24 Hours in the Belize’s Most Western Town of Benque Viejo
Twenty four hours is not enough time to experience any town properly. Especially not the town of Benque on the Western Belize/Guatemalan border. Though it’s small in population, only about 8000 people, Benque is pretty spread out. And my allotted 24 hours happened to be on Good Friday…one of the town’s busiest and certainly most colorful days of the year.
Benque is the western most town of Belize and still only 80 miles from Belize City on the eastern coast of the country. Benque Viejo means “old bank” and refers to the time when logging camps lined the river bank and the rivers of Belize were pretty much the only way to get around.
Nothing looks better than a clear clean river when you get off an almost 4 hour hot and dusty bus ride. 80 miles in 4 hours because the bus was PACKED for the Easter holidays – and it felt like we stopped for a drop off or pick up at everyone’s house along the Western Highway. For those who prefer the true express route, Tropic Air has a flight from Belize City to San Ignacio/Benque. Turns that 4 hours into 20 minutes.
And for those travelling by bus – check out my Bus Tips. Tip #3 about greasing palms was VERY valuable on this trip. Best $10bzd I’ve spent in a long time. Didn’t make me a ton of bus friends but who needs friends when you have a SEAT?
Ok…I got off the bus and walked up the hill to the Benque Resort and Spa. Benque is clean and cute, most yards are very nicely groomed.
Benque is making a push to grow the local tourism industry. It makes sense. There is a ton of stuff to visit around the area. The gorgeous Mayan site of Xunantunich is just a few miles away…
the Mopan River runs right through the town and is perfect for tubing and canoeing…
and some less explored caves like Actun Chapat and Actun Halal are close by. But Benque’s traditional celebrations are what drew me to the town. Semana Santa, or the Easter Holy Week, is observed by the whole community. Processions from Palm Sunday to Good Friday and the part I was excited to see? The sawdust tapestries.
This initiative to get visitors is fantastic but there is only one issue. This hotel – the Benque Resort and Spa (neither a resort or a spa) – is basically the only one in town. And a bit difficult to book since they don’t have a website. NO WEBSITE! Almost unheard of! I contacted the manager directly – your best bet is to call them at 666-3185.
The first thing you see when you walk through the doors is a star from the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Harry Parrot.
Hmmm…I don’t know this actor. Perhaps a star in the local community theater?
And then a few steps more and I saw this painting. An actual bird?
When asked, Steve, the manager/owner, explained that Harry is quite famous and stayed at the Resort for a while. Famous in Belize? Worldwide? So famous that he receives a Star? Intriguing to say the least…but my google results yielded very little. And DON’T LOOK to the UrbanDictionary for information. Seriously.
I was shown up to my room (price $50USD for the night). Simple, roomy for sure with a very nice bathroom, strong air conditioning, high ceilings and a great view over the river. This will do just fine..
I passed by what might be the honeymoon suite? All the rooms have beautifully carved doors.
One hotel tip: the hallways are black-out dark at night so if you can, bring a small flashlight. Otherwise, you’ll make it to your room but be ready for a good toe stubbing.
Basic but fully functional for my trek around town to get the lay of the land before tomorrow’s Good Friday activities. Steve let me know that there were inner tubes available if I wanted to float down the river a bit later. Tempting for sure…
Benque (and you can see lots more on their website Discover Benque and facebook page) has a small heritage walking tour set up and is a great way to familiarize yourself with the land marks.
Here’s a look around not necessarily in any kind of real order…
Dibo’s Pool Hall was the most lively spot (it would be shut tight on Good Friday) but I was more interested in eyeballing the giant mango tree. Not ripe yet.
And Dibo’s at sunset.
An INCREDIBLY beautiful time to be walking around Benque. The pink glow on the river was amazing.
The Mopan River.
Telesh Cappucino place? Definitely strange and…sadly not open. Cappuncinos? I could hardly find a diet coke in this town.
A factory of some sort long closed…
Another hotel …Maxim’s Hotel.
And then the very very pretty Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church. The center of all the Semana Santa activity during the week.
I walked down the hill to this monument to the chicle worker or the chiclero. A wildly labor intensive job for gathering chicle to make chewing gum (sent to companies like Wrigley and Beechnut in the states) before a chemical substitute was invented.
Very cool statue but the poor guy has a bit of a wasps’ nest in one of his eyes.
Some more buildings around the very charming and markedly untouristy town…
There are only a few restaurants and all very basic local food.
I went for the very tasty pork chops and an early bed time.
The next morning, Good Friday, was the time that Benque was colorful and alive…from early early morning.
There was a thick fog on the Mopan.
But hundreds of kids and adults were hard at work dampening and raking sawdust…
and sprinkling it painstakingly into molds – laying down over 50 carpets for the evening’s procession.
SO so beautiful. And I’m glad that I went though next time? I’m going for longer…to explore the caves, the see my favorite Mayan site, Xunantunich again and to get a view of the entire town and river from the hilltop.
You can see it in this photo.
The hilltop that now contains a HUGE residence built by Mr. Vega, a wealthy Belizean businessman and the closed Royal Mayan Resort – a hotel that was only open for a couple of years in the early 2000s. And is owned by another very wealthy Belizean businessman, Mike Feinstein. Who seems to own half of Belize…
According to a website, it’s for sale: Royal Mayan Resort and Spa, Benque Viejo, 25 rooms on 8 acres with pool and spa, asking US$1,700,000
I’d love to take a look.