Hike to Lac Blanc in Chamonix

A Taste of the Tour de Mont Blanc

Known as one of the greatest multi-day treks in the world, the Tour de Mont Blanc (TMB) is a circular tour of 105 miles/170 kilometers around the mighty Mont Blanc massif traversing three countries – Italy, Switzerland and France, over the course of 10-12 days. Passing through some of the most divine high alpine scenery on earth, the TMB is one of the most stunning multi-day treks of all and is a dream for many avid trekkers.

Ever since my dad and I did the lesser-known Tour de Vanoise back in 2012 (located in Savoie, the eastern Rhône-Alpes region of France), I had dreamed of doing the popular TMB.  My father too had wanted to complete some of the TMB after scaling Mount Blanc in 1998. Thankfully, the opportunity finally arrived this summer and better yet, it would be not with two generations of trekkers but three.

On July 4th, my father, 14-year-old son and I left for a ten-day intergenerational hiking trip to Mont Blanc, devising our own Tour de Mont Blanc to fit our needs. Armed with maps, internet resources, and guide books, we set off and had a magnificent time. I learned a lot along the way about what works and what can be improved with planning your own Tour de Mont Blanc. Here is what I discovered and my thoughts on planning your own Taste of Mont Blanc.

Tour de Mont Blanc

My dad, me and my son on our own Tour de Mont Blanc.

Why Go

At 15,771 feet (4807 m), the mighty snow-capped Mount Blanc soars 12,000 feet (3700 m) over Chamonix, dominating the region and controlling the weather in all the surrounding valleys. As the masterpiece of the Mont Blanc massif, an area measuring 29 miles (46 km) long graced with numerous peaks and aiguilles, jaw-dropping sheer rock walls, ridges and tumbling glaciers, the TMB is known as one of the most stunning multi-day treks in the world.

What makes Mont Blanc even more unique is her incredible location at the crossroads of three European countries – France, Italy and Switzerland – giving the trekker a unique cultural experience as well as extraordinary views. Three distinct towns converge below Mont Blanc: Courmayeur (Italy), Saint-Gervais-les-Bains (Switzerland) and Chamonix (France). Given its high elevation, with 11 summits measuring over 13,123 (4000 m), most of the surrounding area is snow and ice-covered with glaciers pouring down the steep mountain-sides creating a magical, breathtaking scenery that delights the eyes and fills the soul.

If you have one long-distance trek to do on your bucket list, then the TMB is the one for you.

Tour de Mont Blanc Val Veny, Italy

With stunning views like this on the hike through Val Veny in Italy, the TMB will never disappoint.

Adventure Travel Europe France Italy Switzerland TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking
Hiking in Aosta Valley, Italy

The Power of Intergenerational Travel: Me, My Dad and Son Hike Around Mont Blanc

It was yet another beautiful day hiking in the Alps. The sky was a robin’s egg blue dotted with powderpuff clouds. A gentle breeze kissed my face and the stunning scenery of the Alps made me continually want to pinch myself to make sure it wasn’t all just a dream. It was our third day of hiking during a ten day intergenerational hiking trip around Mont Blanc. So far our trip could not have been more surreal.

As my dad and son climbed up the steep path leading us higher and higher above the dazzling aquamarine Moulin Dam far below, all I could think about was the reward for our efforts. A view of the legendary Lac Mort, a high alpine ice-covered lake at 2843 meters (9327 feet) above the Aosta Valley on her perch in the Italian Alps. But then, after two hours of hiking and only twenty minutes to go to our destination, the wind began to change. We could see a series of rain-laden clouds off in the distance over the Aosta Valley. I checked the radar and knew we would be fine however my dad grew nervous. He had been caught in a ravaging thunderstorm atop a mountain before and swore he’d never do it again. He wanted to turn back.

Hike in Aosta Valley to Lac Long

My son and dad on the long hike up from the glorious Moulin Dam to Lac Long

We had just reached the first of two alpine lakes, Lac Long, and it was stunning. It would only take another twenty minutes to reach Lac Mort but my dad said we couldn’t go. An argument brewed because I hate to not complete a hike especially when I knew we could make it before the rain. But I had to respect my dad’s decision despite my displeasure and disappointment. Upset, we turned around and headed back without ever seeing the prize.

Me and my son Max at Lac Long in Aosta, Italy

We were painfully close to the prize destination

I didn’t talk for the next hour of the hike down to the car and purposely held back on my pace letting my dad and son go ahead. Yet it was at that moment when I fully realized the true beauty and power of intergenerational travel.

