Category: Travel

Ten things to do in Belize

Posted By : Tropic Air/ 157

It is a new year and you are looking at your bucket list wondering what it is lacking. It is time for adventure! It is time exploration and conquering new horizons! New destinations, new experiences, awesome memories and loads of fun… it is time for Belize.

Here are 10 awesome things to do and reasons why you should have Belize as your next destination. We should also mention that none of them involve dealing with snow or sub zero temps ;).

1: The Great Blue Hole

The world famous Great Blue Hole is a giant submarine sinkhole off the coast of Belize. It lies near the center of Lighthouse Reef, an atoll 43 miles (70km) from Belize City. The hole is circular in shape, over 984 feet (300 m) across and 354 feet (108 m) deep. The Great Blue Hole is a part of the larger Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, a World Heritage Site. This site was made famous by Jacques Cousteau, who declared it one of the top ten scuba diving sites in the world.

Getting there
See it the way it was meant to be seen … from the air. Fly to Lighthouse Reef Atoll, and make several fly-bys of this natural wonder of the world. On the way, see the Belize Barrier Reef, and Turneffe Atoll. Be sure to keep watch on the water below for Manatees, Rays, Sharks, Dolphins, and other wildlife. So, before you dive it, see it. There are scheduled tours and charters available from Tropic Air. Visit our tour page for more information.

2: A.T.M (Actun Tunich Muknal) Cave

This cave adventure is one of the most popular attractions in Belize. Featured in National Geographic, A.T.M. cave is several kilometers long and is an ancient burial site containing four skeletons, ceramics, and stoneware left by the Maya. The most famous skeleton is that of a young girl, the bones of which have been completely covered by the natural processes of the cave, leaving them with a sparkling appearance. Once inside the cave you will spend several hours swimming, climbing, and exploring the Maya underworld. The culmination of the tour is the Crystal Maiden, a young virgin sacrifice, and “The Cathedral”, with its stalactite and stalagmite formations.

Getting there
Take the guided tour. If you are staying on the mainland, ask your resort for your tour options. If you are in the cayes, there are daily tours available from Tropic Air. Visit our tour page for more information.

3: Hol Chan Marine Reserve / Shark Ray Alley

At the southern tip of Ambergris Caye is Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Hol Chan is the Maya name for ‘little channel.” This sanctuary on the Barrier Reef was officially established in 1987, and since then the return of all species of fish has been quite dramatic. It is perfect area for snorkelers and scuba divers, and for those learning to do both. It is the single most popular day trip from San Pedro.

Getting there
Take a tour boat from San Pedro or Caye Caulker. Trips usually run once in the morning and again in the afternoon. You can also do it from the mainland using Tropic Air flights to either island.

4: Lamanai

The ancient Maya site of Lamanai sits on the edge of the spectacular New River Lagoon in the Orange Walk District, and is known for being the longest continually-occupied site in Mesoamerica. Wildlife is abundant, and you can see and hear howler monkeys. Jaguars also roam nearby. This is reflected in the stories of the locals as well as the architecture.

The temples themselves rise from the jungle floor to a spectacular view above the jungle canopy. They have many carvings into them of the jaguars and crocodiles, and you have the chance to climb to the top of the main pyramid. There is a rope and very narrow, tall, steep steps leading to the view high over the lagoon.

Getting there
Take a river tour boat from the Tower Hill Bridge (near Orange Walk town). Trips usually run about 7 hours in length. It can also be done from some of the islands (like San Pedro or Caye Caulker). There are scheduled tours from Tropic Air. Visit our tour page for more information.

5: Caye Caulker

Caye Caulker is the epitome of the laid-back island lifestyle. With the Barrier Reef just off its eastern shore, fresh seafood, quaint bars and restaurants, sandy streets and tropical music, Caye Caulker is the perfect place to spend one day, a few days or even a few weeks.

Getting there
Take a water taxi from a neighboring island or fly with Tropic Air from Belize City, San Ignacio, Orange Walk or San Pedro.

6: Xunantunich

Xunantunich or “Maiden of the Rock” is situated on the Western Highway across the river from the village of San Jose Succotz in the Cayo District. This major Maya ceremonial center can be reached by ferry daily across the Mopan River. This Classic Period site provides an impressive view of the entire river valley. It occupies only 300 square meters but the periphery covers several square kilometers. The main temple of El Castillo rises 120ft (40m) above plaza level, making it one of the tallest buildings in Belize.

