Discovering Orange Walk

(continuer en français) – Last updated: December 20, 2022

Orange Walk is unlikely to be familiar to most travellers until they discover its name on the map of Belize, in the north of the country near Mexico.

There is nothing remarkable about the city, but I would find three reasons to be interested. First of all, it is a small, quiet town of 14,000 inhabitants, where it is possible to acclimatize smoothly to Belizean life before continuing further. Secondly, it is home to the country’s last sugar cane refinery, typical images guaranteed. Last but not least, it is the gateway to Lamanai, one of the great Mayan cities of the past.

Being curious it will be possible to find other points of attraction such as the Mennonite colonies or other Mayan sites barely cleared from their centuries-long burial under the lush jungle.

There are many, albeit modest, shops. The proximity of the Mexican border some 50 kilometres / 30 miles away certainly favours the exchange of products, perhaps dropping a few taxes along the way.

Orange Walk has retained all the simplicity of its local life, most of the dwellings are unpretentious and the businesses perpetuate the traditions that everyone is happy with. Tacos have a special reputation, served at counters open on the street.

Sugar City

Orange Walk is known in the country under the nickname Sugar City. It refers as much to the flavour of its tacos or the fervour of its parties as it does to the sugar cane distillery that has been on Tower Hill since 1967. The plant signals its presence with a plume of black smoke and a pervasive smelling odour over a wide area.

5,000 independent producers supply the factory all year round, contributing 5% of the national economic production. On the road, the bulky bundles move forward in a jolting motion and seem ready to tip over with every swerve. The roadsides are littered with samples that have escaped from the loads. Trucks can be found queuing in dozens waiting their turn to dump their cargo.


On the country roads around Orange Walk, it is not uncommon to come across a horse-drawn cart in the recognisable Mennonite style. There are now about 12,000 of them in Belize, spread over a dozen communities. They left Canada around 1920, after a first settlement in Mexico, some of them came to Belize from 1958 onwards.

Around Orange Walk they form several villages: Shipyard, Indian Creek and Blue Creek whose names do not really let guess their make-up. These groups belong rather to the most conservative school, still refusing much of the contemporary technical progress.

Elsewhere in Belize, other groups are becoming more open to new technologies.


The Orange Walk region is heavily invested in agriculture. Once highly dependent on sugar cane, the crop types have been renewed. The Mennonites, with their work strength and their perfectionist methods, have certainly contributed to the dynamism of an economic sector in full progress, notably in the dairy trade. Indian breeds of cattle were selected for their better adaptation to the climate and their resistance to disease.

Rural dwellings lost in the countryside do not show the same comfort as in the city. Their picturesque aspect should not make us forget the discomfort of those who live there.

The population of the region is mainly composed of Mestizos (Metis) and Mayas from the wave of Mexican immigration at the end of the 19th century, fleeing the instability of their country of origin. If English is the language of the administration and of the school, Spanish is much more widely spoken as well as Belizean Creole.

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Lamanai, Mayan city

Lamanai is located in the north of Belize near Orange Walk, in the continuity of the Mexican Yucatan where the Mayan civilization thrived around large cities. Lamanai was one of them and although it has had its ups and downs, its existence covers 3,000 years of human occupation.

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Shop, Orange Walk, Belize

Discovering Orange Walk

Orange Walk is unlikely to be familiar to most travellers until they discover its name on the map of Belize, in the north of the country near Mexico. There is nothing remarkable about the city, but it is the gateway to Lamanai, one of the great Mayan cities of the past.

To be informed of upcoming articles, register here (it’s free!).


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