When I headed up north to Corozal from Orange Walk, I was pleasantly surprised. It was just what I needed – a quiet, seaside relaxing place to get my mind rested and recharge for the next leg of the journey. A thunderstorm was passing through the entire time I was there but it didn’t prevent me from enjoying the place one bit.
Corozal is a short thirty minutes from the Mexican border and also close to Cancun – which has been in some ways a slight disadvantage to Corozal because it often gets overlooked for longer vacations and folks often just “pass through” here. But frankly, it couldn’t be any more different than touristy Cancun, and it’s ideal for those who love to explore off-the-beaten path places.
Corozal has a beautiful coastline and is a clean (there are “Keep Corozal Clean” garbage bins everywhere) and family-oriented town, close to many attractions and activities. I felt safe walking around, even leaving my camera on my shoulder as I strolled in town (something I never otherwise do).
Here’s where to stay, what to do and see.
Where to Stay
Tony’s Seaside Inn, Belizean-owned and family-run, is a cute seafront boutique hotel. It’s close enough to town to walk or take a $5 taxi, yet far enough to get away from it all. There are two restaurants on site, but it doesn’t have that big-hotel feel at all. You can swim in the Corozal Bay, and there’s also wi-fi in the rooms! (OK that’s become one of my obsessions). The owner, Mrs. Dahlia Castillo, is a super sweet lady who runs the hotel with her daughters since her husband and founder of the Inn, Tony Castillo, passed away some years ago. Staying here you’d be supporting a local business, nothing better than that!
What to Do
1. Go see the Mural at the Corozal Town Hall
If there’s one thing you shouldn’t miss, it’s this vibrant mural by Manuel Villamor Reyes. It depicts Corozal’s and Belize’s history in a unique and easy-to-follow painting. Corozal’s history is an important one. This is where the first European and Spaniard, Gonzalo Guerrero, was shipwrecked and captured by the Maya. He ended up making Belize his home and adopted the Maya way of life after falling in love with Mayan king Chan Kan’s daughter – and that was the beginning of the Mestizo race in Belize. Guerrero turned into an important military adviser to the Maya in their resistance of the Spanish. The mural goes on to paint history as it continues through the British or “empire” days, with images of men working on mahogany trees and chicle (chewing gum) trees that the British so coveted, and in the center, images of Belize’s Independence in 1981. It’s an easy walk or ride to the town hall, and there’s no fee. They do close for the lunch hour.
2. Visit Maya sites
Corozal has and is close to some of the most significant Maya sites in the country.
- Cerros: Cerros, located a short distance across the sea from Mexico, was the first Maya coastal trading center. The trip to the Cerros site is an adventurein itself. It’s across from the Corozal Bay, and about an hour ride. Bumpy dirt roads, passing through sugar cane fields (this is sugar country, remember), and crossing the New River via a hand-cranked ferry! Those are just a few of the things. Then there’s the site, which is directly on the sea – even more motivation for theshort hike to the first temple. In the dry season, you can cool off on the shore right by the temple, and gaze out at Mexico coastline in the distance.
- Santa Rita: This is said to be the first site built in the country by the Maya thousands of years ago. It’s being restored and there’s an initiative under way to attract more visitors to Santa Rita. But it’s small and worth stopping by.
- Lamanai: It’s an extra hour to Lamanai from Corozal, rather than from Orange Walk, but is a better base in my opinion. It’s a fun boat ride along the New River and you see unique wildlife on the way, and then hike to visit the temples. Lamanai has one of the prettiest rainforests in my opinion.
For a good tour company to take you to the above sites, contact Vitalino Reyes at CaveTubing.bz
3. Stroll through town and the market: You can’t miss the downtown market. It’s right beside the bus station and at the entrance of the main part of town. Stalls line the side streets and one big section houses numerous fruit and vegetable vendors, as well as places to eat a quick local lunch. Make sure you ask for Sylvia Dugal’s stand, tell them the Ethiopian writer sent you! 🙂
4. Picnic at one of the seaside parks: One of the first things I noticed when passing through town – the clean and colorful seaside recreation parks for kids and families. I almost thought they were part of some resort, at first. But they’re not. They are public, and so well maintained and gorgeous that I wanted to just take an hour and sit and take in the breeze. On the weekends and Saturday evenings in particular, families grab some food and go hang out at one of the parks by the sea. Got to love towns that take care of their parks and their children.
5. Visit nearby villages like Sartajena: A nice day trip from Corozal would be to visit the Maya and Mestizo village of Sartajena. Unfortunately I never made it there, but it’s on my list when I return some day!
6. Go fishing or biking: Fishing is a major activitiy here, not surprising given the location. Kids fish for fun, and everyone gets around town by bike, car or bus. The bus is cheap and can take you to nearby towns for the day to explore. Ask for the schedules at the main bus station in town.