I would like to discuss three areas of Cayo, which to me, are of great importance.
The first is the capital of Belize, which is Belmopan. Belmopan was founded in 1970 after hurricane Hattie devastated Belize City in 1961, which used to be the capital. The government had to make sure that the administration could still work even after a hurricane hits Belize, so they went inland and founded Belmopan, which is now the seat of parliament and government. Belize City is still the main commercial hub and maybe the cultural center of Belize as a country but the administrative center and the official capital is Belmopan. Belmopan has around 17,000 inhabitants so it’s pretty small. It doesn’t have too much charm because it is a planned community. Most embassies are located in Belmopan although some still remain in Belize City. When you go to Belmopan, you will see a lot of civil servants there. The shops in Belmopan also cater to the diplomats and the international crowd that is there.
The second place of importance is Spanish Lookout where the modern Mennonites live. As soon as you enter Spanish Lookout you feel that the place is very different compared to the rest of Belize. It looks like places in the Mid-Western United States. You find big farms, big farm houses, and everything is manicured. They maintain their own roads so it is a nice change compared to the mediocre roads in the rest of Belize. What is more important though is that Spanish Lookout is a big commercial center where you will find big hardware stores, big tire dealers, auto parts, and all that. For me, as a building contractor, Spanish Lookout is a prime place to go to source my materials. Spanish Lookout has a population of about 2,500 people, almost all of whom are Mennonites.
The third place, which is where I live, are the twin towns of San Ignacio and Santa Elena, located in the hills around the Macal River. Although in the Cayo district, this area is also referred to by the locals as “Cayo.” Including the nearby settlements, the twin towns have a population of about 30,000 people, the vast majority being Hispanic. San Ignacio has also the biggest farmers’ market in country, which is held every weekend.
San Ignacio and Santa Elena are older places and not like Belmopan, which was planned on a drafting board. The twin towns just grew over the years so you see lots of little roads and old houses. In recent years, the twin towns got substantial financial support so most of the roads are now paved. There is also a big tourist area in San Ignacio called the Cayo Welcome Center.
San Ignacio is the tourist hub of Cayo because from here, it is easiest to reach all of the attractions such as the caves, the Mayan sites, etc. There is actually one Mayan site on one of the hills of San Ignacio called Cahal Pech. There is another Mayan site close by, called Xunantunich. From San Ignacio, you can easily reach Tikal in Guatemala. You can also visit Caracol, which is the biggest Mayan site in Belize, located up in the mountains two hours away from San Ignacio by car. When you go to Caracol, you will experience difference sub climates because it is up in the mountains. There are different areas with different flora. You can also swim in the waterfalls up there. We built our lodge in in Cayo because it is the inland tourist hub and it is easy for visitors to do all the tours to the nearby attractions.
These three areas are the main places in the Cayo District. Everything else are more or less small villages with around 500 to 3,000 inhabitants. Most of the expats live in the San Ignacio area. The village of Bullet Tree Falls is in high demand because it is on the river and close to San Ignacio but you are still out of town, which many expats find attractive. It is located three miles west of San Ignacio and connected by a paved road.
(Guest at Vanilla Hills Lodge strike a pose at a Mayan temple in Belize, pictured.)