La Ruta Maya Belize Canoe Race

The annual Ruta Maya Canoe Race brings together professional and amateur paddlers from Central and North America and Europe every March. Picture Above, government telephone company team at 2012 race.

The annual La Ruta Maya Belize Endurance Canoe race is the longest race of its kind in Central America. One hundred and seventy miles of paddling on the Belize River over the course of 4 days. The race gets underway in San Ignacio Town Cayo District just under the Hawksworth Bridge. Between 90 and 100 teams from Belize, U.S.A., Canada, Japan, the U. K. and other countries participate. 7 March 2022 update – the winner of the 2022 La Ruta Maya Race is Team PACT (Protected Areas Conservation Trust). The team won all four stages, Banana Bank, Double Head Cabbage, Burrel Boom and Belize city.

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Starting at 7 in the morning, the paddlers are challenged by rapids, low areas that require them to physically carry their canoes for short distances as well as winds as they near the Caribbean Sea.

The start of the race sees hundreds of locals and visitors trooping to the banks of the Macal River – a beautiful sight in the early morning mist. A local marimba band is in attendance and paddlers take last-minute practice runs and swap tips about tricky spots on the river to avoid.

Everyone is welcomed, from pros intent on winning to those just wishing to be in the race for recreation. The race was the idea of a local fruit juice company, Cayo Tropical Fruits that sponsored and organized the race from its inception. But in 2014 on the 16th anniversary of the race, it fell under the patronage of a local beer bottler Belikin. Canoe teams are sponsored by various businesses and educational institutions. The winning teams are the best trained and equipped. Kevlar appears to be the material of choice for canoes. But many canoes are carved or made from exotic hardwoods. It is interesting to note that this race has seen the rise of Sea Kayaking as a recreational sport in Belize.

La Ruta Maya Belize River Challenge 2023 Update

The La Ruta Maya 2023 was held from the 3rd to 6th March. First place went to Guava Limb, second was Koop Sheet Metal, and third was PACT – Protected Areas Conservation Trust. Arguably one of the world’s largest river traditions, the bank-sides of Belize, from San Ignacio to Belize City buzz with excitement during this competitive, 4-day canoe race as the longest of its kind in Central America. Held annually near the National Heroes & Benefactors Day in March, onlookers cheer for the entirety of this Belize celebration: 175 miles. That is, with the exception of 2021 the first year in 24 years that the La Ruta Maya race was not held. The 26th La Ruta Maya Belize River Challenge takes take place on March 3rd to the 6th, 2023, since Monday will be observed as the National Heroes and Benefactors Day – Baron Bliss Day – holiday in lieu of Thursday March 9th.

Ruta Maya Belize Canoe Race Map
Ruta Maya Canoe Race Map – click on image for larger version,

The La Ruta Maya River Challenge has now become a major public and tourist attraction especially as March 9th Baron Bliss Day is a Public and Bank Holiday. The race rivals other Belize Sailing events such as the Baron Bliss Harbour Regatta. The event is open to the general public and everyone is invited to to enjoy fun filled days with food, live entertainment, games, prizes and of course close up of views of the action as the race passes populated areas.

The annual Ruta Maya Belize Canoe Race brings together professional and amateur paddlers from Central and North America and Europe every March.
The annual Ruta Maya Canoe Race brings together professional and amateur paddlers from Central and North America and Europe every March.

All teams consist of three members who must be aboard the canoe at the start of the race and no substitutions are allowed once the race has started. The race is divided into the following classes. Male, Female, Mixed (male and female), Masters (over 40 years of age and may include mix of male and female. Open canoes with a maximum length of 20 feet constructed of any material and by any method are allowed to compete. For safety reasons the canoe must provide at least 25 pounds of buoyancy when swamped. Propulsion is manual, human muscle powered with single blade paddles only. Timing for determining a winner is on an elapsed time basis.

History Of Ruta Maya Canoe Race

Many locals and tourists intercept the race along strategic observation points on the river bank. Villages along the route, such as Burrel Boom hold fairs and open markets with music and other entertainment during the race. The country’s first colonial settlements started on the banks of the Belize River as this was the main means of transport in days past.

The Cayo Boats that steamed up and down the river between San Ignacio and Belize City on the Caribbean Sea would take up a week for a journey up the river – stopping at various settlements to trade or let off and pick up passengers. The river also served to transport the many thousands of exotic hardwood trees such as mahogany which were exploited by the British colonizers. The trees were cut down, then floated down the river and trapped by heavy chains called “booms” where they were collected before continuing their journey to Belize City to be sent off to England. One such place was Burrel Boom, a village of great beauty in the Belize District.

Awards to the racers are issued at the official ceremonies which take place around midday in Belize City which is the final leg of the race. All the winners are presented with cash and trophy awards and honored for their hard work.

Belize Ruta Maya Race Schedule

Day 1 – Race starts in San Ignacio, Cayo District (at 7:00 a.m.); ends in Banana Bank, Belize District.

Day 2 – Race starts in Banana Bank (at 6:30 a.m.); ending in Double Head Cabbage, Belize District.

Day 3 – Race starts in Double Head Cabbage (at 8:00 a.m.); ending in Burrell Boom, Belize District.

Day 4 – Race starts in Burrell Boom (at 9:00a.m.); ending at BelChina Bridge “Finish Line” in Belize City.