Horse racing’s history dates back thousands of years to the domestication of the horse by the people of Central Asia. The sport consisting of horses with rider racing round a track, was adopted throughout the world and was christened the sport of Kings when King James 1st of England made it his pastime of choice.
Horse racing was introduced to Belize in the 1920s. At that time there were 2 major horse races. The Dewars Cup, named because of its sponsor, took place on Boxing Day, December 26th. The other race took place on 1st January. Some horses were imported from Jamaica, others were the Belizean bred family pony. People gathered for a bit of fun, to race their horse and of course to drink, bet and hopefully make a bit of cash.
Today there are several stables in Belize that breed horses but horse racing hasn’t changed much. Unlike the rest of the world it is relatively small scale and Horse breeders and owners come from all walks of life. There are now 3 race courses, Castleton Race Track in Burrell Boom, The Benny Padron Race track in San Felipe Village, Orange Walk and the Peoples Stadium in Orange Walk, which also acts as a football pitch and sports stadium. The terrain is grass, the type of race for those who know their horse racing terms, flat. Race meetings take place most months throughout the year at one of these three tracks. The Belize Triple Crown Challenge which takes place in April/May consists of 3 races, The Castleton Derby at Castleton race track, the San Felipe Stakes at the Benny Padron Race track and the Old Masters Stakes at the Peoples Stadium race track. This race series is open to three year old thoroughbreds from Belize. This year the horse Padrino made history by winning all three races.
If you are here for the Christmas vacations and are interested in seeing horse racing Belizean style, Castleton Races still take place on 26th December. Its no longer called the Dewars Cup but it is still the Sport of Kings.
May and June see the start most Belizeans favorite season, mango season. After eight months of deprivation, these sweet beauties suddenly grace every market stall and roadside vendor in Belize. The countryside and city yards overflow with mangoes of every shape and size, with colors ranging from green to red, to yellow and even blue.
In Belize, there are well over 20 varieties of mango with names just as colorful as their skin. There are Hairy mangoes, Blue mangoes, Garlic, Daddyfoot, Common, Number 11, Slippers, Julie and even Turpentine.
There are four different stages of the mango, each with a very different taste. When it is green, the mango is hard and tart, delicious with salt and local habanero pepper, and is often used to make chutney. When its full or ‘turn’, the mango is just about ripe with a firm, slightly less sweet flesh, which is easy to eat and great in salads. Ripe mangoes are juicy and ready to eat with a delectable slightly perfumey aroma and taste. Overripe fruit is extremely messy and is best used to make mango juice. Add some lime, ice and a little bit of mint to it and you have a refreshingly delicious drink. The mango is paid homage to at an annual Mango Festival, in Hopkins in the Stann Creek District, usually at the beginning of June.
Belizeans love to celebrate the bounty of nature and the cashew is another fruit feted with its own festival. The Cashew Festival is held annually in Crooked Tree Village in late April or early May. Wait! It’s a fruit? Yes, the cashew is actually a very fragrant fruit with the more familiar nut hanging below. It grows wild in North Central Belize and flourishes despite the poor sandy soil in that region. It doesn’t need much water or fertilizer so it is indeed seen as miraculous. Harvest is generally between March and June where the trees are resplendent with red, orange and yellow that is the cashew fruit. Birds love the fruit as well, much to the chegrin of the farmers. It also makes a great wine.
Here is a great video that tells you all about this fruit and nut!
Cashew SeasonStraight outa Crooked Tree and in time for cashew fest 2017.
Did you know that chocolate was a fruit as well? Strictly speaking cacao (where chocolate comes from) is the actual fruit of the Theobrama tree. These colorful pods grow straight from the trunk or branch of the tree. Inside these pods are about 20 to 30 seeds covered in a thick sweet pulp that tastes nothing like chocolate, but is delicious all the same. It’s the beans themselves that are taken from the pod, fermented in a box covered with banana leaves, dried and roasted. Once roasted they are ground in a machine to release the oil (cocoa butter) which is put back into the cocoa mass to produce a liquor which will become chocolate as we know it. The Cacao Festival a celebration of chocolate occurs annually in May in the Toledo District of Belize.
