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Sarteneja Village

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Although vulnerable to hurricanes, the northern tip of the Shipstern Peninsula (also called the Sarteneja Peninsula) has remained populated and prosperous for thousands of years. Sarteneja village's Mayan name translates to "water between the rocks," referring to a massive piece of stone within the village. Although the village itself has been rebuilt several times, this giant slab has persevered and served as a freshwater source throughout the area's geological history. Legend has it that this well has never run dry.

Seafaring Maya, recognizing the importance of its convenient location on the Chetumal Bay and unique freshwater source, inhabited the area for hundreds of years. Merchants traded obsidian from Guatemala and incense and gold from Mexico for sea products and salt from the Bacalar Chico lagoons. Archaeologists have uncovered over 350 sites on the peninsula, especially around the abandoned village of Shipstern, though only one ancient structure has been excavated.

The Maya abandoned the region in the 18th century, but by the mid-nineteenth century, the region once again bustled with activity. Mestizos from Valladolid, Mexico and Maya fleeing the Caste Wars of the Yucatan reestablished the community and revived their shipbuilding expertise. Today, more than ninety percent of Sarteneja's 1500 residents earn their income from the sea-a statistic that has earned Sarteneja a reputation for supporting the country's most skilled fishing community. Over 300 Sarteneja fishermen now work in fishing cooperatives stationed in Belize City.

Sarteneja's fishermen sail on striking handcrafted vessels (called "lighters") as far south as Guatemala and Honduras. The tiny sailboats sometimes transport as many fifteen fishermen as they travel along the coast fishing the barrier reef and the outer atolls for conch, lobster, shrimp, and a variety of finfish species (according to the seasonal regulations). Once the ice supply on board has dwindled, the fishermen sell their catch in Belize City, San Pedro, and Chetumal on the way home. Upon returning to Sarteneja, the boat is immediately prepared for the next voyage. Every Easter, boats vie for various prizes in an annual sailing regatta in the Sarteneja harbor.

Daily buses depart from Belize City for the three-hour trip to Sarteneja Village. Travelers can also drive to Sarteneja via the Northern Highway. A road branches off at the main bridge over the New River just north of Orange Walk Town. A four-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended, as the roads are often muddy. Although more expensive, visitors can charter a private boat to Sarteneja from Corozal Town, Ambergris Caye, or Consejo Shores.


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Corozal District:  Corozal Town | Consejo Village | Copper Bank Village | Sarteneja Village

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