Orange Walk District
Orange Walk District is a little over an hour’s drive from Belize City. There are 24 villages contained within the District, a number of other less inhabited settlements, and the ancient Mayan sites. The Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area is a huge nature reserve located here also.
Orange Walk District is home to more then 48,000 inhabitants. The area spreads out over 1,830 square miles. It shares borders with both Mexico and Guatemala.
Once you drive past the country’s sole tollbooth, you enter Orange Walk Town. Once within the confines of the town, the beautiful New River and the sugar mill smokestacks come into view.
A large percentage of the population here are of Maya Mestizo ancestry, decendents of those who settled in Orange Walk during the mid-1800s at the time of the Yucatan Caste Wars. The District has a bloody history due to this immigration, as the Icaiche Maya, who were already living here, date back to the years before Christ’s time. When settlers from Europe, mostly loggers and others, descended upon the area, fighting broke out. The remnants of two forts where battles were fought can still be viewed today. They are Forts Mundy and Cairns.
The early settlers of European origins came to Orange Walk to take advantage of the abundance of timber. The logging industry flourished here, with workers transporting lumber down the New River and out into the Corozal Bay, on to Belize City and finally, abroad. When Maya refugees arrived in Orange Walk, logging was on the decline. Instead, sugar, honey and rum were the up and coming economic industries of the area and are still in high demand. In fact, Orange Walk is warmly known as “Sugar City” to locals.
More recently, the two top economic forces driving Orange Walk District are eco-tourism and Maya archaeological explorers of an amateur nature. Also boosting the economy here is the agricultural production of soybeans, onions and papayas. Cattle ranching and rum production are also exports.
As far as the tourism industry goes, Orange Walk District is a haven for bird watchers. There are more than 400 bird species that have been recorded here. The New River Lagoon is one of the main habitats for birdlife and other wildlife in the District.
The New River, an important element in the logging era, is now a pleasant way to travel to the Maya archaeological sites at Lamanai. There are a number of local tourism companies that offer trips to this Maya site, which is off the beaten trail.
Orange Walk Town, the District’s capital, features a bucolic formal plaza at its center. A short distance away is the Palacio Municipal. The town has a definite Mexican feel and architecture. Here tourists will be able to visit the Banquitas House of Culture, a historical museum and cultural center. There are several hotels in town, featuring the Akihito Hotel and the Hotel De La Fuente to name just two. A few restaurants include the Golden Star Chinese Restaurant and JJ’s.
Visitors also may enjoy the Chan Chich Lodge or the outdoorsy La Milpa FIeld Station for an authentic Orange Walk experience that is relaxing and casual.
If staying in Orange Walk Town, having a rental car is a good choice for those who wish to visit the intriguing areas of Belize and explore the Maya heritage sites. Using Orange Walk District as a home base, you can explore the Mayan ruins seen in Lamanai and Cuello. Along the New River, jungle adventures await the eco-tourist. In Corozal and the Free Zone, shoppers will be delighted with their finds.