The Stann Creek and Toledo Districts in the southern part of the country are becoming an increasingly popular destination for visitors, since they offer perhaps the most diverse tourist experiences: the beautiful white sandy beaches of Placencia (and inviting offshore cayes), the rugged Maya Mountains and the lush jungles of the Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Preserve, and the Garifuna art, music, cuisine and culture of Dangriga. The Stann Creek District is also a major banana and other fruit-producing region, and in recent years, improvements have made the deep-water port at Big Creek an important transshipment point for bananas, mangoes and other Belizean agricultural products to Britain and the European continent.
The Stann Creek District is now easily accessible to visitors following the erection of the new Kendall Bridge. The Hummingbird Highway is still one one of the more scenic and interesting driving experiences in Belize.
The Placencia Peninsula – an 11-mile strip of land sandwiched between the Caribbean Sea and the Placencia Lagoon, has beautiful white sand beaches and because of its distance from the reef–“real” (though not very high) surf. The water is warm and clear; the trade winds gentle and cooling. There are few sights more calming to the spirit than a sunset on a deserted Placencia Peninsula beach.
The beaches along the Placencia Peninsula are dotted with small resorts that can easily arrange dive and snorkel trips to the reef, which is about 17 miles away. They can also arrange day trips to many small, idyllic cayes, such as Laughing Bird Caye, a mini-atoll that offers protected snorkeling and swimming, a white sand beach and many cooling palm trees (it even has a couple of hammocks!)
Laughing Bird Caye is also a favorite camping site for reef kayakers who base their expeditions in Placencia. Your hotel can also arrange deep sea or reef fishing trips, or day sailing on a 36-foot catamaran.
Placencia Town is famous for its “Main Street” – a very narrow sidewalk that meanders through town and up the beach. Placencia was a quiet, rustic, fishing village until a few years ago. It’s still quiet and rustic, but it now has electricity and several more new or renovated budget accommodations.
The Placencia Lagoon is an important breeding area for saltwater crocodiles, marine turtles and the rare and and endangered manatees; there are also numerous species of birds.
A trip to nearby Seine Bight, a traditional Garifuna village, a few miles north of Placencia, provides a chance to sample Garifuna cooking and music (including traditional drumming and modern Punta rock) at the Kulcha Shack Cafe.
The Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Preserve
In 1986, government established the world’s first and only jaguar preserve, a 155 square mile, heavily forested reserve that is also home to all the other jungle cats, pumas, ocelots, margays and jaguarundis; as well as tapir, paca, deer, peccary (the jaguar’s favorite meal), several species of amphibians and snakes, and hundreds of bird species. The establishment of the reserve followed a two-year study of the jaguar and other indigenous cats conducted by naturalist Alan Rabinowitz, with the financial and political backing of Wildlife Conservation International and the Audubon Society. Rabinowitz’s experiences are described in his fascinating book, entitled Jaguar. Rabinowitz trapped several jaguars, fitted them with radio collars and tracked their movements, diet, and breeding habits.
The Jaguar Preserve is a major ecotourism attraction. Visitors can take a day trip or arrange to stay for one or more nights at the campground or several cabins located near the sanctuary’s headquarters. Because the jaguars and other jungle cats are nocturnal, most people are able to spot only the tracks of the spotted cats, but occasionally visitors have glimpsed them near the roads or along the riverbanks. Guides and staff have even seen jaguars walking near the sanctuary headquarters at night! The Cockscomb preserve has hiking trails of various degrees of difficulty (wear good hiking shoes or boots, especially during the rainy season); some of them lead to natural swimming holes and creeks. Insect repellent is a necessity.
Dangriga is definitely the place to be on November 19th of each year, the day that the entire country but especially Dangriga celebrates the arrival of the Garifuna people to the country in 1823. The town reenacts the arrival by canoe, and there are parties, dancing, music, drumming, in celebration of the successful resistance of the Garifuna people to enslavement, colonization and deportation. A visit to Dangriga provides the opportunity to observe performances by such traditional groups as the Turtle Shell Band and the Warribaggabagga Dancers; as well as modern Punta rock and reggae. Dangriga is famous for its cassava-based breads and cashew wine, as well as fish and plantain cooked in coconut sauce.
Hopkins and Sittee
Hopkins, a fishing village about 8 miles south of Dangriga offers accommodations and meals at the Hopkins Women’s Cooperative, a tourism cooperative formed by several local women; arrangements can be made to have meals in the home of village residents. This is an opportunity to participate in low-impact tourism at low budget rates. Camping is also available.
Glover’s Reef Atoll
Glover’s Reef Atoll, one of the country’s four offshore atolls, is composed of several small cayes surrounded by clear blue waters and coral reefs. Several of these cayes have beautiful, tree-studded white sand beaches and there are several resorts catering to scuba divers, snorkelers, fishermen and windsurfers. One privately owned caye, Northeast Caye, is home to SlickRock Adventures, an adventure tour company that specializes in sea kayaking expeditions. Manta Resort caters primarily to scuba divers. Glover’s Reef Atoll is famous for its abundant sea life and beautifully formed coral. Visitors to these case generally come by boat from either Belize City, Dangriga or Hopkins/Sittee; the atoll is only accessible by sea.
The Southern Cayes
Tobacco Caye, Carrie Bowe Caye and South Water Caye are located from 10-20 miles south of Dangriga. They are on the edge of the barrier reef, are teeming with tropical fish and other underwater flora and fauna. Dive and snorkel expeditions can be arranged from hotels in Placencia or Dangriga. Tobacco Caye offers rustic accommodations run by fishermen; camping is also available. Tobacco Caye is also the location for a reef study project run by Earthwatch. There are also several small resorts that have been built on Tobacco Caye. South Water Caye is a privately owned caye that is only 120 feet from the reefs; the Blue Marlin Lodge and Leslie Cottages offer both diving and fishing packages. Long Caye offers camping or simple cabins right in front of the reef at low prices.