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About Cayo District

Geographically the Largest District in Belize

Cayo DistrictCayo District spans more than 2,000 square miles across diverse terrain - from rolling hills and sweeping farmland devoted to citrus orchards and cattle farming, to lush river valleys and rugged mountain ridges covered in sub-tropical jungle.

Easy to reach on the Western Highway, the Cayo District is approximately a one-hour drive east from Belize City; with another hour to reach Cayo's border in the west and the Petén region of Guatemalan.


With an estimated population of about 75,000, one of Cayo's most important industries is eco-tourism. Besides the country's most extensive number of Archaeological Sites, along with such natural wonders as cascading waterfalls and limestone caves, Cayo offers the unique opportunity to encounter its physically diverse flora and fauna in a relatively intact environment. In fact over 60% of Cayo District has been set aside as either a Wildlife Sanctuary, National Park, or Reserve.


The Land

Upper Macal RiverMuch of Cayo consists of broad-leaf jungle overlying limestone formations. These formations are a result of an uplifting of ancient coral beds during the past 20 million years. Over time, flowing water has gradually dissolved the limestone, forming underwater rivers, sinkholes, and the Spectacular Caves for which Cayo is well known.

Above 2,500 feet, granite rock formed from molten intrusions created a landscape of pine forests, canyons, valleys & waterfalls, and vistas of stunning beauty. The Mountain Pine Ridge was formed in this way.

Running WCayo, a region once rich with logging and chicle farming, today boasts citrus groves and cattle ranches. Agriculture in Cayo is concentrated in the Belize River valley, where the soil is kept fertile with flood waters from the highlands. Most settlements in Cayo District were founded in these areas, because their rich soils produced plentiful harvests and their waterways provided a means of traveling and transporting goods.

Towns & People

 San Ignacio - Macal River - Santa ElenaSan Ignacio is the hub of commerce and tourism for western Belize, and together with its sister town - Santa Elena - make up the largest populated area in Cayo District with over 20,000 residents.

Located along the banks of the Macal River, on a series of bluffs, San Ignacio and Santa Elena are at an elevation high enough to be noticeably cooler and less humid than the low-lying coastal plains. 

Belmopan, the "new" capital of Belize, was established in 1965, following devastation to the former capitol, Belize City, by Hurricane Hattie. 

The geographical center of the country - Belmopan - lies near Cayo District's eastern edge, 50 miles west of Belize City and 22 miles east of San Ignacio.

Novelos Bus Station - Belmopan

Spanish Lookout, Belize’s most modern Mennonite community with approximately 3,000 residents, is located midway between San Ignacio and Belmopan.

The community is spread out over open fields with modest homes, resembling scenes from by-gone days of the rural mid-west.

Auction in Spanish Lookout

In Between Wild Rivers & Tropical Hardwood Forests

Women doing Laundry along the Mopan River ... an easy-going people, living along the river in modest villages, traditionally have earned a living from working the land. Today, it is not an uncommon site to see villagers along the river banks swimming, bathing and doing the family laundry.

Cayo's diverse and hospitable residents have long attracted a vast spectrum of people and cultures including, Maya refugees from Guatemala and Mexico, Lebanese, East-Indian and Chinese entrepreneurs, as well as Mennonite farmers and adventure-seekers from North America and Europe.


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