Orange Walk

Like Toledo, the Orange Walk district is often overlooked by travelers; yet it is just as filled with sights to explore and activities to enjoy.  The main town (and second largest in Belize) is Orange Walk with 15,000 residents.  Like the rest of northern Belize, it received an influx of Yucatec Mayas and Mestizos fleeing the Caste Wars in neighboring Mexico in the 19th century.  As a result, you will hear more Spanish than English here.  It forms the center of the country’s sugar industry, with the surrounding Maya villages turning their subsistence faming lands into more profitable sugar cane fields.  Although there’s not much to see in town, there are a few sights worth exploring on its outskirts.  Banquitas House of Culture, on the banks of the New River, exhibits the area’s history and culture.  Honey Camp Lagoon has white-sand beaches and palms that look more like the coast than an actual lagoon.  The small unexcavated Maya ruins of Cuello are the oldest in Belize, occupied as early as 2600 BC.  The rest of the district harbors an array of habitats and wildlife including the densest population of jaguars and highest diversity of birds in Belize.

Boating along the scenic New River will take you into the New River Lagoon, with the Maya Ruins of Lamanai on its banks.  Lamanai is often the only thing most travelers see of this district on day trips from other destinations.  It is one of the country’s largest ruins, being occupied up until the arrival of the Spanish in the 17th century, when most other cities were long abandoned.  The Spanish built 2 churches in an effort to convert the Mayas to Catholicism, which were burnt down in a revolt in the 1640s.  In the 18th century, British colonialists built a sugar mill as part of the rising sugar industry.  The highest pyramid, at 112 feet, is N10-43 which gives panoramic views of the jungle and lagoon from the top.  Lamanai Outpost Lodge, an upscale jungle lodge, lays nearby nestled along the lagoon.  This entire area is part of the Lamanai Reserve, rich in fauna, wildlife and birds.  The healthy population of Morlet’s crocodiles gave Lamanai its name, “submerged crocodile”.  Howler monkeys can be spotted along the New River.  Birds often seen include the black oropendola, Guatemalan ivorybill, citreoline trogon, northern jacana, jabiru stork and a variety of toucans.

The Rio Bravo Conservation Area covers 260,000 acres (4% of Belize’s land) and is the largest private reserve in Belize.  Ounce used for timber, today it is managed by Programme for Belize.  They undergo scientific research and environmental education programs setting the example for sustained forestry development and conservation.  They have 2 field stations; La Milpa near the Maya ruins of the same name and Hill Bank on the New River Lagoon.  This ecologically diverse reserve harbors an incredible 400 species of birds, 200 species of trees and 70 species of mammals including 12 endangered animals.  The 5 species of cats in Belize (jaguar, puma, margay, jaguarondi and ocelot) are found here.  You will also find the Maya ruins of La Milpa; although mostly unexcavated they are essentially Belize’s third largest ruins after Caracol and Lamanai.  Just south are the mostly unexcavated Maya ruins of Chan Chich (Kaxil Uinich).  An upscale jungle lodge (Chan Chich Lodge) sits in the main plaza of the ruins.  Although it may seem a defilement of the ruins, visitors and owners agree that it does help deter temple looters.  Nearby is Gallon Jug, a coffee plantation and experimental farm.  To the north lies the progressive Mennonite community of Blue Creek which welcomes visitors.