Situated in the north eastern‐most corner of Belize, Sarteneja is a traditional fishing community, established on a former Maya settlement overlooking Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.
With a resident population estimated at approximately 1,800, Sarteneja is the largest fishing village in Belize. The name Sarteneja is derived from the Yucatec Maya “Tzaten‐a‐Ha”, which is thought to translate as “water in the rock”.
The community was first established by the Maya, and is thought to have flourished between 600BC and 1200AD, covering the entire Classic period of Maya history. The village is built on the site of a large Maya settlement, and signs of the past Maya culture can be found everywhere.
In the late 1980’s an archaeological study carried out in Sarteneja demonstrated that the area was once a prosperous, active, post‐classical seaport. It is believed that Sarteneja may have held as many as 300‐400 ancient structures, with the site core being located 0.5 to 1.0km from the shoreline. The architecture shows a strong Yucatec Maya influence, seen in rounded cornerstones, and carved limestone columns. The Maya are thought to have been attracted to the area by the salt pans, and the fisheries, both used as a source of income.
There is no definite timescale for when the settlement was abandoned, but it is thought to have been a general decline, and that during the time between the Maya, and the more recent settlement in the 1850’s, the land is believed to have been uninhabited.
In the early 1960’s as the wood cutting industry started to decline, local men turned to lobster fishing for the main income. These two industries, boat building and lobster fishing, grew side by side, as with the growing number of fishermen came the need for more boats.
To this day, traditional wooden boats are still built in the village, which is now the largest fishing community in Belize.