Between the Caribbean coast “and the inhabited part of Central America is a wilderness, unbroken even by an Indian path. There is no communication with the interior except by the Golfo Dolce or the Belize River; and, from the want of roads, a residence there is more confining than living on an island.”
Thus wrote John Lloyd Stephens of Belize’s western highlands in the 19th century, well before the construction of the Western Highway , which now zips travelers from Belize City  to the Guatemalan border in under two hours. Still, there remains a remote feeling to the largest and most temperate of Belize’s six districts. And, as you move away from the highway, Stephens’s words are as true as ever.
Cayo District’s western side runs the length of the border with Guatemala and comprises some of Belize’s steepest, most remote landscape. San Ignacio , a cool town with low-key international restaurants and a great Saturday outdoor market, is the central hub for the area.
Cayo’s tourism scene is based on a long and varied menu of day trips and a unique selection of accommodations, from remote river resorts and upscale jungle lodges to the guesthouses in San Ignacio. There are also a few favorite backpacker stops in the area.
Activities include caving, biking, horseback riding, and paddling expeditions, in addition to archaeological sites and waterfalls.
The Maya Mountains, Vaca Plateau , and Mountain Pine Ridge  are important geological features, and several major rivers drain these highlands, including the Branch, Macal, Mopan, and Sibun Rivers. Savanna, broadleaf jungle, and pinelands form a patchwork of habitats for a wide diversity of flora and fauna.
At one time, the majority of the people in Cayo were mestizos from Guatemala. Today, Cayo boasts a rich mixture of people that also includes Mayans, Mennonites, gringos, Lebanese, Creoles, and Chinese, all commingling in government, commerce, agriculture, and tourism.
Cayo’s economy has always depended on the forests, especially at the port of San Ignacio, where logs and chicle were sent down the river to the sea, then shipped across the world’s oceans. Access to the area around San Ignacio, bordered on two sides by rivers, was limited to river traffic. Thus rose the name Cayo, or “island” in Spanish. (The town of San Ignacio used to be named “Cayo,” and many locals still call it that.) Cayo District still relies on its natural resources, producing some lumber, and also dealing in new agricultural ventures (citrus, peanuts, and cattle), oil, and, of course, tourism.