If you are an independent traveler, you don’t want to miss a journey to the southern Stann Creek District. The Southern Highway stretches past colorful fields of citrus and bananas. This region, which includes Dangriga, Placencia, Hopkins, and the offshore Southern Cayes, is the pulse of Belize’s Afro-Caribbean culture. Garifuna villages face this beach-endowed coastline. In 2001, the Garinagu-an Afro-Caribbean people- were declared an endangered group by the United Nations. In Belize, they continue to thrive on their ancestral lands. They came from St. Vincent in dug-out canoes to our shores in search of freedom. Here they found peace and were able to practice their rituals, culture, and language.
In time, however, other populations have steadily moved here. Today it is a melting pot of Maya, Garifuna, Creole, and Mestizo culture! Not only the beaches but also Stann Creek’s great outdoors are, impressive. Here there are fewer crowds exploring the pristine environments: the world’s only jaguar preserve at Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, the secluded emerald falls at the Bocawina National Park, accessible via adventure-filled hikes and rappels, and the verdant pools of the Billy Barquadier National Park.
Then there’s the challenging Victoria Peak, the second-highest point in the region. From Dangriga to Hopkins and the outstretched Placencia Peninsula, agricultural life merges with Afro-Caribbean drum beats; fishing canoes contrast against catamarans; roadside tamale shacks nest to upscale dining, and accommodations ranging from hostels to lavish beachfront resorts. Just offshore, the Belize Barrier Reef offers protected cayes and rich marine reserves for an unparalleled underwater experience. Here, sighting giant turtles spotted rays or whale sharks in season is a sure thing. If you never tire of discovery, Stann Creek offers an astounding range of experiences.
If you are an adventurous traveler looking for immersion, sun, and friendship, you must visit the southern coastal village of Hopkins. It is blessed with a near five-mile-long stretch of sand, facing the Caribbean Sea plus a rich Garifuna culture.
In recent years, it has become a rising tourist hot-spot, more than likely, because its cultural beat is alive and well. Hopkins’ main road links its various neighborhoods with both pedestrian and bike paths, matching its tranquil and friendly vibe. Sounds of Garifuna drums can be heard echoing both day and night, at beachfront weekly shows, or during private drumming lessons at the Lebeha Drumming Center.
In a shady thatched-roof restaurant, away from the blazing sun, you can savor hudut-mashed plantain- with a fish coconut sauce. This Afro-Amerindian cuisine is up to par with the best gourmet meals in the country!
Offshore, the Barrier Reef and Glover’s Reef atoll, are just a boat ride away. Or go along the Sittee River and see crocodiles and wild birds. At nearby Bocawina National Park, waterfalls and rocky trails aren’t for the faint of heart but bring rewarding nature experiences. Meanwhile, at H’men Herbal Center, discover the secrets of Maya medicinal remedies.
Written by Nelita Castillo