Belize is divided into six different districts, the equivalent of states in America or provinces in Canada. Cayo District is the largest district in Belize, encompassing a huge section of the central and western part of the country.
Cayo is home to the nation’s capital, Belmopan, which was established in 1970 following a series of devastating storms that hit Belize City. Cayo District is home to two of the country’s largest municipal areas, Belmopan and San Ignacio, that along with several towns of villages consists of around a total of 100,000 people.
While San Ignacio and Belmopan certainly have their charms, most people come to Cayo to experience pristine nature at its finest. The district is home to two rivers (the Macal and Mopan), vast national parks and animal refuges, caving systems, waterfalls, and several ancient Maya ruins. Cayo District is also the home of some of the country’s most proficient farmers that raise cattle, produce dairy products, and grow a wide variety of vegetables, including citrus fruits, vegetables, and bananas.
Most visitors to Cayo begin with a stop at San Ignacio Town. Located right on the banks of the Macal River, San Ignacio and its twin town of Santa Elena are the second-largest municipal area in Belize. One of the top attractions inSan Ignacio is its colorful open-air market where farmers, artists, and crafters from all over the region come to sell food, traditional medicines, artwork, and handicrafts.
Just across the river from San Ignacio lie the ruins of Cahal Pech. Built on a bluff overlooking the river and surrounding valley, Cahal Pech was created as a kind of gated community where only the ruling nobles and elites were allowed to live.
Other popular Maya sites in Cayo include Caracol, a vast 55 square mile city that once vied with Tikal Maya Ruins (now just a few miles over the border in Guatemala) for control of the region. Other Maya sites in Cayo include Xunantunich (home to the largest Maya royal tomb ever discovered), Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave, Che Chem Ha Cave, and El Pilar.
Natural attractions in Cayo include the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, a huge national park with broadleaf trees, outstanding birding locations, and the tallest waterfalls in all of Central America, including Big Rock Falls, 1,000-Foot Falls, and Rio on Pools. Other parks and natural attractions in Cayo include St. Herman’s Cave and the Inland Blue Park, Barton Creek Cave, the Green Iguana Conservation Project, Guanacaste National Park, and the Tropical Wings nature center.
Popular activities to enjoy in Cayo District include hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, canoeing, bird watching, swimming, cave tubing (exploring underground rivers via canoe or inflatable inner tube), rappelling, and zip lining through the jungle canopy. Wildlife that can be found in Cayo District include all five big cat species, rare ocellated turkeys, tapirs, hummingbirds, butterflies, and black howler monkeys.