Celebrating Women Who Travel: Archaeologist April Martinez Talks Hidden Gems in Belize

by Khaila Gentle

To Celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, Caribbean Culture + Lifestyle is shining a spotlight on women fueled by a sense of adventure and wanderlust. In this interview, osteoarchaelogist and Belizean traveler April Martinez speaks with us about hidden gems and off-the-beaten-path travel. A Belmopan native, April considers herself a researcher more than anything else. During the week, she also co-hosts local morning talk show Open Your Eyes.

April Martinez On Hidden Gems and Far-Flung Destinations in Belize 

Photo © April Martinez

Caribbean Culture + Lifestyle: From talk show host to cofounder of Heritage Education Network Belize, you’re a woman of many titles—many of which have surely required you to travel around the country. Is there any particular trip you’ve embarked on that has left a lasting impression on you? 

April: There are so many spaces in Belize that have left lasting impressions, from caves to mountains to water spaces. I feel in tune with the spiritual plane anywhere I go in this country. But if I were to pick one, it would be my recent trip to Gale’s Point. The first time I stepped foot at the edge of the point I felt the magic. But it was on the third trip that something truly magical occurred.

I was there in my role as Living Heritage Officer at the Institute for Social and Cultural Research. We were documenting the Sambai ceremony that the community often celebrates two days before the full moon and two days after. I have always been proud of my Garifuna roots, and though I can appreciate the Sambai drumming and the skill of the Master Drummer, I did not feel a connection, not like I do with a primero or a segunda (the drums of my ancestors). I felt the rhythm but not the connection. So as the night went by, people kept circling the fire and partaking in the Sambai, and as my colleagues kept insisting that I join, there was something in me that couldn’t allow my feet to move.

I kept saying, “I don’t feel right participating, I don’t think I should, these are not my drums”, but my colleagues insisted…I finally gave in. But as my right foot touched the inner circle, the drums stopped…the music stopped…the Sambai was over. Had I not had witnesses that night, I don’t think anyone would have believed me, but there it was. It was as if my ancestors knew and intervened! I’ve not experienced such power since I was a child, it was truly magnificent! 

April in Gales Point. Photo © April Martinez

CCL: As an archaeologist, there’s no doubt your work has also taken you to some hidden and far-flung locations across the country. Are there any hidden gems in Belize–whether an archaeological site, town, village, or anything else—that you would recommend to someone hoping to travel off the beaten path?

A: There are so many to choose from, but Cerros holds a special place in my heart. I don’t think it gets its flowers the way it should. It is our only coastal site that is excavated and open to the public.

Cerros was once a magnificent trading port that acted like a bridge between the island/coastal sites and the mainland. Not to mention all the villages you must pass through before getting there. Belize’s rural spaces hold the deepest meaning with connections to our heritage that we never thought about. 

CCL: One of the focuses of your non-profit, HENB, is sustainability and the preservation of our cultural and natural heritage. What are your thoughts on Belize as a sustainable travel destination?

A: It only occurred to me, when we started HENB, that most destinations in Belize have been practicing sustainable travel long before it became a fad. Foreigners have been coming to Belize for years to experience freedom and simplicity as a part of sustainable travel. 

Photo © Heritage Education Network Belize (HENB)

CCL: The village of Gale’s Point Manatee is undoubtedly an underrated place to visit in Belize. What were your favorite moments in Gales Point? 

A: To add to everything I previously mentioned, the food is unlike any other. I remember taking some friends to Gale’s Point for the first time, and they were amazed! One said, “It’s like time stood still and I am a child again in Trinidad & Tobago!” 

CCL: You were raised in the City of Belmopan, which some might say is also an underrated destination in its own right. What are some of the best things to do in and around Belize’s capital? Is there any place or activity in Belmopan and the surrounding Cayo district that has been a favorite of yours?

A: I think Belmopan gets a “bad rep” because people who like the fast life, and party scene, believe that there is nothing to do. But if you think about it, Belmopan has everything that anyone needs. You can find any meal from Nepalese to Jamaican Jerk, there are high-end restaurants with amazing chefs and there is practically a cafe for anyone that needs a space to work in a calm environment.

Our vegetarians can go anywhere in Belmopan because there will be more than one place that offers a vegetarian menu that isn’t just a salad. What I love about Belmopan are our market days on Tuesdays and Fridays. That’s where you see our diversity come to life. Plus, everything is within walking distance. The center ring road has a completely different environment than if you venture into places like Salvapan or Las Flores. If I had to pick a place in Belmopan that I have come to appreciate, it would be Guanacaste Park. It’s a reserve with beautiful trails and biodiversity and I can have a picnic there whenever I want. 

CCL: How do you immerse yourself in the local culture when you travel?

A: Being raised in a multiethnic home made me open-minded from a young age, I am always excited to experience new spaces and cultural etiquette. I am always curious and willing to learn about the lifestyle of other people and take what I learn home. How cool is it that people still go to the mountains and do milpa and come home with the products that they farm, and they are nourished, fulfilled, and happy? What a completely different reality from mine, and that reality exists only a few miles away from where I live.

How cool is it that people still go to the mountains and do milpa and come home with the products that they farm, and they are nourished, fulfilled, and happy? What a completely different reality from mine, and that reality exists only a few miles away from where I live.

The ability to appreciate the life that other people live and they are content makes you wonder about the way humans interact, learn, and progress in their own space and time. 

CCL: For many, food is a big part of travel. What are some of the most memorable meals you’ve had in Belize?

A: This question had me thinking for quite some time because I am a BIG FOODIE! It is the gateway to understanding different cultures! From the preparation to the execution, Belize is filled with amazing gastronomy. From having amazing cohune cabbage from Pearleen’s in Big Falls, to probably the best Fried Fish in Sarteneja, it’s difficult to say what I haven’t tried in Belize. But if I had to pick, it would be a simple fried pork and corn tortilla at Tumulkin. It brought back a food memory that I thought I had forgotten a long time ago.

The first time I tried it was on Maya Day, and I closed my eyes and I was 5 years old again running around in my grandma’s kitchen and stealing tortillas from the fyaah haat. I would put some salt on it and it was truly the best meal ever! When I tasted the pork with the tortilla it was a surge of wonderful memories. 

CCL: What’s next on your travel bucket list, and why?

A: Barranco! Legacies of who I am are there that I have yet to discover, hopefully, 2024 will take me home 🙂

Featured Photo courtesy of April Martinez. Read our other Celebrating Women Who Travel interviews here.

Related Articles