With few exceptions, Northern Belize is overlooked by most tourists who fly into the country and head quickly to the cayes, the Cayo District, the southern beaches, or the Mayan Mountains. Even those who enter by land from Mexico frequently make a beeline to Belize City and bypass this region. Still, northern Belize has its charms, not least of which is its undiscovered and undeveloped feel. It's here that you'll find some of the country's larger biological reserves, including the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, the Shipstern Wildlife Reserve, and the Río Bravo Conservation Area. With over 430 species of birds and 250 species of orchids, this region should be especially attractive to naturalists.
The region was also an important and strategic part of the Mayan Empire, and ancient ruins abound. Most notably, it is here that you will find the Altun Ha and Lamanai ruins, two of the country's most popular and important Mayan sites. Lesser sites like Cuello, Cerros, Santa Rita, and Noh Mul are also possible stops for true aficionados. Finally, northern Belize is home to three unique and isolated lodges: Maruba Resort Jungle Spa, Chan Chich Lodge, and Lamanai Outpost Lodge.
For our purposes, "northern Belize" refers to the northern section of the Belize District, as well as the entire Orange Walk and Corozal districts. The land here is low and plain, with massive sugar cane, citrus, soybean, and pineapple plantations set amidst large swaths of forests; swamps; lagoons; and slow, steamy jungle rivers. Belize's Northern Highway runs from Belize City to the Mexican border, a little over 161km (100 miles) away. The road is not in good shape, and the scenery tends to be flat and monotonous. There are few people and fewer population centers. There are only two cities of any note along the way, and both are actually designated as towns, Orange Walk Town and Corozal Town. Of these, only Corozal, with its seaside setting and proximity to the Mexican border and Shipstern Wildlife Reserve, is a destination with much appeal to travelers. Orange Walk, for its part, serves mainly as a gateway to the Lamanai ruins and the Río Bravo Conservation Area.
Much of this area was originally settled by immigrants fleeing southern Mexico's Yucatán peninsula during the Caste Wars of the mid-19th century. This is undoubtedly the most Spanish region in Belize. However, it is also the region with the largest concentration of Mennonite communities. Members of this somewhat radical and oft-persecuted Christian order have thrived in this farming area. You can't miss the Mennonites in their distinctive, heavy, home-sewn garb and horse-drawn carriages.