Luxury Real Estate in Placencia, Belize: 
Flying under the Radar

story and photos by John Lamkin
Placencia RG sm Many publications have touted foreign ownership of real estate in Belize — and rightly so. With jungles, beautiful beaches and the second largest barrier reef in the world, the country provides excellent opportunities for investment. Places like Ambergris Caye and Corozal have caught public attention and still offer an attractive lifestyle, but for those that want to “fly under the radar,” Placencia, Stann Creek District is the place to look.

David Kafka gave up his landscaping business in Florida to move to Belize for a simpler and less expensive life for himself, wife, and young daughter. In Placencia he found that and more. The opportunity arose to establish a RE/MAX real estate office in the small, upcoming town. The boom there managed to keep David, a distant relative of the famous author Franz Kafka it so happens, quite busy. Well, busy by Belize standards anyway.

In addition to his real estate business, he is participating in community affairs, making Placencia a better place to live. David says about the village, “I love the area, friendly people, great food, and more. Placencia is growing — with a sewer project, the new international airport…” He feels that Placencia is a very safe place to live, to bring your family, or just visit. Now, after a few years in the real estate business he sees that there is a need here for a landscaping company; will he be the one to fill that need?

For years all that I’d heard was that Placencia was a primitive, backward town that was that was hard to get to. But, when we arrived, much to my surprise, we found a charming, active, and booming little village of about 7,000 people with several great restaurants and some world–class resorts.

The real estate “ground floor” is still happening. A new cruise ship terminal is in the making. According to Kafka, it is a done deal. “Money has been paid — lots of it.” An international airport is under way on the other end of the peninsula that is much larger than the current airstrip hosting domestic flights and is about 70 percent complete. Marinas are already in place and more are underway – the climate is ripe for luxury investment. A real estate boom is happening.

All prices shown in the following examples are in U.S. dollars.

Some Properties worth checking out

DSCN6976Robert’s Grove

French Canadian owner/developer Jean Marc Tasse took over this property in 2011 and big things are happening. The whole resort has been given a facelift and much work has been done on a full–service marina with residences, a new restaurant, PADI 5 dive center, slip spaces for lease, beach access, and resident’s club. The marina is situated on a lagoon across the street from the main resort. It has a boat that serves the marina and the resort with regularly scheduled tours.

Robert’s Grove Resort is on 22 acres of beautiful, white–sand Caribbean beach. It has two swimming pools, two fine restaurants, a spa, and many updated amenities.

The two– and three–bedroom, fully equipped condos at Robert’s Grove are priced from $275K to $485K and according to realtor Boris Mannsfeld have a very high annual rental yield.

The Robert’s Grove Marina has thirty lots with boat slips for sale from $150,000 to $199,000 with the stipulation that the owner must build within two years. At the time I was there seventeen lots were already sold. Four duplexes have already been built and sold.

Chabil Mar and The Peninsula Club

In 2003, entrepreneur Diane Buhlman came to Placencia to “find her own small house” but ended up developing Chabil Mar, a luxury boutique condo resort. With Chabil Mar completed and doing very well, Diane has started a new development, The Peninsula Club.

Chabil Mar has 22 condo/villas that were priced at $550K for a two bedroom with one bath and $650K for a two bedroom with two baths. These are beautifully appointed, spacious units with full kitchens and all the amenities. According to Buhlman the condos are yielding 6.5% per year as rental units for the resort. “Most buy to live here at least three months a year, mostly in 40’s to 50’s age group. Many bring their computers to (be able to) work. It’s quality of life they’re after.” Unfortunately, at the time I was there were no condos for sale. I was told that the owners don’t part with them easily. It would be worthwhile to check if any of these condos come onto the market later because they really are beautiful.

The Peninsula Marina is on 65 acres with a dive shop and a few units already built. Building lots with a slip are available for single family homes, duplexes, and fourplexes. A high–end health club and spa is underway, and there will be a complete, upscale shopping mall on the property. The 9.3–acre marina was still for sale at the time of my visit. I looked at a couple of homes with slips, finished or nearly finished. The price range finished was approximately $500K to $999K.
DSCN7196 Villas at Coco Plum, Development Resort

The Villas at CocoPlum is a beautiful new eco–conscious development that has kept the native vegetation as natural as possible, adding to it with stunning tropical landscaping. The utilities are underground, as is the case with most of the newer resorts and developments in the area. Planned are a marina, condos, and single family homes. Several luxury single family units are already built, priced from $250K to $799K and you can buy a penthouse for a cool $million.

The Rest of Stann Creek District

Placencia is located on a peninsula at the southern end of Stann Creek District. We traveled to the northern part of the District, through the Sittee River area to Hopkins looking at real estate availability. We passed the site of the new Panther Golf Course development where workers were digging canals and the property was readying to sell lots. Nearby is the new international airport that is underway.

