Belize’s September Celebrations:
A Cultural Explosion!

by Lebawit Lily Girma

“It’s September! Time for joy, time to celebrate being a Belizean!”

The woman shouted in my ear over the fanfare of steel pan music and calypso blasting along Central American Boulevard in Belize City. I watched her leave my side and leap into the street, soon engulfed by revelers in yellow feathered masks, sequined bras and fitted shorts, hips gyrating while giant trucks draped in Belize’s blue, red and white flag followed behind. I seemed to be the only one without a hat or an umbrella, but the shade from smarter—Belizean—onlookers standing behind me weakened the sun’s harsh rays.

I began swaying, tickled at this gigantic display of Caribbean heritage in Central America. Who knew Belize celebrated Carnival?

Belize Carnival

When I headed to Belize last year, I expected a world of outdoor adventure—hiking rainforests, climbing Maya sites and diving off the Belize Barrier Reef. But what I didn’t foresee was being thrown into three weeks of cultural events. It turns out September is Belize’s golden month. Starting on the first, the entire nation hops on one long party train known as the “September Celebrations” to commemorate the country’s independence from Great Britain on September 21, 1981.

From two carnivals to concerts and parades, it’s a showcase of the melting pot that is Belize—from Creole music to Mestizo foods and Mayan costumes. The September calendar, published a month in advance, is crammed with events by town and displayed on billboards across the country. It’s one big nationwide hurrah.

St Georges Caye parade

Now that September is here again, I find myself wishing I were in Belize. It’s an ideal time to visit, not least for the low-season prices and to indulge in a cultural experience unlike any other in Central America. If you find yourself in Belize during this exciting month, these are the top five events you shouldn’t miss:

1. Belize Carnival

Held in Belize City, it’s the major kick-off to the celebrations. Check the calendar for location of the Road March and arrive by 2 p.m. Wear a hat for sun protection and stay hydrated. Be ready to continue on to BTL Park for an all night outdoor concert.

Belize Carnival Parade

2. St. George’s Caye Day Parade

A national holiday held on September 10, it’s celebrated countrywide. In Belize City, head to Memorial Park to witness the official ceremony with all the pomp and circumstance, followed by a citizen’s parade and dancing in the streets all the way to the city centre.

St George's Caye Day parade

3. Sir Barry’s Belikin Bash

This free outdoor festival held at Memorial Park in Belize City includes live performances from the country’s top artists, dancing, food and beer keg contests, from 9 p.m. until 3 a.m. The two-day event launched in 2011 in honour of Sir Barry Bowen, a popular Belizean business magnate who started Belize’s beer brewing empire and passed away tragically in 2010.

Sir Barry Belikin Bash

4. Pan Yaad at the House of Culture

This lively outdoor, seaside steel pan concert with four bands from around Belize makes for a night of Caribbean musical bliss—not to mention the gorgeous backdrop of a historical mansion, a Belizean buffet and drinks. After the concert, head to Sir Barry’s Belikin Bash.

Pan Yaad steel drum band

5. Orange Walk Carnival

A Latin-inspired carnival takes over the streets of the northern town of Orange Walk on Independence Day. It’s well worth the two-hour drive from Belize City to indulge in some of the best street foods—try the three-for-50-cents tacos—and to watch the extravagant parade, from young marching bands to women in beautiful traditional Mestizo outfits.

Orange Walk Parade