Belize: It’s not Jamaica, the Bahamas, or the Yucatan, but it is decidedly Caribbean. And while I’ve vacationed in those other destinations and loved every beachy, breezy (or Maya ruin-filled) minute, my interest in Belize was piqued when I edited an article on the Belize Barrier Reef and learned that English is Belize’s official language. Surprise!
Apparently I had a lot to learn about this seemingly under-the-radar Central American country, which is situated just south of Quintana Roo, Mexico, and boasts 240 miles of Caribbean coastline, plus huge, protected swaths of verdant rainforest.
An opportunity soon presented itself. Last week, I got to talk to Brian and Brenda Montgomery, the owners of Sirenian Bay Resort and Villas, a resort property in Placencia, Belize, that gives “unexpected” a new meaning when it comes to vacation destinations.
This is their story, and why time in Belize belongs on your bucket list.
Retirees Go South
In what sounds like a former life, the Montgomerys owned a company in the States. As their working years came to a close and they navigated a number of health issues, including Brian’s late stage 4 cancer diagnosis, bone marrow and stem cell transplants that meant nine months in the hospital, and, finally, remission, they decided it was time to prioritize travel and relaxation. Clearly they’ve done so successfully.
When Brian picked up the phone for our call, I asked how he was. His response: “I’m in Belize, so I can’t be any better!”
But the couple’s jet-setting days didn’t take them to Belize or their stunning coastal property right away. Initially, they vacationed at resorts in Jamaica, Aruba, and Antigua. And eventually, they decided they wanted a beach home of their own.
How A Travel Show Fit In
As the Montgomerys debated where to invest in shorefront property, Florida crept toward the top of the list. But the fates had other plans for them. A rep at a travel show convinced them to visit Belize. Both San Pedro, which Brian calls “more touristy -- more hustle-bustle,” and Placencia, a quaint and not-so-commercial town in Southern Belize, were on their itinerary.
Placencia was more their speed, and the Montgomerys say the fact that the entire country is English speaking was the biggest determining factor in their next move. In true HGTV Caribbean Life fashion, they bought a quarter acre of Belizean beachfront. It was their first time in the country.
Going All In
“We’re not very patient people,” Brian told me. He went on to say that he believes in being “all in” when he does something. Their sole goal for buying that quarter acre was to build a single-family home for the two of them and their two boys, plus other friends and family who might come to visit from time to time.
They weren’t envisioning a tiny house, though. It was going to be a 6,000-square-foot home right on the Caribbean. But that’s no boutique resort plus villas equipped to accommodate up to 80 guests. It was Brian’s imagination that took them from ex-pats with a little land to full-on resort owners.
After investing in their first quarter acre, the Montgomerys had the opportunity to buy an old house adjacent to their property. That was a two-acre plot. Then another five acres became available. They bought that, too. Soon they owned the whole subdivision. Today, in addition to Sirenian Bay, they also own the highly rated tour company Captain Jak’s, which offers accommodations in the heart of Placencia Village and golf cart rentals in the village and Sirenian Bay. Most recently, they purchased a five-acre island off the coast of Placencia that will add to their guests’ Belizean Caribbean experience under the Sirenian name.
Brian said the Sirenian dream began as he stood between what were the only two palm trees on their stretch of beach and envisioned people coming from the house to a swimming pool overlooking the ocean. Now, he loves highlighting that detail -- while standing in that exact spot -- when he gives guests tours of the property.
His And Hers
The Montgomerys hadn’t done much travel until five or six years ago, and they didn’t have career experience in hospitality. For those reasons, it’s hard to believe they designed and operate such a stunning property. But they attribute their success, at least in part, to the balance of their personalities. They’ve been married for 32 years, and there is a definite equilibrium being achieved between the visionary (Brian -- who’s eager to talk all things Sirenian and Belize) and the detail-oriented (Brenda -- who’s quieter, but who Brian says is responsible for creating the resort’s “at home, but on the Caribbean” feel).
When Brian initially shared his infinity-pool-between-the-palms vision, Brenda’s response was, “Yeah right! Quit your dreaming!” But today, she’s Sirenian Bay’s numbers person, the one responsible for curating each room and villa’s Belizean animal theme, and the discerning eye that notices when things need repair or sprucing up long before anyone else.
The Resort (And The Montgomerys) Today
Sirenian Bay is part of the Placencia community. In addition to its crystalline pools, butler and concierge services, outdoor showers, and high-end finishing touches, the resort operates the only local trolley, which, around the holidays, serves as a Polar Express of sorts, shuttling local kiddos to see Santa at Sirenian’s take on the North Pole.
It also has the only professional mini-golf course in Belize, which the Montgomerys have kept affordable to ensure locals can play. The trolley offers party bus adventures and transfers for large groups to and from the golf course and on-site restaurant.
The Montgomerys acknowledge that tourism is the number one industry in Belize, and they take their role -- however unexpected -- seriously. Beyond the jobs they’ve created at Sirenian Bay, they maintain involvement in Placencia and a number of nearby fishing villages, hosting four youth soccer teams, two basketball teams, fundraisers, and an annual backpack drive.
They also make time for travel back to the States (where they still own a home in Flower Mound, Texas, north of Dallas), and abroad, beyond the Caribbean. Recently, they’ve traveled to London, Paris, Amsterdam, and South Africa, which Brian called “incredible” and one of the most amazing trips of their lives.