By Cindy Blount
Edited by Naturalight Productions
NB: Remember to click on the links in the article to see all the images.
We have just returned from our third trip collecting info for , "Affordable Accommodation and Adventure for the independent traveler".
Toledo District is often called the "forgotten district" by the persons who live there, but as we found out Toledo is anything but forgettable for visitors. The southernmost district of Belize, Toledo proffers 1669 square miles of rainforest, mountains, rivers, Maya villages and archaeological sites, waterfalls, offshore cayes, protected areas, and Port Honduras, the second largest marine reserve in Belize.
The hub of activity for the district centers around Punta Gorda Town with people from over 30 different villages coming to shop and do business transactions. The town is alive before noon, but afterwards all of the buses depart for the villages which gives the town a Sunday afternoon feeling EVERY afternoon.
I had visited Punta Gorda several times before, but this was my longest trip. I now understand why so many people love "PG" as it’s affectionately called.
We interviewed 9 Toucan Trail accommodations. The hotels are wide and varied, but one thing they all have in common is interesting owners. What some of these hotels may lack in amenities and appearance, they make up for with hospitality, story-telling and unforgettable people.
Tate's Guesthouse, owned and operated by Mr. William Tate and his family is sparkling clean. When I mentioned to him that it looked so clean I'd actually eat something off the floor, he said that he personally inspects the rooms, especially the bathrooms. He is also the local postmaster and with his 28 years of service he knows virtually everyone in town!
Mr. Peter Mahung, of Mahung's Guesthouse, calls his ethnic group the "rice and beans Chinese" because his father came from China and his mother was Mestizo. He is Belizean to the core and proudly states that even Prime Ministers (Price and Esquivel) have stayed at the guesthouse.
"Back in those days, they didn’t even have their own bathrooms, they had to share one", he confides.
He has since added private bathrooms. Mr. Mahung's stories and history surely give guests a lot to talk about.
The Wagner family was one of the pioneers in the hotel business in PG. Currently they own three hotels and see their common businesses as complimentary rather than competitive. St. Charles Inn, opened by Mr. Charles Wagner, a retired minister in government, is now run by two of his adult children, Michelle and Carlo. The spacious verandas with comfortable chairs and hammocks invite guests to relax and enjoy the quietness of town.
The Frontier Inn, owned and operated by Heston and Michelle Wagner (husband & wife), offers a good view of the setting sun over the rolling hills to the west of PG. Downstairs from the Inn is Michelle's beauty salon, "Hair it is". This makes a great place to stay for those who want a little "pampering" after a day of hiking, swimming or exploring.
The third Wagner hotel is Charlton's Inn, owned and operated by Duane and Miladi Wagner. Guests are welcomed to a "court-yard" of tropical plants and flowers that gives this downtown hotel a lush, tropical feeling of being in a greenhouse. The Inn also boasts a nice honeymoon suite.
At Circle C Hotel, Mrs. Aurora Coe gave us a tour of the hotel and its back yard that is filled with herbs and local plants of all kinds. She is a generous hostess with a smile that radiates as she enthusiastically serves her guests and shares her experiences. Mr. Coe runs a small grocery shop next door to the hotel which keeps him occupied.
The Punta Caliente Hotel boasts a roof-top with a view of the Caribbean Sea and the mountains, an ideal hang-out spot any time of day, which is what we found out when we visited there in the heat of the day. Mr. Arzu, is a gentle-spirited man who is proud of his Garifuna heritage and willing to share his knowledge with his guests.
Yvonne Villoria and I first met eight years ago when I participated in the Maya Village Homestay Network. She and her husband, Alfredo, have not waivered in their passion to serve the local community in environmentally-friendly and sustainable ways. This Homestay experience is for the visitor who wants to actually live with a Mayan family in their home. I am still telling stories of sleeping in a hammock, grinding corn, making tortillas, killing a chicken and sharing life across vastly different cultural boundaries during my 4 days in a local village. As Yvonne says, "it's not for everyone" and there are a variety of programs to meet the interests of visitors. One thing is for sure, participants will have an unforgettable experience on this program.
Our last stop on the trail was at Sun Creek Lodge, about 20 minutes outside of Punta Gorda. Bruno and Melissa Kuppinger welcomed us to their "Garden of Eden". Melissa loves plants, gardening and "doing things differently". Even the outdoor shower has plants in it, giving visitors the feeling of showering in a waterfall somewhere in a secluded jungle.
Punta Gorda has a kind of "earthiness" to it which is evident in the restaurants with the "catch of the day" and even the décor of several places.
- Emery's and Waluco's serve local cuisine under outdoor thatched roofs.
- The Sea Front Inn gives a panoramic view of the Gulf of Honduras while guests dine among gigantic wooden posts carved with Mayan faces, inside a building made of limestone rocks dug from the earth by the owner.
- Earth Runnings Café dignified the unwanted by using scrap hardwoods for the bar and furniture creating a truly unique setting to enjoy a shot of local bitters (roots and herbs mixed in rum) before a meal.
- Just a five-minute trip out of town is the new Golden Motel serving up excellent Taiwanese & Chinese dishes.
- We also enjoyed a few meals under another thatch at the vegetarian Gomier's Soy Center and Restaurant, one of the few places in Belize where you can enjoy soy ice cream.
- Several other restaurants including Grace's and the Ice Cream Parlor have a good reputation
- and of course, you can't exclude the stalls at the PG market that dish up combinations that range from tamales to the ever popular rice and beans.
- Good source of local information: Leonardo Cal, BTB Tourist Information Center, Front Street
- Over 20 non-government organizations (NGO's) are located in Toledo
- PG seaside drive along front street invites passers-by to stop and enjoy the sea under a thatched bench or among the mangroves in the one-of-a-kind "mangrove park"
- Toledo gets more than 180 inches of rain per year, but it rained only at night when we were there. The result is lots of lush green and trees FULL of ferns and bromeliads.
- PG has several internet cafés...
- Toledo is definitely ideal for budget travelers! We spent an average of US$25/day for food (3 meals in restaurants) and lodging per day!
One thing's for sure, PG’s fascinating people, great food, relaxed and friendly feel and beauty of the sea made this trip an unforgettable stop on the Toucan Trail.
Images Courtesy of:
Tony Rath Photography