Getting there
It is a very accessible and easy site to enjoy, so take a guided tour from one of the nearby resorts. You can also do it on your own. Tropic Air flies several times a day to San Ignacio’s exclusive Maya Flats Airstrip which is very close to the site.

7: Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary

Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary is Belize’s premier destination for birders, and contains a mosaic of wetland and land habitats. With 16,400 acres of lagoons, creeks, logwood swamps, broadleaf forest and pine savanna, you will be sure to see a wide array of wildlife. The Sanctuary protects globally endangered species including the Central American River Turtle, Mexican Black Howler Monkey, and Yellow-headed Parrot. The village in the lagoon is also home to the very unique Cashew festival every year.

Getting there
Take a guided tour from one of the nearby resorts or from your tour operator.

8: Placencia

Placencia is a peninsula in southern Belize with almost 16 miles (25km) of sandy beaches. The Caribbean is on the eastern side, while the lagoon that looks towards the Maya Mountains on the mainland, is to its west. From March to June, dive with Whale Sharks at Gladden Spit (a cut in the reef east of Placencia village). It is also easy to get to the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Reserve, home of a large Jaguar population.

Getting there
Fly to Placencia on Tropic Air. Flights are available from several destinations throughout the country. Since it is not an island, you can also drive there.

9: Cave Tubing

Over the years, cave tubing at Nohoch Che’en Caves (sometimes known as Jaguar Paw) has become extremely popular, especially on hot days. Float down the Cave’s Branch River on inner tubes through underground caves once used by the Maya. You can also zip-line and ride ATVs though the rainforest in this area, located about 40 miles (64km) from Belize City.

Getting there
Fly to Belize City or Belmopan and take a tour from there. There are scheduled tours and available from Tropic Air. Visit our tour page for more information.

10: Fishing

No matter where you stay on the Belizean coast, there is great fishing. The flats offer one of the best chances in the world to complete a grand slam (Tarpon, Permit and Bonefish in one day). The rivers teem with Snook, Snapper and Tarpon while offshore, Sailfish and other species abound. It is also a great place for kids to learn to fish, as hotel piers and reef proximity provide great opportunities for them to practice catching snapper, grunt and barracuda.

How to arrange it
Ask your resort to arrange a half-day or full day fishing trip.

How to get to Belize

Here are a list of international carriers that fly into Belize. Click here or copy and paste the following link:

https://www.tropicair.com/flying-tropic-air/about-belize/how-do-you-get-to-belize/

The Sport of Kings

Posted By : Tropic Air/ 246

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.

© horseracingbelize.com

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.

 

Featured Photo: © horseracingbelize.com/

SUSPENSION OF FLIGHTS TO CAYE CAULKER

Posted By : Tropic Air/ 903 3

Tropic Air and Maya Island Air hereby inform the public of the suspension of all scheduled flights to the island of Caye Caulker effective October 1, 2017.

The present state of the runway at the island’s airstrip exhibits severe deterioration. As a result, this precautionary measure is necessary to avoid safety and operational challenges beyond acceptable margins for public flight service.

This information has been shared with the Belize Airports Authority and Caye Caulker’s Village Council accompanied by a request for urgent renovation of the runway in order to meet the island’s approaching tourism high season.

Air service will resume to Caye Caulker immediately after completion of necessary renovation works to rehabilitate the island’s airstrip.

Travelers with itineraries, reservations or tickets to Caye Caulker should contact their respective carrier for information regarding the status of the journey and available alternatives to reach this popular island destination.

 

-end-

San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize
September 12th, 2017

TROPIC AIR ADDS FLIGHT FROM ORANGE WALK TO SAN PEDRO

Posted By : Tropic Air/ 448

San Pedro,
Ambergris Caye,
Belize
Monday, September 4, 2017

Tropic Air announced today a substantial investment for its Orange Walk customers as it it will be increasing air service between Orange Walk and San Pedro to three (3) times a day, effective November 15th, 2017. Currently, flights are scheduled at two times a day, and this will add an often requested evening service.

“When we launched scheduled Orange Walk service on December 15th, 2011, we also promised that we would grow the route. We are now doing so,” said John Greif III, President of Tropic Air. “Orange Walk (Tower Hill) is an integral part of the network for Tropic Air, and as we carry more passengers to, from, and within Belize, we feel it important that we expand locally to reflect our confidence in the growth of the domestic marketplace.”

