Toledo, the southernmost district of Belize, is the least populated and most unspoilt.
Mayan culture in Belize is strongest in the south where there are around sixty Mayan villages. Guests can visit a Mayan home where they learn to hand grind corn, make tortillas over an open fire and share a drink of cacao (cocoa) prepared in the traditional way. An increasing number of farmers are planting organic cacao for export to the UK where it is made into Mayan Gold chocolate by Green and Black an organic and Fairtrade producer. Visit an organic cacao plantation and see how the cacao is cared for, harvested and dried and fermented before shipment. Hear how this revival of cacao growing is affecting the lives of local farmers and their families and how inter-planting with trees such as allspice and coffee can provide a second cash crop.
Roasting cacao beans on the comal Tasting cacao drink from calabash gourds
People and Culture
Guests at the Lodge will meet our Kek'chi Maya employees who all come from the village of Big Falls. Further west the village of San Antonio is one of the largest villages in the district with a mainly Mopan Maya population.
Miguel splits open a cacao pod Florencio Mes performs on the Mayan harp
Guests improvise with Florencio Mes Guests and guide line up for a family picture
Home visits on our tours introduce guests to Mayan music and culture. Since your hosts also speak English there is plenty of scope for enquiry on both sides. Florencio Mes is a Mayan harpist and instrument maker who has represented Belize at numerous international music festivals. The village of Barranco south of Punta Gorda is the southernmost Garifuna village in the country and the home of music star Andy Palacio. The Garifuna have their own language, music, religious practices and healing traditions and work hard to keep these alive.
A quiet afternoon at Tregueno's in Barranco The All-Stars drum at The Lodge
Adventure in Southern Belize
Family adventure in Blue Creek Cave Wildlife spotting on the Rio Grande
Visitors with a taste for adventure will find thrills in Toledo. River kayaking gives guests the opportunity to get up close and personal with the birds and animals along the river banks. At Blue Creek guides escort visitors upstream from the cave mouth several hundred yards to a point where the river emerges as a waterfall from the side of the cavern. Blue Creek also offers cave hikes and jungle treks up the steep hillside overlooking the rainforest around Blue Creek Cave.
Turquoise waters at West Snake Caye Port Honduras Marine Reserve
The Port Honduras Marine Reserve contains many idyllic islands (cayes) which are exceptional locations for snorkeling, manatee watching or just relaxing on one of the white sand beaches. Further out, the Sapodilla Marine Reserve lies along the southern end of Belize's barrier reef, the second longest in the world. This area, dotted with palm fringed coral islands, is an unrivaled location for scuba diving and whale shark watching. Fishing is permitted outside the Reserve and this area has some of the best fishing grounds in the Caribbean. Fresh fish such as snapper, king fish, grouper and barracuda are common local dishes. Off the mangrove-forested coast, snorkeling, fishing, and manatee watching around the cayes which once sheltered buccaneers and pirates is another unforgettable southern Belize adventure. On West Snake Caye visitors can search the trees for the boa constrictors that lend their name to the islands.
The grand plaza at Lubaantun The new excavations at Lubaantun
The two major Mayan sites in Toledo are Lubaantun and Nim Li Punit. Lubaantun, near the Mayan village of San Pedro Colombia, is a Late Classic ceremonial center where the famous (or infamous!) crystal skull was found by the daughter of archaeologist F.A. Mitchell-Hedges in 1926. Nim Li Punit, a few miles north of Big Falls, is most famous for its collection of sculpted stelae. Both sites have been partially excavated but much remains to be discovered and both locations are within eight miles of The Lodge at Big Falls. Other minor sites in the area include Uxbenka and Pusilha, where research and excavation continues each year during the dry season.
There are also Mayan sites along the coast and on several offshore cayes, where the ground is strewn with pottery chards and obsidian blades. The importance of this region to the ancient Mayans is very much in evidence. All these sites can be visited by boat from Punta Gorda.