By Cindy Blount
Edited by Naturalight Productions
NB: Remember to click on the links in the article to see all the images.
Often a dead-end road is perceived to be dull and boring, but in Northern Belize, dead end roads lead to exciting, off-the-beaten-path places that included small hotels, restaurants, Mayan sites, forest reserves, seaside villages, and interesting people. As part of the development of the Toucan Trail website to market affordable accommodations for the independent traveler, we set out to discover the Corozal District.
After driving north from Belize City, we rounded an abrupt curve and were warmly greeted by the turquoise hues of the Corozal Bay. This sight, much welcomed at the end of an 85 mile drive through flat savannahs, sugar cane fields, agricultural lands, and small villages announced our arrival to Corozal Town.
Corozal Town appears to have been shaped by its location and history. Set on the Corozal Bay, much of the present day town is built over an ancient Maya trading city some excavated parts of which can be explored at the Santa Rita archaeological site, a few minutes walk from downtown. With the Mexican border a mere eight miles away, Corozal Town became a haven for refugees fleeing the Caste War of Yucatan during the mid 1800s -- as is depicted on the walls of the Town Hall near the square. Today this Maya-Spanish (Mestizo) mix has been joined by Creoles, East Indians, and Chinese and together they make up the population of 10,000 that is as equally friendly as the color mixture of the Corozal Bay.
Whether you are spending a night or planning a longer stay, make the town your hub to explore the surrounding areas; Corozal Town has a variety of accommodations to choose from at affordable prices.
Just across from the Bay, Hotel Maya is a hospitable and well-established hotel where guests can enjoy the convenience of having breakfast in the restaurant downstairs. While the hotel is a bit larger than most Toucan Trail Hotels, Rosita May, owner and manager, has made sure that the small hotel hospitality remains prominent.
Marvirton Guest House, tucked away on a quiet street a few blocks from the Sea, near the center of town, offers guests simple rooms in a colonial style house. The owner, Mr. Anthony Bradley, loves history and can entertain his guests for hours with stories and photos of his family who helped to start the sugar industry in Northern Belize.
Paradise Bay Villas is one of the options for travelers who are looking for more than a hotel room with a bed. Hosts, Clari and Herman Fredersdorf, offer four suites each of which has two bedrooms, a living room, bathroom and furnished kitchen, making it the perfect match for people who want more space, want to cook their own meals or who are planning a longer stay.
Anyone looking for an extended stay in the area may want to consider Mirna Taylor's Lucero's Corner, located next to a citrus orchard, about 3 blocks from the Bay. These units, each with a kitchen, bathroom and two bedrooms, are comparable to furnished apartments. Mirna lives on site and helps guests feel at home.
Being at Corozal Bay Inn feels like being on an island without actually leaving mainland Belize. This upscale Toucan Trail Hotel boasts the only beach and swimming pool in town and the added convenience of wireless internet throughout the property. Coming from a family of artists, owner Doug Pudzon has incorporated original artwork throughout the property making the inn a feast of color and originality.
After interviewing hotel owners and taking pictures, we worked up some substantial appetites that could have been amply satisfied at any of the local restaurants located in town all within walking distance of the Toucan Trail hotels.
We chose two: The Y*Not Grill and Bar located at Tony's Inn and Beach Resort was an ideal lunch spot. We ate fried chicken, hamburgers and garden salads while we were cooled by the noon-time breeze from the Bay.
After such a large lunch, we were not so hungry for dinner later that day and opted instead for The Cactus Plaza, specializing in Mexican cuisine. The great thing about this restaurant is that you can sample one of everything -- tacos, tostadas, salbutes, burritos or garnaches, made from beef, chicken, pork or vegetarian style and served with avocado, tomato or habanero salsa.
Along the Corozal Bay, 7 miles north east of Corozal Town, at the end of a bumpy road is the peacefully quiet community of Consejo Shores. Activities in the area include snorkeling, canoeing and fishing; boat trips to Bacalar Chico National Park, Cerros, Sarteneja or Ambergris Caye; day trips to neighboring Chetumal, Mexico or Santa Rita archaeological site. But perhaps the true character of Consejo Shores comes from the mix of the international cultures of its retiree residents who have settled in a carefully-developed area that still maintains a strong connection with nature.
