Orange Walk Town is the capital of the Orange Walk district 57 miles north of Belize City. The agricultural town is not a tourist hotspot but a good base for explorations of Northern Belize and the Mayan ruins Lamanai.
Orange Walk Town is a little over an hour from the airport in Belize City, up the Northern Highway. The Highway is also known as the Belize-Corozal road, and runs right through the center of town. There is a toll booth on the approach to the Town from Belize City (or simply Belize, as the locals put it). The road is paved and generally in good condition, although like anywhere in Northern Belize, one must be careful in the wet season. During the sugar cane season, watch out for the many large cane trucks.
Walking is the best way to get around the downtown area. The market area between the Corozal road and Main Street gets going early in the morning. There are many small to medium shops and restaurants. Do not miss the carts selling breakfast tacos. Walking anywhere in the town is fairly safe, especially in groups, and the people are friendly and will be happy to chat.
However walking at night, especially alone or even in pairs in not considered safe, you won't see the average local out after dark as they tend to get robbed and or assaulted.
The best attraction in the area is Lamanai, the Mayan ruins up the river. You can catch a boat or bus tour from Orange Walk. The boat will be easier on your kidneys, as the road is quite rough. The river tour is also a great way to see crocodiles, fruit bats, spider monkeys and hundreds of different bird species including many species of herons. Many of the hotels here can arrange the tour for you.
Banquitas House of Culture is a cultural center for the northern region of Belize, a museum, and an art school.
The Belize Bank on Main Street will change euros and US dollars, but not Mexican pesos. Scotia Bank is similar. To change Mexican pesos into Belizean dollars, go to the store called Baba's, that faces on the main square (near the clock tower). Inside Baba's there is a teller window where pesos can be changed to Belizean dollars at a reasonable rate. There is no indication on the outside of the store that this service is available.
There will be many street vendors selling tacos and the like in the morning. Try them. While you are in Belize, be sure to have some salbutes - fried corncakes, tomatoes, chicken - available at a couple of places along main street. There are a lot of Chinese restaurants in Belize, and they are usually pretty good, especially the bigger ones.
Of course, the staple of Belizean cuisine is chicken - barbequed chicken, rice and beans, flour tortillas and potato salad.
One of the better places to eat in Orange Walk is the Lamanai Riverside Retreat. The menu emphasizes seafood. There are no vegetarian options on the menu, but the staff are happy to work out a vegetarian plate.
- Panificadora La Popular, 1 Bethias Lane (one of the central veins connecting to Main Street), ☎ . This bakery has been providing the town with fresh bread and tasty treats since 1955, and is definitely a favorite stop for the locals. They are best known for their abundant selection of Mexican-style sweet breads and pastries baked daily. BZ$0.35-3.00 (Belizean dollars).
- Sing Wong Chinese Restaurant, Main Street (between St. Christopher's Hotel and the Banquitas House of Culture), ☎ . One of the oldest Chinese restaurants in town, offering great Chinese food, sea food and vegetarian dishes. Take out is available.
- Paniscea Restaurant, Main and La Democracia Streets (north end of Main St. on the right side), ☎ 623-7200. Pleasant Belizean lunches, international fare at dinner hour. Run by Doug, a very pleasant Canadian expatriate. Outdoor dining overlooking the New River (bug spray supplied without extra charge as needed). Very nicely prepared food and pleasant service. about BZ$10 to BZ$ 30 per person.
- St. Christopher Hotel, Main Street (near the Banquitas House of Culture) is clean and reasonable. Some rooms have air conditioning, and it is a five minute walk from the center of town. The hotel also has free Wifi for guests, and a nice garden (invaded by mosquitoes at nightfall). BZ$80 for a double, without a/c, breakfast included. Tours to Lamanai can be booked (BZ$100): the boat picks you directly at the back of the garden.
- Lamanai Riverside Retreat. Small hotel with three rooms each with bath and air conditioning, right on the New River. The hotel will happily set up a tent or two for additional guests (shower and toilet accessible). The hotel will be happy to help with travel and sightseeing information, and can book boat tours to Lamanai that pick you up directly at the hotel's little dock. This is also a great restaurant. Located on Lamanai Alley, (501) 302-3955, email:firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Hotel de la Fuente, 14 Main Street, ☎ 322-2290. Orange Walk Town's up-scale option. Rooms facing the inner courtyard or the rear (i.e., away from the road) are quiet. Quite clean, well-functioning air conditioning. Some rooms with kitchenette. BZ$80 to BZ$260.
- Lamanai Riverside Retreat, Lamanai alley. bar and restaurant food around BZ$15.
- Acuario Night Club, 33 San Fransisco St.
Drive through the surrounding countryside. Be sure to visit some of the smaller towns in the district - August Pine Ridge, San Pablo, San Narciso, etc. Mennonite communities abound. You can recognize them by their perfectly tended farms.
2nd Class buses (no air conditioning, and usually no "trunk" for suitcases) run regularly from Orange Walk to Belize City, usually no more than 2 hours one way. From Belize City, you can connect to almost anywhere else in the country. While avoiding Belize City is desirable, it is almost unavoidable if you want to make bus connections to other locations.
Day trips to the Mayan ruins at Lamanai by boat can be arranged by the better hotels in town. The trips typically include lunch, admission to the ruins, and a tour of the ruins in a large group with a government-certified guide. The boat trip (if the captain isn't rushed) offers some good opportunities to see the bird life and other wildlife on the river.