Toledo: Nature, Culture, Adventure

Toledo: Nature, Culture, Adventure

The above video produced by TIDE Tours gives an excellent summary of what Toledo has to offer!

The Toledo district is the southern-most district in Belize. It has only one town – Punta Gorda, known throughout Belize simply as “PG”.  PG is on the coast, but scattered throughout the district are over 50 small rural villages.

Toledo: Nature, Culture, Adventure

There are few sandy beaches in Toledo, as it is a natural mangrove area.  However a short boat trip can take you to stunning unspoilt cayes, for great snorkelling and diving opportunities.  Inland areas boast large areas of unspoilt jungle, kept lush by the nightly rains most of the year.

Cultural Melting-Pot

See and hear all the different ethnic groups and languages of Belize. In Punta Gorda the Garifuna people are largest in numbers. However Maya, East Indian and Creole populations are also part of PG’s cultural melting pot.  Most of the villages are either Kekchi or Mopan Maya communities. But there is also one Garifuna village (Barranco), one traditional Mennonite village (Pine Hill) and a small number of East Indian and Creole communities.

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Toledo: Nature, Culture, Adventure

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Getting To and Around Toledo

Getting Around Toledo

My James Bus home to PG

The fastest way to the Toledo district is by air on small 12-seater planes with Belizean airlines Tropic Air or Maya Island Air.
You can also arrive on the national James Bus Line, which provides regular and express bus services.  Bus services connect PG with Independence, Dangriga, Belmopan and Belize City.  Finally, you can arrive in Punta Gorda by water taxi direct from Puerto Barrios or Livingston, Guatemala.

Timetables for all the above are provided below, courtesy to The Toledo Howler newspaper produced by Belize Tourism Industry Association.  You can of course also drive if you have access to a vehicle.

Once you  are in PG town, you can easily walk or cycle to most places in town, or catch a local taxi.  To get to the villages, you can go on a pre-arranged tour, hire a car, or negotiate the network of village buses (schedule below).

villagebuses

Courtesy of The Toledo Howler, BTIA Toledo (http://issuu.com/btia_toledo)

Getting around Toledo

Courtesy of The Toledo Howler, BTIA Toledo (http://issuu.com/btia_toledo)

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Garifuna People (Garinagu)

Garifuna People (Garinagu) descend from shipwrecked Africans who mixed with Carib and Arawak Amerindians on the island of Saint Vincent.

 Garifuna People (Garinagu)
Around 1635, some slave ships from the west coast of Africa were wrecked near the coast of Saint Vincent in the Caribbean.  The slaves who survived mixed with the descendants of Arawak and Carib Amerindians already living on the island.

The dark skin and culture of the Africans mixed with the language and culture of the Carib Indians.  This created a rich new ethnicity and culture, now known as Garifuna.

The French and British colonists battled for control of St. Vincent in the 18th century. The Garifuna sided with the French.  But in 1795, the British defeated the French, and expelled all Garifuna people from the island.

Garifuna families set off across the Caribbean in small wooden canoes carrying important crops with them to plant wherever they settled.  Half died before reaching land and safety.  Those that survived, settled along the Caribbean coasts of Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Belize.

Garifuna Language and Songs

Today, Garifuna language blends Arawak, English, Spanish, French and west African languages.  ‘Garifuna’ describes the culture and language, but use the word ‘Garinagu” to describe the people as a whole.  Music, singing, drumming and dancing are integral parts of Garifuna culture.  Many of the songs and dances tell stories about Garifuna history and culture.

Garifuna Settlement Day

Every year on the 19th of November, Garifuna people in Belize celebrate the arrival of the Garinagu people in Belize.  Drumming and dancing continues through the night.  By sunrise, boats arrive to re-enact the arrival of their ancestors to Belize.  The arrival of the boats is celebrated by those onshore with drumming and dancing.  A parade then takes place through town ending at the Catholic church.  Celebrate with us if you visit in November!

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Toledo’s villages

Toledo’s villages are scattered across the district, ranging from 100 to over 1500 people.  Most of the villages are either Mopan or Kekchi Maya communities, such as San Antonio and San Pedro Columbia.