Sittee River is a small, slowly developing area with some new developments started, an existing small craft marina and at the north end, near Hopkins, some nice restaurants. Along the river there are some ideal building sites for sale by owner for reasonable prices. I was told that you could build a small house there for around $70,000 in materials and labor. Another bargain was a nice house along the river, sitting on four acres, with 630 feet of riverfront for only $230K.
DSCN7691We stopped at a very impressive tropical estate overlooking the river, Casa De Rosa, on 8.83 acres with a two–story, luxurious southern mansion–type house, swimming pool, lush gardens, fruit orchards, and a separate workers/caretakers house. The owners were asking $1.98 million.

Further down the road, along the river we came to a very interesting property. The distance from the Caribbean beach to the river was just a couple hundred yards. The two–story house was situated on the beach, facing the ocean. Across the road, on the river, was an apartment, with a boathouse raised above a slip for two cabin cruiser–size boats. The owner was readying the property for sale and said he was going to price it around $850K — an excellent bargain for a boat lover.

A little more to the north we came to Hopkins, a small Garifuna town. The Garifuna are descendants of a group of slaves that were shipwrecked and made their home on the Caribbean shores. They still retain their language and customs. Hopkins is a great place to observe the Garifuna dances, music and their culture.

Hopkins Bay Resort is just on the edge of the village of Hopkins, a beautifully landscaped, ocean–front luxury property with two swimming pools and an excellent thatched–roof restaurant and bar. There were two condos coming up for sale when I was there. They weren’t priced yet as they were being remodeled. I was told they would be somewhere around $400K to $500K. The resort’s new managers are putting a lot of improvements in place. This could be a good investment.

Real Estate in Belize, Placencia and the rest of Stann Creek District

Realtors David Kafka and Boris Mannsfeld have shared some of the pluses of investing in real estate and living in Belize and Stann Creek:

Warm climate, with idyllic tropical Caribbean landscapes and pristine islands.
100% foreign ownership granted
Retirement Incentives
Spacious, lush land
English is the official national language
Friendly and welcoming
Peaceful, stable democracy that’s part of the British Commonwealth
Close to North America; easy to reach by land, sea and air
Unique adventures and exploration; an emerging tourism market
Abundant natural resources under government protection
A center of Mayan archaeological sites
Low cost of living
No income tax or capital gains tax
A deep–water port allowing everything to be shipped in containers.

It is quite obvious why one would want to buy real estate in the area with such ease of ownership for foreigners, extremely low taxes, and a stable currency — the Belize dollar has been tied to the USD at two to one for more than a decade now.
IMG_20140216_175105David Kafka reports that business for the last three years has been very good, “We have sold over $10 million in real estate in the last 3 to 4 years.” According to Kafka, “I feel you will see a 10% to 15% growth in the next year. Tourism is up as well. A lot of Americans are wanting to get money out of the USA, including all the baby boomers retiring each day.” Condos are probably the safest investments, but there are many other exciting possibilities such as large parcels for subdivision, resorts, beachfront, or any waterfront property.

Single homes in subdivisions with a private boat dock are a very attractive purchase as one’s own retirement home or getaway. Some of these are in very lush, beautiful locations with a private slip right in front of the house, with much natural growth remaining, supplemented by planned tropical landscaping. One of these has small lakes scattered around and many are gated.

When asked what services he might supply to the interested buyer avid Kafka replied, “I help people find a slice of paradise here in Belize — anything that has to do with buying property, moving, importing household goods, importing a vehicle, or bringing your pets to Belize. I also can help with property management, and locate contractors, manage your repairs, or build for owners that are absent.” Property in the area is much cheaper than the already well–known market of Ambergris Caye. Here you can get a lot for about $75,000. Kafka says, “We have doubled people’s money on some properties. I have also seen some clients make $35k or more in 1 year flipping the property.”

Expatriates and Activities in Placencia

The expat community in the area is growing, consisting mostly of people from the United States and Canada. Several of the expats have started businesses such as restaurants, curio shops, resorts and, in the case of Kafka and Mannsfeld, real estate. Many of them are very active in the local community. According to Mannsfeld, part–time expat for 22 years, there is a lot of expat involvement in Placencia community services, a clinic with volunteer doctors, health and educational services, and setting up designated green spaces. Kafka has assisted in developing a much needed fire department.
Also in contrast to Ambergris Caye, many say that Placencia is one of the safest places they know, with virtually no violent crime.
It would be very difficult to be bored living or spending time in the area, with nearby diving, snorkeling, boating, sailing, horseback riding, jungle hikes, exploring Mayan ruins, or just plain beach lounging with a Belikin in hand.
There’s a certain excitement in finding a place where the newness and creative energy speak loudly of the desire to go to the next step in community and financial evolution. Placencia is indeed that place. Were I not already an investor elsewhere, I would immediately start looking to place my money here.

