General Information About Toledo District, BelizeToledo, the southernmost district of Belize, is 1669 square miles of rainforest, mountains, rivers, and Maya Villages. Toledo is certainly not for the ordinary tourist. However, for those with the spirit to venture off the beaten track, the natural and cultural diversity of Toledo makes a visit to a Southern Belize a unique adventure.
The land is blanketed with some of the most pristine rainforest in Belize. The uplands to the Northwest consist of the foothills of the Maya Mountains bordered by limestone outcrops - rugged, unexplored territory. The coastal lowlands consist of softer grounds, formed from the flood deposits of the many rivers draining the uplands.
Towering riverine forests line the rivers and flood plains, while pine ridge savannahs and mangrove surround coastal lagoons. Trade winds and the Caribbean Sea caress the eastern coastline of Toledo. Coastal lagoons are prominent, providing a rich habitat for an abundance of wildlife, and the last stretch of the 186 mile Belize Barrier Reef lies 40 miles offshore from the mainland.
Main attractions in Toledo District, Belize
Toledo is blessed with a multitude of natural attractions, including caves, sinkholes, and waterfalls strewn throughout the rainforest. Jungle-covered ruins still exist as if just discovered. Five major protected areas have been declared wildlife reserves. These natural treasures abound with wildlife and over 2000 species of flowering plants. The Sapodilla Cayes offer great snorkeling, swimming, kayaking and diving. Some of the best fly-fishing in the country is done in the nearby rivers.
While the rugged terrain of Toledo provides a challenge for the adventurous, it is the people of Toledo which softens nature’s rough edges. At least five distinct ethnic groups have settled in Southern Belize, the Mopan and Kekchi Maya, Garifuna, Kriol, East Indians, and Chinese.
The earliest known inhabitants of southern Belize were the ancient Maya. Great Maya cities and ceremonial centers grew and flourished throughout the region. Uxbenka ("The Old Place"), is one of the oldest settlements known, perched on a hill outside of Santa Cruz village. Nim Li Punit ("Big Hat"), wasn't discovered till the 1970's and is known for its variety and number of stele. And Lubaantun ("Place of the Fallen Stones") is thought to have been the regional capital, acting as the religious, administrative, political and commercial center of the region.
While the town of Punta Gorda consists of many cultures, 64% of the population in the Toledo District is made up of the Mopan and Kekchi Mayas living in over 30 different villages. Come experience a touch of their rich heritage. English is spoken as their second language, and visitors can communicate clearly with the people for a genuine cultural exchange.
Punta Gorda, known locally as P.G., is the southernmost town in Belize and the capital of the Toledo District. Maya Island Air and Tropic Air both have several flights daily in and out of Punta Gorda. The journey from Belize City to Punta Gorda usually includes a brief stop-over in Placencia and Dangriga and takes about 1 hour.
With its cool sea breezes and friendly people, Punta Gorda is a pleasant and interesting town. The pace of life is slow and easy-going. Traffic is minimal on the streets. People hang out on street corners chatting, while school children play chase in the school yards. The town springs to life on holidays and market days-Saturday and Wednesday mornings- when the villagers and Guatemalans from across the border pour in to buy and sell hand-crafted produce and simple household goods around the clock tower.
Destinations - The Lodge at Big Falls
Nature, Culture & People
The Lodge at Big Falls aims to offer an unforgettable vacation experience which conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people. The goal at the Lodge is to build a profitable and sustainable tourism enterprise by offering an unforgettable adventure based on mutual respect for cultures and the individual and offer tours and activities which allow our guests to develop their appreciation, understanding and knowledge of the reef and rainforest ecology and local history and culture of Belize.
- Miguel Choco of Silver Creek village is one of the increasing number of farmers in Toledo who belong to the Toledo Cacao Growers Association (TCGA), and whose cacao product eventually finds its way to Green & Blacks in the UK where it is made into the famous Mayan Gold, orange flavored chocolate. Miguel is very happy to show visitors around his plantation which lies along the farmers' road about two miles north of Silver Creek village, where he lives with his wife Florentina and their five children. Small guided groups from the Lodge at Big Falls are frequent visitors there and they are fascinated by his explanations of his farming methods and techniques.
- When it comes to the "forgotten district" Monkey River Town may just be the most forgotten part. In fact many people forget that Monkey River lies in Toledo District. Given its proximity to Placencia, its center of gravity tends to be to the north. You could take the three hour trip upstream with Percy Gordon the self-styled "King of the Howlers". Like most of the local guides, he has a wealth of stories about the river from his childhood growing up there and living so close to the bush which has always provided a source of food, medicine and shelter. The tour guides of Monkey River are at home with their environment and keen to protect it. This is one trip not to be missed.
- This beautiful park is located 30 miles west of Punta Gorda, between the villages of Santa Cruz and Santa Elena; the pre- classic Mayan site of Uxbenka is nearby. No doubt the ancient Maya enjoyed this lovely cool spot as much as today's visitors. The park comprises 105 hilly acres surrounding a picturesque waterfall about 100 feet wide (in the rainy season) and 20 feet high. The water falls into a round, deep pool which is perfect for swimming.
- Lubaantun, "The Place of the Fallen Stones", is famous for its figurines, many being found under the structure. Lubaantun was first reported in 1903. Expeditions in 1915, 1926, and 1970 followed. Most important was the work done by Norman Hammond. He mapped the region and determined its period of occupation as 730 A.D. to 890 A.D. This site then was a Late Classic site, one of the last major sites in Belize prior to the collapse of the Maya.
- Now that the Southern Highway has been completed the site at Nim Li Punit is more accessible than ever. It is located just north of the village of Indian Creek with its entrance off to the right when approaching from the north. It is one of the more modest archaeological sites in terms of the size of the standing structures but the site is most well-known for the abundance of carved stelae discovered there. The visitors' center houses a number of these including one 9 meters in length. It is the largest carved stela in Belize and the second largest in the Mayan world. This stela depicts some of the history of the region and one of its rulers whose elaborate head-dress gives the site its modern name which translates as "Big Hat".
- The Living Maya Experience is a set of three distinct cultural home visits in Big Falls and Hicatee that market themselves cooperatively but operate independently.
- The zipline has six rides, that is, six sections between landing platforms either up in the trees or down on the ground with four crossings of the Rio Grande along the way. The different sections range from 350 to 450 feet. At the end of each ride is a landing platform and take-off platform for the next ride. As soon as you arrive at each platform the guides hook guests to fixed points so that everyone is well-anchored to the platform. Safety of guests is the number one priority for Andrew Caliz, David Franco his partner and their staff. David said, "Everyday we are looking for things to improve". The line was designed with safety in mind. For this reason they have a double cable, double carabiners and double trolleys with the rider harnessed at three points. And proper briefing and orientation are all part of the emphasis on the enjoyment of guests in a safe environment.
*Please, inquire for recent prices and schedules.
Tour includes: Private transportation, entrance fees, English speaking tour guide & lunch
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