOMS: COMFORTABLE AND INVITING

Mayan Door Carving
Each door of the dozen or so hotel rooms invites you in with a Mayan carving on it. No detail is spared to make this an inviting hotel.
two levels of rooms
The rooms look over the sea from the top or bottom levels. The sea breezes hit you smack dab in the face as you scan the horizon from your balcony.
room interiror
The rooms are fully and smartly furnished, complete with ceiling fans and some with air conditioning.
The featured suites boast comfortable wicker furniture and large window access to the Caribbean Sea.

THE GROUNDS ARE CHARMING AND SPEAK TO OPPORTUNITY!

Palapa dining
A full palapa has seaside dining written all over it and has weathered the storms wonderfully. A small palapa sits at the end of the sturdy pier and entice those who want a more private dining experience on the Sea.
Parking
The cobble stone courtyard area is perfect for parking and a late night stroll.
Land to the West
Vacant land to the west of the Hotel could be used for lawn games such as futbol or volleyball or could be used for future development of private cabanas?
Seawall palapas
Shade palapas serve as nice shade spots along the sea wall, offering a great view of Chetumal about 2 miles across the Bay.

ADJACENT HOME IS A BONUS!

Adjacent Home
A two-bedroom home sits empty across the street from Casa Blanca and was used for the Hotel manager. A full workshop also is on the land and provides a perk for the absentee owner to offer to his on-site management.
The adjacent home comes fully furnished with plenty of space.
Bedroom
The master bedroom in the adjacent home is quite cozy and would make a perfect place for the on-site manager and his family to call home.

DINING, SERVING AND ENTERTAINING AREAS

Although the kitchen, bar and indoor dining area on the ground floor of the Casa Blanca Hotel were too dark (no electricity at present) to take decent photos, make sure your tour of Casa Blanca includes some time in these areas.

The kitchen is large, well laid out and boasts all of the stainless steel appliances needed by any full-service restaurant. All are included in the price of the Hotel.

The bar is rustic and expertly made from local exotic hardwoods, while the dining area is fully furnished with complementary wood tables and chairs.

An office area also serves the owner and/or manager a comfortable air conditioned area to attend to daily administrative tasks.

THE VERDICT: “BLACK EYE” OR “GREAT BUY”?

As you see from the pictorial above, Casa Blanca features everything a thriving Hotel and Restaurant needs, such as great sea views, perfect sea breezes, a nice design and an infrastructure that could be sustainable with a bit of tender loving care.

According to local real estate sites, the reduced listing price for Casa Blanca is $799,999 USD at the time of this writing.

From our visit, we assessed that the price seemed like a bargain based on the quality of the construction, the layout and location.

Of course, any possible investor should get a hold of the financials of the business when it was in operation and thoroughly investigate the future tourism potential  of the area.

Bottom Line: Although at first site, we determined that it has potential for the right investor, it was above our budget.

The longer Casa Blanca sits vacant, however, the work required to get it back into operational condition will increase.

The assessment of whether it is a “Black Eye” for the area, or a “Great Buy” for the right business person should be left up to the person who does extensive due diligence.

Have you viewed Casa Blanca? If so, give us your opinion below.

Do you have information that will help inform future investors, please add to the discussion below.

Did you ever stay at Casa Blanca? Tell us about your experience below!

Here are a few links to start your research:

5 Things That Make Orange Walk Town in Belize a Great Retirement Landing Spot

Orange Walk town in Northern Belize may not be the first place that future Expats think of when investigating a retirement home.

Situated about 30 miles from the Belize/Mexico border to the North, Orange Walk is a bustling town of about 14,000 real folks. It’s actually about the 4th largest town in Belize, outside of Belize City and the capital city of Belmopan to the South.

The New River winds along the East side of Orange Walk town, inviting Expats to consider it for their permanent retirement location.

Feel free to investigate via Wikipedia more of the Capital of Orange Walk District here.

But for those looking for these 5 things, it may be a perfect place to enjoy the rest of your life.

Orange Walk’s Location is pretty strategic

Orange Walk’s Central location is inland from the Sea about 30 miles to the Northeast and 25 miles to the East.

And for those who aren’t the “water-type” or who fear the affects of the intermittent hurricanes or rising seas, Orange Walk is quite sheltered from the elements.

There are miles and miles of foliage and sugarcane fields between Orange Walk and the nearest coast.

When the islands are rebuilding from the latest tropical storm, Orange Walk is business as usual.

