Dangriga Town is the center of Garinagu culture in Belize. In the 1700’s, escaped African slaves found refuge in St. Vincent. The Garinagu emerged from their intermarriage with native Caribbean Indians. Fleeing from European control, they eventually settled along the coast of mainland Central America. Their arrival in Dangriga on Novmeber 19th, 1823, is celebrated every year. They still preserve many African traditions in their ideologies, food, dancing and especially music. Their high-energy drumming, which includes “Punta” (a musical style famous countrywide), can be heard during celebrations. The sign at the town’s entrance reads “Mabuiga”, meaning “welcome” in their native Garifuna language (a combination of Amerindian, African, Arawak and Carib). Nestled right along the shoreline and straddling the mouth of the North Stann Creek River (Gumagaru River in Garifuna), this town of 9,000 is not very developed in terms of tourism. Residents are simply too busy with farming and fishing. However, the low-key atmosphere and rich culture is precisely the appeal.
The landscape surrounding Dangriga is the most ecologically diverse in the country. The Maya Mountains lay to the west covered in broadleaf jungles and include the highest point in the country, Victoria Peak at 3,675 feet. Rivers drain the highlands etching across the coastal plains and empting into the Caribbean Sea. The flow of silt and freshwater creates fertile lands that not only harbors a diversity of flora and wildlife, but have produced a profitable export industry of citrus and banana. Standing on one of the beaches you can see the mountain peaks. Although the water is sometimes muddy with silt from the rivers, the beaches, with their characteristic brownish sand, are vast and quite nice. Just 10 miles off the coast is the barrier reef and a string of islands that so characterize the southern coast. South of Dangriga is Hopkins, a sleepy Garinagu fishing village along the beach. Just south of Hopkins, are some of the most upscale resorts in this area nestled right along the beach.
The easy access to both jungle and sea makes it ideal for travelers interested in experiencing both worlds from one location. The Mayflower Bocawina National Park, recently formed in 2001, covers 7,100 acres of jungle with many trails. It also features 3 small Maya ruins (mostly unexcavated). The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary (or Jaguar Preserve) covers 155 square miles of Maya Mountains and is probably one of the country’s most popular parks. It’s not hard to imagine why, with rivers, waterfalls, over 300 bird species and abundant wildlife including the jaguar. During the day you will mostly likely see only footprints; however as a nocturnal cat, night hikes offer the best chances to spot them. Day trips are available to the Maya ruins of Xunantunich and Cahal Pech to the west, the Blue Hole National Park and several caves in central Belize and the scenic Monkey River to the south. The South Water Caye Marine Reserve (a UN World Heritage Site) is composed of dozens of mangrove and coral islands lined by fringing reefs, which along with the relative isolation of the southern barrier reef, make for great diving, snorkeling and fishing. Glover’s Reef Atoll, a United Nations World Heritage Site as well, is only 36 miles offshore. Good weather permitting, Turneffe Islands and Lighthouse Reef can also be reached, making it the only place where you can dive all 3 atolls. March, April and May bring whale sharks in the nearby Gladden Split area. Some of the noteworthy islands include Tobacco Caye and Southwater Caye, perched right on top of the barrier reef. These small islands, with palms and a few weathered “resorts”, are a bit off-the beaten path but well worth a visit