How to get there:

DSCN6975 Several major airlines fly into Belize City (BZE), including Delta, United, American and Avianca. From Belize City, Tropic Air flies to Placencia.

Links for more information:

David Kafka, Broker/Owner RE/MAX 1st Choice

Boris Mannsfeld & Associates

Belize Tourism Board


All photographs © John Lamkin

This article first appeared in Luxury Latin America

The Many Layers of the Beautiful Cyclades Island of Ios, Greece

by John Lamkin


Choro, Ios Island by permission

Discovering the beautiful Greek island of Ios

“Really,” you say”….”I thought that island had been discovered long ago!” And, so it has, but this is now and what comes to mind when hearing its name is an island famed for its ongoing party scene that takes place every summer. Primarily composed of young people lying on the sand beaches trying for just that right tone of bronze, to the active and ongoing night life of dancing and drinking and (well, whatever), the phenomenon relates directly to the summer season where young people from Europe and the U. K. and, yes, from all over the world gather for fun in the sun (Cancun, with its HOT spring breaks is green with envy). But now those days are over for me. I guess I’ve become more of an explorer – in my own way.

Ios Island-Mylopotas by permission

Ios Island, Mylopotas
by permission

More layers

There’s a lot more to Ios than the summer partying and, like peeling away the layers of an onion, we see an island that is not only physically beautiful with its famed white-washed buildings with their sky-blue roofs clustered on the hillside, but is rich in sites to see and places to visit. From the ruins on Skarkos hill, showing archeological evidence of the people who inhabited this island in ancient days to the many (365) churches of its various occupants over millennia to the ruins of a 15th Century Venetian castle, we see the stamp of many previous civilizations.

The old village known as Chora can be reached by a variety of ways from the Ormos harbor. Whether walking up the steep donkey path or riding the bus, arriving at this picturesque Cycladic village will throw you back in time. The narrow, winding streets, full of stairs, make it inaccessible for cars, so here the modern world is not quite so intrusive, allowing the visitor to glimpse life as it was so very long ago, an experience quite different from the accelerated change and expansion that most of us are so used to. Here, too, visitors will find the Odysseas Elytis theatre. Constructed in the ancient style, it was named after one of Greece‘s most famous poets who has kept this tradition alive.

Donkey in Greece-001

And, the ancient

On another hill, also just a short distance from the harbor, is the settlement of Skarkos. It’s said to be one of the most important of the Prehistoric Cycladic settlements dating back to the 3rd millennium B.C. Although most of us believe that our present world has made major advances, here we can see that more than two thousand years ago, the people of this small village on this relatively small Greek Island had well organized systems of sewage disposal as well as rain water dispersal. In their two-storied buildings archaeologists have unearthed metal, bone and stone-made utensils and tools in addition to earthen pots and containers that were in common usage.

Windmills were in extensive use and out of the original 12 windmills, two remain in excellent condition. These can be seen on the square of the Mills, next to the road that leads into the old town. There is also a small museum exhibiting an interesting collection of artifacts from Skarkos including a set of inscribed stones from the Hellenic period. Speaking of which, Homer, famous Greek poet and story teller of this period, is reputed to be buried on this island and one of the three graves standing on a small hill is said to be Homer’s Tomb. Since his mother, Clymene, was born on this island, that could very well be his final resting place but, as of now, it is still conjecture. “Let me not then die ingloriously and without a struggle, but let me first do some great thing that shall be told among men hereafter.” Even if we’ve not read the famous works of Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey, we recognize the greatness of the author who has expressed ideas that still live on in our current lives.

Archeological evidences of ancient cultures, magnificent views of the intensely blue waters of the Aegean Sea, an impressive amphitheater, magnificent golden sand beaches (more than 30 of them) are all to be found by peeling away the onion-like layers of this island. But still another layer brings us to the rich variety of restaurants as well as the ubiquitous ouzo and coffee houses that provide relaxation and socialization. Finally, we come to the core….the rich heritage of this island and the warmth and friendliness of its people, many who’s families have lived on the island for many generations continuing their traditions, now open to sharing those traditions with the contemporary visitor who arrives on their shores.

Single Boat in Greece-001

If You Go

Visit Greece

Ios Island

This article first appeared in Examiner.

Images of donkey, boat and pelican are from Flickr Creative Commons – Club Med

Pelican in Greece-001

John Lamkin An award-winning journalist and photographer, he started travel writing as an escape from the drudgery of being an aerospace engineer – dropped the engineering, kept the writing. John went on to study at the San Francisco Art Institute, then on to found the now famous San Francisco Camerawork.

He may be found on horseback riding through the jungle to explore an ancient Maya ruin, or sitting on the balcony of a five-star plus resort, sipping an exotic drink, or interviewing a fashion celeb, or….

John is the Executive Editor of FWT Magazine: food wine travel. He belongs to several professional organizations including the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association where he serves as a Board Member and as the Publications Chair.