There on the sandy beach that records the footprints of passers-by stands the Smuggler's Den. The thatch bungalow units fitted with kitchenette, bathroom, wicker furniture, cable tv, and bedroom are set against a backdrop of tropical trees and provide panoramic views of the Corozal Bay. Options for on-site recreation include a small library, volleyball court, nature trails and a pool table on the second floor of the mahogany floored, thatch restaurant.
The arrival to our next end-of-the-road stop was as picturesque as the arrival to Corozal Town. Minutes after crossing the sugar barge turned hand-cranked ferry, the all-weather road ended at the edge of Laguna Seca, where the unassuming village of Copper Bank sits. As proof of the village's primary industry, wooden fishing boats decorated the water side while fishermen painted their vessels and repaired nets. A visitor's activity menu in the area includes bird watching, relaxing on the dock, canoe paddling on the lagoon, biking around the village, chatting with friendly villagers, and rediscovering the Maya archaeological site of Cerros which stands guard like a sentinel on the Corozal Bay, a ten-minute drive away from Copper Bank. Our purpose, though, was to visit Toucan Trail hotels, so as soon as we had returned the bikes to the kids who had rented them to us, we got down to work.
Set on the lagoon, The Last Resort is like a home away from home, sharing home-cooked meals prepared by Donna Noland from ingredients grown by Enrique Flores. The spacious property features uniquely styled thatched cabañas separated by large areas of soft grass making the grounds ideal for camping. The owners, Enrique and Donna, enjoy village life but have internet access to stay connected with the world.
The village of Sarteneja awaited us at the end of a two-hour leisurely drive from Copper Bank, past the scenic Progresso Lagoon and Village, the Mennonite settlement of Little Belize on the opposite side of the Progresso Lagoon, and the Shipstern Nature Reserve. While El Conuco Restaurant in Progresso served up great local food, Little Belize offered snacks of fresh roasted, home-grown peanuts and sweet, juicy watermelon.
Poised on the slope of the Shipstern Lagoon, east of Corozal Town and across the Corozal Bay, Sarteneja Village is one of the few places on the mainland where you can actually see the sun set over the sea. This we observed during our late afternoon arrival to the pleasant village. With just about 25% of Sarteneja's 2,000 or so residents actively employed as fishermen, the Sea is understandably central to life in the village. However, with a recently opened airstrip making connections to Sarteneja faster and more comfortable, with the Shipstern Nature Reserve as a nature lover's playground in Sarteneja's backyard, with anglers becoming anxious to chart previously unexplored fishing spots, and with guided boat tours to Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve becoming popular options on the things-to-do menu, tourism may become a viable competitor. The two hotels we visited in Sarteneja certainly hope so.
Krisami's Bayview Lodge, located on the west end of the waterfront, is proud to offer deluxe accommodations. Hosts, Rollie and Maria Verde, want guests to enjoy their stay in the village and have provided spacious rooms, cable TV, Internet access, air conditioning and large, private fully-tiled bathrooms to ensure that this happens. Rollie's father, Jorge, is a historian and gives a fantastic description of the history of the village through a large painted mural inside his house.
Also located on the waterfront is The Belize Tourism Board's 2004 choice for Small Hotel of the Year, Fernando's Seaside Guesthouse. Situated above the family's dwelling, the guesthouse offers four pleasantly furnished and immaculately clean rooms. Whether it's setting up the table on the veranda for a sunset dinner, providing bedside lamps or touring guests around the village, much of the property's appeal comes from the Alamilla family's warm hospitality, friendly spirit, and helpful service.
As we waved goodbye to Fernando and his family, a quick review of our trip lead to a conclusion. The Corozal District is often times viewed as one of the stops between Belize City and the northern border and if one were to remain on the main highway, that impression would seem valid. Venture onto one of the highway's unnamed arteries, however, and that idea quickly fades away as the district reveals herself to the traveler who takes time to purposely journey along the dead end roads.
Images Courtesy of:
Tony Rath Photography
Krisami's Bayview Lodge