Benque Viejo del Carmen comes alive for the annual Benque Fiesta!
I have been to Benque Viejo del Carmen on several occasions, in fact one of the main reasons I visit is because my family roots go very deep in ‘Benque’. This trip however, my travels were beyond the family reasons. It was time for the long awaited yearly Benque Viejo del Carmen municipal fair. I have never before been to the Benque Fiesta, so this year when I was invited to attend, I was eager to experience the hype that so many prepare an entire year for. The fiesta celebrates the day of Benque’s patron saint Our Lady of Mount Carmel (Nuestra Señora de Monte Carmelo) with traditional marimba bands, local food and drinks, games, mechanical rides, cultural presentations, sports and dances with entertainment from neighboring countries such as Guatemala and Mexico.
Just the combination of food, drinks, cultural shows and music was enough to get me off Ambergris Caye and heading down to the western most towns in Belize. I decided to take the trip the way many do, by boat then by bus. Taking the first Caye Caulker Water Taxi off the island placed me in Belize City by 8AM just in time for the express bus from Belize City to Belmopan.
A scenic hour and a half drive down the winding Western Highway, with the cool country wind maneuvering through the opened windows of the bus provided for a very relaxed journey to the country’s Capital. After a short stop in Belmopan City it was time to resume my journey and head to Benque. The remainder of the journey was equally enjoyable, admiring the various villages, mountain side, rivers and pastures that border the highway as I made my way to my final destination.
Smack between the western hills of Belize and the boarder of Guatemala is the small sleepy municipality of Benque Viejo del Carmen. With a population of less than 6000, the always silent and sleepy town comes alive with festivities every year when the municipality commemorates their patron saint Our Lady of Mount Carmel (Nuestra Señora de Monte Carmelo).
The commemoration of the patron saint lasts for a period of about 16 days starting with solemn religious celebration. The loud cannon blast signals La Alborada; the daily early morning service leading up to the 16th of July, the day of the patron saint. Similar at nighttime for the 16 days, the loud blast heard all over the small town signal to the church goers that it is time to dedicate at least two hours to their patron saint. And just as the church services come to an end, resounding blasts and bright colorful rain of fires illuminate the night’s skies as the fireworks steal the show, leading to the soothing sounds of the Marimba that fill the air around the church. It is during the 16 days of religious celebrations, that the municipality comes together in true unity. This amazing festival is usually preceded by the selection of their Municipal Queen “Señorita Flor de la Feria.”
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