From a distance, I observed and listened to my dad and teenage son talk about life, the world, their hopes and dreams. Slowly my disappointment and anger eased and instead a deep sense of gratitude grew. For this is what it is all about and why it is so incredibly meaningful to travel as family. This unburdened time together in the middle of nowhere. Sharing our common love of nature and mountains, creating bonds that somehow are often harder to create at home. It is magical and priceless.

 

My Dad and son talking away

Me and Max

The trip ended up being all I had hoped for and more. It gave me precious time to reconnect with my teenage son, spend more time with my dad and realize what an incredible gift all of these priceless memories are. I look forward to sharing my stories in the upcoming months and reliving the beauty of not only the Alps but of spending sacred time with family. Stay tuned.

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Natural Habitat Adventures

Natural Habitat Adventures Paves the Way in Eco-Tourism and Wildlife Conservation

As the desire for up close and personal wildlife tours increases, concerns have grown about how to help protect animals in the wild especially in the face of climate change, irresponsible wildlife encounters, and an increase in poaching of certain species. Thankfully the demand for ethical wildlife tourism is on the rise and Natural Habitat Adventures, a global leader in responsible nature travel is helping pave the way.

Since 1985, Natural Habitat Adventures has been a leader in sustainable adventure travel and ecotourism.  From polar bear tours in Churchill to small-group Galapagos cruises, Natural Habitat Adventure’s journeys reveal the planet’s most extraordinary nature destinations. As the world’s first 100-percent carbon-neutral travel company and the conservation travel partner of World Wildlife Fund, Natural Habitat Adventures offers eco-conscious expeditions from Antarctica to Zambia with a multitude of adventures in between.

I had the opportunity to interview Court Whelan PhD, Natural Habitat Adventures’ Director of Sustainability and Conservation, and here is what he had to say.

When were you founded, by who and why?

Natural Habitat Adventures was founded in 1985 by Ben Bressler, with the intent to bring ecotourism to places where economic infusion could help make habitats and wildlife worth more alive than harvested as resources.

As a young boy, Ben spent endless time exploring nature right out in his backyard in suburban New Jersey. Though Ben had no idea then that his life’s work would take him to the planet’s most far-flung wild places, he discovered early on the life-enhancing power of exploring nature. And his experiences would spark something bigger: the inspiration for a nature travel company that would become his life’s work and a global leader in conservation travel.

Natural Habitat Adventure’s (Nat Hab) first trip was to see baby harp seals (“whitecoats”) on the ice floes in Quebec. We worked in collaboration with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). The idea was to replace seal-hunting dollars with seal-watching dollars, supporting the local economy by taking tourists to view and photograph adorable furry white baby seals instead of clubbing them for their pelts. The approach synched with the newly emerging concept of ecotourism. In 1989, Nat Hab expanded further with brown bear viewing at Alaska’s Brook Falls, small-ship voyages in the Galapagos Islands and mountain gorilla safaris in Rwanda.

Emerging as a global leader in responsible nature travel, Nat Hab earned an alliance with World Wildlife Fund. Establishing an innovative partnership in 2003, Nat Hab became WWF’s conservation travel partner, adopting the tag line “Discovering Our Planet Together” in a shared mission to explore and protect the world’s wildest places.

Natural Habitat Adventures

Photo credit: Sean Beckett

Sustainable Travel Organizations TRAVEL RESOURCES

Travel Guide to “Go Slow” in Caye Caulker, Belize

After an exhilarating time exploring the wild jungles and mysterious Mayan ruins on mainland Belize, it was time to soak up some surf and sun on one of Belize’s many cayes (islands). I couldn’t think of a more perfect way to end my wonderful week in Belize than in Caye Caulker. Located roughly 21 miles northeast of Belize City, Caye Caulker is one of 400 cayes along Belize’s 180-mile long coastline and after Ambergris Caye is the second most visited. However, don’t let her popularity fool you. This tiny island offers island and ocean loving travelers a wonderful refuge to swing away lazy afternoons in a hammock or take an adventure of a lifetime swimming with nurse sharks and sting rays in the nearby Belize Barrier Reef. Best of all, Caye Caulker still has retained her laid-back island charm despite the upswing in tourism. Whether a few days or a week, there is plenty of things to do in Caye Caulker. Check out my guide on how to go slow, as the locals say,  in Caye Caulker.

