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Benque Viejo del Carmen being developed as a Destination Print E-mail
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Thursday, 23 May 2013 00:00

Some members of the team that worked on the Benque Viejo del Carmen Tourism Plan L-R Valdemar Andrade, Kevin Gonzalez, Nicholas Ruiz, Vinai Thummalapaly, Miguel Velasquez, Minister Jose Manuel Heredia, Jaime Awe, Subrata BasuThe normally quiet town of Benque Viejo del Carmen became a buzz of activity on May 16th, 2013 with the launching of a Tourism Plan initiative. With the plan in effect and after over a year and a half of work, Benque Viejo del Carmen will now hopefully become a major destination for tourists.


Benque Viejo del Carmen itself is located a mile from the Belize-Guatemala border and is about eighty one miles from Belize City on the George Price Highway. It was in 1904 that Benque Viejo was officially declared a Town by the former Colonial Government of British Honduras. Today, the Town of 8,000 residents is at an important crossroad, to share its enchanting secrets with the rest of the World.

Part of a plan by the Benque Tourism Committee, working in partnership with the Benque Town Council and the Belize Tourism Board, is to highlight Benque Viejo as a destination point for both business and tourist travelers in the Americas. The vision of the Tourism Committee has been emboldened to: develop Benque Viejo del Carmen as a unique and attractive destination ensuring sustainable development through responsible tourism that will allow visitors and the local community to benefit from the experience of the local culture and heritage while retaining the small town charm as well as allowing for convenient access to the surrounding attractions. Those attractions include the Xunantunich Maya Archaeological site, the Actum Chapat and Actun Halal Cave Systems, the Poustinia Land Park and many others.

As part of the launching of the Tourism Plan, a website was also announced, which can be found at www.discoverbenque.com. Also made available to visitors last Thursday was the Benque Viejo del Carmen Travel Guide Book as well as brochures highlighting the rich history and culture of Benque Viejo. Figuring prominently was the unfurling of the Benque Viejo del Carmen Heritage Trail, which can be experienced by walking effortlessly through various landmarks at the center of the Benque Viejo del Carmen Town.

Present for the occasion of the launching was the United States Ambassador to Belize Vinai Thummalapaly, whose main point man in Benque Viejo during the past months was Peace Corps volunteer Subrata Basu. Basu has been working diligently in Belize’s most western town to outline a Tourism Action Plan for Benque Viejo, with the involvement of many partners. (Basu was awarded with the ‘Key of Benque Viejo’ on Thursday by the Mayor of Benque Viejo del Carmen). So far, some one hundred and fifty thousand dollars - in work and time - has been raised from the private sector and an additional fifty thousand dollars from the Belize Tourism Board to place Benque Viejo del Carmen on the tourism map.

According to Kevin Gonzalez, the Director for Destination Planning at the Belize Tourism Board, an estimated twenty-six thousand people pass through the Benque Viejo del Carmen Gateway on an annual basis for tourism purposes. He says that an undetermined number pass through Benque for business reasons. Some travelers from Guatemala and Mexico choose Belize’s most Western Municipality as their passage route. Those traveling from Yucatan wishing to travel to Tikal, choose the Benque Viejo route for its cost effectiveness.

“We could attract people to start thinking in terms of ‘overnighting’, not necessarily only in Benque but you have Succotz, one of the upcoming small villages,” says Kevin Gonzalez.

This is precisely the challenge for the Benque Viejo Tourism Committee and partners, to more effectively tap into the market of long stay tourism. As the Tourism Action Plan for the Town of Benque Viejo, dated September 2012, makes it clear that while Benque is the second largest entry point to Belize, the town “…does not benefit from the inflow of visitors into the country. Visitors merely pass through Benque in favor of other destinations.”

Thus, it was with great effort that the Mayor of Benque Viejo del Carmen, Miguel Velasquez sought to prepare a tourism master plan that will turn the tide, to bring more economic health to town residents. More visitors to Benque Viejo, says Mayor Velasquez, will create jobs, form new entrepreneurships and boost restaurants and hotels -  goals which the Mayor and his Councilors have been working on for quite some time now.

Mayor Miguel Velasquez tells The Guardian that promoting Benque will not be difficult as it has a rich history and culture.

“We have a lot of attractions that we can use to provide sort of a heritage tour for people to come inside and have something to walk through Benque Viejo, get to know people, their culture,” he says.

“Benque Viejo is a peaceful town and it has a very low criminal rate.  In fact, it is one of the most peaceful towns in the whole country of Belize… we have the Mopan River, which is a natural beauty and even the House of Culture that does a lot of exhibitions”, he added.

Making the current Mayor’s work of promoting Benque Viejo much easier is two point one million dollars that has recently been injected from the Belize Municipal Development Project. This will allow for the improvement of the sidewalks around the Centennial Park in Benque as well as the paving of some streets which will also be part of the heritage tour, incorporated by the recently launched Tourism Action Plan.

Also notably present for the launching of the Benque Viejo del Carmen Tourism Plan was Hon. Manuel Heredia, Minister of Tourism and Culture. Minister Heredia stated that the primary beneficiaries of this sustainable tourism initiative will be the citizens of Benque. The implementation of the Action Plan, said Minister Heredia, will be the catalyst for job creation and economic development. He also thanked all those who have worked on the initiative for Benque that have brought public and private partnerships to focus on the creation of “… a chain of enchanting towns and villages with a charming Belizean style and appeal.”

Minister Heredia took the opportunity last Thursday to express his thoughts on the recent destruction of a section of the Noh Mul Archaeological Site in the North of Belize.

“…I express my personal outrage of the unthinkable destruction of the Noh Mul Mayan Archaeological Site that occurred in the North. This total disregard for Belize’s cultural heritage and national patrimony is unforgiveable. Therefore, in briefing cabinet of this matter, I have tasked the National Institute of Culture and History and the Institute of Archaeology to conduct a full investigation to determine all the facts in this case. A cultural landmark such as Noh Mul is a sacred part of Belize’s history and should have been protected at all cost. I commit to you that the Ministry of Tourism and Culture will remain true to their mandate for the sustainable use and protection of Belize’s natural and cultural resources. As a Government we will (1), do all in our power to ensure that the full penalties are applied in this case and, (2) commission an immediate review of the system, policies and regulations particularly where it relates to penalties that can be levied for such criminal acts, three, embark on an aggressive public education campaign, highlighting the importance and values of Archaeological Sites and ancient monuments and antiquities. I look forward to this industry support as we take this matter through its entire process…”