My Journey Through Southern Belize: Cacao Farming & Harvesting (Part 1)

A little over a week ago, I found my time in southern Belize coming to an end, and I kept thinking about how much I had to share with you about the food, people, and culture I experienced during this unbelizeable (yes, yes, I said it again) trip.

I’ve managed to break it down into a three-part series: in this part, I’ll describe how I saw cacao being farmed and harvested, including a visit with a delightful local farmer and his family; in the second part, you’ll see how cacao beans are prepared for use; and lastly, I’ll share my experiences in the colorful Toledo district of southern Belize, which is Belize’s least visited district, and not quite what you see in ads for Belizean resorts.

When I arrived in Belize and spotted a cacao tree, I felt like a kid for the first time at Disney. It was surreal to pull a cacao pod off the tree, break it open, and eat the slightly sweet, tangy pulp in the middle of the jungle. While I’d read and learned about cacao in courses I’d taken, seeing the cacao tree firsthand brought me indescribable joy.

The cacao tree only grows ten to twenty degrees north and south of the equator and where it’s hot and rainy, which is why a climate like Belize’s is ideal. The tree grows cacao pods, and each pod bears the beans that are eventually made into chocolate. After three to five years, the trees start producing pods that are ready for harvesting.