Do you every wonder how that succulent juicy lobster tail arrived on your plate? Catching lobster is a little bit more complicated that catching a fish and involves a few more steps. We asked some local lobster fishermen to give us the low down on how to catch a lobster.
So, the million dollar question.. how do you catch a lobster?
There are two ways to catch a lobster: using a trap or using a hook. The trap method is used in shallower water in areas such as Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker. The second method is normally used further afield. Lighters (a 30ft sailing sloop) sets sail for 10 to 15 days at a time with 6 to 7 fishermen and a boat load of ice. These fishermen skin dive the outer reef and atolls and catch lobster with a hook stick or gaff.
What do the traps look like and how do they work?
The lobster trap is made from strips of wood from the palmetto palm. They are un baited and have a funnel on the top. They are set in the open seagrass. The Caribbean or spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) which is nocturnal leaves the safety of the coral reef to find food and graze on these seagrass beds. As soon as the sun comes up they are looking for a hiding space. They aren’t the brightest of creatures and if they see any chance of shade such as a trap they will scurry down the funnel and then won’t be able to get out.
The shade trap is made of palmetto and corrugated roofing. The lobsters hide under these shades. Tin Drums are also used as traps.
Who makes the traps?
The traps are made by the fishermen themselves. This skill has been handed down from generation to generation.
When do you start to lay traps and how do you know where to put them?
At the beginning of June the traps, old and new are put in the sea to soak. This makes it easier for them to sink. About a week before the beginning of lobster season the traps are situated. Each lobster fisherman has a fixed territory which is usually inherited from previous generations and on the whole other fishermen respect this. The secret to location and pattern of laying the traps is known only to the individual.
How big should the lobster be?
A whole lobster, must measure three inches or more from the eye to the start of the tail; the lobster tail should weigh at least 4 ounces. There are big fines for being caught with undersized, spotted (which means the lobster will soon lay eggs ) or those with eggs .
How early do you get up on the first day of lobster season and how long do you catch lobster for?
At the break of day until about 10 am or until you have a good catch
Do you go out every day during lobster season?
Normally its every few days to check on the traps. With a fast powerboat checking your traps doesn’t take that long.
Where do you sell your catch?
In times gone by the catch would be sold at the Fishermen’s Co-operatives which existed in the major towns of San Pedro, Caye Caulker, Placencia and others. In the past lobster was a big export and here in San Pedro a cargo plane full of ice would fly in to take the catch. Today the tourism industry has changed all that. The co-operatives don’t really exist as before and fishermen tend to have an agreement with a hotel or restaurant, who will buy all their catch.
DATES FOR THIS YEAR’S (2017) CHOCOLATE FESTIVAL ARE MAY 19TH, 20TH, 21ST.
This month is a very special one for the Toledo district of Belize because it marks the 10th Anniversary of the Chocolate Festival of Belize.
Back in 2007 the first festival was founded originally as the Toledo Cacao Festival, with the idea of promoting this very unique district of Belize and the amazing cacao that grows here. The then British company Green and Black who were buying the majority of the cacao for their “Maya Gold” bar, were one of the main sponsors of the event, along with the Toledo Cacao Growers Association (TCGA). The event opened with the signature “Wine and Chocolate” evening. All the cuisine was chocolate related and guests were treated to bars of “Maya Gold” as a welcome gift. The following day a street fair was held in the town of Punta Gorda, the town clock was painted especially for the event. There were stalls of all kinds selling every kind of cacao related product you could think of, wine, vinegar, soaps, earrings and of course chocolate. Local musicians played marimba and the Maya ceremonial deer dance was re-enacted. There were activities for children to learn all about cacao and even trips to local cacao farms could be arranged. The event culminated on the Sunday with fireworks and the music of The Three Kings.
