Every May, the southern part of Belize hosts one of the best culinary festivals you’ll find — the Chocolate Festival of Belize. The annual event started back in 2007, and was originally known as the Toledo Cacao Festival.
The Toledo District is one of Belize’s lesser known areas, and receives far less tourism than other parts of the country. Its relatively remote location is ideal for travelers looking to road trip through Belize, and what better reason to head south than for a chocolate festival?
If you’ve never had Belizean chocolate, you are missing out. Cacao is native to the Americas and the southern part of Belize is renowned for its superior cacao. While chocolate is certainly an important local product, it’s not surprising that cacao beans also provide an excellent export crop for Belize.
The Chocolate Festival of Belize is a three day festival typically falling later in May, the same weekend as the Commonwealth Day Holiday.
Wine and Chocolate kick off the event on Friday night with a variety of fine wines, Belizean chocolate, and even a specially brewed Belikin Chocolate Stout. You’ll need to purchase tickets in advance for this event to save $10 BZ. The festival website has a list of all the phone numbers you can call to order tickets in advance.
In conjunction with the festival, you’ll find the Taste of Toledo street fair in Punta Gorda town. This pedestrian only street fair is held on the Saturday of the festival weekend, and showcases art, food, and music from the five primary cultures that make up the Toledo District. These ethnic groups include: Garifuna, Maya, Kriol, Mestizo, and East Indian.
Booths will feature some awesome food, chocolate of course, crafts, and other interesting local products. Look for a chocolate connection on many products, be it chocolate soap or hand-carved masks depicting cacao. Some of Belize’s best chocolatiers will be in attendance answering any questions you may have on the chocolate making process.
One of the highlights of the festival is the Taste of Toledo cooking competition — with prizes given for the best use of cacao in both savory and sweet creations.
If you can stay the whole weekend, the finale takes place on the last day (Sunday) of the festival. There are live musical performances throughout the day, Garifuna drumming, Mayan harp groups, and more. Be sure to purchase artisan souvenirs like baskets, hammocks, carvings, and of course, lots of chocolate for your family and friends back home!
Traveling with kids? There will be a Cacao for Kids section where kids can be left supervised in a safe environment while you go explore the street fair. Activities for kids include face painting, finger painting, jewelry making, and more.
Wondering what makes Belizean chocolate some of the best? Like other food products, and most certainly wine, soil and climate play an integral role in the success of cacao growth. This is typically referred to as terroir, and if you’re an oenophile like myself, you know that terroir is a very important part of growing grapes.
Aside from its superior quality, I love Belizean chocolate as it’s all produced by local, “mom and pop” type businesses. There are four main producers in Belize, several of which you may already be familiar with. These include Ix Cacao (San Felipe Village), Kakaw Chocolate (San Pedro), Goss Chocolate (Seine Bight), and Cotton Tree Chocolate (Punta Gorda).
If your Belize road trip includes a boat ride or flight out to Ambergris Caye, be sure to stop by the Belize Chocolate Company on Front Street and enjoy some freshly made chocolates, and other sublime treats like chocolate coffee, chocolate cheesecake, and more. Sit inside where it’s cool, or enjoy the sea breeze and people watch from the outdoor bench.
The 2016 Chocolate Festival of Belize takes place on May 20-22. For more information, be sure to visit the Chocolate Festival of Belize’s website, stop in at the Belize Chocolate Company in San Pedro for more information, and read My Beautiful Belize for more festival updates.
This post was in partnership with Alamo Rental Car, but as always, thoughts and opinions are my own.