His recent book about the Zapotec weavers of Mexico’s Oaxaca Valley is reaping critical acclaim.

John will go anywhere for a story and believes as Isabelle Eberhardt once said, “A nomad I will remain for life, in love with distant and uncharted places.”

FWT Magazine, a New Digital Magazine Featuring Food, Wine and Travel


FWT Magazine Cover

FWT Magazine Cover

by John Lamkin

A new quarterly magazine hits the (digital) newsstands. FWT Magazine: food wine travel will be making its debut in September 2015. The magazine is published by IFWTWA Publications of the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA). They have released a sample issue as a preview of what’s to come. The sample includes two travel articles to give viewers an idea of what the magazine will be.

According to IFWTWA press:

FWT Magazine:  food  wine  travel, “The finest features in food, wine –plus other beverages– and travel for the discriminating reader” is widely used as a travel, food and wine resource by the English-speaking public, and has the added benefit of having a readership of hundreds of IFWTWA members around the globe.

FWT Magazine promises to be the premiere resource for all things cuisine, beverage and travel. The content is provided by an international group of the most talented writers in the cuisine, beverage and travel industry – all IFWTWA members. The magazine affords a unique look at the world covered with writers traveling the globe to bring our discriminating readers the best content available.

The writers are all members of the IFWTWA. If one wishes to be a contributor they should check the IFWTWA website for information regarding joining.


Advertising will be accepted providing it is apropos to the areas/industries covered.

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FWT Magazine Editorial Calendar

Issue 1: Luxury Travel, Issue 2: Europe, Issue 3: Fine Beverages (including. wineries, breweries, tours, etc.), Issue 4: Latin America, Issue 5: USA Destinations (incl HI & AK), Issue 6: World Cuisine.

FWT Magazine promises to be an exciting addition for readers interested in cuisine, beverage and travel. It will appear on ISSUE, JOOMAG and several newsstands and apps.






Writers – A great Cruise for Fun and Learning from International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Assn.

cruise 3If you are a writer, writing about food, wine and/or travel or you write in another genre but would like to break into f,w, and t writing — this cruise is for you. Get info here:

The route will be from Boston, up the north eastern US coast, through Canada’s Maritimes and ending at Montreal, Quebec. (see the map). There will also be pre and post media trips associated with the cruise.

cruise2Culinary Arts Center aboard ms Masdam

cruise1Guest Chef Eric Klein

Chef Eric


Executive Chef Eric Klein

Born and raised in Alsace, Eric Klein began his culinary career in France where he received his diploma in 1991 from Lycee Professional. He completed two apprenticeships before joining the French military in 1992, where he worked as an officer’s chef managing daily meal preparation and special events.

Klein joined the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group soon after relocating to the United States in 1996. He spent seven years working alongside chef Wolfgang Puck at his California-based restaurants, including Spago Beverly Hills. His creativity, leadership, and support enabled him to advance quickly through the ranks.

Klein left Spago in August 2003 to re-open Maple Drive in Beverly Hills. Within three months, the revived restaurant earned three stars from The Los Angeles Times, and Klein received multiple accolades including being named one of the Top 10 Best New Chefs in America by Food & Wine magazine in 2004.

Admirable reviews followed, gracing the pages of top epicurean magazines, including Bon Appetit and Gourmet Magazine. Klein moved to Las Vegas in January 2005 to launch SW Steakhouse at Wynn Las Vegas.

After embarking on a variety of roles and challenges within the fine dining industry in Las Vegas, Klein rejoined the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group in 2007 to take the helm of Spago Las Vegas as executive chef and partner. Spago Las Vegas at The Forum Shops at Caesars was Wolfgang Puck’s first, and most successful, restaurant in his growing collection in Las Vegas. It changed the Las Vegas dining scene forever when it launched in 1992. Over the next 23 years the premier superstar chefs in the United States and overseas have followed to open restaurants there.

More about the cruise

If this cruise interests you and you are not a member of IFWTWA, please investigate joining.

It’s time to register for the 2015 Annual Conference! All members can attend the Annual Conference and this year’s conference-at-sea will be a perfect opportunity to meet up with your fellow members, socialize, and enjoy time together during a relaxing cruise. Cabins are limited and reservations are made on a first-come, first-served basis. Make sure you submit your online registration soon. The early registration period closes May 31, 2015. Late registration closes July 27, 2015.

Here are some additional details about the Annual Conference:

Cruise dates: August 29-September 5, 2015.

Holland America Line Cruise: 7-day Canada and New England Discovery Cruise from Boston to Montreal aboard the Maasdam.

The Annual Conference is open to all IFWTWA members and their guests.

Registration Deadlines:

o Registration dates: April 1-May 31, 2015

o Late registration dates: June 1-July 27, 2015

Special cruise rates have been negotiated for this IFWTWA Annual Conference.