The Maya of the Toledo district have of course been making chocolate for thousands of years. They discovered that if the seeds grown in the pods of the Theobrama Cacao tree were roasted and ground, mixed with local spices and water, that they provided a refreshing drink. This drink originally drunk in dried gourds is still very much a part of the Maya culture although today it is more likely to be drunk from brightly colored plastic cups. This first ever cacao event was not only a showcase of the traditional Maya culture but also an inspiration for a handful of people to start making their own “bean to bar” chocolate within Belize using Belizean cacao. By the following year there were already four new chocolate makers in Belize, showcasing their products at the 2nd Cacao Festival. These included Belize Chocolate Company, Cotton Tree Chocolate, Goss Chocolate and Ixcacao (originally Cyrila’s)
The Toledo Cacao Growers Association which was established in 1984 was the original source for buying beans. Until very recently the cacao farmer would harvest the pods, extract the beans and then ferment them in wooden boxes covered with banana leaves. This process would take approximately 7 days. Once the beans were fermented they were laid out to dry. The TCGA would buy these dried and fermented beans from the farmer. In 2010, Maya Mountain Cacao started purchasing wet beans from the farmers in an effort to provide a more consistent quality to the buyer. The TCGA quickly followed suit and today both companies centralise the fermenting and drying of the cacao. It is at this stage that the various chocolate makers buy the beans to transform it into chocolate.
The Cacao festival changed its name in 2013 to The Chocolate Festival of Belize. As with years gone by, this year the event will be held on the Commonwealth weekend 20th – 22nd May and will follow the same format as the original with Wine and Chocolate evening on Friday, Taste of Toledo street fair held on the Saturday and Grand Finale on Sunday. Come and check out what promises to be a fabulous, informative weekend filled with chocolate, culture, music and fun and of course make sure you fly there on Tropic Air.
March 9th is a National Holiday in Belize. Formerly Baron Bliss Day, it is now known as National Heroes and Benefactors Day to honor all those who have contributed to the greatness that is Belize. So, who was Baron Bliss and what makes him so special?
Baron Bliss is widely considered to be Belize’s biggest benefactor. Born Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss in England in 1869, he inherited the title 4th Baron Bliss of the Kingdom of Portugal. Bliss was an avid traveller and sailor with a significant fortune. At the age of 42 he is thought to have contracted polio which led to his paralysis. This didn’t restrict him from sailing his yacht Sea King II to the Bahamas in 1920 where he lived for 5 years. From here he sailed to Trinidad before arriving in Belize or British Honduras as it was known then, in 1926. At this time Baron Bliss was in a poor state of health, having contracted food poisoning in Trinidad. He spent the next few weeks aboard his yacht fishing the tranquil and abundant waters of Belize and his health seemed to improve. Nevertheless, a few days before his 57th birthday he was informed by physicians that he was in fact dying. Although he hadn’t actually set foot on mainland Belize, so impressed had he been with the country and its people who he had met whilst fishing the waters and visiting the Cayes, that he summoned Sir John Burdon the then, Governor of Belize to board his yacht, to inform him of his wishes to leave the majority of his estate to Belize. In his will he asked that a trust be formed and the money invested for the benefit of the country and its citizens.
The estate was estimated at 1.8million Belize dollars. Baron Bliss died 9th March 1926 and was subsequently buried as per his wishes near the sea in a granite tomb with a lighthouse erected nearby. This lighthouse still stands and a restored Sea King II is resident in the grounds of Government House. The Bliss Trust has over the ensuing years used this money for various projects across Belize including The Bliss Institute, The Bliss School of Nursing ,a library in Santa Elena and a leisure centre in Punta Gorda.
