Belize

North Belize

 
 

North Belize is notable for the agricultural production of sugar, fruit and vegetables and for providing much of the country's food. But among the fields of produce are some well-hidden sights and wildlife magnets. The Maya ruins of Lamanai are just about visible in the spectacular setting of the dense jungle. Wildlife can easily be seen at the Community Baboon Sanctuary, the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary - home to thousands of beautiful birds - and the wildlife reserves of Shipstern near Sartaneja. The vast Río Bravo Conservation Area nudges up to the Guatemalan border and contains the truly isolated ruins and lodge of Chan Chich.

Heading north out of Belize City, the Northern Highway leads to the Mexican border. You can do the journey in just a few hours, passing through Orange Walk and Corozal, but you won't see a thing. It's definitely worth stopping off if you have time.

Bermudian Landing and the Community Baboon Sanctuary

About 15 miles out of Belize City a road heading west leads to the small Creole village of Bermudian Landing (12 miles on a rough road from the turn-off), which has been thrust into the global conservation spotlight. This was once a transfer point for the timber that floated down the Belize River, but now there's a local wildlife museum sponsored by the WWF, and the Community Baboon Sanctuary www.howlermonkeys.org.

Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary

The Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary was set up in 1984 and is a rich area for birds. The network of lagoons and swamps is an internationally protected wetlands under the RAMSAR programme, and attracts many migrating birds. The dry season, October to May, is a good time to visit. You may see the huge jabiru stork, the largest flying bird in the Western Hemisphere at a height of 5 ft and a wingspan of 11-12 ft, which nests here, as well as herons, ducks, vultures, kites, ospreys, hawks, sand pipers, kingfishers, gulls, terns, egrets and swallows. In the forest you can also see and hear howler monkeys. Other animals include coatimundi, crocodiles, iguanas and turtles. Glenn Crawford is a good guide as is Sam Tillet .

Altún Ha

Altún Ha was a major ceremonial centre in the Classic period (AD 250-900) and also a trading station linking the Caribbean coast with Maya centres in the interior. There are two central plazas surrounded by 13 partially excavated pyramids and temples. What the visitor sees now is composite, not how the site would have been at any one time in the past. The largest piece of worked Maya jade ever found, a head of the Sun God Kinich Ahau weighing 9½ lb (4.3 kg), was found here in the main temple (B-4) in 1968. It is now in a bank vault in Belize City. Nearby is a large reservoir, now called Rockstone Road.

Orange Walk

Orange Walk is the centre of a district where Creoles, Mennonites and Maya earn their living from timber, sugar planting and general agriculture. Nearby, the impressive ruins of Lamanai make a good day trip.

There is little to draw the visitor for an extended stay in Orange Walk. An agricultural centre and the country's second city, it is busy with the comings and goings of a small town. Orange Walk is a truly multicultural centre with inhabitants from all over Central America, making Spanish the predominant language. Originally from Canada, Mennonites live in nearby colonies using the town as their marketing and supply centre. The only battle fought on Belizean soil took place here, during the Yucatecan Caste Wars (1840-1870s): the Maya leader, Marcus Canul, was shot in the fighting in 1872. The House of Cultureon Main Street shows a history of the town's development.

Lamanai 

One of Belize's largest archaeological sites, Lamanai is on the west side of New River Lagoon, 22 miles by river south of Orange Walk. Difficult to get to and hidden in the jungle, it is a perfect setting to hide the mysteries of the Maya and definitely worth a visit. While the earliest buildings were erected about 700 BC, culminating in the completion of the 112-ft major temple, N10-43, about 100 BC (the tallest known pre-Classic Maya structure), there is evidence the site was occupied as long ago as 1500 BC. As a Maya site, it is believed to have the longest history of continuous occupation and, with the Spanish and British sites mentioned below and the present-day refugee village nearby, Lamanai's history is impressive. The Maya site has been partially cleared, but covers a large area so a guide is recommended. The views from temple N10-43, dedicated to Chac, are superb; look for the Yin-Yang-like symbol below the throne on one of the other main temples, which also has a 12-ft-tall mask overlooking its plaza. Visitors can wander freely along narrow trails and climb the stairways. There is a very informative museum housing the only known stela found at the site. There is also a fine jungle lodge .

At nearby Indian Church, a Spanish mission was built over one of the Maya temples in 1580, and the British established a sugar mill here. The remains of both buildings can still be seen. The archaeological reserve is jungle and howler monkeys are visible in the trees. There are many birds and the best way to see them is to reach Lamanai by boat, easily arranged in Orange Walk or by taking a day trip from Belize City .

Blue Creek and around 

Blue Creek is the largest of the Mennonite settlements. Many of the inhabitants of these close-knit villages arrived in 1959, members of a Canadian colony that had migrated to Chihuahua, Mexico, to escape encroaching modernity. They preserve their Low German dialect, are exempt from military service, and their industry now supplies the country with most of its poultry, eggs, vegetables and furniture. Some settlements, such as Neustadt in the west, have been abandoned because of threats by drug smugglers in the early 1990s. Belize and Mexico have signed an agreement to build an international bridge from Blue Creek across the river to La Unión, together with a river port close to the bridge. It is not known when work will start; at present there is a canoe-service for foot passengers across the Blue Creek.

Sartaneja and northeast of Orange Walk 

Shipstern Nature Reserve covers 22,000 acres of this northeastern tip of Belize. Hardwood forests, saline lagoon systems and wide belts of savannah shelter a wide range of mammals (coatis and foxes, and all the fauna found elsewhere in Belize, except monkeys), reptiles and 200 species of bird. There are mounds of Maya houses and fields everywhere. The most remote forest, south of the lagoon, is not accessible to short-term visitors. There is a botanical trail leading into the forest with trees labelled with Latin and local Yucatec Maya names; a booklet is available. At the visitor centre is the Butterfly Breeding Centre.
Corozal and around

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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