The schedule for the the additional flight between San Pedro and Orange Walk is:

DEPARTS TIME ARRIVES TIME
San Pedro (SPR) 4:00PM Orange Walk (ORZ) 4:20PM
Orange Walk (ORZ) 4:30PM San Pedro (SPR) 4:50PM

 

The new service bookable via the web at www.tropicair.com, via e-mail at reservations@tropicair.com, by phone at 226-2626, via Whatsapp at +501 622-5857, by contacting any of our stations, or by contacting our authorized sales office in Orange Walk Town.

About Tropic Air
Founded in 1979, by John Greif III, with just a single airplane and two employees, Tropic has steadily grown to become the largest and most experienced airline in Belize. It now employs over 350 staff, and offers over 200 daily scheduled flights with 15 aircraft to 15 destinations in Belize, Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala. Tropic Air joined IATA’s ISSA Registry in 2015. In 2016, it carried 280,000 passengers and moved 424,000 pieces of freight system wide.

Tropic believes in giving back. It supports the development of the communities its serves through health, sports, drug prevention, education and community projects. Tropic also supports the development and growth of the wider tourism industry of Belize and the destinations it serves through promotional initiatives locally and internationally.

The Jabiru in Belize

Posted By : Tropic Air/ 865

Throwback to 2012. Tropic Air is no stranger to the majestic and unusual looking Jabiru stork. Back then, this normally rare bird stationed itself at The Admirals bar during the renovation of the Belize City municipal runway, and was using this for his daily early morning exercise!

You can follow the photo story of its rescue and relocation here.

© A King’s Life – http://www.akingslife.com/2012/03/10-reasons-the-belize-zoo-is-a-must-do/

The Jabiru (latin name jabiru Mycteria) is one of two storks found in Belize, belonging to the Ciconiidae family of birds, the other being the wood stork. It became a protected species in Belize in 1973 , which meant it was illegal to hunt it, and as a result it maintains one of the healthiest breeding populations in Central America. It is one of the largest birds in the western hemisphere at roughly five feet high. As it soars through the air with its eight-foot wingspan it almost looks like a prehistoric pterodactyl.

The jabiru possesses a huge black beak which is approximate a foot long. This beak is expertly designed to catch food which consists primarily of fish and reptiles and there is a pouch in their throat that allows them to filter the fish they catch from the water. This beak incidentally is straighter in the male of the species. The black featherless neck is topped with a white tuft on the head that looks much like a mohawk, and a bright red necklace at the base of the neck, adorns the rest of the otherwise white plumage. The legs which are extremely long are also black.

The Jabiru like other storks is mute because it doesn’t possess a syrinx which is the voice organ, instead it communicates by clattering its beak , hissing and grunting.

Jabirus are normally found in pairs or small groups and breed this way. They build their stick nests high in trees normally laying two to four whitish eggs.

Image Courtesy Belize Audubon Society – www.belizeaudubon.org

The number of these birds range depending on the time of year in Belize. June’s count of this year showed 45, so as you can see it is still relatively rare here but if you want to be sure to see one or several on your vacation, be sure to visit The Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary between November and June. The marshes and wetlands here are favored by these birds and they fly here from Mexico around November, migrating north at the first sign of the rainy season. You can also see them and other interesting animals native to Belize, at The Belize Zoo www.belizezoo.org. Tropic Air offers a tour combined with cave tubing. Check it out here.

The Mysterious Blue Hole

Posted By : Tropic Air/ 1914

Throughout the world, Blue Holes have always been surrounded in mystery and superstition.  Tales of bottomless pits, sea monsters and ship wrecks abound. The Great Blue Hole of Belize is no exception. In fact, a recent movie Posiedon Rex  even has dinosaurs erupting from its depths.

Located in the lighthouse reef atoll approximately 62 miles from Belize City, Belize’s Blue Hole is legendary around the world and is on many a scuba divers bucket list. An almost perfect circular chasm of deep blue in an azure sea, 1000 feet in diameter and more than 400 feet deep, it is the only Blue Hole on earth that is visible from space. It is also spectacular from the air.