NOTE: All images courtesy IFWTWA



Barefoot luxury on Ambergris Caye, Belize – Victoria House

Plantation House - Victoria House

Plantation House – Victoria House

This longstanding jewel of Ambergris Caye rarely fails to impress. You’ll find grand, colonial elegance on this well–manicured, lush piece of property about two miles south of San Pedro town. Victoria House’s accommodations include stucco and thatched casitas with tile floors, and luxurious “Plantation Suites” and multi–bedroom, mansion–like villas around sleek infinity pools.

Pier and dive shop - Victoria House

Pier and dive shop – Victoria House

Arriving by boat, the San Pedro waterfront was bustling with activities. There were dive shops, restaurants, gift shops, vendors selling crafts on the beach and people just enjoying the sun and the wonderful Caribbean ambiance.

Our Chariot No. 55  - Victoria House

Our Chariot No. 55 – Victoria House

Securing a golf cart, the main means of transportation on the island, we headed for Victoria House. The resort is just south of the island’s only town, San Pedro. Arriving at the resort and seeing the beautifully landscaped grounds and being greeted with typical island smiles and hospitality, I knew that this was going to be a getaway to remember.

Entrance  - Victoria House

Entrance – Victoria House

The landscaping of the resort is immaculate, greenery and flowers abound. The long palm-lined stretch of white-sand beach is perfect for sunning or lounging in a hammock and has a complete dive shop at one end. Also, near the beach is the Admiral Nelson’s Bar which, in addition to a great selection of drinks, has a fine food menu for lingering outside. One of the resort’s spa options is having a massage on the beach.

Beach - Victoria House

Beach – Victoria House

Our accommodation was a luxury villa near the infinity pool, one of the several swimming pools on the resort. The villa is large with thatched roofs and very high ceilings. It is beautifully furnished, using furniture and details hand-crafted from local tropical hardwoods. The Caribbean influenced décor and art are very tasteful. With a full kitchen, large living room, and two bedrooms, the dwelling is luxuriously comfortable.

Our Villa - Livingroom  - Victoria House

Our Villa – Livingroom – Victoria House

Victoria House a room interior

Victoria House a room interior

Of the 42 luxury guest rooms, some are of the tropical, thatched-roof design, such as our villa, and others are English colonial style—as Belize was an English Colony up to a few decades ago. Accommodations include the main lodge state room, ocean–facing casitas, grand plantation rooms, and several villas of varying bedroom numbers

Our meals were taken during the day at Admiral Nelson’s and in the evening, with candlelight and a cool tropical breeze, outside at the resort’s main eatery Palmilla Restaurant. All of the food was tastefully prepared, beautifully presented, and definitely gourmet.

One of the Pools  - Victoria House

One of the Pools – Victoria House

We also took excursions in our golf cart for a short jaunt into San Pedro to shop at the fine crafts stores and to try the excellent restaurants available. A couple eateries of note were Kelly McDermott’s Caliente—try the delicious Mango Chicken—and, close by, Chef Amy Knox’s Wild Mango. Both are located on the beach with the special Caribbean ambiance.

Our Villa  - Victoria House

Our Villa – Victoria House

According to the longtime (16 years) managers of Victoria House, Janet Woollan and Brent Kirkman, “It’s the staff that makes it special.” They have a staff of 85. Some have worked many years at the resort, including the dive shop which has had members of the same family employed since its opening. The staff and owners make this resort one of the finest on the island and have created a true ambiance of “barefoot” luxury. It is a perfect place for weddings and honeymoons (one year hosting 52 weddings) or for a romantic getaway. Returning to Ambergris Caye, we look forward to experiencing the same barefoot luxury again.

Our Villa - Dining and Kitchen  - Victoria House

Our Villa – Dining and Kitchen – Victoria House

Web Address: www.victoria–
Total Number of Rooms: 42
Published rates: $195 to $2095
© John Lamkin
This review first appeared in Luxury Latin America

Building one’s own house

Nova Scotia -camp- with Moo the ox in front

Moo the ox in front of Nova Scotia House

My father, the same guy that moved every two or three years, gave me five acres behind the house he built. When I got out of the army he had sold it, “well I’ll pay you for it, get you something else…..” I had already drawn up rough plans for my house, two story, or maybe just one with a loft — I don’t remember. Very Bohemian with a mattress on the floor, orange-crate furniture, candles in wine bottles — that sort of thing. Oh well.

My first “owner-built house” didn’t come until years later. It was in the back woods of Nova Scotia. The materials were brought in by ox cart, mostly, as was the cast iron wood cook stove. It was one room with a loft and an area partitioned off as a bedroom. The little house sat on the top of a knoll between a river and a branch of the river. No power tools were used, just a hammer and a handsaw. We hauled water up from the river and our lighting was kerosene lamps. We built it later in the year, winter was coming. It started to snow as I was putting on the roofing. It was a great place to live, surrounded by wilderness. After the first year we sold it to a neurosurgeon from Maine who wanted a place “to get away from it all.” I moved on, again, as my father had done all his life. It must be in the genes.

