Launching a Dream Business in a Spectacular Caribbean Hideaway
In early adulthood, Lee Nyhus, now 59, was stricken by wanderlust. The Chicago native traveled extensively to less-visited corners of the globe, including spending a year backpacking around Africa. Even when it came time to settle down for a while, she chose what was, at that time, a somewhat unusual destination for American expats: Tokyo.
Lee had initially intended to spend a year working as an English language teacher in Tokyo, but she so enjoyed the Japanese capital that she ended up staying for six. Ultimately, though, the hustle and bustle of life in one of the world’s largest cities began to wear on her. “It was time to move on. I was looking for a much slower paced lifestyle,” she says.
In keeping with her previous selections, Lee wanted to find a location off the beaten path, and ideally a place where she could enjoy Caribbean-style beach living on a modest budget. So, when a friend recommended the small Central American country of Belize, she decided to go on a scouting trip.
Lee’s destination in Belize was Placencia, a 16-mile-long peninsula jutting out into the Caribbean Sea in the south of the country. With its warm, friendly people and laidback beach lifestyle, Placencia had everything she’d been looking for, so Lee immediately made the decision to move there. She’s scarcely left since.
When she first arrived in 1995, Lee recalls that Placencia was quite different. The region was less-developed and far fewer people lived in “the village,” as locals affectionately call it. That has changed markedly in the years since as word of Placencia’s stunning natural beauty has spread beyond Belize, attracting tourists, retirees, and digital nomads from overseas.
Still, while the number of residents has grown and the area has become more developed, Placencia has retained its cordial, welcoming vibe, says Lee. “Walking down the road, you have to stop and say hello zillions of times. You actually have to leave home early because you will be stopped to talk several times.”
The fact that Belize is English-speaking meant Lee had little problem settling in. It also made it relatively easy for her to launch her business. While working in Japan, she had studied holistic spa treatments and massage, and the Caribbean peninsula of Placencia, with its massive tourism potential and low overheads, felt like the perfect place to turn her skills into an income.
Lee opened her spa and massage company not long after arriving and it continues to provide her with a reliable income to this day. “I make a good living, enough to live comfortably and travel back to the States,” she says.
Not that the business has remained static. Lee has expanded her services over the years in line with new trends. “Next to the spa is now a studio where we offer yoga classes,” she says.
Lee also leases out part of her space to a Belizean bar and restaurant business. And as the tourism sector in Placencia grew, she developed several small, bungalow-style accommodations on her property to rent out. The modest lodgings have proved hugely popular. “My prices are the lowest,” she says, “So there’s always a long waiting list.”
This diversity of revenue streams not only provides a stable income, but means she’s a well-known figure in the local business community.
While Placencia is far from the secret hideaway it was 25 years ago when she first arrived, Lee says she is delighted by the majority of the changes. “I love the coffee shops, Italian gelato, yoga, Zumba, the gym, and the wine bar.”
Moreover, the core characteristics of the village, including the vibrant local culture and sense of community, have remained unchanged. “The smallness of the village, the fact that everybody looks out for each other, is what makes it such a wonderful place. And I love the Creole language and the sound of it. I love the local food—rice and beans, and stewed chicken. I love the music: soca, punta, and reggae and dancing to it,” she says.
Even after 25 years, Lee remains enamored by life in Belize. The culture and continued evolution of Placencia has cured her wanderlust, she says, and she has no plans to ever leave.
By Bel Woodhouse