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History and Culture


The economy of Toledo relies heavily upon agriculture. The Maya Indians are predominantly farmers. The districts land is cultivated using labor-intensive methods as opposed to large-scale mechanization. The traditional method of gradual chopping and burning, though much slower, results in a more productive milpa.

Milpa Farming

Main crops include rice, beans, corn, and cacao. Unlike the northern districts, crops grown in the south are mainly used for local consumption as opposed to export. The Big Falls Rice Mill near Punta Gorda Town is a semi-governmental establishment that buys all rice from local farmers and resells it to Belizeans as polished rice. Cacao, the raw form of chocolate, however, has long been a valuable cash crop for Maya Farmers. The harvested and fermented beans are stored in Punta Gorda Town and sold to Green & Blacks for their renowned Maya Gold chocolate. The District's ancient and modern-day links with cacao are celebrated each May at the Toledo Cacao Festival, held this year from 23rd to 25th May.

Maya farmers grow additional crops such as coffee, yams, sweet potato, chile, hot peppers, avocado, oranges and plantain. Each family transports their own produce by local bus to sell at the weekly market in Punta Gorda.


Toledo's productivity is not confined to the land. The waters off the coast of Toledo, while not as heavily fished as those further north, are potentially the richest of Belize. The best shrimping grounds are found here, particularlly in the far south near the mouth of the Moho, Temash and Sarstoon Rivers. Cast net fishingPunta Gorda, Monkey River, and Barranco fishermen depend on the sea for their livlihood. In addition to fish, they dive for conch and lobster.

Lobster is one of the country's most valuable seafood exports. The lobster season begins on June 15th and ends on February 14th. Fishermen construct several wooden lobster traps and place them in strategic locations. After they pull in their catch, they go inland to sell fresh seafood to hotels and restaurants who are dependent on this crustacean. Although there has been a decrease in lobster catch over the past twenty years resulting from over-exploitation, exportation of lobster is still a major contributor to the Belizean economy


Timber is still an important export in Belize. Since 1993, the Government of Belize granted seventeen logging concessions-over 500,000 acres of rainforest- to different logging companies- both foreign and Belizean.


Logging camps were established near several Maya villages without villagers having prior knowledge of the agreement. This has caused many conflicts over the years. The Mayas strongly oppose these logging concessions. They fear that commercial logging may destroy their habitat which gives them free access to the natural resources which the Maya Culture depends on for food and shelter. In addition, logging companies provide very limited jobs to villagers who refuse to work for low wages.

Today, the government is working together with several communities to solve these problems. A logging concession near a Maya village was recently cancelled.

Maya Guide

The true Maya cultural identity is changing with the ever increasing modernization brought on by road-network expansion, penetration of radio and television, and the extension of the cash economy. This has positively contributed to modern conveniences which add personal charm in a rustic setting. Many Maya families now have modern gas stoves alongside the traditional comal. The traditional thatch hut with beaten dirt floors are being replaced with zinc roof and cement floors. In recent years, the government of Belize has provided a central water system for most villages. Electricity and community phones are also accessible in many villages.

Punta Ycacos Tour

A combination of natural factors- climate, barrier reef, cayes, fishing, jungle, and Maya Ruins- combined with the rich culture of the Maya make Toledo the perfect place for the development of eco-tourism. Many villages are opening up to tourism in an effort to share their culture with foreigners while maintaining sustainable agriculture and environmental conservation. Two different programs have been set up by the Toledo Ecotourism Association and the Toledo Host Family Network.

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