Traveling to Belize means never having to choose between jungle or sea, culture or nature. Protected rain forest covers nearly half of the country, and more than 180 miles of Caribbean coast form its eastern border. But as dazzling as its natural assets are, Belize has more to offer than land and sea: Ancient Maya archaeological sites dot the country, and welcoming villages offer authentic glimpses of vibrant cultures such as that of the Garifuna people.
Known as Belize’s Deep South, the Toledo District, or even the Forgotten District, this region near the Guatemala border remains off the beaten track. To the west, the Maya Mountains tower above lush rain forest. Off the coast lies the world’s second largest barrier reef and several pristine cayes in the brilliant blue waters of the Bay of Honduras.
About six miles from the lodge, laid-back Punta Gorda is the Toledo District’s only major town, as much of the area is set aside as protected land. The small seaport is home to a market where regional fishermen display and sell their bounty; Maya women hawk piles of cassava, dried beans, and traditional trinkets; and Mennonite farmers unload watermelons and broccoli.
Most of the tiny villages of southern Belize are traditional Maya communities with small thatched homes; San Antonio, with its picturesque limestone church, is the largest. Others include the Creole village of Monkey River Town; the Garifuna village of Barranco; and Blue Creek, home to the Mopan and Kekchi Maya people.
Belize is considered the epicenter of the ancient Maya civilization, and several ruins persist throughout the inland hills of Toledo. The most significant of these sites—Pusilha, Uxbenka, Lubaantun, Xnaheb, and Nim li Punit—offer prime examples of stone architecture and sculpture carved with Maya hieroglyphics.
In the nearby district of Stann Creek, about 70 miles north of the lodge, the small Maya village of Red Bank attracts a dazzling array of birds. Huge numbers of the flashy scarlet macaws gather here from mid-January to March to feed on ripe fruits. The rest of the year, bird-watchers flock here to spot hummingbirds, herons, toucans, oropendolas, and parrots.
Maya people make up more than half of the population of the Toledo District, and native Garifuna, East Indian, and Creole cultures also thrive here. A small population of German-Mennonite settlers farm the region, and a sizable Belizean Chinese community lives in Punta Gorda.
Southern Belize’s jungle teems with wildlife, from howler monkeys and coatimundi to turtles, crocodiles, tarantulas, iguanas, and hundreds of rare and common bird species. Toucans are common sights.
Waterfalls and caves stud the verdant interior, while a dazzling barrier reef and the offshore cayes of the pristine Port of Honduras Marine Reserve offer world-class snorkeling, diving, and fishing.
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