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Toledo District is the southern most district in Belize, and Punta Gorda is the district capital. Toledo is the most sparsely populated and the least developed region in the country. It covers an area of almost 1,700 square miles and has a population of more than 30,000. It is home to a wide range of cultures- Mopan and Q'eqchi' Maya, Creole, Garifuna, East Indians, Mennonites, Chinese, Mestizos, and descendants of U.S. Confederate settlers. It is often referred to by locals as "the forgotten land."

 

English is taught in the schools throughout Belize and is the primary language of the country. Creole is also spoken by much of the county’s population. Maya, Garifuna, and Hispanic people in the Punta Gorda area often use their native languages but are often able to communicate in English as well.  However, in many of the more remote villages of Toledo the people speak only Mayan languages.

 

The district stretches from low-lying coastal lands to the Maya Mountains and is covered in large area by green, lush rainforest. Although Punta Gorda is right on the coast, don't expect white sand beaches as most of the coastline is rocky. There are six major rivers, with beautiful waterfalls in the district and several caves to explore. The Mayan history is rich in Toledo with several areas of ancient ruins that are open to tourists, especially Lubantuun and Nim Li Punit. It has the country's highest annual rainfall with as much as 180 - 200 inches per year. Although the Southern Highway into Toledo is now paved, most of the other roads into the villages are rough dirt roads.

 

The Toledo district is the poorest of Belize's districts with 79% of the population living below the poverty line. Most of the Maya villagers live on subsistence farming growing beans, rice, and corn and due to their diet, there is significant malnutrition leading to stunting of growth in almost 44% of the children. Although Punta Gorda and the larger villages on the main road have amenities, many of the villages do not have electricity or running water. There is limited transportation in the district and villagers often leave their own homes as early as 3:30 am on buses to get into the larger towns or our clinic in Eldridgeville.

Toledo District, Belize