Located in southern Belize, the Toledo District is one of the country’s top ecotourism destinations. Often described as the “last frontier,” it comprises a half-dozen rivers, rainforests, parks, and reserves, and even more modern Maya villages; head to indigenous towns like San Pedro Columbia or San Antonio to learn about traditional music and textiles. If the ancient Mayas are more your thing, there are numerous archaeological sites, many of which are still unexcavated. Visit Lubaantun (the purported home of the famous “crystal skull”) and Nim Li Punit, where you’ll find the tallest stelae (carved monument) in Belize. Mayas make up more than half of the district’s population, with Creoles, East Indians, and Garífunas making up the rest. The two latter groups have a strong presence in Punta Gorda, the region’s administrative centre. Although it’s not much of a draw itself, Punta Gorda is close to a handful of great eco-friendly lodges that offer myriad outdoor and wildlife tours. For anyone with a sweet tooth, Toledo is must-visit destination. Cacao has always been an important part of the Maya culture, and today, farmers in the district grow cacao beans for small- and large-scale chocolate production—even supplying UK-based chocolate company Green & Black’s. To satisfy your chocolate cravings, tour a cacao farm, learn how to make chocolate from scratch, or plan a trip during Toledo’s Chocolate Festival of Belize in May.
Simply referred to locally as PG, Punta Gorda is the country’s southernmost town. A relaxed, Caribbean community with just a dozen streets (and about as many cars), PG is home to approximately 6,000 people. Its busiest days are market days, especially along Front Street. Here, you’ll find fishermen hauling in their catches, farmers selling cassava and plantains, and Maya women touting handicrafts. The town’s waterfront isn’t much to speak of, but it doesn’t really matter: Nearby are several cayes with great beaches, snorkeling, scuba diving, and fishing. Head inland from PG, and you’ll find some of the country’s most verdant, unspoiled terrain. Here, you can hike through rainforests, bird watch, explore old ruins, and visit modern Maya towns. Punta Gorda may be the last stop on Belize’s Southern Highway, but it’s a great jumping off point for the rest of the Toledo District.