Punta Gorda, locally known as PG is located at the far end of the Toledo District. With a population of around 6000, it is a quiet place to escape the crowds in Western Belize and the Northern Cayes. However, don’t let its quietness trick you into thinking there is nothing to do. For those willing to invest the time and enjoy the place, PG has unique experiences that the rest of Belize will find hard to match. So, if you’re planning on visiting PG, plan for a long stay—you won’t be disappointed.
Here are the Top 10 things to do in Punta Gorda:
For those who come to PG yearning for sands and crystal clear water, all you need is a boat and Garbutt’s Marine has plenty to offer. Located on the main road into PG, Garbutt’s offers SCUBA and snorkeling, fly fishing, and expeditions to the many cayes and reefs off the coast of Punta Gorda. Excursions to the cayes can be booked for the day or multi-day with meals provided, and unlike the northern hot spots you can have a beach day with few to no other tourists around. Afterwards, enjoy a drink on Garbutt’s patio while watching the iguanas lounge in the sun.
For more adventures exploring PG’s beautiful ecosystems, call over to the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE) and ask about their TIDE Tours schedule. TIDE Tours offer guides and transportation to incredible sights all around PG. Take a day trip to the Mayan ruins at Lubaantun, go on a kayaking trip in PG or on the nearby rivers, or book a weekend snorkeling or SCUBA diving off the cayes of the Port Honduras Marine Reserve. There are plenty of opportunities for both day trip and package trip seekers. A bonus is that all profits from TIDE Tours go right back to TIDE’s conservation programming, meaning that you’ll be enjoying the environment and supporting it too.
Ya’axche Ranger for a Day
The Ya’axche Conservation Trust has a mission similar to TIDE but focuses exclusively on terrestrial protected areas. To get a taste of what Ya’axche does, consider their Ranger for a Day Program. You will accompany Ya’axche wildlife rangers on their riverside walking patrols in the Golden Stream Corridor Reserve, learning how to identify and record various animal species (i.e. birds) by appearance, sound, and track as well as detect signs of illegal hunting. One of the many perks of going with Ya’axche is being able to take an afternoon swim in the beautiful Golden Stream River, while all donations go directly towards the salaries of Ya’axche’s Rangers.
Warasa Drum School
After getting back in town after a day out snorkeling or exploring the jungle, you might be feeling ready to relax, listen to some local music, and dance. If that is the case, then you can accomplish all three at the Warasa Drum School. Warasa’s provides traditional Garifuna drum lessons, dance lessons, and drum making workshops for individuals or groups. At the same time, you will learn about PG’s original Garifuna community and culture. Everyone in the lessons gets a drum to play on, your instructor is a local Garifuna drummer, having a good time is a guarantee, and prices start at $25 BZE (12.50 US). What’s not to like?
PG Town Market
The big market days in PG are Wednesdays and Saturdays, and vendors sell their wares along the end of Front Street. Along with great selections of locally grown fruits and vegetables, market days also showcase the unique diversity of southern Belize. Farmers arrive early from the district villages and along with English and Kriol, you can hear two Mayan dialects (Mopan and Q’eqchi’), Spanish, Hindi, Garifuna, and Chinese being spoken. Although you’ll find full stalls of fresh produce throughout the morning, locals would tell you that earlier is always better. While few visitors may make it out to the supposed 6:30AM prime time, the quiet houses, sleepy streets, and soft sunrise coming up over the water show PG at its best.
The Living Maya Experience
To learn even more about the area’s diverse cultural makeup, take the James Bus ten minutes up the road to Big Falls and visit the Living Maya Experience. Established by two Mayan families, the Living Maya Experience offers the opportunity for you to watch and participate in the life of a traditional Mayan home. Along with learning the basics of Mayan bag and hammock weaving, the families will also teach you how to grind cacao, prepare Q’eqchi’ drinks, and cook a vegetarian Mayan meal for the entire group.
…And Big Falls Tubing and Hot Springs
If you do go to Big Falls, make sure you go to either Big Falls Extreme Adventure for their Zip Line over the Rio Grande or to the Big Falls Lodge for their tubing and kayaking opportunities (the pool is also great). Both offer tubing rentals to the hot spring creek that flows into the Rio Grande, while the Lodge also offers self-guided kayaking trips. For birdwatchers and horticulturist, Big Falls Lodge is also a wonderful place to see some beautiful wildlife.
Rio Blanco National Park
For those interested in trying out PG’s local bus systems (or who have a car), the waterfalls at Rio Blanco National Park are hidden gems. Whether you are jumping off the 25-foot rock ledge or straight off the 20-foot falls, the water is clear, cool, and perfect for a hot Belizean day. The park also offers hiking trails, caving, and Mayan ruins ready for exploring. For those interested in public transportation, get on the 11:30 Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday bus to Jalacte and ask to get off at Rio Blanco. Return buses should be available around 3:45, but ask the bus driver before you leave PG to make sure. For the real rural experience, the nearby village of Santa Elena has a guesthouse you can stay at overnight, made available through the Toledo Ecotourism Association.
Blue Creek Cave
A little further than Rio Blanco is the village of Blue Creek and the Blue Creek Cave. Like Rio Blanco, you’ll need to have transportation (or a guide from TIDE or another PG operator) or be willing to use public transportation to get there, but the pay off is worth it. On the way to Blue Creek, you will drive through beautiful farmlands and hilly green countryside before you get to the idyllic little village. Once there, you will hike fifteen minutes up the creek side trail until you get the Blue Creek Cave, the source of the water. There, you can swim in the blue water pool, jump from the rope swing, and swim into the cave on a guided tour. However, because buses only run once a day Monday, Wednesday, Friday, or Saturday, be prepared to hitchhike or pay a local to drive you towards PG if you don’t have a car!
Read about the experience here http://www.belizeadventure.ca/day-trip-to-blue-creek-cave
As one of Garbutt’s tour guides put it, PG stands for “poison ground—the longer you stay here, the more it will seep into your bones and the less you’ll want to leave.” The reason is the people. PG doesn’t make any attempt to be a tourist hotspot, and the result is a community that is probably more authentically “Belizean” in regards to its cultural diversity, quietness, and isolation than many of Belize’s more popular destination areas. So whatever your reason for venturing south, make sure you have time to spend and are ready to go slow, relax, and enjoy life in the “forgotten land” of Belize.