I will start with the negative things. The worst thing for Westerners living in Cayo is that you won’t find the selection of goods that you might be used to. If you want toothpaste, you can maybe choose from five different kinds but not 50. This is the same in all aspects of shopping. Most things here in Cayo are pretty basic and restricted in a certain way. There is a lack of variety and sophistication but you do not need to suffer. If you want a nice prosciutto, you might not get it here because 80% of the goods that are available here are targeted towards the local market, and Belizeans love tortillas and not prosciutto.
Also you won’t find sophisticated meat products. There is good local meat here so you could have a tasty grass fed steak but the selection is by far not as broad as in the Western 1st world countries. On the other hand, if you go to Belize City or to Placencia, they cater to a large number of expats so you have a bit better selection there. This is the common issue that expat wives face here in Cayo because they are the ones in charge of shopping. If you appreciate big city shopping, you will definitely miss that in Cayo.
Apart from the lack of selection of goods, another annoying thing are the roads. I am from Germany and most, if not all roads in Germany are paved. Even farm roads are paved. Here in Cayo, it’s significantly different. After the rainy season the dirt roads are in bad condition and the paved roads have dangerous potholes. So when you are driving, you really have to pay attention and be careful all the time. The roads in Cayo have improved a lot during the last years but we are not quite there yet.
The best thing about living here in Cayo are the people. They are generally friendly and helpful. But Belizeans will not let you look down on them. If you do so, they will notice it right away and react accordingly. But if you treat them nicely, they will be most pleasant and helpful. In 31 years of driving in Germany, I never had one single flat tire. I didn’t even know you could have a flat tire. When I came to Belize, I had to learn how to change a tire because in the 5 years that I have been here, I have had seven flats. The good thing about it was that people were always there to help me. There was never a time when I was left alone. When I had car trouble there was always somebody who stopped and offered to help me. In some cases, they even ended up under my car changing the tire for me. Where else does that happen? Belizeans are innately kind. This is just their nature and this is the most positive thing that I see in them. I didn’t know that anybody could be as nice as Belizeans.
There are times when I get embarrassed on how negative we Germans often are. If you take our Western standards and compare them to the way people live here in Belize, you will find a big gap in the standard of living. People are poor, there is no health insurance or old-age pension or anything like that for most of the people. Because of that, you might think that they have all reason to be unhappy and be afraid of the future, but they are not. Belizeans are very positive. When you meet them, they would always have a smile on their face. When you see them in the streets, they smile and greet you, and it’s just normal. Being here in Belize for a while will definitely change you. You just can’t escape it. I think, in that respect, I have changed for the better just by living here in Cayo.
Another good thing about Cayo is the weather because it is never really cold or extremely hot. We sometimes have rain storms but no hurricanes or very extreme weather conditions. You don’t have to worry about what to wear every single day because every day, you could wear jeans and a t-shirt, and that is adequate.
There is lots of entrepreneurial spirit here in Cayo. A couple just knocked on my gate recently that started a business a few months ago, which is called Microgreens. They grow sprouts of all kinds, which are used for cooking or decorating meals. They drive to our little lodge once a week and we buy from them. We pay around $10 to $15 worth of sprouts and they deliver to our door. They told me that demand is good and their business is going uphill since they can offer something different.
If you want to start a business here in Cayo, just come up with the idea. There is not too much red tape here. Think of a business and just do it. This is one of the reasons why I initially considered leaving Germany because I find my country to be over regulated. If you want to come to a place where you have a lot of freedom, then Belize is the place.
(Sprouted greens on sea bass at Vanilla Hills Lodge, Cayo, Belize, pictured.)