History of the San Pedro International Costa Maya Festival


From Sea & Air Festival to Costa Maya - The History
Find out the story behind one of San Pedro’s biggest celebrations!


A highlight of the Sea & Air Festival was the grand parade.


Guess who? Find some of the long-standing Costa Maya Festival Committee members!
Each summer, San Pedro Town welcomes its Central American neighbors to rendezvous at “La Isla Bonita” in celebration of one of Belize’s most awaited and festive events of the year – The International Costa Maya Festival. During the four days of festivities, Belize joins the Mundo Maya countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Costa Rica and Nicaragua to stage this oneof- a-kind show.

As we celebrate the many years of this festival, we must not forget the hardworking team who came up with this clever concept. The San Pedro Sun travels back in time to provide readers with a history of the Costa Maya Festival.


Two of the local beauties who proudly wore the Sea & Air crown, Tessie Duran and Patricia Arceo.
In 1991, a chapter of the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry was formed in San Pedro and John Edwards was elected as Chairman. He and a few others, such as Don Pearly, Kevin Gonzalez and Stuart “Taff” Elliott felt it was a natural function of a Chamber of Commerce to promote business for San Pedro during the slow season. They formed the nucleus of the committee that was to plan the first event of this kind to take place on Ambergris Caye. The first Festival Committee consisted of Chairman Don Pearly, Bruce and Victoria Collins (former owners of The San Pedro Sun), Katie Brickey, Carlos Pariente, Eddie Halliday Sr., Jack Westerhold, Ann McGlaun, Kevin Gonzalez, Santos Acosta, Eli Pearly, John Edwards, Taff Elliott, Llewelyn Burgess and Alida Nuñez.

During a trip to Honduras, several committee members attended the Festival Folklórico of San Pedro Sula where each of the Central American countries participated, with the exception of Belize. From information gathered on this trip, the committee came up with the idea of inviting the Mundo Maya countries to gather at a festival in San Pedro to share their musical and cultural diversities. They were hoping to attract many visitors to the island, who would arrive by way of private aircraft or sea vessel, so they named the event The International Sea & Air Festival.


Another popular event during the Sea & Air was the bodybuilding competition.
The first festival was held July 21st - 26th, 1992 on the grounds of San Pedro Roman Catholic School and featured Denyse Plummer “The Calypso Queen” of Trinidad and Tobago as its headliner. This festival was a five-day event, as was the 1993 festival. A sixth day was added for the third festival in 1994, but one of the invited countries (Cuba) did not show up. Each festival proved to be very successful, bringing much-needed income to the island. Every evening during the festival, one of the visiting countries was scheduled to perform. This concept, unique in its own way, attracted hundreds to the event. Each night, the country being depicted displayed their finest music, cultural dances and crafts.

As the years passed, the festival got bigger and better. For additional entertainment, other events were planned to take place at different locations in town each morning of the festival. These would include: bicycle, golf cart and cardboard boat races, parades and much more. Wanting to cater to all age groups, the organizers also introduced mechanical rides for the youngsters.


The first International Costa Maya host to make women swoon was Mexican Soap Star Mauricio Islas.
Eventually a new attraction was introduced: the Miss Sea & Air Pageant. This event proved to be a favorite of many. Ms. Sylvia Castro of Mexico was the first Miss Sea & Air Festival, starting a tradition of international contestants. In 1993, Ms. Diana Galvan of Guatemala won the title. In 1994, Tessie Duran Tonaco of San Pedro Town was the first local woman to win the title. The second local woman to take the crown was Patricia Arceo. Over the years, women from all over the world participated, including representatives from Central America, North America, Australia and Europe.

As time passed, the pageant was changed to the Reina de la Costa Maya Pageant. Contestants are now required to be a titleholder in their country, making this event a first-class pageant. The first Reina de la Costa Maya Queen was crowned in 1996, a lovely representative from Mexico, Miss Maria del Socorro Retolaza. Each year the crown passed to the following: 1997 – Miss Carol Aquino from Guatemala, 1998 – Astrid Ramirez (also from Guatemala), 1999 – Denise Guzman of Mexico, 2000 – Sandra Glower Silis of El Salvador, 2001 – Evelyn Lopez of Guatemala, 2002 – Elsa Burgos of Mexico, 2003 – Belize’s beauty ambassador Leilah Pandy, 2004 – Marisol Rojas Avila of Mexico and in 2005 the coveted title was won by Costa Rica’s Johanna Fernandez.


Grammy winners, Los Kumbia Kings rocked the festival in 2005.
Today, the festival has gained international exposure because of the wonderful entertainment provided by performers from all of the Mayan countries. To give you an idea, the following lively acts have put many in the party mood: The Garifuna Kids, La Gran Banda, Los Ilegales, La Salsa Clave, Chico Flores, Los Malecates, Garibaldi, Los Phoenix, Santino’s Messengers, Rene Alonzo and La Banda Lazzer, Paloma Martin and Mariachi Los Galleros, Los Gatos Bravos, Andy Palacio, Sergio Blas, Kairo, Laura Leon, Las Chicas Roland, Maribel Guardia, Niurka and Pablo Montero, Kumbia Kings and Los Mismos.


Festival goers enjoying the show...recognize anyone?
The pageant has also featured many famous international hosts: Mauricio Islas, Rodrigo Vidal, Valentino Lanus, Gabriel Soto, Rafael Amaya, and Spanish model Michel Olivarez. In 2005, the festival provided an opportunity for the public to meet the popular and Grammywinning band – the Kumbia Kings who lit a fire on everyone’s feet.

The festival has gained international recognition and is organized every year by a dynamic and hard working team. Some of the long-standing members include: Gach Guerrero, Einer Gomez, Wil Alamilla Jr., Milo Paz Jr. and Marisa Salazar. Through their dedication, this team of volunteers has managed to make the festival an event that brings much-needed income to the entire island. Today, the festival is celebrated for four days and features lively music, folkloric dances, children’s entertainment, food, drinks galore, and many other surprises.


In 2005, the Kumbia Kings drove the crowd wild with their high energy performance and great onstage antics.

Reigning beauty Miss Costa Maya Costa Rica’s Johanna Fernandez.


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