Some travelers desire more than just relaxation for their getaway, instead opting for the less travelled path of adventure and sport tourism. While Belize offers opportunities for competitive cycling and fishing nothing compares to Belize’s La Ruta Maya River Challenge. Held once a year La Ruta Maya is the only adventure sport weekend of its kind and caliber in Central America. This race dates back to March 9th, 1998 when San Ignacio resident and businessman Richard Harrison conceptualized and executed the first ever river challenge. Fun Fact: Harrison’s inspiration for the event was a marketing one! The intention of La Ruta Maya was to promote natural Belizean made products while creating environmental awareness.
This canoe race takes place over the course of four days, and spans 175 miles of Belize’s major river system. This adventure sport weekend appeals to both professional and amateure paddelers. There are six major divisions one can compete in:
- Male — An all male team.
- Female — An all female team.
- Mixed — A team comprised of both male and female genders.
- Masters — All team members must be over forty years of age.
- Intramural — All members must be active students under twenty five years old currently enrolled in a recognized Belizean institution.
- Family — All participants must be closely related (next of kin).
La Ruta Maya is rooted in community tradition which is why on the eve of the first race locals and tourists alike gather in the twin town of San Ignacio. Belikin Beer, the title sponsor of the race, holds an opening celebration in the Welcome Center where competitors and fans can share a drink, a laugh, and a moment. In recent years a local performance art theater by the name of Wildfire Artzmophere has taken to reciting the Popol Vuh (Ancient Mayan Text) as a way of honoring the heritage and history of the races title and route.
As the sun begins to rise you will find throngs of people gathered on both sides of the river bank near the Hawksworth Bridge. Bystanders wait patiently for the sound that signals the beginning of the race. Suddenly the race begins, and hundreds of canoes fight to be the first to cross San Ignacio’s quaint swing bridge in order to receive the first of the race’s glory. Fun Fact: 15 minutes into the race paddlers will meet a confluence where the Macal and Mopan river meet to create the Belize River. From that marker forward competitors will face rapids, currents, and portages. The first day will come to an end at a village near Belmopan where competitors are welcomed by residents and fans with music, food, and dance.
The second day proves to be equally grueling as paddlers make their way to the village of Double Head Cabbage; and from there head to Burrel Boom on the third day. During these days service teams and fans alike camp along the river side in order to keep the paddlers company and enjoy the merriment planned by the Ruta Maya organizers. On the other hand, some locals choose to only stop at strategic points to observe the race. A hot spot for this is Burrel Boom, where a fair and market are held to provide viewers with entertainment and local cuisine. These types of celebrations commemorate the economic history of the race’s route. During the colonial period the Belize river was used to transport goods from the mainland to the Caribbean Sea, which is why trade is so important during La Ruta Maya. On the final day competitors will make their way to the heart of Belize City where the winner will cross the Belchina Bridge.
The four day event is brought to a close on National Heroes and Benefactors Day, which allows for everyone to get some much needed rest!