Caye Caulker, Belize

The motto in Caye Caulker is “Go Slow” and after a few days on this lovely, tropical paradise you will easily slip into this mentality.

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Tikal

A Day Trip to Tikal: Discovering Tikal’s Tantalizing, Mysterious Past

After almost a week in Belize exploring the ancient Mayan masterpieces of Lamanai, Xunantunich and the depths of the mystical underworld of the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave, one would think that I’d had my fix of Mayan ruins. However, as soon as I realized that one of the grandest ancient Mayan cities of all, Tikal, was right across the Guatemalan border from our base in San Ignacio, I knew I’d have take a day trip to Tikal. With over 3,000 buildings spreading across 212 square miles of thick rugged jungle, Tikal is the largest and most restored archaeological site of the pre-Columbian Maya Civilization. Yet, the plot thickens. Recent LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) mapping has revealed that the ruins of Tikal are even grander and more magnificent than ever imagined.

Deep beneath the jungle canopy lies 61,000 hidden structures representing part of a vast network of ancient Mayan cities that were perhaps the most advanced civilization of its time. The historical and archeological significance of the findings is immense. Could Tikal be even grander than the ruins of ancient Rome or Egypt? With all the mysteries surrounding Tikal, I knew I’d have to see for myself.

Grand Plaza Tikal Guatemala

View of half of the Grand Plaza of Tikal, the most excavated area of the ruins. 

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How Intrepid Travel is Changing the Way We See and Impact the World

Intrepid Travel -the world’s largest adventure travel company – is changing the way we see and impact the world. With over 1,000 tours in 120 countries, Intrepid has done wonders to promote responsible tourism and help make a positive impact on where they travel.  As part of the Intrepid Group which includes fellow tour operators Urban Adventures, Peregrine, and Adventure Tours Australia and runs The Intrepid Foundation, Intrepid is on a mission to change the way people see the world by delivering sustainable experience-rich travel products while also harnessing the power of travel to benefit the places and people they visit.

As a global leader in sustainability within the travel industry and a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact, Intrepid is dedicated to being a company committed to purpose beyond profit. Some of Intrepid’s accomplishments in responsible travel include becoming a carbon neutral business in 2010 and becoming the first global travel company to ban elephant rides on its tours in 2014. By 2016, Intrepid’s philanthropic fund distributed more than AU $6 million towards healthcare, human rights, child welfare and environmental and wildlife protection programs in the communities in which it operates. In June 2018, the company launched vegan tours and most recently, in August 2018, Intrepid became a certified B Corporation making Intrepid the largest Travel B Corp in the world.

I heard about Intrepid Travel by fellow travel blogger Alison Armstrong, the beautiful mind behind Adventures in Wonderland  who has written about her own experiences traveling with Intrepid to China last year. Wanting to learn more, I reached out to Rebecca Shapiro, the Senior Editorial Manager of Intrepid Group North America. We talked for over an hour about all the amazing work that Intrepid is doing to change the face of travel and improve the world. Here is what she had to say.

Intrepid Travel Tour in Iran.

Intrepid Travel Tour in Iran. Photo courtesy of Intrepid Travel

Sustainable Travel Organizations TRAVEL RESOURCES

World Oceans Day: What it Means to Us and How You Can Help Conserve Our Oceans

Did you know that around 70% of our Earth’s surface is covered by oceans? June 8th is World Oceans Day, a day delegated by the United Nations to raise awareness, and to protect and celebrate the major role that oceans have in supporting everyday life. Oceans are critical to life as they provide most of the oxygen we breathe, are a major source of food and medicines and are an essential part of the biosphere. Oceans also intrinsically bless us with beauty and wonder.  However, between rising temperatures, climate change, ocean acidification, and single-use plastics polluting our seas, we are taking a detrimental toll on our oceans, not only negatively affecting marine life but also compromising human health. The good news is there are ways we as travelers can protect our oceans.

In honor of the 17th annual World Oceans Day on June 8, Impact Travel Alliance (the world’s largest community for impact-focused travelers and travel professional) is asking travelers to take a stand for our oceans by making conscious changes to their routines as they explore the world. As a devoted member of the Impact Travel Alliance (ITA) and an ocean-lover myself, I wanted to share some tips and resources on how we as travelers can make a difference and help protect the future of our oceans. 

“Destinations on or near the ocean continue to be a favorite for travelers,” said Kelley Louise, ITA founder and executive director. “But with our oceans’ health at serious risk from climate change and overpopulation, it’s important to understand how we can make a difference with small, individual decisions we make while away from home.”

