Home Base Punta Gorda, Belize

Punta Gorda Travel Blog

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Nim Li Punit


Punta Gorda (PG) (Spanish "Fat Point") is located on the Caribbean Sea in the southern most portion of Belize at an elevation of about 15 feet above average high tide and is the capital of the Toledo District. PG is the largest town of  southern Belize with a population of around 6,000 people and is the transportation hub for the Toledo District.  PG is about 210 miles south of Belize City by road.  PG has only five main streets that run parallel to each other and are lined with several species of fruit trees. Most homes of PG are small made of wood and are constructed on stilts to minimize water damaged during periods of extreme high tides. PG has a hospital, customs office, immigration office, police station, bank, post office, gas station, airport, harbor and civic center.

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There are a number of churches, schools, grocery stores, hotels, restaurants and bars.  The airport is serviced by two regional providers, Maya Island Air and Tropic Air.  The James Bus Lines stops in PG and travel regularly to points north such as Independence, Dangriga, Belmopan, and Belize City. Boats regularly ferry passengers to Livingston or Puerto Barrios, Guatemala. There are several nice hotels in PG with nice views of the ocean, including Coral House Inn, Seafront Inn, and Beya Suites. PG is also a gateway to several well-regarded jungle accommodations, including the Cotton Tree Lodge, The Lodge at Big Falls, and Machaca Hill. Every May the town hosts the Toledo Cacao Festival, which celebrates the history and production of chocolate in the Toledo District.
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The local population is a mixture of English-speaking, Garifuna (Black Carib), East Indian, Mopan Maya, Kekchi Maya, Creoles, Lebanese and Chinese. The largest portion of the population is Garifuna. PG is the main seaport for southern Belize with a significant fishing industry. PG was a very small  fishing village before the migration of a significant number of Garifuna emigrants from Honduras in 1823. PG is a pleasant and interesting town with a very friendly local population. The pace of life in GP is slow, vehicle traffic is minimal with the exception of markets days on Wednesday mornings and all day Saturday. The market on Saturday is particularly good drawing in villagers from all of southern Belize and Guatemalans.
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The market is centered around the towns clock tower. The waterfront is great for long walks, with light constant breezes blowing in from the Bay of Honduras. Nightlife is limited to a few bars with darts and pool tables. Occasionaly Garifuna drummers perform for tourists. Drumming can b heard on most nights due to the large Garifuna population. There is a well known local band Coolie Rebels" that you should not miss.

PG is a perfect base to explore the rest of southern Belize. Many tour guides work from the town and can help you choose from a wide range of full or half day activities including hiking, Maya ruins, farms, wildlife reserves, fishing, kayaking, river touring, and snorkeling. Southern Belize is virtually undeveloped and untouched.
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Seven major parks and reserves in Toledo protect pristine rainforests and estuarine environments which abound with incredible biodiversity. A variety of caves, sinkholes and waterfalls lie scattered beneath the forest canopy throughout the district. Many Maya archaeological sites are unexcavated and largely undiscovered. Nim Li Punit and Lubantuun are the only Maya sites in Toledo that have tourist facilities. Several rivers run east from the uplands of the Maya Mountains to the coastline, draining into the Port Honduras Marine Reserve - home to the endangered West Indian Manatee. The southern most stretch of the Belize Barrier Reef in Belize - The Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve - lies 40 miles offshore from the mainland.

The earliest known inhabitants of southern Belize were the ancient Maya.
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Great Maya cities and ceremonial centers grew and flourished throughout the region. Uxbenka ("The Old Place"), is one of the oldest settlements known, perched on a hill outside of Santa Cruz village. Nim Li Punit ("Big Hat"), discovered 1970 and is known for its variety and number of stele. Lubaantun ("Place of the Fallen Stones") is thought to have been the regional capital, acting as the religious, administrative, political and commercial center of the region. Eventually, these cities slowly lost population and were abandoned. The reason for this population shift of the Maya Civilization not yet known. Archaeologist do know that the builders of Maya cities of Southern Belize where the Manche Chol Maya. The Chol remained unconquered throughout the Spanish rule.
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Many were converted to Catholicism for a time but resisted the Spanish tax system. Eventually, smallpox decimated the Chol population enabling the British to exile the majority of the remaining Chol population to the highlands of Guatemala.  After this forced movement of the Chol people southern Belize, was mostly unpopulated till the mid 1800's when the Garifuna settlements of Punta Gorda, Punta Negra and Barranco were founded. The Garifuna are the result of a cultural and racial fusion of Carib Indians and African Blacks which occurred on the Lesser Antillean island of St. Vincent in the 16th century. The Garifuna have remained along the coastal communities of Southern Belize. After the American Civil War, Confederate soldiers settled in an area called "Cattle Landing" just North of present day PG.
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By 1868 these enterprising former soldiers developed a sugar industry. By 1870 sugar was the dominant crop. More than a dozen sugar mills were in full operation in this region. By the turn of the 20th century the sugar industry was in full decline due to the decline of the price of sugar and the limited labor force. During the very late 19th and early 20th centuries, Mopan and Kekchi Maya Groups began migrating into southern Belize from Guatemala. The Mopan Maya chose to settle the uplands of Toledo District around the present day village of San Antonio and the Kekchi Maya occupied the isolated lowlands and along the many rivers of the Toledo District.  Now the Maya  are the largest population group in Toledo District. They have remained the most traditional and culturally distinct. The Mopan and Kekchi Maya have established over thirty communities in the Toledo District. The Garifuna, Kriol, East Indians and Chinese live together in PG and few very small communities along the coast near GP.

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Punta Gorda
photo by: twilk76