It was originally made famous in the 1970s when the French explorer and diver, Jacques Cousteau and his team of divers, undertook its exploration in his famous boat The Calypso. In his documentary, he embarks on the treacherous 7mile trip from Lighthouse, through uncharted territory of shallow waters resplendent with dangerous coral heads, and eventually arrives unscathed at the Blue Hole. From here he and his team undertake its exploration.  See the video below:

Cousteau and his team realized the importance of the Blue Hole in providing knowledge of Earth’s history. Discovery of stalactites deep within the sinkhole provided the evidence that it was in fact a land based cavern as stalactites only form on land.  One such stalactite was removed for further scientific investigation.  Over many thousands of years as sea levels rose this cave was flooded at a least four stages as demonstrated by the formation of ledges. There is also evidence of earths shift as some of the stalactites are at a slight angle.  Cousteau declared this one of the top diving sites in the world and he is attributed with making it popular as a tourist destination following his discoveries.

In 1990, The Blue Hole was given the name The Great Blue Hole by British diver Ned Middleton. It forms a part of the Belize barrier Reef reserve system and is a UNESCO world heritage site.

Alexandra Cousteau after her Tropic Air flight over the Blue Hole
Alexandra Cousteau after her Tropic Air flight over the Blue Hole

Some 35 years after her grandfather’s exploration of the Blue Hole, Alexandra Cousteau , who works closely with Oceana as a senior advisor, visited Belize for the first time and was thrilled to observe that in those years, this national living monument seemed to have changed very little from what she had seen in “The Sunken Caves” documentary.  Alexandra’s love affair with Belize was sparked and has continued to blossom over the years.   She taught her husband to dive in our waters and her daughter got her first taste of the ocean here at age 2 months. Last year she visited Belize again as a speaker for Oceana for The Energy of Nature vs. the Nature of Energy conference and it was then that she saw The Blue Hole from the air for the very first time.

©Tony Rath Photography - trphoto.com
©Tony Rath Photography – trphoto.com

You too can experience The Blue Hole from the air with Tropic Air’s stunning Blue Hole aerial tour. Don’t forget to bring your cameras as this is a photo opportunity you don’t want to miss.

Email reservations@tropicair.com for details on our Blue Hole Tour.

The Soundtrack of Life

Posted By : Tropic Air/ 1268

For Andy Palacio, one of Belize’s most loved and famous musicians, music was “the soundtrack of life”.

The late Andy Palacio in concert at Y-Not Island, Dangriga. ©JCCUELLAR.COM
The late Andy Palacio in concert at Y-Not Island, Dangriga. ©JCCUELLAR.COM

Perhaps the most beautiful demonstration of this statement can be found in the music of his people, the Garinagu, one of the many cultures that make up the melting pot that is Belize. Product of the indigenous Arawaks of South America and shipwreck prisoners destined for slavery, the Garinagu claim St. Vincent as their homeland.  Forceful exodus from the Caribbean lead to Central American settlements in Honduras, Guatemala and Belize..  Throughout migratory pathways, the Garinagu have continued  to use music in daily life and work to retell their story from elder to younger generation, to diminish the boredom of everyday chores, to accompany sacred rituals that maintain intergenerational bonds and to recreate a sense of shared identity despite borders.

The main instrument used in Garifuna music that requires musical accompaniment is the drum.  Traditionally these drums were made from a hollowed out trunk of hardwood, covered with animal skin usually a deer, peccary or sheep which was stretched over the trunk and tightened with rope and wooden pegs and they were always played solely with the hands.  Today the design is very much the same, although the hollowing out is normally done with a machine rather than by hand.  In the majority of everyday secular music, two drums are involved.  The main and largest drum provides the bass and is known as the Segundo. Its namesake drummer provides the regular beat.  The Primero drum is usually smaller and its player uses a more complicated pattern of beats and is considered the more skilled musician.  In Garifuna rituals a third larger drum is used with the central instrument, the Lanigi Garawoun (the heart drum) providing the lead for the other two drummers.

