Last Updated on April 20, 2023
Located in the southern part of Belize, bordering Guatemala to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east. Toledo is the least populated district in Belize and is known for its natural beauty and cultural diversity.
The district is home to a number of indigenous communities, including the Kekchi, Mopan, and Q’eqchi Maya, as well as the Garifuna people. There, you can learn about the local culture through cultural tours of traditional villages, which offer insights into traditional farming, cooking, and craft-making.
The Toledo Ecotourism Association (TEA) offers Mayan cultural tours and immersion programs and aims at promoting tourism in the Toledo District while involving local communities. Tourists benefit from a stay in a village, discovering the Maya culture through activities, and visiting local landmarks.
The money helps the family involved in the project gain a better quality of life and reduce poverty in this remote part of Belize.
Read on to learn more about one of the best Mayan cultural tours in Belize and this great immersion program in Southern Belize.
Disclaimer: This post was kindly sponsored by TEA Belize. As always, all opinions are my own. This post may contain affiliate links.
About the Cultural Immersion Program
Several villages are part of the association and offer basic guesthouses and cultural activities for tourists. It’s a great opportunity for foreigners to learn about life in the community and the modern Maya lifestyle.
Mayas live in community, sharing the land and often helping each other farming, building houses, and such. Elected elders take care of the day-to-day problems, and the village often has meetings to discuss local regulations.
The association organizes different types of activities, from simple day trips to several days’ stays. They offer three different packages or an à-la-carte stay. Four villages are part of the program: San Antonio, Laguna, Santa Elena, and San Miguel.
The activities offered are a way to show the culture to foreigners but also to preserve it, as younger generations will see the use of learning traditional music or crafts if they can profit from it.
The accommodations are really basic, so if you like comfort, you can opt for the day-trip package. Visiting San Antonio makes a great day trip from Punta Gorda.
Cultural Activities Offered
During the tour of the village, you’ll learn everything about the local way of life, the traditions, and the history of its people. It’s really interesting to discover a communal organization and to see how much support there is between people.
Most people in Toledo live from farming. During your stay, you’ll have the opportunity to discover the farms, what grows there. and learn about medicinal plants. You’ll see firsthand how people in poor rural communities farm without many tools and often without using any pesticides.
Farmers there mostly plant cacao, coffee, and corn.
Cacao Grinding and tasting
You’ll learn all about making cacao. You’ll see how they clean it, then grind it, and finally how they prepare the drink. You’ll also be able to try grinding it (it’s harder than it looks!). The taste is pretty different from what you would get at the supermarket. They add all-spice and a lot of sugar to it. It’s super yummy.
If you’re there during the right season, you’ll be able to see the fermenting and roasting process as well. In some of the villages, you might also see coffee grinding.
Apart from farming, locals usually also make and sell handicrafts. You’ll go to the jungle to get the materials needed, learn how it’s prepared, and then learn how to make something. I made earrings because it’s small and doesn’t take too much time to make. It’s a great activity, I found it really calming.
Traditional dances and music
This is probably the best part of the cultural activities, during your stay you can watch traditional dances and music, see the instruments, and see how locals celebrate important events.
Things to Do Near San Antonio, Toledo
The Toledo Ecotourism Association also offers tours to natural sights and Mayan ruins. The Toledo district is great for hiking, swimming near waterfalls, caving, and visiting ancient cities.
The district is known for its pristine rainforests and diverse wildlife, including jaguars, pumas, tapirs, and a variety of bird species. Visitors can explore the rainforests on guided tours or hike along the trails of the Rio Blanco National Park or the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary.
The district is also home to a number of archaeological sites, including the ancient Maya city of Lubaantun, which dates back to the Late Classic Period (AD 700-850). Visitors can explore the ruins of the city and learn about the ancient Maya culture through guided tours.
Here are the best places to visit in the Toledo District:
Nim Li Punit and Lubaantun
Both Nim Li Punit and Lubaantun are Maya ruins. Less spectacular than some of their neighbors, the sites are still worth visiting, especially as it’s less crowded. I was alone when I visited Nim Li Punit!
Nim Li Punit dates back to the Classic period, around the 5th century. The city used to be an important religious and political center. Its name means “Big Hat”, after one of the stelae depicting a man wearing a huge hat.
Lubaantun dates back from the Late Classic period and is known for the special way its pyramids were built, really tall and without mortar. Its name means “The place where the stones fell”.
Blue Creek Cave
A nice hike through the jungle and a turquoise river will take you to this wonderful cave, where you can swim in one of its many pools. A magical place. The cave there is known for its crystal-clear water and beautiful rock formations – TEA offers guided toura to explore the cave system.
Noh Sos Waterfall
Noh Sos waterfall is a small fall near San Antonio. Surrounded by jungle, it’s easy to reach as it’s located near the main road. The place is pleasant and peaceful; it’s a great place to relax after a day of exploration.
Toledo Ecotourism Association Immersion Program and Cultural Tour Review
Overall, I really enjoyed the time I spent doing all the activities on this Mayan tour in Belize and learning about the local way of life.
I’m always a bit squeamish about this sort of thing as I don’t how much of it is real or if it’s just a show for tourists. I was quickly reassured and would definitively recommend doing it. It’s authentic, it’s instructive, and it’s the best way to really learn about Belize and its people.
When you travel, you visit the places, you see the sights, but it’s harder to experience the culture fully, to immerse yourself in it. Participating in the TEA program will give you this insight, will allow you to live something unique, and to understand better how people live in this part of the world.
Don’t hesitate to contact them and check out their website for more information.
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