Toledo is the southernmost district in Belize, bordered by Guatemala to the West and South (with the Sarstoon River forming the southern boundary), and the Bay of Honduras and its offshore cayes to the East. Although the outdated description ‘the forgotten district’ still lingers, the District is becoming increasingly known as a centre for eco, adventure, and cultural travel.
With its high levels of rainfall, Toledo contains the only true rainforest found in Belize, along with extensive cave systems, an abundance of wildlife, some of the most beautiful offshore islands found in the country, and one of the widest range of cultures.
Punta Gorda, the District capital, was founded by the Garifuna as Peini and Barranco, the southernmost coastal village in Belize, remains a fairly traditional Garifuna village - famous as the birthplace of the late Andy Palacio. Descendents of the ancient Maya made their way back over the border in the latter half of the 19th century to found the inland villages. US Confederates established a sugar industry in the 1860s and, although few traces of the Confederates remain, the East Indian villages established by their indentured labourers continue to thrive today.
The District has numerous national parks and protected areas, and is also an important cacao growing area, supplying organic cocoa for the world-renowned Green & Black's 'Maya Gold' chocolate. The Maya's ancient and modern-day links with chocolate are celebrated in May each year with the Toledo Cacao Festival.
Protected areas, national parks, and private reserves
There are various Maya and Garifuna villages that can be visited, along with some of the more remote Cayes and large swathes of primary rainforest.
Until the 60’s Punta Gorda was reachable only by boat, but today the Southern Highway from Dangriga to Punta Gorda is one of the best paved roads in the country, with the exception of the 9 mile stretch through the Golden Stream Corridor Preserve, which is currently being upgraded. The journey from Belize City to Punta Gorda takes between 4 and 5 hours.
PG and Toledo are served by several daily busses, with James Bus Line offering the highest number of busses. The express bus takes 5 ¼ hours, and the regular service around 6 ½ hours (US$12).
Three daily water taxis cross between Punta Gorda and Puerto Barrios in Guatemala. The crossing takes between 60 and 90 minutes, and costs US$20 – US$25. There is also a direct crossing from Livingston in Guatemala on Tuesdays and Fridays (on other days, travel via Puerto Barrios). There is an exit tax from Belize of US$3.75, and an exit tax of US$10 from Guatemala.
Busses come in early from all the inland villages to PG on market days, with most of them returning between 11am and mid-day. Some villages have a daily bus services (Monday to Saturday), and a few have an additional afternoon service.
Hitching is commonplace, although it is polite to ask the driver if you can make a contribution to fuel.