Another Side of Belize—Look Beyond the Beaches to the Cayo District
The face that Belize shows the world is most often a tropical beach edging a turquoise sea, which is why the nation has become the western hemisphere’s most prominent go-to destination for those who can’t get enough scuba diving, deep-sea fishing and sailing. But beyond the white beaches that lure many travelers is another world that is twice as colorful and three times as fascinating: inland Belize where visitors rarely miss the beach because they’re too busy discovering true paradise.
Find this magical world within the Cayo District of Belize, a lush area visited by so many fans, convincing them to substitute a waterfront vacation for this gorgeous land would be impossible. Cayo attractions include a festive mix of sites, experiences and attractions you won’t find elsewhere in Belize.
The twin towns of Santa Elena and San Ignacio, separated only by a bridge, represent a thriving beehive of commerce. Smaller villages are the epitome of charm and warmth, and because this area is fast attracting the attention of ex-pats longing for a less “beachy” base, some say they’ve found nirvana here in Cayo.
Despite the fact that beachfront is noticeably missing from the landscape, the District is an aquatic paradise. Within jungles and rainforests flow bodies of water that are vast and verdant; some rivers provide gateways to primitive caves once used by Mayans as sacred sites, burial chambers and strongholds. The Macal River snakes through Cayo and serves as a recreational conduit that leads to waterfalls, pools and wildlife habitats.
The Maya Mountains stand watch over the Cayo District. When the infrequent storm passes over its lofty peaks--sounding like the menacing gods of the indigenous peoples who once lived and worshipped here—the district emerges in full bloom, which is why it has become Belize’s eco-tourism capital.
But eco-tourism ins only the latest wellspring of commerce for which the Cayo district is known. From the exotic hardwood trees than underpin Belize’s craft furniture industry to proximity to Guatemala where additional sightseeing opportunities await, the Cayo area also serves as the nation’s “breadbasket” thanks to a long history of agricultural practices that include growing sugar, cacao beans and other crops.
Because it takes time to see everything Cayo has to offer, visitors like staying in the midst of the action at a haven like Cahal Pech Village Resort where proximity to Mayan ruins, spectacular vistas, wildlife preserves and fascinating towns are so near, tourists often walk everywhere to see them during their stays. Check into your cozy accommodations and you’ll find everything you require for a memorable tropical vacation where you'll enjoy an onsite restaurant, spa and lush surroundings.
Once you venture out, there’s plenty to grab your attention. Among the “not-to-be-missed” sites is the Saturday market at San Ignacio. Set along the banks of the Macal River, this market is literally the social epicenter of Cayo. People travel here from impressive distances to shop, so expect to encounter crowds of people strolling stalls to sample freshly-picked fruits, herbs, veggies and snap up homemade treats like jams, relishes and crafts.
Join them. You’ll hear a cacophony of languages and see for yourself how myriad cultures come together at this lively weekly event. The crowd usually heads for local eateries and bars after they’ve shopped because they have such a good time, nobody wants to say goodbye.
We suggest that you follow the crowd! After all, next Saturday is a whole week away, which gives you plenty of time to book fascinating excursions through the Cahal Pech concierge that are guaranteed to keep you busy and give you a true understanding of why some travelers wouldn’t think of going anywhere but Cayo when they visit Belize.