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Tony Rath's

 
PLACES TO SEE > TOWNS & VILLAGES > Orange Walk

With a population approaching 20,000, Orange Walk is easily the most populated town in the north, yet visitors to Belize rarely visit the district or town. Although the town has received little attention, some of the best archaeological sites in the country lie in the surrounding areas and the balmy tropical climate and fertile soils make the area a naturalist's paradise.

Sunrise over the New River at Orange Walk Town
Sunrise over the New River at Orange Walk Town. Note bridge to San Estevan and Honey Camp in distance.

Scenically set on the west bank of the New River, the town was first home to the Icaiche Maya. By the eighteenth century, an invasion of British logging camps marked the beginning of a long struggle for this prime riverside locality. For more than a century, loggers floated timber down the New River into Corozal Bay (also known as Chetumal Bay).

The Banquitas Museum and Park
The New Banquitas Museum and Park
Corozal's History Comes Alive at the Banquitas House
Corozal's History Comes Alive at the Banquitas House

Then, in 1849 and continuing for next thirty years, mestizos and Mayans fleeing the Caste Wars of Mexico began arriving to the area en masse. The Icaiche resisted this overwhelming settlement and battled with the invaders for roughly a decade before a September 1st clash claimed the life of their chief, Marcos Canul, in 1872. An obelisk near the town's taxi center commemorates the battle. Today, the descendents of the Icaiche reside in the village of Botes near the Rio Hondo on the Guatemalan border. Within the town itself, remnants of the long conflict still stand; the remains of Fort Cairns and Fort Mundy have been converted into two of the town's principal government buildings.

New Orange Walk Market
New Orange Walk Market
Sugar Cane Trucks at the Clock Tower Intersection
Sugar Cane Trucks at the Clock Tower Intersection

As the immigrants arrived from the north, farmers quickly shifted from maize growing and chicle tapping to sugar cane harvesting and production. Today, Orange Walk Town's economy revolves largely around the sugar and citrus industries. The cane is converted to rum (distilled at the Cuello processing plant under the "Caribbean" label), molasses, and processed sugar.

Church of the Immaculata
Church of La Immaculata
Orange Walk has many Old Churches still in use.
Orange Walk has many Old Churches still in use.

The town also exhibits the area's historical bond with Mexico both culturally and physically. Most residents are Spanish-speaking mestizos. However, a growing Mennonite community in the outlying areas of Blue Creek and Shipyard and a large East Indian merchant population have added to the diversity of the region and contributed to its economy by bringing in unique expertise in a variety of trades.

Orange Walks Mestizo Dancers
Orange Walk's Mestizo Dancers

The Orange Walk Town food court and market square sits next to the town hall. Built on the remnants of the historical Fort Hearns, the market square houses fruit and vegetable stalls, livestock vendors, restroom facilities, a stage, and a popular food court where visitors can sample local dishes, deserts, and snacks.

For a taste of local arts and culture a trip to Orange Walk must include a stop at Las Banquitas. A quiet moment by the New RiverOverlooking the New River, Las Banquitas comprises a museum, restaurant, amphitheater, and the offices of the district's House of Culture. The museum showcases a new exhibit every month.

Orange Walk Town has recently made strides to improve the services offered to tourists and now boasts of quite a few hotels that run along Queen Victoria Avenue. The many restaurants around town offer a wide selection of ethnic cuisine. Due to its location on the New River, Orange Walk Town is an excellent gateway to the mighty ruins of Lamanai, the picturesque New River Lagoon, and the Rio Bravo Conservation Area. Several local tour operators reside within the area and organize trips to the region's attractions.

Orange Walk is one of the easiest towns to access in Belize. Major highways entering the town in four directions link it to over twenty villages in the district as well as points beyond the district borders.

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