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.
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.