And did you know that the Northern Highway, one of only 3 main roads in Belize, runs smack dab through the middle of Orange Walk?

So whether you are headed to the airport in Belize City, or to the Mexican border to the North, the Northern Highway takes you there. And you’ll also connect to the Hummingbird Highway for adventure further south or to connect on your way to Belmopan or San Ignacio.

So if you plan to set up shop in Belize, you can count on plenty of traffic on the Northern Highway to find your business in Orange Walk.

Orange Walk
The colors that greet you in Orange Walk town are definitely caribbean in style and give the entire town a festive feel no matter what time of year.

And we haven’t even talked about the fact that the Cuello distillery and the sugar factory in Tower Hill employ a good number of the Orange Walk residents. That’s one reason that Orange Walk is known locally as “Suga City”.

Orange Walk’s Dining Choices are Diverse and Cultural

Talk to anyone in Belize about Orange Walk and the first thing that they will mention is “the best street tacos and tamales in Belize”.

Linda, who grew up in Orange Walk, is biased, but she puts it this way: “Any Belize product made with corn is best in Orange Walk. Whether it be the street taco on the corner or the tamales made to order, Orange Walk continually outranks the other areas of Belize.”

For $2, you can buy 10 of the best pulled pork tacos with hot pepper at any number of corner taco stands on the Northern Highway. So for $4, even the heartiest of appetites can be satisfied. My large brother-in-law can attest to that!

Taco stands seem to be on every street corner in Orange Walk. Their reputation as having the best tacos and tamales in all of Belize makes the locals proud.

And when the weekend parties are being planned, there are a number of spots to pre-order your made-to-order tamales. Bottom line: the corn is moister, the sauce is hotter and the folks keep coming back for more.

Several restaurants in Orange Walk are well worth mentioning as offering the Expats and locals great food at reasonable prices.

Nahil Mayab:

This restaurant is about 2 block West of the Northern Highway at the corner of Guadalupe and Santa Ana Streets. Find the Shell station on the Highway, known to the locals as Belize Road, then head west.

Besides the steak and pork chop, pasta and fish selections, Nahil Mayab features a number of great local favorites such as Cashew Wine Pasta.

Proudly Belizean inspired, according the Nahil Mayab, it includes whole shrimps and chunks of fish fillet flambéed in a cashew wine tomato sauce, served on a bed of linguini; accompanied by garlic bread.

And if you have never had Cashew Wine, it’s fermented in the nearby town of Crooked Tree from the fruit of the Cashew Tree. Quite a unique taste and an unusual kick!

This plastic bottle looks innocent enough, and the contents was bought on the side of Northern Highway near Crooked Tree, but the Cashew Wine inside is as potent as it gets. All for about $5.00 U.S.

According to local stories, it mixes with the Belizean humidity and heat to create a buzz that can come back for a number of days. Beware!

Cocina Sabor:

Owned by local Orange Walk resident Oscar Gutierrez, Cocina Sabor is on the South side of Orange Walk, right on Northern Highway.

Oscar opened Cocina Sabor after many successful years as the chef at Victoria House Pamilla Restaurant on Ambergris Caye.

Cocina Sabor boast international flavors and the expertise of Chef Oscar Gutierrez who spent many years honing his skill on Ambergris Caye before coming back home to Orange Walk.

He decribes his menu this way:

“Our menu has Belizean Cuisine with a hint of international flavor; featuring our local meats, chicken, seafood, and an array of appetizers. Our bar offers a wide selection of beverages ranging from cold beers, fresh fruit juices, to cocktails and wine.”

It features an outdoor porch as well as plenty of inside seating along with a full-service bar. Pick anything on the menu and you can’t go wrong. I have never had a bad meal here and have found myself there quite often.

I guess that fact that our parcel of land sits about 6 blocks behind Cocina Sabor made it a great place to meet with contractors, utility personnel and others. Anytime we need to escape the heat or check our email when in Orange Walk, we end up at Cocina Sabor.

I could mention a number of other restaurants for you to try in Orange Walk, but I think you get the hint. Food is king in Orange Walk. If you have some recommendations, please comment on them below!

Orange Walk is the place to go Shopping in Northern Belize

As the most populated town in Northern Belize, Orange Walk has the reputation as the “go-to” place for shopping in the area.

Sure, you can go North and across the border into Chetumal for a North America type shopping experience, but if you don’t want the wait of crossing the border, you can get most of what you need in Orange Walk.