Primero and Segundo Drums. ©JCCUELLAR.COM
Primero and Segundo Drums. ©JCCUELLAR.COM

For social occasions, one of the most popular music genres and dances of the Garifuna is the Punta.  This was traditionally a dance performed by men and women representing a dialogue between the two sexes performed at social gatherings and wakes.  The drums and rattles  accompanied the narrative text written mostly by women provides comment on the many challenges of  life.  Traditionally families socialized together and young people would be under strict supervision.  The Punta was a way through which couples communicated interest in each other without alarming the audience or creating suspicion.  Today couples doing the Punta try to outdo each other with complicated movements of the feet that sway the rest of the body, producing an impression of moving hips and bottoms. Other dances such as the Chumba, Gunjei, Wanaragua, Paranda and Hüngü Hüngü are often played in social settings.

This traditional Punta music has evolved into one of the most popular and ubiquitous style of music in Belize: Punta Rock.  The artist Pen Cayetano is largely regarded as the originator of this genre of music during the 1980s.  It is a faster version of traditional Punta with the addition of electric instruments such as drum, bass guitar and synthesizer and the dance accompanying it is every bit as provocative as the original. Today one of the most popular Punta artists is Supa G.

Pen Cayetano. ©JCCUELLAR.COM
Pen Cayetano. ©JCCUELLAR.COM

Paranda is another example of how the music has evolved over the years as the Garifuna have assimilated other musical influences from their surroundings.  A gentler genre of music and dance traditionally performed by the Garifuna men, Paranda songs were used as serenades in which a group of guitar-toting performers would to from house to house in their communities performing their compositions. The singing providing the narrative accompaniment is very much the call and response, leader and chorus arrangement that is typical of some music of the Garifuna and talks about what is happening in the singers’ lives. Though the musical form is known to have been around since the early 1900s, it wasn’t until 2007 when Andy Palacio elevated Paranda to international fame with his acclaimed CD, “Watina”.  After his unexpected death,  the Garifuna collective, the group with which Andy had toured to promote Watina, continued to build on his legacy,  creating a reputation for this more soulful exploration of Garifuna music.

The Wanaragua provides yet another “soundtrack to life”.  Otherwise known as the Jonkonnu or John Canoe,  the traditional dance is thought to have been created or adopted on the island of St. Vincent.  Similar dances created by the slaves were performed on special occasions around Christmas; however, oral history refers to Wanaragua dancers using a guise lo lure European colonizers into Garifuna communities during the wars they fought on the island of St. Vincent in the 17th century.  Today the dance is usually performed between  Christmas Day and Día Rey, January 6th or the feast of the epiphany.  Accompanied by drumming, performers dress up in  pink masks as a mocking representative of Europeans  and dance from house to house for a small monetary token.

Wanaragua Dancer in Dangriga. ©JCCUELLAR.COM
Wanaragua Dancer in Dangriga. ©JCCUELLAR.COM

Whilst the majority of Garinagu are located in the Stann Creek district around Dangriga and Hopkins and in Barranco in the Toledo district, any visitor to Belize is sure to encounter one of the above genres of music and dance particularly around November as they celebrate the uniqueness of their culture and soundtrack of their life.

Want to experience the sounds and sights of the Garifuna culture? Then book your flight with Tropic Air and take a trip this November 19th to beautiful Dangriga.

El Lechero

Posted By : Tropic Air/ 1240

It’s called the “Lechero” (español for Milk Run) but could just as easily be known as “The Supply Run” or “The Grocery Run.” If you’re looking out the window of one of our Cessna Caravans, you might call it the “Victoria Peak” or “Barrier Reef Run” or if you are visiting Belize, maybe just “part of my vacation”.

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View of Maya Mountains and Victoria Peak – ©JCCUELLAR.COM

How the Lechero earned its name

In aviation, the term milk run refers to a scheduled flight with many stops. In shipping or logistics, a milk run refers to a round trip that facilitates both distribution and collection, similar to the way a milkman used to deliver and pick up around the neighborhoods of old. It also refers to the dairy industry practice of picking up from different suppliers – when one truck collects milk from several farmers for delivery to a central location. For our flights, all these definitions seem to fit, and so the nickname has stuck.

Our lecheros are the multiple daily circuits of Tropic Air flights that hop between the towns in Southern Belize, often serving as a lifeline for the communities that we serve. In some ways, the lechero flights reflect our airline’s heritage of pioneering pilots who transported our mail, medicine, food and the adventurous tourists to all kinds of places throughout Belize.  “This is the original Tropic Air,” said John Greif, President of the company and one of our original pilots. “Its real old school – it’s like when we were small … These are the flights that built Belize. Not only is the scenery beautiful and the people we carry, wonderful, but I wouldn’t want to fly anywhere else.”