Moo, getting ready to move on

Moo, getting ready to move on

Still, years later, in my wandering I ended up in northern New Mexico

New Mexico House

New Mexico House

with the desire to build again. As before, I found a site on top of a knoll — this time surrounded by sagebrush. And, once again, got out my hammer and the same handsaw I used in Nova Scotia and commenced building. I started with one room, 8 x 16, finished that and immediately started building more rooms. Even so, the house remained small, under 800 square feet. As the years past and the house grew, I enlisted the help of others and started using power saws and the like. These were all powered by solar electrical system I had set up. Now, it’s for sale – maybe time to move on again.

Six figures, making it big on Ambergris Caye, Belize, Central America

Story and photos by John Lamkin

View from pool

© John Lamkin

A long time ago I started travel writing thinking it would provide me with a little independence, I could live wherever there was a mailbox (a mailbox is an archaic receptacle for hard copies of email, I think) and I loved to travel. But, before I had published my second article a divorce, the crazy 60’s (I didn’t inhale!) and life interrupted that career. Now, much later, I have resumed travel writing and I have that little bit of independence (and social security, and Internet).

Ambergris Caye (pronounced key), an island off the coast of Belize, Central America, was a place I had thought about going to for a long time. It can be a very exiting place. But, I’m not going to tell you how I went sailing, diving in the Blue Hole, snorkeling at the barrier reef (second largest in the world), fishing, para sailing, nor kite boarding. My island odyssey was a laid back one—hanging out on the beach in the tropical sun sipping something with a tiny umbrella in the glass. Maybe then taking the little golf cart—the main mode of transportation on the island–into the lively Caribbean town of San Pedro with its reggae sounds and many fine shops and restaurants, and for real Belize and real people, visiting Maria’s Fruits & Vegetables. And, a stay in Ambergris wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Jo and Chris (the very passionate chocolate lovers) Beaumont’s small, artisan, Belize Chocolate Company where they make every batch by hand in a place where the Maya arguably created “chocolate”. In the evenings we had quiet dinners outside by the resort’s pool.

In the mornings my honey and I enjoyed eating a simple breakfast (including fresh squeezed orange juice and ginger bread from Maria’s) outside, on the palapa-roofed porch of the villa. It was our luck that it happened to be the only vacancy they had at this luxurious resort—normally it would be $750 USD a night. It was way more space than we needed, but, all the same, it was perfect for easy, laid back island living. English is the official language of Belize having formally been British Honduras, a colony of the Crown. Most of the resort’s staff also spoke Spanish and a few were Mayan speaking. A gardener walked by as I was enjoying my breakfast. “Hola, Buenos dias,” I said. “Buen Dia,” he replied with a smile. I didn’t try Mayan, but he would probably have understood…or English.

The ads I see now for travel writing classes and workshops read something like, “Travel the World for Free! Earn Six Figures!” The reality is the six figures probably includes the dollar sign, the USD and the two zeros after the decimal point. This gig will pay me about $50 USD. That will put me way short of the six figures.

But, it’s a beautiful, sunny day here on the island, a breeze is coming off the Caribbean, I had a cushy night’s sleep in an über luxe bed, the gourmet food was delicious. The Belezian people are very friendly. Life is good. Isn’t that worth six figures?

PS, I didn’t believe the ads anyway.


For more information:
Belize Tourism Board
Ambergris Caye, Belize, Central America

Book: San Pedro Cool

Getting there:

Both United and American Airways have flights from the U.S. to Belize, Central America.
By air one can travel from Belize City or Corozal (near the Mexican Border):
Tropic Air
Maya Airways
From Belize mainland or Chetumal, Mexico one may go by water taxi:
San Pedro Water Taxi

While on the island, a golf cart is the preferred means of transportation:
San Pedro Golf Cart Rental

Where to stay in luxury:

Victoria House
The Phoenix Resort
Coco Beach Resort
Pelican Reef Villas
Las Terrazas Resort

Great restaurants:

Admiral Nelson Bar
Palmilla Restaurant
Red Ginger
Blue Water Grill
O Restaurant

Wild Mangos

Wine, cheese and chocolate (Kakaw):
Wine de Vine

John Lamkin is an award-winning travel journalist and photographer based in Taos, New Mexico and in Mexico. He writes (and photographs) about travel, food, wine, luxury, budget, gear, tech. and more. He is Global Membership Chair of the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association. He travels the world in search of something new in culture, cuisine and drink.

NOTE: Some or all of the accommodations(s), experience(s), item(s) and/or service(s) detailed above were provided at no cost to accommodate this review, but all opinions expressed are entirely those of John Lamkin and have not been influenced in any way.

