I do love an invitation. Last week I signed up for a pretty exciting trip to Orange Walk. Most exciting because, for years, I was operating under the belief that those who visited the northwest district of Belize were going to see one of Belize’s grandest Mayan sites – Lamanai. Only.
It’s a “do not miss”.
But Orange Walk, also known as Shuga City, is known throughout Belize for much more. Lamanai, sugar production, tacos, the Mennonite communities and rum. And I had tried to get tours of the last five on the list – unsuccessful. I’d even scheduled appointments with the rum company and arrived to find them closed.
So…when I received a full itinerary from Lamanai Landings Resort & Marina, I immediately signed up.
Let me tell you about one of the busiest 24 hours I’ve spent in a long time. Friday at noon, I met the group at the Smokey Mermaid in Belize City. Located on the bottom floor of Belize City’s beautiful colonial building – the Great House Hotel.
We were whisked off to David and Debbie Gegg’s new enterprise – “RAZ” or the Rain Forest Adventure Zone. Located in Sand Hill, about 30 miles north of Belize City, the area is easily accessible by the Northern Highway. They have set up 6 brand new ziplines (all the equipment was still shining), rafting and kayaking on the Belize River and a bunch of other attractions.
As we entered, we passed a few of the crocodile ponds. Working closely with ACES (the American Crocodiles Sanctuary), many crocs (often problemed ones – who are hurt or are too comfortable around humans) are relocated from other parts of the country now live in ponds here.
First the morelets. Did I mention it was a GORGEOUS day?
And then a larger pen for JAWs, a wounded expat from San Pedro, who lives in his own pond thanks to a grant from the Bridgitte Bardot Foundation (who knew?). You can check out his story here – super sad picture but so good to see him here and safe.
Our afternoon, starting with lunch, was jam packed. Let’s start with zipping. 6 lines – many going over the Belize River.
Always the ridiculous group photo in the oh-so-flattering safety helmets.
Thanks Janelle of the San Pedro Sun for this shot of me. In case there are some Doubting Thomases out there.
Next was a tractor ride though the really pretty savanna, cashew farm and past a few bulls and their harems – this can also be a 30 minute hike but we were running behind schedule and had lots of other stuff to see.
We stopped once to see a part of a trail that highlighted traditional Mayan life – that of the working folks rather than the elite who were living in the famous ruins.
We saw a traditional hut, cooking methods and some crazy fierce traps that were set for animals and birds. I love this fish trap…
We made our way to the New River for a bamboo raft tour (you can also kayak). I won’t lie…I was a bit suspicious of this water craft. A few bamboo poles strapped together…
We drifted lazily on the river, very Huck Finn if Finn had been spotting howler monkeys, crocs and orange iguanas.
It was getting late. We loaded into the van heading to the hotels for dinner, a croc tour on the lagoon and an early wake-up for a jam packed morning. We arrived in the evening, checking into our rooms…
…very comfortable bed, sitting area and set right over the little lagoon with a private balcony…
here’s the morning view of the property
and had a huge meal. Ceviche and salpicon (which, if you haven’t tasted it, is a delicious salsa made with cooked pork dish, like a pork ceviche), fresh fish and flan and key lime pie for dessert.
The croc tour is similar to the one in San Pedro – kids and teens absolutely LOVE it…actually most people do. The guide teaches you all about crocodiles and why they are so unique. He them gets in the water (AT NIGHT!) and wrangles one into the boat. Seriously. A bit of learning with a dose of adrenaline.
Up early for birding. My interest in birds has been growing. On 7 miles north on Ambergris Caye, I’ve been spotting some AMAZING birds. Great horned owls, wood storks, roseate spoon bills. I EVEN bought a Birds of Belize book – such a great manual. That basically means that I am one serious birder.
The small lagoon at the hotel is gorgeous. And filled with birds – in about 15 minutes we saw a grooved bill ani, herons, egrets, olive throated parakeets, a snail kite, an anhinga, blue-grey tanager and more.
That’s my kind of birding.
NEXT! We were off to Shipyard, a conservative Mennonite Village about 15 minutes away – and for my favorite tour. A few years ago, with a friend, we drove through this very village and while it was interesting, it was just looking at folks through a window. I’ve long wanted a more in depth experience and this tour was a great start. Lamanai Landings Resort can also set you up with an one day trip where you tour and eat with a Mennonite family. I am ready to sign up.
I remember on my first visit to Belize being a bit shocked to see Mennonites and then to learn that they make up almost 4% of the population.
We drove into Shipyard, picked up a local “guide” named Aaron and made a number of stops and asked about one thousand questions. Here’s a bit of what I learned…
- The Mennonites in Belize moved from Russia to Canada to Mexico to Belize looking for freedom from government intervention.
- All of Shipyard is private property – the community maintains the roads, street lights and has their own local government
- Almost everyone in the community speaks Spanish and then, at home and with others, Low German. Here are two school books in the local store.
- Everyone uses horse & buggies for transport. Driving cars & trucks is not allowed – so they hire outside drivers when trucks are needed.
- The area is organized in camps – a map our guide had in his wallet.
We stopped at the markets, at the seed shop, at the Medical clinic and just gawked at the beautiful green farming landscape. One not always expected in tropical Belize.
I feel as though I am forgetting something; we did so much. After lunch, we were whisked back to Belize City for the trip home. 24 hours…about 6 different activities. Or more.
A really really good time. And NOW I can easily answer your question when you ask “What is there to do in Orange Walk?”
Thanks Lamanai Landings.
And so that you remember when you visit, please, stick a pin in it.