The Cultures of Belize

Real Culture

Take in the culture of theGarifunaMaya andCreole and change the way you see the world. Island Expeditions longstanding ties with communities across Belize translates into genuine cultural experiences for students. Cultural highlights range from staying as special guests in a Mayan village, folklore and mythology of the rainforest, diving for lobster and conch on the barrier reef with Garifuna and Creole guides and learning about the history of the coastal Garifuna people through lively stories and traditional dance. Without fail, students and teachers tell us that making new friends and understanding how people in Belize live, is one of the most rewarding aspects of their trip.

Yum Kaax: the Maize God 
The Maize god is representative of the ripe grain which was the mainstay of Mayan agriculture. The Maize god is shown with a headdress of maize and a curved streak on his cheek. He is also noticeable from other gods through his youth. Despite this youth, the Maize god was powerless by himself. His fortunes and misfortunes were decided by the control of rain and drought. Chac the Rain god would protect him, however, he withered when the underworld inflicted drought and famine.







Garifuna – The Garifuna people trace their origin to the island of St Vincent in the eastern Caribbean. They are descendents of shipwrecked and escaped West African slaves and Carib Indians who had recently populated much of the West Indian islands. Weakened by disease and conflict with European colonizers in the 16th and 17th centuries the Carib Indians and Africans blended through marriage, creating the Garífuna culture—Caribbean fishing and farming traditions with a mixture of South American and African music, dance, and spirituality. Over the next 100 years, bitter conflict, broken treaties and finally defeat and exile defined the beginnings of the Garifuna culture.The Garifuna were shipped from St Vincent to Roatan, Honduras where barely 2000 Garifuna survived to make the landing. The Garifuna were capable farmers and became known as formidable soldiers and mercenaries in the Spanish colony of Honduras. After supporting a failed rebellion to overthrow the government in Honduras many Garifuna were forced to flee north to the shores of Belize. In 1832 a large group of Garifuna landed on the coast of Belize at what is now considered one of the most important Garifuna settlements in the Caribbean, the site of their historic landing is now the town of Dangriga which means sweet running water in Garifuna language. Each year in Dangriga, on November 19th, the Garifuna reenact their arrival to the shores of Belize. They ride the surf to shore in their dugout canoes waving palm fronds and banana leaves to symbolize the cassava that sustained their ancestors. This ritual, rich in music and dance, helps sustain Garífuna culture.

With Island Expeditions you have the opportunity to learn of and celebrate the Garifuna culture. On the sea, your Garifuna guides share their remarkable knowledge of the marine life and islands, in camp we enjoy preparing and feasting on traditional Garifuna foods and with our longstanding ties with the Garifuna community of Dangriga we have the rare opportunity to participate in the dances and drumming that brings to life the stories of their people.

Creole – These descendants of African slaves and early white settlers speak Creole, which is the common language in Belize and is spoken by approximately 55, 051 people. There are many dialects of the Creole language throughout the world and in Belize it is essentially a corruption of the English language with hints of Misquiti, Spanish, Maya and African words. 

Maya – No one knows exactly how many ancient Mayan sites there are in Belize. Evidence of this ancient civilization has been found from the outermost atolls to the western pine-forested highlands and the grassland savannahs of the north. With temples towering high over the forest canopy (to this day the tallest man made structure in Belize is still an ancient Mayan Temple) to barely distinguishable house mounds scattered across mountains, jungle and farmland, the physical remains of the ancient Maya are found throughout Belize. The Maya civilization was never united under one governing body. Instead, independent city-states (connected through trade routes developed along trails and rivers through much of Central America) shared many traits and beliefs that categorized them as Maya. Many archaeologists maintain that that there were between one and two million Maya living in Belize at the height of the lowland civilization some 1500 years ago. Presently there are just slightly more than 250,000 people living in Belize!

Our discovery of the Maya culture in Belize involves both historical and contemporary exploration. Once the geographic heart of the lowland Mayan Civilization, present day Belize offers a remarkable opportunity to experience and learn of the ancient Maya. Classic Mayan cities we visit include Lamanai, Altun Ha, Xunaantunich 
(shoo-naan-too-neetz) and Caracol. We also venture underground to explore the mystery of the Mayan spirit world; dramatically illustrated in caves of startling beauty and power. In these remote caves we can trace the rituals and sacrifices the ancient Maya made to their gods through an astonishing collection of recently discovered intact artifacts.

The Kekchi and Mopan Maya not only exist in the ruins and artifacts of a time gone by; they are a vibrant and thriving culture in Belize today. Our interaction with Mayan villagers and time spent with our Mayan guides provide a unique insight into how the Mayan people have evolved into the 21st century. By staying in Mayan villages and traveling in the rainforest with our Mayan guides we learn about the animals and plants, we participate in gathering traditional plants for medicine and learn techniques used by the Maya to harvest foods from the rainforests.

"As a first year teacher, I found the enthusiasm I brought to the trip was matched and even exceeded by the Island Expeditions staff and the people of Belize. It was an incredible experience for all of us."
-Rebecca Rehm, Teacher, Oldfields School