Barranco, gateway to the Sarstoon-Temash National Park and the southernmost village in Belize, is a tiny traditional Garifuna village of around 150 residents and gives a great introduction to this fascinating culture.
The Garifuna (around 500,000 worldwide, with the largest population found in Honduras) are descendants of Carib Indians and shipwrecked Africans destined for slavery who escaped and swam to the shores of St Vincent. In 1798 the British exiled the Garifuna to the Bay Island of Roatan, from where they migrated to mainland Honduras, and then established coastal settlements in Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua.
The Garifuna - or, more correctly, the Garinagu (Garifuna is singular and also refers to the language) - still retain many customs and traditions, a religion which is a blend of Catholicism, African and Carib beliefs.
Barranco is around an hour's drive from Punta Gorda, turning off the Southern Highway at Jacintoville, and following the road through the Maya villages of San Felipe and Santa Ana, through Midway, and down to Barranco on the coast. On reaching the village, park your vehicle, and head right along the grassy track to Tregueno's Store - the hub of the village, and a good place to organise a guided tour by Alvin Loredo or Egbert Valencio. A village tour takes in the traditional Garifuna Temple, or Dabuyaba, where traditional ceremonies are performed by the Buyei, the House of Culture, the cassava factory, and Andy Palacio's grave. Tours are generally US$3.75 per person per hour, with tours lasting around 2 hours.
Egbert is also a Park Ranger for the Sarstoon-Temash National Park, and can arrange for tours of the Park (entrance fee US$5 per person) with advance notice.
visit the National Garifuna Council's website for hoards of information on the Garinagu and their culture
visit the SATIIM website for more information on the Sarstoon-Temash National Park, and click here for a PDF excerpt on the Barranco articles featured in the Toledo Howler. You can read more about Andy Palacio on Wikipedia and their associated links.
You will find many elements of the Garifuna culture at Hickatee, from the traditional mortar and pestle and cassava graters displayed at Charlie's Bar, to the original Ben Nicholas paintings, and the range of Garifuna music played each night at Charlie's Bark.