von: Iyna Bort Caruso

Belize is a country shaped by contrasting forces.

Tiny in land area, just 8,867 square miles (22,966 km2), it nevertheless has one of the lowest population densities in the Western Hemisphere and one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. Those two facts alone allow for great adventures--with plenty of elbow room. Locals never fight for a spot on the beach.

Within an inviting tropical climate, natural wonders include tropical forests and the world’s second largest barrier reef. Residents are also proud of their well-preserved Mayan ruins that are easy to access.

The Central American nation on the Caribbean Sea has been an independent commonwealth member since 1981 and its legal system is based on British common law. English is the country’s official language, making life easier for its sizable community of expat Americans and Canadians, many retired. The country made the short list of International Living’s 2014 Annual Global Retirement Index based on such factors as real estate, cost of living and health care. Retirees have another incentive: the Qualified Retired Persons Incentive Act. Individuals who meet certain age and income requirements enjoy a number of tax breaks.

Choice oceanfront properties can be found on the mainland as well as a cluster of offshore islands. By Caribbean standards, buyers see Belize real estate values as attractive.

The Placencia peninsula, a short plane ride from Belize City on the southern coast, is one of the country’s most exclusive destinations for Caribbean-style residences and buildable beach lots. Beaches are its top attraction--more than a dozen miles of them--often touted as the best in the country. Ambergris Caye is the largest island in Belize. Its real estate is enjoying increasingly high demand. Freestanding villas and condominiums in developments maintained and managed by onsite staff attract those seeking a relaxed, turnkey lifestyle. The island has one town, San Pedro, and golf carts are the principal means of transportation.

And for buyers who think big and dream big? The ultimate prize, a private Belizean island.