Cacao is native to the Americas and the seeds, or “beans”, are used to make cocoa products and, of course, chocolate. Cacao is a major export crop in Toledo. Richly prized for its quality and distinctive flavour – and Belize produces some notable chocolate products of its own. Every Commonwealth Day holiday weekend the Toledo District of southern Belize holds a festival to celebrate this marvellous food, and many devoted followers return each year to find out what’s new in the world of chocolate making. This will be the seventh Festival, and the first in its new guise as the Chocolate Festival of Belize. The name change from Toledo CacaoFest is a reflection of growing awareness of the exceptional quality of Belizean chocolate and designed to capture a bigger international audience.
The festival is organized jointly by the Toledo Cacao Growers’ Association and the Toledo Chapter of the Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA) with support and sponsorship from the Tourism Board and NICH. The Festival kicks off with a glamorous gala opening night of “Wine, Chocolate and Beer” event will be held this year at Belcampo Farm, several miles west of PG Town.
Guests will enjoy live music, and the latest chocolate creations from the local boutique chocolate makers – Kakaw from San Pedro, Goss Chocolate from Placencia, and Cotton Tree Chocolate and Ixcacao (formerly Cyrila’s Chocolate) from Toledo itself.
On Saturday the focus shifts to Punta Gorda and The Taste of Toledo street fair that will be held along Front Street. The day offers yet more chocolate experiences from our chocolatiers, along with an array of booths featuring chocolate-themed food and crafts. Toledo is well known for its diverse range of cultures, and cultural exhibits showcase Toledo’s five largest ethnic groups: Kriol, Maya, Garifuna, Mestizo and East Indian. Each area displays art, food and music from their culture – where else can you pass from a Maya village to a Garifuna town in just a few steps?
With a Chocolate Cookery Contest (sweet and savory categories), an archaeological display by NICH and the Department of Archaeology, local dance group performances, a beer bar, and live music at the stage by Punta Gorda’s historic courthouse there’s something for everyone. As always, the Festival caters for children with special Festival events: activities include volleyball, basketball, and soccer competitions, as well as a bicycle race around P.G. Town, finishing at the north end of Front Street. Toledo is well known for its strong Mayan culture, and Lubaantun is a fitting and majestic setting for the Maya-themed Festival Finale.
The Sunday finale as usual is at Lubaantun Maya Ruins. Located in the foothills of the Maya Mountains, Lubaantun flourished in the Late Classic period (AD 730 to AD860), but seems to have been abandoned soon after. Lubaantun is famed for its many clay whistles
found at the site, exemplary stone work – including its “rounded corners” – and, of course, for the legend of the Crystal Skull. With its rich soils and high rainfall the area was, and is to this day, perfectly suited to growing the high quality Toledo cacao, and many TCGA members have their cacao farms in this area.