Sailing was such an integral part of Baron Bliss’s life that he also specified a sum of 100 pounds be used annually to set up regattas in towns within Belize. Countrywide this holiday which this year is held on Monday 7th is celebrated with regattas and other events to honor Baron Bliss and other heroes of Belize. The 88th Baron Bliss Regatta takes place in Belize City harbor on March 6th this year.
In San Ignacio, on March 4th, La Ruta Maya River Challenge is an annual 180 mile long ,4 day canoe race finishing in Belize City. Where ever you decide to honor Belize’s biggest benefactor, this year, let Tropic Air take you there.
Belize is a country of celebrations or jump ups as we call them and Belizeans love to party. Most months of the year have at least one holiday or anniversary commemorating or celebrating something of national significance. In November, all of Belize celebrates Garifuna Settlement Day on the 19th of the month. This holiday commenced in 1943 in the Stann Creek and Toledo districts of the country and in 1977 it became a national Holiday throughout Belize.
The Garinagu (plural of Garifuna) or Black Caribs first arrived in Belize, then British Honduras on November 19, 1802. They were the descendants of Carib Indians and Black Africans from St Vincent. According to history, they arrived in dug out canoes or dories and the re- enactment, called Yurumei, has become part of the Garifuna cultural ritual that occurs every morning on November 19th.
Belize has Garifuna communities living throughout Belize with approximately 15,000 people making up 7% of the population. The highest concentration can be found in the Stann Creek district and in particular Dangriga. The word Dangriga is from the Garifuna language meaning “sweet water”. Here the celebration lasts all week with parades, drumming, live music, dancing and much fun. The women and men dress in their traditional and colorful clothes and a Miss Garifuna pageant is held where young ladies showcase their knowledge of traditional dancing and language. In nearby Hopkins, traditionally a small fishing village, the children still learn and speak the Garifuna language .
The Garifuna culture is a strong and proud one. They have their own yellow, white and black flag symbolizing the sun, peace and the people. The food is also different from the ubiquitous rice and beans with Hudut, bundiga and cassava bread being just some of the delicacies to be found.
Let Tropic Air fly you to experience the Garifuna culture.
Toledo the southernmost district of Belize is arguably one of the richest areas of our country in terms of culture and topography. Cradled by high mountains, dense jungle and the blue Caribbean sea, the area is abundant in nature reserves, pristine rainforests, extensive cave systems and some of the best off shore cayes and yet historically it is one of the least populated and visited. Formerly frequented by the hardier eco traveler and backpacker, Tropic Air’s daily scheduled flights from almost anywhere in Belize including the International airport, to Punta Gorda the areas capital ,coupled with the increase in a variety of accommodation ranging from luxury lodges to bed and breakfast inns has opened up this diverse area to the mainstream traveler. Visitors can even stay in a traditional Maya home in a thatched cottage in one of the many Maya villages. This homestay project offers the chance to experience the Maya way of life. Food is authentic Maya fare of corn tortillas made on the fire, with corn ground on a traditional metate handed down over the centuries from family to family. This is served with caldo a tasty chicken stew with potatoes and vegetables grown on the family farm.
Whilst the Toledo district like the rest of Belize, is culturally diverse, the Maya culture dominates here, more than any other area of Belize. Some 30 villages inhabited by the Kekchi and the Mopan Maya dot the surrounding countryside. San Antonio located 25 miles outside of PG has one of the largest Mopan Maya communities in Central America and one of the centers for the annual deer dance. Villagers wear colorful costumes and dance to marimba music. The dance symbolizes the relationship between man and nature. The Maya maintain a strong link to the past through rituals, folklore and family. Fiestas dancing and traditional music remain important as several festivals and celebrations occur throughout the year.
The most recent annual event is the Toledo Cacao Festival held in May in Punta Gorda and throughout the district. Activities range from a wine and chocolate tasting evening to cookery competitions and a craft fair, trips to the outer Cayes and a cacao trail tour in Toledo’s chocolate country.