 


Ocean Conservation Travel Tips

The Ocean Project has worked in partnership with hundreds of organizations and networks from all sectors to help rally the world around World Oceans Day, a way to bring about a healthier ocean and a better future. Check out these guidelines on how you can make a difference and help conserve our oceans.

Photo courtesy of Pexels

Conservation/Environment Global Issues SOCIAL GOOD

2020 Mother-Daughter Trips to Peru with GOOD Travel

Next summer of 2020, join GOOD Travel on one of their upcoming Mother-Daughter Trips to Peru!  As an avid traveler and mother of two kids, it has always been a dream of mine to show them the world and instill a love of travel and exploring new cultures while they are young. These are my children’s formative years and I know that time is going all too fast. Before I know it my kids will be out in the world and I want to do my part in spending as much time as I can with them and teaching them some lifelong lessons at home and abroad. That is why I can hardly wait to bring my 12-year-old daughter Sophia to Peru with me next summer on a GOOD Travel trip.

I first went to Peru in 2001 not long after the horrendous 9/11 attacks. I recall being a bit fearful to travel out of the country in such a difficult time yet I didn’t let it stop me. Instead, my dad and I went on a father-daughter trip to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu setting off a lifelong passion to explore the world and understand it. I hope to be able to give these opportunities to my own children as travel has changed my life and made me who I am today, a global citizen, humanitarian and writer.

Machu Picchu Father Daughter Travel

My Dad and Me at Machu Picchu circa 2001

What makes GOOD Travel trips so unique is that their mission is to do good, give back and interact with the local communities within the destination. This is very important to me as I view these travel experiences as the best. In Peru, GOOD Travel is proud to have partnered with Peruvian Hearts to bring a once in a lifetime mother-daughter trip to this amazing country.

The trip will provide moms and their daughters (ages 6 to 16) with the unique opportunity to spend time immersed in Peruvian culture with the girls involved in Peruvian Hearts projects. Activities are developed with various age groups in mind to ensure unique experiences for all.

Every aspect of this trip – from the hotels to Machu Picchu to the llama hikes to the chocolate making – has been designed to ensure that the local community, economy and environment benefit from your visit. I personally can’t think of a more impactful way to travel.

Meet GOOD Travel

GOOD Travel was founded in 2013 by four women from Peru, USA, South Africa and New Zealand. Their vision is to transform the tourism industry into a force for GOOD by promoting and facilitating travel that gives back to the local community, economy, and environment.

Highlights of Mother Daughter Trip to Peru

  • Spend time with like-minded moms in a true community of travelers.
  • Group size averages 8 moms and 10 daughters to ensure a personalized experience.
  • Hike one of the 7 wonders of the world, trek with llamas, make chocolate, visit indigenous communities, shop in local markets … all with your daughter!
  • Experience a fun, enjoyable, real vacation without having to worry about what is happening next and having everything (except airfare) included in the cost upfront.
  • Understand the culture in Peru – something you cannot do from a tour bus.
  • Create memories that moms and kids will share for their lifetimes.
  • Show your kids how to be responsible travelers, kind and compassionate friends, researchers of new cultures, explorers of new experiences and appreciative of all they have. And prove to our formidable enemy – time – that we moms can connect with our kids in meaningful and memorable ways.
Family Travel TRAVEL

EOS International: Bringing Safe Drinking Water to Central America

For the past couple of months I’ve been doing a work-trade position at the Minneapolis Impact Hub to learn more about the incredible social impact work being done in my own hometown. The Impact Hub is part of a global network of over 100 hubs around the world that works to inspire, connect and provide resources to help entrepreneurs drive positive social impact. Through my work at the Impact Hub I’ve met a lot of amazing people doing some pretty inspiring work such as Wes Meier, CEO and Co-Founder of EOS International. EOS stands for Emerging Opportunities for Sustainability. EOS’s mission is to empower rural families in Central America with access to safe drinking water and opportunities to generate income through simple technology solutions and education. 

Since their founding in 2008, EOS has accomplished 2,325 installations of simple, inexpensive, and locally serviceable technologies helping over 534,167 Central Americans access safe drinking water improving lives and prosperity in Nicaragua and Honduras. I had the opportunity to talk with Wes about EOS International and here is what he had to say.

How did you get into this line of work?

