Celebrities Drawn to Belize:
Island Hopping, Island Shopping
by Skip Knowles
(PLACENCIA, Belize) – As Belize becomes one of the biggest boom areas of the Caribbean, affluent visitors-and more and more celebrities-soon find themselves switching from the adventures of island-hopping to the pastime of island-shopping… at the same time provocative options on the mainland are taking off.
Whether fly fishing, diving or sailing, wealthy visitors soon hear that private islands and prime properties can be purchased in Belize from original owners for a fraction of what waterfront costs back in the U.S. and elsewhere in the Caribbean. Tiger Woods, Charlize Theron, Leonardo DiCaprio, Lennox Lewis, Harrison Ford and Francis Ford Coppola have all either visited or bought property in Belize, with Tiger going non-stop fly-fishing, snorkeling, kayaking and diving, according the San Pedro Sun.
Tiger is an avid diver, who has been all over the world underwater, plunged in the waters off San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker and Lighthouse reef. “These waters are incredible!” he told the Sun. “I have been diving in many places and Belize is definitely top notch. The Blue Hole is spectacular. The water was so clear everywhere we went. The diving near San Pedro was really impressive. Hol Chan is a very special place with the sharks and rays, and the people of San Pedro have done a great job taking care of it.”
After visiting Shark-Ray Alley he told the Sun, “I have never done anything like that in my life. It was awesome!” Tiger’s wife, Swedish model Elin Nordegren, accompanied him, and his close friends, Jerry and Danielle Change, had honeymooned at Cayo Espanto just prior to Woods’ visit. Tiger reportedly claimed himself “about a seven-handicapper” with the fly rod.
Ambergris Caye is also where Harrison Ford stayed while filming The Mosquito Coast years ago. He went on to become a writer and environmental advocate for Belize, fighting to stop the construction of a dam that would harm flood plains that lay undisturbed since the time of the Maya.
While the Bahamas has been a draw for the trendy island homes of many celebs in recent decades, Belize is quickly moving into the mix for its more consistent climate, warmer water and weather, affordability, incredible barrier reef and proximity to that which the Bahamas will never have: an astonishingly bio-diverse mainland replete with stunning waterfalls, ancient ruins, jaguar jungles, mountains and rushing whitewater rivers. Not to mention super-friendly tax laws and the fact that Belize is an English-speaking member of the British Commonwealth.
Most people coming to Belize for the first time never get off Ambergris Caye, and that’s a shame. North Americans who have been here many times have discovered that the most beautiful and best places to live are on the mainland. It’s a more relaxed, non-touristy atmosphere and allows you some breathing room, yet still has great beaches and is minutes from the beautiful Mayan Mountain range.
Belize is also blessed with true tropical weather. It’s far enough south that visitors are never subjected to the chilly waters and wish-I’d-brought-a-sweater days that are the Bahamian winters. High-profile celebs who favor fly fishing and diving invariably come to Belize at some point. That’s nothing new, what with vacationers like the actress Charlize Theron, who swam in Belizean waterfalls in 2007. But while celebrity visits to Belize are practically de rigueur, more of them seem interested in getting a piece of this paradise for themselves.
Even the eco-conscious environmental activist, former pretty boy Leonard DiCaprio has bloomed into a gritty leading man and capped off his career maturation with his own Belizean island, Blackadore Caye, which Private Islands Magazine says he bought in 2005 for just under $2 million. Huge by Belize standards, Blackadore is a rambling 104-acre island located in the prime area between mainland Belize and Ambergris Caye, close to the famous Barrier Reef that winds although the way to Houndoras to the south. DiCaprio has stated that he hopes to make it a public destination and a model of sustainable development.
People come to paradise first for the tropical weather, swaying palm trees, and clear blue waters. That’s how most of us define the ultimate escape. The mainland of Belize has all that and more-a hundred miles of Caribbean oceanfront, in fact. Projects like The Peninsula Club and Marina in the quaint fishing village of Placencia are drawing more and more focus to the solid opportunities of mainland Belize. The Peninsula Club features the country’s first real marina, and gives owners and visitors the best of both worlds. Located right next to another famous celeb’s long-time escape, The Peninsula Club’s Marina sits only a five-minute boat ride from the Caribbean making it easy to enjoy the endless adventures of Belize’s amazing tropical waters, dozens of cayes reminiscent ofGilligan’s Island and the infamous reef make it a perfect jumping off point for all the inland adventures the mainland holds as well.
“This is the kind of project that will change and grow Belize’s attraction as a top destination for second and retirement homes,” says Mark Peterson of Three Palms Belize, a Coldwell Banker office located in Placencia. “Ambergris Caye is a great draw for Belize and where most tourists end up, but the rainforest in the middle and southern part of the country offers so many more things to do and if you want the amazing water and the reef it’s only a few minutes away by boat.”
Belize is a special place, something Francis Ford Coppola figured out a long time ago. Coppola first went to Belize while filming the groundbreaking Apocalypse Now and quickly wanted a piece of this lush little country for himself and his Hollywood friends to enjoy. The iconic director now owns two resorts in Belize-the Turtle Inn and Blancaneaux Lodge-one situated in the mountains and one across the border in nearby Guatemala near the Mayan ruins of Tikal.
Travel and Leisure magazine touts his Blancaneaux Lodge highly in multiple annual reviews, for its forest scenery, remote setting and unique architecture. Hey, in Belize, all you have to do is not get in the way of the scenery, and Blancaneaux is also situated near the Mayan ruins of Caracol, the largest in Belize.
Of Blancaneaux, T&L writes: “Spot rare howler monkeys and iguanas from the safety of an idyllic, horseshoe-shaped tub designed by Oscar-winning production designer Dean Tavoularis at Francis Ford Coppola’s Blancaneaux Lodge. Made from thousands of pieces of local granite and built by local stone craftsmen, it sits in a hillside amid the same kind of lush jungle paradise Coppola fell in love with while filming Apocalypse Now.”
The Turtle Inn, Coppola’s first creation in the region, also gets high marks for style and intimacy without exorbitant expense. Three restaurants, a pavilion home, eight villas and 17 cottages that are a stone’s throw from the beach create a powerful draw, along with proximity to the charming town of Plancencia-full of friendly cafés and guesthouses-and the “worlds smallest mainstreet” byGuiness Book of World Records is a cement path winding through art galleries, t-shirt shots and cool little bars. Top it off with relaxing Bali-inspired architecture and décor, and The Turtle Inn is a great illustration of what Belize is all about.
But you do not have to be a celebrity to grow a passion for what can only be called the biggest little country in Central America. Waterfront lots in Costa Rica start at about a half-mill, but you can still buy an island in Belize for about half that.