Other festivals in the district include the feast of San Luis during Easter, Garifuna settlement Day and the East Indian Festivals. In October The Tide fish fest is a weekend annual event dedicated to raising awareness of environmental issues. The weekend consists of a seafood gala with delicious food on offer, a youth conservation competition and a fishing tournament.
In November the Battle of the drums showcases local musicians as they display their talents in 5 different categories of Garifuna drumming.
Think outside the box. September and October are some of the best months of the year for diving. Fewer people visit and you are sure to find great deals on accommodation.
Put “visit at least one Maya site” on your to do list. There are sites in each of the 6 Belize districts.
Snorkeling the 2nd largest barrier reef is a must, but be sure to wear a rashguard or t-shirt as the reflection of the water will increase the effect of the sun’s rays.
Fly rather than drive. Tropic Air has flights to most destinations and also offer charters to more remote and exotic places.
Belizeans love to party and there are festivals and celebrations countrywide most months of the year. Check with the Belize Tourism Board www.travelbelize.org to find out what’s going on when you plan to visit.
Talk to the locals and find out where they eat.
Go visit the Belize Zoo -known as the coolest little zoo in the world, you will see an amazing selection of Belizean wildlife in their natural habitat.
Caving can be fun! Try a relaxing tubing trip through a cave system or for something more adventurous, visit one of the caves traditionally thought of as part of the Maya underworld.
You really cannot miss the famous Blue Hole if you come to Belize. If you don’t want to dive or snorkel it, then see it by air. Tropic Air can take you there. It’s on most peoples bucket list!
If you are based on the mainland for your vacation, try to take at least one trip to the Cayes. Tropic Air flies to Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker
If you are based on the Cayes try to take a trip to the mainland to experience all it has to offer. Tropic air can take you there. (link to Destinations page)
Make sure you try the national dish of Belize – stewed chicken, rice and beans with coleslaw at least once on your trip… and I bet you won’t be able to just have it once.
Belize is famous for its spiny lobster (called crayfish locally), whose harvest season begins annually on June 15th. This date also marks the celebration of all things lobster including three festivals held in three Belizean communities.
The beach towns of Caye Caulker and Placencia have traditionally had lobsterfests and in recent years, San Pedro, Ambergris Caye has added one to its calendar as well. If you are lucky visit Belize in June, you will be able to experience at least one of these delicious events.
San Pedro Lobsterfest is a week-long event usually starting with a kick-off party and culminating in a grand fiesta in Central Park. During the week, there are events planned all over town including a lobster crawl that involves partaking in lobster delicacies and libations in a series of establishments on a given night. One can obtain a “lobster passport”, where each day a different island establishment is represented and acquisition of a lobster “stamp” in this passport renders the holder eligible for the grand prize, drawn on the final night’s event in Central Park. The prize is usually vacation for the following year that includes tickets from Tropic Air. The final block party is a lobster lovers delight. Front Street is closed to traffic and most of the local restaurants have booths serving their rendition of the tasty crustacian. There is a competition for the best dish so culinary imagination knows no bounds. There is some serious deliciousness to be found here, all accompanied by local musicians to give the real party atmosphere.
Caye Caulker lobsterfest is a weekend event. This is a local Belizean favorite, and people flock here from all over the country. Stalls and restaurants everywhere offer anything from lobster tacos to barbecued lobster.
Placencia’s festival is also a weekend event and, in their own words, promises “a mega beach party like no other in Belize “ with live music, family games, a legendary raffle and of course more lobster than it is possible to eat.
If you want to enjoy lobster, then come during the open season because between February 15th and June 14th, the crustacean is off the menu. This means that fishermen are not allowed to catch it, restaurants are not allowed to sell it and it is illegal to have in your possession. Whilst this is harsh for the many tourists and locals, it is necessary to preserve this valuable resource for the future.
If you are planning a trip to Belize and you love lobster then June is definitely the month to come visit. Book your travel with Tropic Air.