Discover the Healing Power of Elijio Panti National Park

by Larry Waight

If you long for travel that heals your body, mind and spirit, visit the Elijio Panti National Park in Western Belize. Only a two-hour drive from the Philip Goldson International Airport, the park is in the small Maya village of San Antonio in Belize’s Cayo District. 

What is in the Park?

The park is a vast tract of land that looks almost as unspoiled as when the ancient Maya explored it. More than 13,000 acres provide a sanctuary for native trees, plants and animals. At the foot of the Maya Mountains, it offers many recreation activities, including hiking, camping, river tubing, cave tubing and bird watching.

Wear a hat, something to ward off mosquitoes, and get ready for an amazing adventure in some breathtaking scenery. The rushing waterfalls, soaring mountain peaks, bird calls and jaguar tracks all add to the experience of visiting this unique park. You’ll feel your spirits lift as you get closer to nature than you ever imagined.

Preserving the Earth and the Maya Heritage


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Elijio Panti National Park offers something else, however. It offers a chance to see the mysticism of the past combined with a modern commitment to ecological stewardship. The farmers who live here practice agroforestry using organic, sustainable agricultural methods. They plant indigenous trees and cultivate local herbs. They’re also dedicated to passing on the ancient healing methods of the Maya to future generations.

The Itzama Society manages the park. The Society sums up its mission by stating, “It is our goal to protect and sustain the land we live on and the 13,006-acre Elijio Panti National Park that has been officially returned to our care. We will defend the animals, plants and waters here from the abuses, poaching, chemicals, insecticides, pollution and other hazards of the encroaching industrial world. This magnificent rainforest with its mountains, ancient caves and Maya ruins, its birds, jaguars, glorious trees, plants and herbs must continue to thrive now and in the centuries to come.”

Who was Elijio Panti?


Photo courtesy Belize Hub

Eligio Panti was a legendary Maya shaman and healer. He used plants, herbs and ancient rituals to cure thousands of his fellow Mayas. Panti developed as a healer who could cure even the sickest people. In 1981, Rosita Arvigo, an American doctor of naturopathic medicine, moved her family to Belize. They established a natural healing clinic deep in the jungles of western Belize. Arvigo heard about a traditional Maya healer who had incredible knowledge and skills. In 1983, she met Elijio Panti and asked him to become her teacher.

Passing on Ancient Knowledge

Panti had never considered taking on an apprentice, but Arvigo was skilled and determined. She spent 10 years studying with him, cultivating plants and learning the Maya spiritual traditions.

Here before me was Don Elijio Panti, the most renowned shaman in Central America, the man I had been searching for.

During this time, she contacted researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) who were studying tropical plants for their healing properties. She invited the lead researcher to visit her in Belize. After that meeting, the NCI established the Belize Ethnobotany Project, which has sent thousands of plants to the NCI.

Establishing the Park

Panti died at 103 in 1996. In 1998, his niece Maria Garcia petitioned the Belize government to establish a national park in his honor. Panti had always preached reverence for the land, and Garcia worried about encroaching development on San Antonio and other nearby villages. In 2001, the Belize government created the Elijio Panti National Park and the Ix Chel Tropical Research Center, which specializes in researching the medicinal value of jungle plants. It is named for the Maya goddess of the earth and fertility.

Don Elijio Panti Medicinal Trail

Dr. Rosita Arvigo, DN

One of the park’s highlights is the Panti Medicinal Trail. It dates back to a walk Arvigo took with Panti during their studies. As they hiked along the path, Panti pointed out dozens of healing plants that grew wild on either side. Arvigo determined to preserve this path. Today, the Medicinal Trail is a major attraction for visitors to Belize’s Cayo District. Each plant and tree on the trail has a sign describing its history and its medicinal value. At the end of the trail, visitors see a recreation of the hut Don Panti used as a home and healing center. It is easy to imagine a patient visiting the rustic hut and receiving treatment from the great healer.

How To Visit Don Elijio Panti National Park

elijio panti national park location cayo

If you’d like to visit the park, the best option is to travel to San Ignacio. The hub of the Cayo District, San Ignacio, has hotels, resorts, restaurants and tour guides. You can arrange park tours, hiking trips, cave tubing, zip-lining, visits to Maya ruins and more. Heal your soul with a trip to this unique, magical park. 

Feature Image: IG: Clavin Chan

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