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Ginger rum chicken at Caliente, San Pedro Town, Ambergris Kakaw Chocolate One of the Pools  - Victoria House Our Chariot, Mochos 55 Pelican Reef Resort am San Pedro - Maria and Jose- Maria's Fruit & Veggies Stand Villa at Victoria House 2 Waterfront - San Pedro Town

Nizuc Resort and Spa, a touch of zen luxury in Cancun, Mexico

Evening Nizuc

Nizuc Resort and Spa, Cancun, Mexico

story and photos by John Lamkin

Driving the short ten to fifteen minute distance from Cancun Airport to the resort I was amazed at how beautiful the scenery was. Instead of going through the town of Cancun and down the long, crowded hotel strip this was an eye-pleasing, leisurely drive on a tree-lined, landscaped road.

Entering Nizuc, the first thing I noticed was the lush tropical landscaping and the modern architectural details. Next was the courteous staff, from valet, to concierge, to butler and on to the rest of the staff — everyone I met was extra friendly.

The beautiful lobby is luxurious with a touch of the rustic with water vistas, ponds, and fountains everywhere. Looking out one end of the lobby you see the small bay that fronts the resort and beyond that the many colors of the Caribbean. The shape of the bay and peninsula give the resort its name, Mayan for dog’s nose. Nizuc has capitalized on the name, using the Mayan dog glyph everywhere.

Cancun is well known for its amazing white sand beaches and the awesome colors of the Caribbean. But Nizuc is one of the most fabulous locations along the entire coast from Cancun to the Riviera Maya. A tropical paradise.

We were shown by the concierge to our spacious suite overlooking the beach and the bay just in time to watch a couple of para-skiers gliding across the bay. The beauty of the room repeated the luxurious, openness of the lobby. Outside were table, chairs and chaise lounges for enjoying the spacious balcony. Every detail says luxury: the über comfortable king–size bed, fine furnishings, and in the bath suite, ultra-modern bathroom fixtures. The décor, the layout of the space, and the high–end amenities were the max in luxury and comfort. And, the view of the sunsets where spectacular.

The property was owned by the Mexican government, much before the development of Cancun. At one time one of the country’s presidents had his beachfront home here. The home still exists, it’s now a fine restaurant with premium views of the Caribbean, an infinity pool stretching its length, and a beach in front. The restaurant is surrounded by lush tropical growth and at one end a path leads past sleeping iguanas to a pier with a great view of the whole of Nizuc across the small bay and, turning around, of the ocean. It’s a great place to watch the area’s incredibly dramatic sunsets. The Mexican government sold it to a Japanese company a few years back. With construction almost done that company then sold it to a Mexican firm that brought in architects from Mexico City to finish and decorate the property. The result was a beautiful resort that stands apart. I call the style “Zen luxury.”

If you really want to go in luxurious style get the Nizuc Suite or the Presidential Suite. Counting the outdoor lounging space with their own pool, both are more than 5,000 square feet. For the same luxury and a great ocean view go for the Penthouse suite.

Nizuc is a great venue for weddings, honeymoons and couple’s retreats, but the family is not left out. There is a special building for children with all that’s necessary to keep them entertained. Baby sitting service is also provided. There are many places around the property that allow privacy and seclusion for adults and couples though.

If you are into tennis, Nizuc has tennis courts and tennis programs with a PBI Tennis Professional. Nearby is a Jack Nicklaus golf course. Also available are 24–hour concierge service and several special services such as the Chef’s table, private dinners, and wine pairing at the Santo Tomas wine cellar. The hotel does feature the very fine wines from Mexico’s Guadalupe Valley—some rivaling the wines of Napa Valley or France.

Nizuc claims the best beach (one of two on the resort) in the area, located on a tranquil bay separate from the glorious waters of the Caribbean beyond. There is an abundance of beach chairs, chaise lounges, and places to enjoy the beach. Overlooking the bay and beach is a large infinity pool—one of three on the property — with an inviting swim–up bar.

A stay at the resort should allow enough days to try all of its fine restaurants. I had excellent meals in four and look forward to coming back and trying the rest. Nizuc employs some of the area’s best chefs in their six gourmet dining spots. You try Cafe de la Playa on the beach; Ni restaurant for Peruvian cuisine; Ramona’s, especially notable are Chef Bladimir Garcia’s gourmet interpretations of Mexican cuisine; La Punta Grill & Lounge, casual outdoor atmosphere; Indochine for Asian fusion and finally Terra Nostra for Mediterranean style. There are three lounges at which to enjoy the drink of your choice. I recommend the awesome margaritas at La Punta.

Also your stay should include a visit to their fabulous 30.000 square foot, ocean–front ESPA spa. Recommended is one of the massages or oriental healing modalities followed by the complete hydrotherapy routine. This includes steam room, cold shower, sauna, sun room with wrap on a heated chaise lounge, the large room–size jacuzzi with many different types of jets and water massage device, then the cold room with cold mist and an ice fountain in one end to really chillwith. After these treatments you will be ready for more beach time (I was ready for a cool drink and hanging on the terrace of our room).