 Many of the villages are on bumpy dirt roads, but since the highway to Jalacte on the Guatemalan border was paved, access to many of the villages has improved.

The villages retain much of their traditional charm – with thatch houses, clear rivers and creeks where many local families still bathe and do laundry.  Around the villages are the fields where the families plant their corn, beans and other staple foods.  Many of the families still live a mostly subsistence lifestyle.

In many villages local women and children will come out to try and sell their crafts to visitors.  You shouldn’t feel like you have to buy anything, but remember to be polite and respectful.  What they are selling are authentic Belizean Maya crafts.  At many stores in the towns, they are selling cheaper imported crafts from Guatemala and Mexico, so keep that in mind.

Toledo's villagesIf you see people bathing or doing laundry in the river or just going about their daily lives, don’t take photos without asking first.  You wouldn’t want somebody photographing you in the shower without permission!

Mopan and Kekchi Maya are the most common languages after English and Creole in Toledo district.  Spanish is not very common.  Toledo villages offer an authentic experience for all.
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Punta Gorda town

Punta Gorda town

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Punta Gorda town is a small coastal town with a population of approximately 6000 people.  Founded by Garifuna immigrants in the 1800s, it retains a large Garifuna population,.  Today the town also has a large Maya population along with East Indians, Creole, Mennonite, Chinese, Mestizo and more.

With beautiful views across the Bay of Honduras to the hills of Guatemala and Honduras on a clear day, PG makes an excellent base for exploring the district.  Whether you arrive by water taxi from Puerto Barrios or Livingston, or by bus, private vehicle or plane from another town in Belize, if you take some time to get to know PG town you will find a friendly and local town to explore.

The main town has 5-6 streets that run parallel to the coast line, linked by numerous cross streets.  On Front Street you will find the local Tourist Information office, and locals selling their wares on market days.  Most streets have at least one convenience store selling cold drinks, snacks and basic grocery supplies.  There are two banks on Main Street with ATMS.  There is also a post office, two pharmacies, and numerious small local eateries lining the main streets.

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Garifuna Culture

Garifuna culture unites Garinagu people in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and also those who now live in other countries including the United States.

In 2008 the Garifuna language, music and song were inscribed as part of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO (UNESCO – Intangible Heritage of the Garifuna)

Origin of the Garifuna Culture and People

Garifuna cultureIn the 18th century slave ships from western Africa became shipwrecked near the island of Saint Vincent in the Caribbean.  Several hundreds of slaves that escaped and made it to shore settled on the island.  Already living there at that time were Carib and Arawak Amerindians (originally from South America). The African settlers intermarried with the inhabitants of Saint Vincent.  This created a new ethnic group that became known as the Garinagu (in the past also know as the Black Caribs).  The culture of the African settlers combined with the language and culture of the Carib and Arawak into this new “Garifuna” culture.

Conflict with European Settlers

In the late 18th century French and British settlers in the islands fought for control over Saint Vincent.  The Garinagu population sided with the French.  However the British won, and forced the Garinagu population to the island of Balliceux.  Many thousands died on the journey across the Caribbean and on Balliceux.  Those that survived continued their journey and ultimately settled along the Caribbean coasts of Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Belize.

Garifuna Settlement Day

Every year on 19th November Belizeans celebrate the anniversary of the arrival of one of the largest groups of Garifuna people to the shores of Belize in 1802.  This day is called Garifuna Settlement Day, or sometimes simply as “Yurumein”.  Yurumein is the Garifuna name for Saint Vincent, the island where several Spanish slave ships were wrecked in the 17th century.   This eventually led to the emergence of the Garifuna people and culture.

Garifuna Culture and Language

The Garifuna language belongs to the Arawakan group of languages and has survived centuries of discrimination and linguistic domination. It is rich in tales (úraga) originally recited during wakes or large gatherings.  The Garifuna language has also adopted words from the other nationalities that are involved in their history.  This includes French, Spanish and English.

If you ask a Garifuna person to count from one to twenty, you will soon recognize the French influence.  The Garifuna words for window, sheep, and cheese are also examples of the French influence.  Many Garifuna people’s surnames are traditional Spanish names, such as Martinez and Bermudez.  Others are Spanish, such as Augustin and Franzua.

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