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.
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 the local beer monopoly, 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.
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.
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.
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.