Over thirty Maya villages are scattered throughout Southern Belize. They lie along riverbanks and creeks and are surrounded by beautiful mountains and rainforests. These villages are linked together by winding gravel roads and well worn forest trails. Electricity and a central water supply have only recently arrived in some of the villages. The people are friendly but shy, as tourism is a new industry in most villages. Each village has its own unique natural attractions nearby including caves, waterfalls, and maya ruins.
The lifestyle of the Mayas is very basic. Long before the sun rises, the village comes to life. Children leave home to fetch water and wood while the mother prepares hot flour tortillas for breakfast. After a quick breakfast, the father leaves for the milpa while it is still dark. When the school bell rings at 9:00, there is a bustle of activity as groups of Maya children rush to school. Young men leave to meet their father at the milpas while young ladies help their mother around the home or create handicrafts for tourists. At home, women cook, clean, and wash the laundry in the nearby river.
The thatched huts have either one or two rooms. The cooking area is sometimes separated with a wall from the sleeping area. In the evening, the women prepare hot corn tortillas with beans along with fresh steaming coffee on the adobe stove/oven. The men return from the milpa just before sunset, and bathe in the rivers after dark. The family sits together on the floor for dinner, while chickens, dogs, and cats roam in and out of the house. After dinner, family members lie in adjoining hammocks chatting until they fall asleep.
A number of Maya families throughout Southern Belize are opening up their communities to tourism. The Toledo Host Family Network and the Toledo Eco-tourism Association have developed two innovative programs seeking to combine tourism, cultural revitalization, and environmental conservation. The choice is yours for a genuine cultural experience.
Transportation to and from the villages is not so easy. Without your own vehicle, you are dependent on the bus. All village buses depart from Punta Gorda at noon, and return early next morning for market day. Check with the villagers for the exact time of departure from each village.
Each Maya village has a number of cultural activities and tours to share with guests. Below are a few common tours that most villages offer. Be sure to check prior to visiting or immediately upon arriving at the village.
Hiking - Eco-trails have been developed in many villages. The villagers protect a designated area nearby to attract wildlife. They are familiar with medicinal herbs and plants, and can provide Maya names and uses for each.
Waterfalls - It is always interesting to see the unique rock formations that create a variety of beautiful waterfalls in Southern Belize. Hike to isolated pools hidden by thick vegetation and take a cool dip under gently flowing cascades.
Caves - A number of caves are hidden within the rainforest. Hike along jungle trails to gaping holes in limestone hills. Each cave is unique-you can find broken pieces of pottery, hieroglyphics etched into walls, and often flowing streams or pools throughout the interior of the cave.
Canoeing - Rivers run through most villages, and canoeing is a fun way to return from a hike upstream and often the best way to bird and wildlife watch.
Horseback riding - Some natural attractions are a couple hours away. Tourists are given the option to ride on horses instead of hiking. Village horses are primarily used to transport harvest from the milpas-expect them to be docile, slow-moving horses with wooden saddles.
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