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March is synonymous with one event above all others — the Belikin La Ruta Maya Belize River Challenge. Steeped in history and tradition, the four-day endurance race sees expert paddlers, novice, and thrill seekers take on the Old Belize River in all her glory. Dozens of canoe teams from Belize and abroad paddle the snaking 180-mile-long river, once an important transportation and trading route for the ancient Maya.
Starting at the foothills of San Ignacio Town, the race begins at the break of dawn on the sleepy banks of the Macal River. The town’s iconic Hawkesworth Bridge is filled with troves of onlookers who have secured an early bird’s eye view of the event. At 7:00 a.m., the river banks erupt in a deafening chorus of cheers as the air horn signals the start of the race and a grueling journey. Now, the excitement begins!
For a few brief hours, the George Price Highway is trooped with vehicles carrying support crews, families, friends and adventurers looking to secure a close-up view of the action at the next look out point. One doesn’t have to be a sports enthusiast to enjoy the festivities. The fun of it all comes from debating who will be day’s winner, taking in the quaint charm and beauty of the stops along the way and the shared merriment that fills the air over the four-day weekend.
Following the La Ruta Maya is an off-the beaten path way to see and experience Belize as a local. The race ends on the first day close to midday at the Banana Bank River, a popular swimming spot just a few minutes away from the capital city of Belmopan. The surrounding grounds turn into a camping soiree with barbecue on grill and ice boxes filled to the brim with drinks as campers pitch their tents for the night. On the second day and third days, the canoe teams make their way to Double Head Cabbage and Burrell Boom, respectively. Both villages are nestled in the heart of the Belize River Valley. Here you’ll find the best rice and beans you ever had along with a bounty of other Creole dishes and treats.
On the fourth and final day, if you’re not awakened to the sounds of howler monkeys, it is the shared excitement of spectators gathering to send off their favorite teams on the last leg of the journey. The race culminates in Belize City where the Belize River meets the Caribbean Sea. Spectators gather to see the first canoe sightings and who will be the first to cross the finish line. Making it to the end is a celebration not only reserved for the official winners, but for each participant who can proudly say they endured the strenuous La Ruta Maya Belize River Challenge.
The La Ruta Maya Canoe Belize River Challenge first started in 1998 as an awareness raising initiative promoting the historical and environmental importance of the Belize River. Since then, it has grown into one of Belize’s major sporting traditions with male, female, and mixed teams of all ages competing in the various categories.
If you’re in San Ignacio or within reach of the Belize River Valley, skip sleeping in and join the excitement of this spectacular event.
The 25th Belikin La Ruta Maya River Challenge takes place 4th – 7th March 2022 with Monday being observed as a holiday in lieu of National Heroes and Benefactor’s Day, on 9th March.