Plants of the Maya

Belize

Belize is located in the north eastern coast of Central America, bordered by Mexico to the north, Guatemala to the west & south and to the east by the beautiful Caribbean Sea. Its mainland is about 290 kilometers (180 miles) long and 110 kilometers (68 miles) wide and with 22,960 square kilometers (8,860 sq mi) of land and a population of only 312,698 inhabitants (2010 census). The official language is English, however most Belizeans speak a dialect of broken English called Creole. Spanish is also a very popular language apart from the indigenous languages of Ketchi and Mopan Maya which are spoken mainly in the south of the country, Toledo district.

Being such a small country, Belize boasts an astonishing diverse topography, much of which consists of dense tropical rain forest, rivers, archaeological sites, Maya mountains, savannas and magnificent waterfall cascading 1000 ft into the forest below. It is home to majestic jaguars and other amazing wildlife that local and international visitors from around the world enjoy seeing. Overall, Belize is an unforgettable destination for eco-tourists and nature lovers.

 The Maya

Xunantunich Archeological Site

Today Belize is a melting pot of cultures consisting of the Maya, Mestizo, Garifuna, Creole, Mennonite, Spanish and English who all live in harmony among each other.  The Maya were here long (since 2500BC) before the Spaniards came to our shores. It is estimated that as many as 400,000 to 1,000,000 Maya inhabited the country at one time, which is more people than we have in Belize now!

The Maya knew how to use and make all they needed from the forests around them. This traditional knowledge was handed down from generation to generation as part of their cultural identity. For the Maya this meant knowing how to survive from the forests, pray to the gods, heal the sick and make household items from the earth’s soil. Some practices are still used today mainly by the older inhabitants but most of it is being lost since younger generations seem to be uninterested in these practices.

You can learn a little about native plants used by the native people of Belize on our ‘Plants of the Maya’ trail. You’ll see what plants were used for clothes, storage, tools, building, ritual and medicine. We got carried away learning about traditional plant use and made two trails! One is an easier walk in the main garden and the other is through natural forest where the going is a bit tougher. Explore either or both with a guided walk or self-guided booklet.

 Did you know?

Corn tortillas were, and still are, a staple in the Maya diet. Tortillas are made using Masa. Masa is ground corn which is first boiled and mixed with stuff called ‘white lime’ or ‘cal’. Using their metates, the Mayas would grind the corn, then mix it into dough before flattening and baking it on a hot comal. White lime is made by baking limestone which is acidic. Once it is baked, the limestone turns into fine powder and alkaline. The white lime added to the corn to make Masa for corn tortillas actually makes the tortillas  more nutritious. How do you think the Mayas figured this out? Don’t ask me.