Sustainable Travel: Cultural Immersion with Mayan Community in Belize

Belize is a small country in Central America that is rich in culture and Mayan history. I traveled to Belize to explore the vast history and to gain a better cultural understanding of how the Mayans once lived and still live today.

Part of traveling sustainabally is getting to know and support local cultures, explore different ways of living and to have gain a sense of cultural understanding by living new experiences.

After a series of unpleasant travel situations and being robbed at gunpoint, I arrived to Belize feeling a bit exhausted and stressed.

While travel can be the most amazing and beautiful experience, sometimes negative situations can cross your path.

As soon as I arrived to the Mayan Community with Patty at Splash Dive Center, I was met by a nice indigenous lady who gave me one good look up and down and lead me to her outside porch area. I briefly shared with her some of the negative things that had happened to me prior to arriving, and the look of concern overwhelmed her face.

She quickly grab some leaves, started rubbing them all over my body and put me in a small closet in order to detoxify from the negative energy that had followed me there. She then lit some incense and took the leaves away, to which later I would have to take to a body of water and throw them out from behind my head in order to start a new and fresh beginning.

This type of experience does not happen to me on a daily basis, but even with the unfamiliarity, I continued to smile and keep an open attitude.

As we walked around her property, she talked to me all about their culture, customs and wide range of traditions. Every culture around the world is unique in its own special way and the joy of travel is the chance to explore different ones and get a little taste of it all.

However, what I have found is that no matter where I am in the world, that all cultural encounters almost always lead to one main topic: the traditional cuisine.  I am always willing to explore the gastronomy of each country and to learn to cook new things, although I am not the best cook.

The Mayan culture is known for many different types of foods, ranging from avocados and guacamole, homemade corn tortillas, to mouth watering chocolate.  My first test in the kitchen was to learn how to make homemade fresh corn tortillas. This has always a been a very important part of the Mayan cuisine and is something that is found in most of the meal times.

We then moved on to learn how to make tamales, something that I instantly fell in love with. This is kind of similar to a corn hot pocket, cooked, wrapped in a banana leaves and then filled with chicken, meat, pork of vegetables.

Fun fact: Mayan women used to go from door to door back in the day selling their fresh tamales and earning an income for their family.

After our delicious home cooked meals, we then moved onto the best part, chocolate. The Mayans are believed to have discovered Cocoa as early as 900A.D. The locals randomly found this fruit and by trial and error found out that they could roast the seeds, grind them up,  and mix some spices in to make it taste better.

However, they didn’t just eat it for pleasure like we do now, they actually used chocolate beans as currency. It was such a special part of their culture that cocoa pods were painted on the walls of temples and Mayan artifacts.

Knowing the long line of history and importance of chocolate within the Mayans only made my chocolate experience even more special and delicious. The process was not complicated, but the labor was a bit harder that what I thought. However, in the end, I ended up making delicious home made chocolate and was able to connect with a very interesting and special part of their culture.

Most cultures around the world are brought together by mealtime, and as a traveler, one of the best ways I have found to connect across cultures is by sitting together, sharing a delicious home cooked meal and having a good conversation.

Traveling sustainably is done by simple actions, such as opening yourself up and showing interest in a culture that is not your own.

A sustainable decision that we can all make in our travels is to look for opportunities to immerse ourselves into a new culture, by taking a cooking class and exploring the local cuisine, instead of eating something familiar to us.


Travel sustainably, and support local communities by cultural immersion and authentic experiences.


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