Belize was founded by pirates, and mischievous pirate blood still pumps in Belizean veins today, especially in the north of this country.
Smuggling goods over the Mexican border from northern Belize makes up a significant portion of the region’s economy. Fuel, hardware, car parts, imported liquor, and processed or luxury food items are as often sourced through border hopping as from local stores.
Touring northern Belize recently, I realized I was low on gas. I noticed a hand-written sign for a shop and pulled off the road. The store was being run from the living room of an old Mayan lady.
When I asked her if she knew where I could buy fuel, she smiled, disappeared into the back, and returned carrying an uncovered bucket of gasoline and a funnel. She charged me BZ$3 less per gallon than I pay at the station.
Only in northern Belize can you buy smuggled gasoline in an open bucket from an old lady’s living room.
This part of the country carries on as it has for centuries, largely unchanged and unnoticed. It’s a top option if you’re looking for real escape from the troubles of our world.
Here’s a primer on this still undiscovered region, an introduction to the best lifestyle options northern Belize has to offer…
#1: Corozal District And Town
Corozal is the name of both a district and a town. Nestled on the Bay of Chetumal, Corozal Town is only a 9-mile hop from the Mexican city of Chetumal, the state capital of Quintana Roo. It’s a lovely, laid-back, inexpensive place to call home, explaining why it boasts the biggest population of expats in this part of the country.
With a population of 13,000, Corozal has a small-village feel but offers all the services, amenities, and community activities of a larger town. The weather here is better than in the south, too. Corozal gets 57 inches of rain per year, half as much as in Toledo, Belize’s southernmost district.
Corozal is the recommended basecamp for exploring northern Belize. Many start their Belize adventure at Tony’s Inn & Beach Resort, which you pass as you drive into Corozal from the direction of Belize City. It’s one of the original expat hangouts and a great place to meet people and get local advice.
#2: Consejo Village
Consejo Village lies 7 miles northeast of Corozal and 2 miles from Chetumal. It’s popular among expats for restaurants like Smugglers Den, an upmarket restaurant that specializes in American and Caribbean cuisines, and Buccaneers Palapa Restaurant, which serves local food at reasonable prices.
Consejo Shores is a successful and thriving residential development close to Consejo Village. It boasts 1.25 miles of oceanfront, a 9-hole golf course, and over 120 established homes. Many expat friends living here believe it’s the best location in Belize.
The small traditional fishing village of Sarteneja is the most northeasterly village in Belize. Picturesque, quiet, and peaceful, this is the place I’d choose if I were going to live in northeastern Belize. This village of about 2,000, for me, is a microcosm of happy living.
Traditional wooden boat building is a major local industry. The craftsmen here have been in the business for generations.
#4: Copper Bank And Chunox Villages
These are small Belizean villages on opposite sides of Laguna Seca, which empties into Corozal Bay. A few expats live close by these small, quiet towns, attracted by the spectacular natural beauty. This is a place to come to see crocodiles, manatees, agouti, tapir, woodpeckers, toucans, and countless other jungle birds.
#5: Progresso Village And Lagoon
This is a sleepy village on the site of one of the most important ancient Mayan trading routes. It’s a beautiful place to live in harmony with nature but certainly not the place to come for exciting nightlife.
#6: Orange Walk Town
Orange Walk, also known as “Sugar City,” is at the heart of sugarcane country. With a population of 14,000, the town bustles on weekends and holidays. Its fertile land and 59 inches of rain per year make Orange Walk district a great location for the aspiring hobby farmer or rancher.
Belizeans travel from across the country to Orange Walk to shop at the second-hand stores full of used American goods, to sample contraband beer from over the border, and to have a day out. Orange Walk is famous for Orange Walk Tacos. Folks drive the 50 miles from Belize City for them. I’ve even known some to have them delivered via the chicken bus.
#7: Shipyard And Blue Creek
The Mennonite communities of Shipyard and Blue Creek in the Orange Walk District come as a shock after driving through the local villages that precede them. You don’t expect to be overtaken by a blonde-haired, blue-eyed six-year-old driving a horse and trap while you’re driving a pickup as fast as the unpaved road will allow.
There are many Christian fundamentalist communities in Belize. They exist independently from the rest of the country, with different rules of observance and conduct. Mennonites started coming to Belize from Canada and other places after 1958 and these days do most of the farming, wood working, metal working, and lumbering in the country.
Belize’s Mennonite communities look like scenes from 1900s Pennsylvania, with people wearing traditional dress and living in American-style farmhouses with barns. Some Mennonite communities, like Spanish Lookout in Cayo, are fully modern whereas others, like the Shipyard Mennonites, don’t use machinery in their daily lives or for personal transport.
Could Northern Belize Be For You?
Northern Belize offers a way of life that is increasingly difficult to find anywhere in the world. Living here offers the chance for complete escape from the rest of the world.
If you’d be unhappy living without shopping malls, cinemas, nightclubs, and constant outside stimulation, the region is not for you.
However, if you’re a laid-back, nature-loving person with a sense of adventure, northern Belize could be the perfect lifestyle option.
For sure, this region of this English-speaking country belongs at the top of any Plan B list.