Tours outside of the resort can include several Mayan archaeological sites within a day’s trip and the world’s second largest barrier reef, which is not far away.

Cancun and Mexican Caribbean coast, already known for some of the finest hotels in the world, has raised the bar another notch with the opening of Nizuc Resort and Spa.

Getting there:

Most major airlines fly into Cancun International Airport (CUN) and Riviera Maya is easily accessible from CUN by land transport.

For more information:

Mexico Tourism

Riviera Maya

Adventure in Quintana Roo

Mexican Caribbean

Where to stay in luxury:

Nizuc Resort and Spa

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John Lamkin is a born-again, award-winning travel journalist and photographer based in Taos, New Mexico and in Mexico. He writes (and photographs) about travel, food, wine, luxury, budget, gear, tech. and more. He is Global Membership Chair of the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association. He travels the world in search of something new in culture, cuisine and drink. Look for John Lamkin’s photographs in a new BOOK, OUR INTERWOVEN LIVES WITH THE ZAPOTEC WEAVERS: An Odyssey of the Heart written by Examiner’s Susanna Starr with Photographs by John Lamkin

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DSCN8080Paraskiing Nizuc

Nova Scotia Odyssey from Storied Wheels

Moo pulling wagon across frozen Little Lake

Moo pulling wagon across frozen Little Lake

John Lamkin

One might get the idea from the wagon wheels strewn the length of the trail from Barrington up to the Barrens that this was an ancient wagon-train road.

This story starts a long time ago, arriving in Nova Scotia after a cross-country journey in the old van, loaded with what was left of our worldly possessions after a couple of months unloading at flea markets. Worldly possessions had caused the axle of our van to break and the wheel to go off on its own as we were heading out of San Francisco on our odyssey. Deciding so many worldly possessions were a burden, we stayed longer and flea marketed some more, then got on the road again.

Jayme and I had bought 149 acres of Nova Scotia land sight unseen from a catalog of cheap land for 3,300 good old U.S. dollars.

We found that the land was about six miles upriver from the coastal town of Barrington with no passable roads, so we decided to get an ox. We borrowed a truck and went to Yarmouth where they were selling oxen. Moo (the locals thought we were crazy naming an ox Moo) was one of a young pair. We hated to separate them knowing that they had bonded, but he quickly became at home with us.

Now we needed a wagon and yoke, so we asked around. A local person knew of one that might be for sale. We went to look at it. It appeared to be in pretty good shape for its age (guessing about a hundred years). It came with extra wheels, which came in very handy later as we went through quite a few on the rough trails to the land.

Now we needed to paint the wagon (traditional red) and train Moo to pull it. I hitched Moo to the yoke, the yoke to the wagon and began the training (Moo or myself?). I went up and down the road many times trying to instill the idea of going forward, turning and stopping. Moo, on the other hand, tried to convey the idea to me that he didn’t give a damn. At the end of the day we had both learned a little and I was covered, head to foot, with slow-drying red paint.

Moo helped immeasurably in building our small house, hauling materials up the six miles from town. We shared quite a few adventures the year we were there.

The sad ending to this story is that after a year of building and living in our house, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police told us that, being illegal immigrants, we had to leave or become deportees. Seeing little other choice, we loaded the wagon with our remaining worldly possessions, hitched up Moo and headed out. We found a buyer for the little house, a neurosurgeon from Maine, and sold Moo to people in the village with the understanding that he would have a good home until the end.


John Lamkin is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. He is a board member and global membership director for the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association. He is widely published online and in print. Lamkin has been a SOMOS member sporadically almost since its inception.

This story was published in SOMOS’ anthology, Storied Wheels.
Edited by Barbara Scott
ISBN 150-2341042



¡Otoño! The Arroyo Hondo Valley is alive with color

Bob & Sally's House

Bob & Sally’s House

¡Otoño! The Arroyo Hondo Valley is alive with color. The fiery aspens on the Sangre de Cristo mountains have dimmed now, but there still fire in the Valley.

The acequia is running next to our house. It doesn’t look like an irrigation ditch, it looks more like a small stream cascading down the gentle slope of the hill, next to the pond outside, next to our bedroom door — a beautiful way to wake up in the morning.

Morning walk in the Valley, on the rim of the Valley, beautiful. Cotton-like clouds in the pristine, blue sky. On the road a coyote crossed right in front of me just after I had turned my camera off. I tried to snap a photo when she was in the middle of the field but, being too shy, she would not cooperate. Many signs of animals: cottontail rabbits dashing across the road, new elk tracks — they probably came through just this morning. Bear scat in the middle of the road, lots of activity.

I hope where you live is this beautiful, this energizing, this life-giving.

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