Flights the become part of the adventure

One of the lechero routes, Flight 351, starts at Belize City and stops (maybe) at the Belize International Airport, then Dangriga, and finally Placencia before landing in Punta Gorda. This flight is repeated many times each day, every day, always with passengers, and always with a wide assortment of cargo down below and perhaps even on the back seat. It is not uncommon to see birthday cakes, flowers heading to a wedding, TVs, or even a turtle headed to a rehabilition facility. One time there was even a baby manatee.

Tips for the Milk Run

While flying south, if you want views of the mountains, rivers and historic towns that dot the coast, be sure to sit, camera in hand, on the right side of the aircraft. The left side will get views of the Caribbean Sea and islands that string the inside of the Barrier Reef. On a clear day you can even get a view of the mountains of Honduras. “If you get a day that’s clear, it’s spectacular,” says Captain Alberto Ancona.

View of reef patches. ©JCCUELLAR.COM
View of reef patches. ©JCCUELLAR.COM

 

Passengers are required to stay on the aircraft during the brief stops at each airport. Only those scheduled to get off/on at that stop are permitted to do so, but if you’d like to spend more time checking out each town, a reservations agent can help you book a flight with layovers in each stop along the way. Call (+501) 226-2380 or email us at reservations@tropicair.com and we can help.
During a recent stop in Placencia, Captain Misrae Montalvo spoke of his longtime affection for the Milk Run – and all of the interesting experiences they’ve encountered along the way.
“What’s the strangest thing you’ve had on board?” we asked.
“Nothing is strange to me anymore,” he said. “I just know I am headed home”. You see, Captain Misrae is also from Punta Gorda, at the far end of this lechero. For him, it is the way he sees his family every night, it is also his commute home.

Tour ATM with Tropic Air

Posted By : Tropic Air/ 1160

Belize is fortunate to possess some spectacular and diverse wonders of nature. From the world famous Blue Hole, to hundreds of coral rimmed Cayes, to Maya sites scattered across large swaths of rainforest.

Amongst all this beauty is ATM (Actun Tunichil Muknal) Cave, a must see on your Belize bucket list. Actun Tunichil Muknal, which means Cave of the Stone Sepulcre, was discovered in the late 80s and first opened to the public in the late 90s. Located deep within the Cayo rainforest, it’s a 7 mile journey down a dirt track from the main highway near Teakettle village. Then, it’s a 45 minute hike through the rainforest, crossing the Roaring River several times, before arriving at the hourglass shaped entrance to the cave. The cave is reached with a brief swim.

atm-tropicair-2
Courtesy Chaa Creek: book your ATM tour with Tropic Air

Ancient Maya belief held that entering a cave was to enter Xibalba, the Maya Under-world.  As you wade, walk and swim through the dark underground river using only the light from your headlamp, one can begin to imagine why the Maya used caves as sacred places.  As you reach “The Cathedral”, named because of its scale, magnificence and sacredness, you can see giant stalactites hanging from the ceiling, and ancient Maya artifacts including pottery and human bones littering the cave floor.  Venturing still deeper into the Maya underworld, the trail ends high in the rock face (only accessible by ladder) where the calcified skeleton known as the Crystal Maiden, but now assumed to be a young male, is located. It is thought that he was a sacrifice to the Gods in a time of need.

tropicairairvan
Tropic Air landing at Maya Flats in San Ignacio

Tropic Air offer is thrilled to offer a day tour of ATM for those staying on the Northern Cayes.  An early morning flight from San Pedro, Ambergris Caye will take you to Belmopan where your tour will begin and end. All visits to the cave will be undertaken with a licensed cave guide, and all of whom are passionate and knowledgeable about their heritage, and who enjoy sharing it with visitors.

The warm cave water is refreshing even on cooler days. Its depth will vary at different places within the cave, and is dependent on the amount of rainfall there has been. There are times when the river is in flood and tours are suspended. Closed toed shoes with socks are essential, and in certain parts of the cave you will need to remove shoes in order to avoid damaging the the many ancient artifacts scattered on the ground. Helmets and head torches are provided by the guide.

A sweet treat for May

Posted By : Tropic Air/ 849

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.

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©JCCUELLAR.COM

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)

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©JCCUELLAR.COM

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.