Placencia, Belize’s Emerging Luxury Property Destination

01.01.15

From its secluded beaches to its steamy raninforests, Belize is a country of diverse natural beauty. But it is also moving onto the radar of emigrating buyers thanks to its generous retirement programme. Jane Slade investigates

Seduced by the pristine beaches, lush rainforests, and unspoilt hinterland on his first visit in the 1980s, The Godfather film director Francis Ford Coppola bought a run-down hotel high above the jungle canopy in the Maya mountains which he converted into the 20-room Blancaneaux Lodge Resort Hotel (www.coppolaresorts.com).

A few years later he bought Turtle Inn at Placencia in the south, transforming it into a 25-room seafront sanctuary for chums like Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones to relax, undisturbed, far from the intrusive lenses of the paparazzi.

Placencia, a former jungle-covered pirate haven, means ‘peaceful point’ but is in the throes of being transformed into a 6,500-acre resort with its own airport, a hospital and golf course.

Italian developer Marco Caruso discovered the 17-mile long peninsular when he came for a fishing holiday 13 years ago. He intended to establish a small B&B but he built a 90-room hotel instead. He now has permission to build five resorts and six developments each with their own hotel over the next two and a half years, and also a marina which opens in November.

There will also be a signature golf course, separate island resort and a private international airport offering direct flights from Europe, making it one of the most exclusive destinations in Central America.

Four years ago there wasn’t even a paved road to Placencia, three hours drive south of Belize City. But now it’s become the country’s most desirable location with the sparkling Caribbean Sea to the east, a wildlife-rich freshwater lagoon to the west and rolling tree-capped Mayan mountains in the background. Best of all the region boasts the most pristine beaches in Belize protected by a barrier reef making it a haven for sailors, divers and snorkelers.

Properties on the new development are unashamedly high end. And, according to Madeleine Lomont, Placencia Residences’ sales director and founding president of the country’s real estate association, will be the most stunning architecturally too.

“There will be more of a European influence than American,” she explains. “The Marina Village will look like an Italian harbour; the detached villas will be in the Spanish classical style with terracotta roofs, and the ocean-front Copal beach resort has been designed in Argentina – so will have a very South American feel.

“We are building an international town,” she declares. Prices start from US $400,000 for a one-bed condo rising to $1.2million for a three-bed. Other properties include 2,400 sq ft two-bed villas costing from $700,000 increasing upwards to $12 million for a detached family residence measuring 22,000 sq ft.

Fourteen-acre Rendezvous island, 12 miles off the coast, is also part of the development and will soon to be home to 30 two-bedroom villas starting at $4 million with private pools, mahogany wall finishes and thatched roofs. The island will also have its own spa, restaurant, hotel suites over the water and a helipad.

“We have an exclusive market that’s very separate from the local area,” says Madeleine, whose family established the first diving centre in Belize 1967. “We already have some 200 owners, some with multiple properties; ranging from Americans and Canadians to French, English, Thai, Argentineans and Vietnamese.  There’s a combination of medical professionals, attorneys and entrepreneurs.”

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Perhaps there will be some musicians in the mix. The manager of the hotel is a classically trained opera singer and Marco Caruso (no relation to late Italian opera singer Enrico) hosts karaoke sessions on the pier. Some owners have bought as holiday homes with a view to retiring there in later life; others live there full time and the rest spend between 6-8 months a year.

There’s a resident’s retirement programme for the over 45s too which is attracting a mature market. Those who qualify can bring their car, boat, plane and household goods into the country duty free.

Under the scheme you can stay as long as you like and apply for permanent residency after a year providing you have $25,000 in a bank account or an income of $2,500 a month. Income earned outside Belize is tax-free. There are even plans for nursing care facilities. “We have owners aged from 20 to 90 and also disabled owners,” adds Madeleine. “In fact one of the English owners is in the personal care business so helping us with this.”

Placencia is ideal for retirees. Apart from the Mayan mountains there are no hills to navigate and with Belize’s population numbering just 335,000, who live mainly in Belize City and in the north, the south is uncongested.

Belize was formerly known as British Honduras until it gained independence in 1981 and became a member of the Commonwealth, but its blend of cultures and nationalities are as exotic as its black orchids, scarlet macaws, and howler monkeys. There are Creoles descended from Scottish buccaneers and descendants of shipwrecked African slaves as well as Portuguese, Spanish and native Maya.

However there is still a British colonial structure; judges still wear wigs, the Queen is on the currency and everyone speaks English. But more assuring for British buyers is that British common law presides when buying property.

There are no restrictions on foreigners buying homes in Belize which are sold freehold with full title. There is also no capital gains tax. Stamp duty is five per cent of purchase price, legal fees 1.5-2 per cent and property tax is minimal.

“The real estate on offer is as diverse as the population,” adds Madeline. “There are lots of different properties from farmland and single plots in the interior to resorts and condos on the island of Ambergris Cay in the North.”

The former fishing enclave of Ambergris Cay is now Belize’s bustling holiday destination with a Spanish Mexican feel as it’s close to Mexican border. “Placencia is much quieter,” says Madeleine, “We have lush scenery, historic Mayan settlements, but good access through the mainland and the only golf course in the country.”

Elsewhere on the peninsular you can find condos and studios for sale from $250,000; private villas from $300,000; luxury ones with a pool from $700,000. It’s not a cheap area as people are looking to buy now to capitalize on the new airport.

You could say Placencia is the emerging luxury Belize destination. For more information on the Placencia Hotel and Residences and The Placencia visit: www.the placencia.com

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