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Introducing The Deep South

Beautiful, remote and largely untrodden by travelers, Belize's Deep South is a hotbed of culture, history, nature and environmentalism. The region is also home to some of the country's swankiest ecolodges.

Visitors to Belize's Deep South have a unique opportunity to simultaneously experience both ancient and contemporary Maya culture. Over 60% of the population of Toledo District is Maya and these people, with more than 30 villages, have done a great deal to keep their culture alive and intact. The Maya of Southern Belize who survived European diseases were mostly driven into Guatemala by the British in the 18th and 19th centuries. But two groups crossed back from Guatemala to Southern Belize in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, fleeing taxes, forced labor and land grabs by German coffee growers. The Mopan Maya settled in the uplands of Southern Belize, while the Kekchi Maya, from the Alta Verapaz area of Guatemala, settled in the lowlands. The Mopan and Kekchi speak distinct Mayan languages, as well as English and sometimes Spanish.

While Maya men generally adopt Western styles of dress, most women still wear plain, full-length dresses with bright trimmings, or calf-length skirts teamed with embroidered blouses. Rituals and folklore continue to play an important role in Maya life, with masked dances such as the Cortés Dance and Deer Dance performed in some villages at festivals, including All Saints' and All Souls' Days (November 1 and 2) and Easter week. If your village visit coincides with one of these, it will be all the more memorable.