Maya Culture and Chocolate

Che’il translates to “wild Mayan” and is the name of Julio Saqui’s chocolate. Mr. Saqui is a master chocolate maker and arguably the patriarch of promoting Maya culture in Belize. He is passionate about sharing the Maya cocoa traditions that he and his community at Maya Center Village located in Stann Creek continue today. Purchasing Che’il products means supporting many people that are involved in the process starting with the farmers.

On the Che’il tour, one is taken to a cocoa farm across the street and learns how the trees are planted and cared for and how the cocoa pods are harvested by hand. The trees typically live under the shade of the beautiful pink blooms of the madras de cocoa as they are quick growing trees that provide an environment for the cocoa trees to thrive. The cocoa farmer describes the pods having a fleshy inside that one can eat as he cuts one open with his machete. He then moves to another cleared area where the beans are removed, fermented, and dried in the sun without any chemicals or any artificial drying methods in preparation for chocolate making.

When dried, the beans are shelled and roasted. Back at the chocolate “factory” Mr. Saqui tells of the grinding stone that was given to his wife and him as a wedding present from their families. It has been passed down from one generation to the next. It is this grinding stone that tourist get to use to grind the nibs into a paste. And after much effort, a shiny chocolatey mixture that eventually makes a bar.

As each person takes turns at the grinding, one gains an appreciation as to the work put into a hand-made chocolate bar. None of us in our group can compete with the smooth and quick strokes of Mr. Saqui or his daughter who relieves us of our duties to finish out the chocolate bar. Meanwhile, Mr. Saqui points to the custom-design pots and equipment he has created to speed up his “modern day” chocolate-making process.

Afterwards, one can visit the shop and purchase from the wide selection of chocolate bars. Varieties include: chocolate with mint, orange, chili, and ginger. There are also other products like nibs, cocoa tea, Maya coffee, and ginger tea.

Next door to Che’il is the Maya Center Gift Shop, a co-op of women artists who feature their handmade Maya crafts and jewelry at reasonable prices. The gift shop is also where one purchases tickets to Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary or the Jaguar Reserve as many call it. Masks, baskets, bowls, table runners, and necklaces are just a few of the many items lining the shelves. Each artist writes her name on her piece.


Interested in booking a chocolate tour with Mr. Saqui at Che’il? We’ve just listed his delicious tour right here on our website!



This post was written for by Leslie Sorrell, and posted with her permission.


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