Quirkiest retirement haven in the world? That'd have to be Belize.
Belize City's roadways are built around a system of roundabouts (thanks to her British colonizers), but shops alongside them sell rice, beans, and tortillas still ground by hand.
Everyone you meet speaks English (it's the country's official language), but this belies the stories of their origins. The 350,000 people populating Belize today are descendants of migrants from Britain, yes, but also, more so, the surrounding Central American countries. You've got Mexicans, Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Nicaraguans mixing with current-day generations of the Maya who originally inhabited this land, the pirates who came later, the Mennonite farmers who began arriving on the scene in the 16th century, the British who ruled until 1981, and each other.
Belize is a country of freedom-seekers. The pirates came to ply their pirate trading out of view. The Mennonites came from Germany and the Netherlands so they could be Mennonites without anyone bothering them. The British came so they could bank in private. And the folks from the surrounding countries who've sought out Belize over the past few decades typically have made their way across this country's borders in search of safety.
Today, now, a new population of freedom-seekers is finding its way to these shores.
Belize is a nation of independent thinkers and doers, a country where you make your own way and where, while you're doing it, no one is making any attempt to thwart your efforts.
Including the Belizean government. This is a poor country. The government doesn't have enough money to get up to any real trouble. And, if they tried, the Belizeans wouldn't allow it. The focus here is on very local-level government -- addressing the crime problems in certain neighborhoods of Belize City, for example, or trying to dissuade the Guatemalanbanditos who occasionally wander over into Belize in search of a couple of good horses to steal.
Arriving in Belize, stepping off the plane, and walking across the tarmac to the one-room arrivals hall of the airport, you have a sense of leaving the rest of the world behind. Belize and her people operate according to their own rules and mind their own business. The troubles, uncertainties, and worries that seem so all-consuming Stateside and elsewhere in the world right now fade away here. You're faced with a land that remains a frontier, undeveloped and therefore oozing potential.
Remember, this is also a tax haven, thanks to the British, a place where your financial affairs are your own.
Belize is one more thing -- one of the most user-friendly places in the world to establish foreign residency. You don't have to be physically present year-round in the country to qualify for permanent residency and to take advantage of the tax benefits of that status. Come to visit for as few as four weeks a year, and you're good.
Belize, a country I visited for the first time more than 25 years ago, is one of my favorite places on earth. Whether it's to escape the cold, to get out of the rat race, or to find a new direction in life, you'll find this schizophrenic little country offers activities and adventures to last a lifetime.