Southern Belize is synonymous with being an “off the beaten path” destination. And while there’s no shortage of rustic, authentic experiences to enjoy in Belize, the drive to the Toledo district on two of the country’s most scenic highways is a beautiful tour in itself. Instead, you’ll find an unexpected journey of paved roads from Belize City’s Philip Goldson International Airport (PGIA) all the way to the oceanfront of Punta Gorda Town.
With tourism as a mainstay of Belize’s economy, the John Smith Link Road officially opened in September 2020—acting as a quick and easy connector between the international airport and the George Price Highway. In an hour or less, you’ll find yourself in the City of Belmopan: Belize’s capital. Fun fact—Belmopan is the smallest country capital in the world and has no international airport!
One roundabout later, the centrally located Belmopan connects you to the scenic Hummingbird Highway. Winding roads lead you into the Stann Creek river valley as agricultural lands (mostly citrus and banana) span out ahead. Near Mile 25 is a large, looming mountain undulating just right to resemble the silhouette of someone sleeping on their back. It’s the infamous Sleeping Giant, so popular that the Belize Collection property that overlooks it even has it in its name: the Sleeping Giant Rainforest Lodge.
You’ll stay on the incredibly scenic Hummingbird Highway for about 2 hours before switching over to the Southern Highway. Until then, you must stop at Miss Bertha’s on the Hummingbird to try hot, fresh tamales! Tamales are a traditional Mesoamerican dish of corn dough (masa) that’s filled with recado-seasoned meat and a tomato-based sauce gravy (called col) and then steamed in plantain or banana leaves. At Miss Bertha’s, they add even more flavor by cooking it over an open-fire hearth (or in Creole, over fyah haat).
On the highway at each village, it’s not uncommon to find roadside vendors selling plants, fresh-pressed cohune or coconut oil, and locally harvested fruits and vegetables, like a 5 lb. breadfruit!
The Southern Highway will take you directly into Toledo. The stunning views continue, opening to breathtaking vistas of the Maya Mountain Range. You’ll be on this road for about 45 mins to 1 hour depending on where you’re staying. Red Bank, which is on the way to Punta Gorda, is a popular location at certain times of the year to see the beautiful scarlet macaws in all their majesty. Tours to Red Bank need to be booked beforehand.
Driving to Toledo is an easy ride and it’s hard for drivers to even get lost in Belize. After all, there are road signs in English along the way to guide you if you’re unsure where you are. Flying to Southern Belize is always an option and a beautiful flight over, but a road trip is always a lot of fun!