Stann Creek

john canoe festival dangriga, stann creek district

Behind the scenes: Dancers prepare for the annual John Canoe festival held every year in Dangriga during the Christmas season.

The south has become an increasingly popular destination for visitors, especially the road-bound tourist who wants to rent a vehicle and explore. The highway which connects southern Belize to the rest of the country has undergone a total transition, with millions of dollars expended to upgrade and rebuild this vital country link.

Connecting to any of the southern destinations from either the capital Belmopan or the commercial center Belize City is a beautiful scenic ride on the Hummingbird and Southern Highways. This region is easily accessible by daily commuter flights to Dangriga and nearby Independence.

The Stann Creek district, located 90 miles from Belize City by land and 36 miles by sea, can also be accessed through the Manatee Highway which is located at Milepost 30.5 on the Western Highway (less than two miles past the Belize Zoo turnoff). The Manatee Highway, although not paved, is an easy ride in the dry season and it connects up with Hummingbird Highway about seven miles from the entrance to Dangriga, the main town in the Stann Creek District.

The Manatee Highway also provides road access to two interesting Creole villages, one of which has become a popular tourist destination – Gales Point Manatee, which is geographically placed as the southernmost village in the Belize District. Daily regular bus service is also available and reliable. For faster travel, visitors can take a local airline to reach the Stann Creek District as both the main town Dangriga and the resort peninsula of Placencia both have an airstrip. The plane ride is 20 minutes from Belize City to Dangriga. There is currently no regular water taxi or boat service from Belize City to Stann Creek.

Stann Creek, with a population of just over twenty-five thousand, contains diverse tourist experiences: the beautiful white sandy beaches of Placencia (and inviting offshore cayes), rugged Maya Mountains, the lush jungles of the Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Preserve, and both the Garifuna art, music, cuisine and culture and, in certain areas, Maya Culture. The Stann Creek district is also a major banana, citrus and other fruit-producing region, and in recent years improvements have been made to the deep water port at Big Creek. The Big Creek Port is an important transshipment point for bananas, mangoes and citrus and other agricultural products to Britain and the European continent.

View of Dangriga over the Stann Creek

Dangriga is divided into two by the Stann Creek that empties into the Caribbean Sea.

Culture And Art

Dangriga is often dubbed as “the culture capital of Belize.” With a population of some 9,000, it is the capital of the Stann Creek District and it is definitely the place to be on the night of November 18th. That is when all-night festivities celebrate the arrival of the Garifuna People to Belize on November 19th 1823. The Garifuna people of Belize (pronounced Gah-RIF-oo-na) who settled in the Stann Creek area have an intriguing history.

Before the time of Christopher Columbus, Amerindians from South America came by canoe to the island of St. Vincent in the southeast Caribbean. They conquered, and then intermarried with the native Arawak Indians, adopting much of the Arawak language and culture. They went by the name Kwaib, from which the names Carib and Garifuna, meaning cassava-eaters, probably evolved. The first recorded arrivals in British Honduras (Belize) began in 1802 and Garifuna communities in Punta Gorda, Dangriga and Belize City celebrated November 19th 2002 as the Bicentennial of the arrival. Activities for Garifuna Settlement Day include the re-enactment of the arrival by canoe, drumming, John Canoe dancing, and music in celebration of the successful resistance of the Garifuna people to enslavement, colonization and deportation.

A visit to Dangriga provides the opportunity to observe performances by such traditional groups as the Turtle Shell Band and the Waribagaba Dancers, as well as modern Punta Rock and reggae. Additionally, Bredda David and the Tribal Vibes, famous for their Kriol (Creole) music, has a recording studio in Dangriga.

garifuna women traditional dress

Garifuna women in traditional dress preparing for National Garifuna Settlement Day Celebrations

Dangriga is famous for its cassava, made into cassava bread, and for cashew wine, as well as for fish cooked in coconut milk, with a side of mashed/pounded plantain – a delicious dish called hudut. Dangriga is a convenient base for visits to the Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Preserve, and to nearby villages and cayes. The Stann Creek district is a popular area for ex pats, especially the Hopkins Sittee River area south of Dangriga , and for those wanting a beach front or riverfront home.

After visiting the Jaguar Preserve, one recent visitor described it, “You’ll probably get wet and you’ll probably get to sample the mosquitoes, but you’ll get to experience the real jungle at Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Preserve.”

The preserve covers 150 square miles of broad-leaf rainforest. The rainforest canopy, up to 140 feet high, and the exotic plants and trees are nothing short of spectacular and worth the effort to explore.  Portions of the preserve get up to 180 inches of rain a year, and within its boundaries are the two highest peaks in Belize, Doyle’s Delight at 3,688 feet and Victoria Peak at 3,675 feet.

Visitors and ex pats report on the advantages of the Dangriga and Hopkins areas: Lower prices for beach front property purchase or rental compared to Ambergris Caye or Placencia. Friendly, interesting Garifuna culture. Excellent water sports, the best beaches in Belize, boating, fishing, diving and easy access to the Cockscomb Jaguar Preserve and other natural areas make the Stann Creek Creek district one of the most desirable areas of Belize for vacation, investment or retirement. Along with Hopkins, Placencia and the emerging Sittee Rive developments it is a must-visit area of the country.

kids wheelbarrow race hopkins beach belize

Kids competing in the unique mango wheelbarrow race at the annual Mango Festival in Hopkins.

Related Article: Placencia Peninsula