I grew up in Iowa and studied Mechanical Engineering at Iowa State University. After I graduated I was scared to jump right into a 9-5 job so I looked into other opportunities. I love travel and wanted to explore a new area and learn Spanish.  So, I decided to join the Peace Corps. 

In the Peace Corps, I served in the Agricultural and Food Security sector in Nicaragua. I lived in a rural community near El Sauce, Leon, and it was a truly life-changing experience. It opened my eyes to a lot of things and I realized that I was extremely passionate about this kind of work. 

I initially started working with local farmers to incorporate sustainable farming practices such as live erosion barriers, improved fertilization strategies, and planting nutritious family vegetable gardens. My work quickly morphed into technology design and implementation, where I implemented several of our early-stage technology solutions in the community. This quickly grew to other Peace Corps volunteer sites throughout the country.

The journey has kind of been a slow process but I’m really happy that I had the opportunity as a Peace Corps Volunteer to test out models, technology solutions and really understand some of the needs and resources available. It was during this time that I met our co-founder and current country director Alvaro Rodriguez, and we founded EOS International. That was back in 2008 and we have been learning and growing ever since. 

EOS International

Children in one of the local communities that EOS works with in Central America. Photo credit: EOS International

Global Issues Global Non-Profit Organizations and Social Good Enterprises SOCIAL GOOD Water and Sanitation
Xunantunich Belize

Day Trips from San Ignacio Belize: Exploring the Ancient Maya Ruins at Xunantunich

Resting majestically atop a plateau overlooking the Mopan River and the Guatemalan countryside of Western Belize lies Xunantunich, one of the largest ancient Maya cities ever built. These impressive yet mysterious ruins were lost for centuries until discovered in 1890 by a local villager who mistakenly thought he had seen a ghost of a maiden giving Xunantunich its infamous name which translates into “Stone Maiden”. Built in the 7th century, these incredible ruins feature some of the most stunning hieroglyphics and friezes in ancient Maya culture as well as intricately carved stellas, 25 temples and well-preserved palaces.

Today Xunantunich is Belize’s most visited site, and the surrounding area of the Cayo District has become one of the most popular destinations in mainland Belize known for its multitude of Maya sites as well as its incredible caves, waterfalls, rivers and lush jungles. There are tons of adventure activities to be found which include hiking, kayaking, swimming, canoeing, zip-lining and of course exploring the incredible cave systems. You can easily spend a few days here with the highlight of your visit being a trip to Xunantunich.

Exploring Xunatunich

The Maya empire evolved around 2000 BC and thrived until their decline in 1500 AD. The highest point and power of Maya Civilization was known as the Classic Period from 250 AD  – 900 AD.  It was during this time that the political system changed into a Theocratic system where rulers represented the Gods to the lower class people on earth. Knowledge was power and since low-class people had no education, they believed whole-heartedly in their rulers. The Classic Period was a flourishing period of massive growth and the building of the incredible temples, pyramids and cities that are left behind today.

Xunantunich may have been occupied as early as 1000 BC but it was little more than a village. The large architecture that we see today began to be built in the 7th century AD. An estimated 7,000-10,000 people lived at Xunantunich during its peak and the city was quite possibly politically aligned with neighboring Naranjo just 9 miles west in Guatemala. In 1000 AD Xunantunich was abandoned right around the time that many other large Maya cities were being dismantled as the Maya civilization was falling apart.

Xunantunich is unique because it is the oldest continuously excavated Maya site in the country. The ruins were first explored in the 1892 by Dr. Thomas Gann, a doctor from Britain. Gann returned a second time in 1924, unearthing many Maya treasures which have tragically been lost or given away to private collectors. There has been continuous excavations and restorations since 1990 by the University Of California (ULA) under the direction of Dr. Richard Leventhal. These excavations continue to bring new discoveries and treasures helping historians and archeologists piece together the ancient Maya past.

One of the biggest and most impressive Maya buildings ever found was discovered in Xunantunich. Known as “El Castillo” (The Castle), it is covered in elaborately carved friezes, and remains the second-tallest tallest man-made structures in Belize. One of the figures carved on El Castillo is a three-dimensional seated person which is rumored to be the “stone maiden” that the villager saw when he stumbled upon the site. 

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Experience Life in A Village with Duara Travels

Have you ever dreamed of getting a glimpse into the life of a villager in a far off place completely off the grid?  Duara Travels is a social impact tourism enterprise that connects travelers with the opportunity to experience village life, living alongside locals in villages in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tanzania, Ghana, Nepal and Kenya. When you book a village experience through Duara Travels, you get to visit places out of reach for most travelers affording a unique opportunity to meet local people and see real village life. Furthermore, these visits are a great way to support local communities and provide a sustainable income that helps the entire community while supporting sustainable tourism.

