A few programs offer the chance to live with the modern-day Maya or Garífuna at a homestay or village guesthouse. They are very inexpensive, but keep in mind that accommodations and meals are extremely basic; lodging usually lacks electricity and running water. You can also spend several days learning how to process cacao or learning to cook Belizean—including Mayan—recipes.
Aguacate Homestay Program. Established in 2010, the Aguacate Homestay Program gives you the opportunity to have an authentic Mayan cultural experience in a Ket-chi (Qeqchi) Mayan village of fewer than 400 people. Guests live in a Mayan home, eat with the family, and participate in household and farm chores. Keep in mind that the living conditions are spartan at best. The homes are traditional thatch huts with dirt floors and no electricity, running water, or indoor plumbing. You pay BZ$16.35 per person including tax for lodging, BZ$7 per person per meal, and a BZ$10 per person registration fee. Part of the money goes to the host family and part to the village for improvements. Transportation by bus between Aquacate village and Punta Gorda is available four or five days a week at nominal cost. Aguacate Village, Toledo. 633/9954 ; www.aguacatebelize.com.
Living Maya Experience. Learn about Kek'chi crafts, culture, and cuisine in a hands-on private experience in Maya homes of participating villages in Big Falls. You could be involved in anything from building a traditional thatch house to making corn tortillas. Call in advance for what's available, times, and charges, or ask at your hotel or the BTIA Visitor Information Center in Punta Gorda to help arrange the Living Maya trip. If you're traveling solo, any nonexpress James Line bus will drop you off and pick you up at Big Falls village (watch for Las Faldes restaurant on the Southern Highway) near the Living Maya Experience homes where hosts Anita Cal and Marta Chiac live. Costs vary depending on which learning experiences you choose and the length of them, but most are under BZ$40 (not including transportation and additional tour company fees). Southern Hwy., Big Falls, Toledo. 627/7408; 632/4585.
Toledo Ecotourism Association (T.E.A.) Maya Village Guesthouse Program. The T.E.A. program allows visitors to participate in the village life of the Maya while maintaining some personal privacy. You stay overnight in small guesthouses in one of five Mopan and Kek'chi Mayan villages in Toledo District, currently including Santa Elena, San Antonio, San Jose, San Miguel, and Laguna; village guesthouse locations change from time to time. The guesthouses are very simple, with traditional thatch roofs and outdoor latrines. There is no running water or electricity in the guesthouses. You take meals in the homes of villagers and participate in the routines of village life. The program, endorsed by the Belize Tourism Board, is a collective owned by more than 200 members and is designed to promote cultural exchange. The cost is around BZ$100 a day per person, including meals and village activities. Other packages start at BZ$80 per person for a day trip to BZ$190 per person for a two-night stay. BTIA Office, 46 Front St., Punta Gorda, Toledo. 702/2119; www.teabelize.org. From BZ$80 per person.