Cacao is more than chocolate; it is a way of life for many Maya families in the southern district of Toledo. The cultivation and processing of cacao is a family tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation, often with little changes made to the ancient practice. Toledo Chocolate Festival Belize-19Steeped within the Maya culture, and a revered commodity that only the privileged hierarchy of the civilization were once allowed to indulge in, chocolate is now a sweet treat that thankfully all of us are allowed to enjoy and celebrate…and celebrate we do!Toledo Chocolate Festival Belize-20
In honor of this exquisite pod of powerful flavor, the first Toledo Cacao Festival was held in 2007 in Punta Gorda Town, and a few years ago its name was changed to the Chocolate Festival of Belize. It is celebrated each year on the same Commonwealth Day weekend, which this year falls over the weekend of May 20th. This delicious festival grows larger each year and attracts hundreds of visitors from around Belize as well as overseas.Toledo Chocolate Festival Belize-16
A Wine and Chocolate reception kicks off the festival on Friday evening with live music, fine wine, hors d’oeuvres, Belizean chocolate, and Belikin’s specially brewed Chocolate Stout. How can it be a more perfect paring?Toledo Chocolate Festival Belize-17 Guests enjoy a night of socializing while sampling a wide variety of chocolate delicacies along with gourmet wines. Lively music sets the stage for a great night of indulging and dancing off some of those chocolate calories! This year Belizean boutique chocolate makers – Kakaw, Goss Chocolate, Cotton Tree Chocolate, and Ixcacao will be showcasing their amazing chocolates. Have you ever tried chocolate with bacon? Or better yet, chocolate laced with habanero pepper? Oh, so many to choose from…just say no to the diet!Toledo Chocolate Festival Belize-2
The following day is the Taste of Toledo street fair, held on Front Street in Punta Gorda town which is closed to traffic during the fair. Cultural displays and areas showcasing Toledo’s five main ethnic groups: Kriol, Maya, Garifuna, Mestizo and East Indian are featured at the event. Toledo Chocolate Festival Belize-9Attendees are immersed within the art, food and music from each culture. With a bounty of booths to explore, shopping for local crafts and unique products are many. Some of my favorite items include cacao-based body care products, lotions, bath scrubs and soaps. Other booths vary from demonstrating the lengthy process cacao goes through before it’s a chocolate bar to impressive local non-profits such as the Drums Not Guns program that mentors young children through the art of drumming. Toledo Chocolate Festival Belize-6Of course sampling the variety of foods available is a mouthwatering treat, and you’ll be surprised how yummy the Belikin Chocolate Stout is! Children also have the opportunity to enjoy the many activities offered by Cacao for Kids, such as painting, puppet show, finger painting, jewelry making and games.Toledo Chocolate Festival Belize-3
The festival finale is held on Sunday with live performances throughout the day. From the Maya harp groups, to Garifuna drumming as well as dances by the Maya groups from the area, the colorful cultural performances are rare glimpses of our rich Belizean heritage. Toledo Chocolate Festival Belize-1Food stalls offer a variety of drinks made from cacao combined with corn or pepper and other ingredients as well as ethnic Maya dishes. Local craft booths also showcase the unique talents of basket makers, wood carvers and more.Toledo Chocolate Festival Belize-4
If you plan to attend this culturally captivating festival, it is recommended you book your accommodations sooner than later, as the local establishments are usually filled to capacity during that time. Toledo Chocolate Festival Belize-12Exploring the Toledo District is a rare adventure, and be sure to add to your stay a visit to a local cacao plantation, the Maya House of Cacao and Chocolate Museum, nearby Maya archeological sites and the impressive waterfalls. The area is beautiful and rural Belize at its most authentic. For more information about the Chocolate Festival please visit their website at http://www.chocolatefestivalofbelize.com.

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About the Author: Tamara Sniffin

I’m a sucker for a fuzzy face, a feathered face, a face with fins or even one with scales! I am in love with the creatures and the flora that are synonymous with Belize and every opportunity I have to learn more about them and explore their wild habitats I am there! I’m the happiest when I’m snorkeling the reef and swimming with turtles, however my passion is not just limited to critters! Laced throughout this compact jungle gem of a country live the Kriol, Maya, Garifuna, Mestizo and Spanish people, and experiencing each culture, especially their celebrations is one of my favorite pastimes.


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