I learned about Duara Travels by fellow Impact Travel Alliance media network member of The Altruistic Traveller. Reading her beautiful article on her homestay experience in Manikhel, Nepal through Duara Travels, inspired me to learn more about their work. I had the opportunity to interview Annika Järvelin, one of the co-founders of Duara Travels, and here is what she has to say.

When were you founded, by who and why?

Duara Travels was founded by three women from Finland in 2015. We were inspired to start Duara Travels after doing a fair amount of travel to Asia and Africa where we realized it was challenging to get to know locals and understand their everyday life, especially if we didn’t share the same language. The concept of providing village stays was our way of connecting tourists with this unique way of travel that otherwise would be almost impossible to find. We also wanted to ensure that the money spent on travel in developing countries would benefit locals – and not some wealthy expat. That is why we founded Duara in 2015 after an impact startup hackathon which we participated in and won. We realized we would make a good team as we had backgrounds in design, marketing, tourism, business and development organizations.

Where did you get your name Duara Travels?

Duara is from Swahili and means circle. That is exactly what we create in our villages by connecting families with each other, to offer tourists experiences that last for a lifetime. We currently have 28 villages in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tanzania, Nepal, Kenya, Vietnam and Ghana.

 

Kenya village visit with Duara Travels

Kenya village visit with Duara Travels

Sustainable Travel Organizations TRAVEL RESOURCES
San Antonio Women's Cooperative Belize

Empowering Maya Women at the San Antonio Women’s Cooperative in Belize

I woke up to the singsong sound of birds as the sun burst through the drapes, casting a zigzag of light across my room. After two carefree days at the Black Orchid Resort near the tiny village of Burrell Boom in Belize, I’d finally been brought back to life with a newfound energy that had long disappeared. I jumped out of bed, excited for the day ahead as we were heading to San Ignacio, the heart and soul of the Cayo District in Western Belize where we’d be swallowed into a world of thick, lush jungle, mysterious caves and extraordinary Maya ruins. But first, we were making a stop in the village of San Antonio, home of the largest Maya community in all of Belize.  In San Antonio, we would learn about an exciting initiative helping to empower local Maya women called the San Antonio Women’s Cooperative supported by our tour company G Adventures and their nonprofit partner Planeterra.

As out group gathered into the van, I sat up front next to the driver so I could learn more about the four different ethnic groups in Belize. Our driver Carlos was Mestizo (a mix of Spanish and Indigenous decent) which is the largest ethnic group in Belize making up approximately 34% of the population. After Mestizo, the next largest group is Creole followed by Maya and Garifuna. The Creole and Garifuna population both are descendants of African Slaves whereas the Maya population is centered within the tropical lowlands of Central America. Over time, the Maya spread out into parts of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Belize. The Maya make up about 11% of the population in Belize and there are three different linguistic groups: The Yucatec Maya who came from Mexico and live in the north, the Mopan Maya who live in the Southern Toledo district, and the Kekchi Maya who live in Western Belize.

Nestled in a verdant valley, about a 20-minute drive from the twin towns of San Ignacio and Santa Elena in the heart of the Cayo District of Belize lies the village of San Antonio. Populated by primarily Yucatec Mayas, the village is known for its beauty and art, and has a strong farming and agricultural heritage. When we arrived at the co-op, the first thing I noticed was the beauty and lushness of San Antonio. We were surrounded by tropical trees and flowering shrubs. It was no surprise that the Yucatec Mayas chose to settle in San Antonio for its fertile land. Agriculture is king in San Antonio yet it has its downfalls especially for the women who have large families and don’t have the means to earn an income outside of farming.

The San Antonio Women’s Cooperative was founded in 2001 to help promote and conserve Maya heritage, culture and tradition within the community and provide women with an alternative, sustainable income outside of farming. Since most Maya families have on average seven children and education is not free in Belize, girls are often the ones left behind and have few options besides raising a family. Poverty is a big issue and finding employment (especially without an education) in a small village is challenging. The San Antonio Women’s Co-op offers education in traditional pottery making, embroidery, cooking and serving guests through sustainable tourism as a means to preserve their culture and make a living. Today, there are 25 women in the co-op and they are working to encourage youth to participate as well.

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