Cayo District is the largest and most populated district, inhabited by a variety of cultural groups, and situated amidst a backdrop of picturesque rolling hills, winding rivers and rich Mayan heritage. The chief residential and commercial areas are located within the capital city of Belmopan and scenic twin towns of Santa Elena and San Ignacio while smaller communities can be found in a large number of rural villages as well as the sleepy border town of Benque Viejo.
In the past, the capital city of Belmopan had been a quiet compact town serving primarily as a base for government agencies, foreign consulates, and their employees. However, over recent years, the once stagnant town has experienced a complete infrastructural overhaul and been subsequently transformed into a flamboyant, well-landscaped city to encompass the nation’s administrative center proving to be a source of attraction to both foreign diplomats and tourists alike. Home to the country’s largest museum as well as a variety of cultural centers, Belmopan also boasts a large number of natural attractions including the popular Guanacaste National park, famous for its majestic guanacaste trees, and the nearby Clarissa Falls famed for the unparalleled view of its tumultuous rapids.
Like Belmopan, the western town of San Ignacio has experienced an abundant population growth over recent years which has given rise to increased infrastructural developments. San Ignacio’s most significant expansion has undoubtedly been within its tourism sector. The widespread promotion of eco-tourism has made San Ignacio the nation’s premier hot spot for adventure tours thus spurring a rapid escalation in tour operations and accommodation facilities. The downtown San Ignacio area has been transformed into a commercial tourist center lined with colorful gift shops, guest-houses restaurants, and travel information agencies which curiously depict an old-west saloon style motif. A number of large upscale resorts traverse the town’s picturesque countryside and seek to capitalize on the rural ambiance by offering a number of outdoor activities including horseback riding, kayaking, and nature trails.
With three major Mayan heritage sites, the Cayo area is renowned as one of the country’s major archaeological centers. From the inland ruins of Caracol, to the shady temples of Cahal Pech, and majestic hilltop metropolis of Xunantunich, there is no shortage of opportunities to catch a glimpse of the district’s prized ancient infrastructure.
Perhaps one of the best ways to get a fully interactive feel of Cayo’s distinct old world charm and experience of the indelible culture that forms the mainstay of day to day life is to take a trip to the border town of Benque Viejo. Although not generally publicized as a tourist destination, the town’s narrow winding streets, Spanish colonial architecture, numerous traditional festivities, as well as the refreshing waters of the free-flowing river that marks the town’s entrance prove to be a source of fascination to many.
Clearly, with its flamboyant ancient heritage, attractive infrastructure, refreshing mountain air, and pure natural splendor, it is not difficult to understand Cayo’s ranking as the country’s premier inland vacation destination.