Stann Creek District features a rich diverse ecology and offers a wide range of tourism opportunities within its 986 sq mi (2,554 sq km) area.
With a population of just over 44,000 it includes Creole, Maya, Garifuna and Mestizo communities which until relatively recently lived in quiet isolation from mainstream Belizean life and developed their own distinct cultural flavours.
The beautiful, white sand bordered Placencia Peninsula contains the Garifuna village of Seine Bight and the traditionally Creole Placencia Village, while inland the forests slope up towards the Maya Mountains and cradle the lush Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Preserve –the only one of its kind in the world.
As a major banana, citrus and fruit producing region, and with the deep water port at Big Creek, Stann Creek District has become an important shipping point for fruits and other agricultural products to Britain and Europe.
The district’s coast is dotted with small towns and fishing villages that have their own unique characters and act as jumping off points for the beautiful Belizean cayes and the Great Barrier Reef running the length of Belize’s Caribbean Sea.
Inland, visitors will find Maya villages, the world's first jaguar preserve, a wealth of tropical forests, and the Maya Mountains and Victoria Peak, the highest point in Belize.
There are two ways to drive to Dangriga, the capital of Stann Creek – either via the more popular Hummingbird Highway or by way of the Manatee Highway, located at Milepost 30.5 on the Western Highway (less than two miles past the Belize Zoo turnoff).
The Manatee Highway is not paved, but is travelled daily and runs through traditional Creole villages such as Gales Point Manatee, which now has tourist facilities and is becoming a popular spot.
The drive down along the Hummingbird Highway is spectacular, winding up and over dramatic jungle landscapes dotted with small farms and with picturesque hills and verdant citrus valleys.
Near the coast the tiny villages and farms of the Stann Creek Valley begin to give way to coastal landscape as the highway forks south or leads into the historic Garifuna town of Dangriga, also known as Stan Creek Town.
The Garifuna or Garinagu arrived in Belize in the late 1700s by a fascinating, circuitous route. Originally from St Vincent’s Island in the Caribbean, they were a mix of escaped West African slaves and the island’s native Carib orArawak people who were forcibly removed from St Vincent’s and “settled” on the island of Roatán off Honduras. They soon established their own villages along the coasts of Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua where they kept their language and customs alive.
Dangriga was, and still is the largest Belize Garifuna town, and provides transport and tour services to South Water Caye, the Belize Barrier Reef and other cayes. Further south, Hopkins and Seine Bight villages provide a true Garifuna experience and a chance to sample traditional Garifuna cooking and drumming.
Placencia Village is perhaps the best-known village in Stann Creek but has retained its sandy charm and laid back ambience.
Until recently the fishing cooperative was the lifeblood of the village, but tourism and reef excursions and fly fishing guiding are now the main income earners.
The main street is still a 4,071 foot long footpath listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the narrowest main street in the world.
Placencia has several dive shops and a variety of tour operators offering everything from PADI and NAUI instruction, sailing, kayaking, reef excursions, charter sailboats and virtually all water sports.
The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Preserve is a vast nature reserve on the slopes of the Maya Mountains and provides an opportunity to experience Belizean flora and fauna in its most wild, natural state.
Maya habitation in the Stan Creek District goes back to at least 10,000 BC and there are numerous Maya sites scattered throughout the District. Excursions to Nim Li Punit and Lubaantun in neighbouring Toledo district are readily available.
With such an abundance of natural and cultural experiences to be had on land, the easy access to the Caribbean Sea, the Great Barrier reef and cayes, as well as a multitude of resorts, bed and breakfasts and backpackers lodging, Stann Creek could keep the most intrepid adventurer busy( or seriously relaxing) for years, and is a must for a true Belize experience.
Eluvina Delcid, Culinary Instructor