Heading south from the Western Highway at Santa Elena, this road winds through the villages of Cristo Rey and San Antonio before joining the Chiquibul Road  and the Mountain Pine Ridge . It is usually better maintained than the alternative route along the Chiquibul Road, and there are a handful of interesting stops along the way.
Village buses that travel the road leave the center of San Ignacio  daily, and shared taxis should be available for reasonable rates as well. Most tour operators who travel this road will stop at any of the following places, depending on group size and desires.
About six miles south, look for the Sak Tunich Art Gallery, home of the Magana brothers, Jose and Javier. This indoor-outdoor display is built into the hillside on your left and is worth a look for anyone interested in Maya crafts. These industrious guys are re-creating a Maya temple and cave by carving them into the limestone for the steep hillside next to the road and their home.
A couple miles farther, you’ll find more art at The Garcia Sisters (tel. 501/820-4023, artistmai1981 [at] btl [dot] net, www.awrem.com/tanah , varying hours and days). These six siblings made a nationwide name for themselves when, in 1981, they turned to their Maya heritage and began re-creating slate carvings reminiscent of those done by their ancestors at Caracol .
Their Maya art gallery, shop, and museum are called the Tanah Mayan Art Museum and Community Collection (tel. 501/669-4023, 7 a.m.7–p.m. daily), located on the Cristo Rey Road just north of San Antonio. The Tanah Museum is an echo-y one-room affair with long shelves full of fascinating artifacts.
The sisters, nieces of the famed healer Don Eligio Panti, are charming and determined ambassadors of San Antonio village. They’re also clever artists who make Belizean dolls, native jewelry, and hand-drawn art cards. Ask about the Itzamna Society, a community-based NGO, of which Maria is the chairperson, that works to protect the forest and community. They also sometimes offer language lessons in Yucatecan Maya or cooking classes and can perform blessings, healings, and other ceremonies.
The Garcias will be instrumental in organizing a big 2012 Hawk Fire Ceremony with elders from the various Maya groups in Belize.
With a population of 2,350 Maya descendants, mostly milpa farmers and, increasingly, employees of nearby lodges, San Antonio has the potential to serve as a low-key gateway to the surrounding wilderness, but as of yet, there are few tourist services in town (there is a new gas station—better fill up before the drive to Caracol). There are horse and hiking trails nearby, as well as several caves, waterfalls, and ruins. Continuing beyond San Antonio, you’ll find Mountain Rider, a small horseback riding operation.
A women’s group has a palapa-roofed shop just off the main road with some nice ceramics for sale. On the way out of town is a little-visited Maya site called Pac Bitun, at the end of an unmarked side road, a mile or so before the T junction.
This 13,000-acre reserve of mountains surrounding the village of San Antonio is filled with trails, waterfalls, and peaks, but there is not much access or tourist development. Go to www.epnp.org , or ask at the Tanah Museum or the women’s center if there are any licensed guides taking people into the park.