In fact, many who live in the Corozal District find themselves navigating over to Orange Walk instead of taking the closer trip to the border.

Going to the local butcher in Orange Walk had Linda buying mutton for a birthday party.

If you need a butcher, it’s there. If you need fruits, vegetables and plants, the marketplace by town square is open every day.  You’ll also find clothing, groceries, automotive parts, electronics, internet and cellular services, furniture, home improvement, beauty salons and supplies, hardware and much more in Orange Walk town.

And the few times where you can’t find what you need, you can make a weekend trip to Chetumal, Mexico where Shopping Malls, Sam’s Club, Home Depot and others are waiting for your business.

Orange Walk is a Gem on the New River

The New River winds its way through Orange Walk’s East side and up into the remainder of Northern Belize before emptying into the Corozal Bay.

Besides the usual advantages of being on a river, Orange Walk boasts a number of businesses on the New River that service the culinary needs of the locals and cater to the growing tourism of the area.

One such tourist adventure on the Southern area of Orange Walk off of Naranja Street is a row of riverside cabins on the New River called El Gran Mestizo, owned by the De La Fuentes who also own the bustling downtown Orange Walk Hotel De La Fuente .

From these private cabins you can dine at Maracas Bar and Grill, and then start your adventure vacation and take in a number of adventure tours down the New River.

Maracas Bar and Grill is a welcoming place down by the New River that is part of the El Mestizo River Cabins.

You can find descriptions and rates on their web site.

The most popular tour is 15 miles south of Orange Walk to the Lamanai Mayan Temple and Ruins. Businesses that want to capitalize on this tourist traffic in Orange Walk should make Orange Walk a stop on their next trip.

Lamanai Mayan Ruins Tour is an all-day affair that takes you down the New River to the Mayan Temple.

Linda and I had the pleasure of staying at both the De La Fuente Hotel and the El Gran Mestizo Riverside Cabins on our most recent trip and enjoyed the ambiance of each.

Other Hotels to investigate in Orange Walk include:

  • Hotel St. Christopher’s
  • Orchid Palm Inn

Orange Walk offers a laid back life that encourages a healthy lifestyle

In this section, I’ll cover a number of areas that together, combine to make Orange Walk a serious consideration for you retirement years.

Healthcare:

No third-world country will offer the healthcare that will equal what you have experienced in the U.S. or Europe.

With that said, Orange Walk feature one of three regional government-run Hospitals on the North side of town.

Although it is not up-to-par with the Hospitals in Belize City and Belmopan, it is affordable and adequate for daily health concerns that may come up.

There are a few private facilities in the area that will offer better care from Doctors trained overseas.

Other medical options include going 30 miles north over the Mexican border to Chetumal, where healthcare is cheaper, but skilled.

For major procedures, many Expats choose to head to the U.S. or their home country. This is true of every part of Belize, however.

For more on the Healthcare in Belize, you might like this article.

Lifestyle:

There are plenty of things to do in Orange Walk whether it be spending social time at the town square, learning the local favorite, Dominos, or playing soccer (futbol).

Dominos
In Orange Walk, lots of time is spent chatting, drinking and teasing each other about Dominos skill.

Muffles college is close by for expanding your horizons and there are opportunities to volunteer at a number of area churches.

For those who prefer nightlife, the Hi 5 Night Club in downtown Orange Walk gets 4.8 out of 5 stars on Facebook.

Daytrips are easy from Orange Walk.

We have talked about Chetumal, Mexico, but virtually every area of Belize is accessible within no more than a few hours drive.

Belize City, Belmopan, Hopkins and Placencia Penninsula are well worth the trip. You also will enjoy the cool breezes in the San Ignacio and up in the Mountain Pine area.

And Tropic Air makes daily flights out to Ambergris Caye.

Housing:

If you plan to purchase land and build, there are a number of subdivisions in Orange Walk to Investigate.

Land is more affordable in Orange Walk than on the seaside. Investigate Dr. George Estates West of the Northern Highway where many new homes are currently going up.

This home is one of the new ones being built in the Dr George Estate subdivision of Orange Walk.

And if you need some possible architects and lawyers, we’ll be happy to refer a few that we know as well as a number of builders.

As you can see, Orange Walk offers a lot for those who want to live inland, centrally located to other parts of Belize.

Of course, we are biased due to it being Linda’s hometown, but that gives us a perspective on Orange Walk that could be valuable to you during your search.

Let us know how we can help!

Take in the Sounds and Imagery of a Perfect Sunrise over Corozal Bay