88 miles) N of Belize City; 31 miles N of Orange Walk Town; S of the Mexican border
Corozal is a sleepy seaside town, located just south of the Río Hondo (Hondo River), which forms the border between Mexico and Belize. Set on a crystal-clear bay, Corozal was an important center on the early Mayan trading routes, and the evidence remains in the ruins of Cerros and Santa Rita, and the old English Fort Barley. During the mid-1800s the modern town was settled with a large population of refugees from Mexico’s Caste War.
Today, Corozal is home to a growing expatriate community, mostly concentrated in the northern tip of the town at Consejo Shores, and along the seaside in the Copper Bank and Chunox areas. While not part of the traditional tourist circuit, Corozal Town makes a good base for fishing excursions in the calm bay; bird- and wildlife-viewing tours into nearby Shipstern Nature Reserve; shopping trips to neighboring Chetumal, Mexico; and explorations of the aforementioned Mayan ruins.
Arriving into the country by road through Mexico gives the first-time visitor as first taste of Belize – the northernmost district of Corozal. The district capital is Corozal Town. Traditionally the heart of the country’s sugar growing and processing industry, Corozal today is more well-known for its Free Zone at the border crossing with Mexico, sprawling housing development favored by expats and low cost of living.
Corozal Town is a convenient base for day trips to Chetumal, the capital of Mexico’s southern state of Quintana Roo which is nine miles away, or for excursions to the Maya ruins and beaches of the Yucatan Peninsula. San Pedro Ambergris Caye, the most popular destination for scuba divers and snorkelers, is only 15 minutes by air from the Corozal airstrip. It is 90 miles from Belize City to Corozal by road and buses run daily. Corozal is located between two scenic rivers, the New River in the Orange Walk District and the Rio Hondo that forms a natural boundary with Mexico. The district has its fair share of Maya ruins, boating, nature trails, swimming and fly fishing attractions. The municipality of Bacalar Quintana Roo with its famous Cenote Azul is about one hour’s drive from Corozal.
Corozal Town proper is definitely go slow and easy going. Eclipsed by the bustling neighbor of Chetumal City, Corozal has devolved into a sedentary town that is well maintained and well laid out. Most of the town was destroyed by a hurricane in 1955, and before being rebuilt, streets and avenues were properly laid out making it one of only two municipal centers in Belize (the other is the City of Belmopan) with reasonably wide streets and good drainage.
Ambling its quiet streets you will find three banks, a library, a make shift museum, two churches, two primary schools, a run down gas station (most everyone goes across the border to fill up the car), several Chinese greasy spoons, a few shops and a small produce market. All this within 10 minutes walking distance from each other.
There is not much to do here and most of the activity takes place downtown around the Central Park on weekdays when folks come into town to do banking, collect salaries or buy essentials. Weekends are quiet as Corozalenos take their weekend rest or decamp for the Mexican City of Chetumal where everything is more reasonably priced and the variety available at Sam’s Club and Walmart is irresistible. Once a month the culture ministry sponsors a Culture In The Park event where artists and artisans come together to sell their products and mingle.
Living In Corozal Town
Corozal is the country’s fourth largest populated district, with 20,335 residents. and home to a growing community of North American and European retirees.
In 2015 the American Association of Retired Persons, the AARP, ranked Corozal a top retirement destination. The article describes Corozal: “The Corozal district, a few miles’ drive from the Mexican border, is far more affordable. Corozal expats live a laid-back life, with year-round outdoor play (boating, hiking, swimming, diving), but are still only minutes from the malls and cineplexes of Chetumal, the capital of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo.” Check out our Top Ten Reasons To Live or Retire in Belize page.
Another interesting view of Corozal comes from an American retiree in Corozal.
He writes: “When we first visited Corozal in May 1998, Charlotte decided that she wanted to live here. It was hot and dry in May, and the town was in the economic doldrums, but we still loved it. The bay front reminded me of Santa Monica.”
Today, even with the Corozal Free Zone business, the district and town are still laid back and easy going- especially the town with its quaint seaside feel. Indeed, if you go jogging along the road that winds around the Bay, don’t be surprised at the numerous greetings of “Good Morning” or “Buenos Dias” you’ll hear. Corozal Town sits on the Bay of Corozal; its population is 10,888. The town was built by refugees fleeing civil war between Mestizos and Indians in Mexico. Spanish is the predominant language here. Yet, like everywhere else in Belize, the multinational blend is evident everywhere: Mestizo, Maya, Creole, Garifuna, East Indian, Mennonite and Asian all claim this rather tranquil seaside community as their home.
The Corozal Free Zone is a major source of employment and business for area residents. The Zone is not open to Belize residents and caters to the large population in Quintana Roo. A sprawling and some would say ramshackle complex, it sits right on the border crossing into Mexico at Santa Elena village in Belize, going into the well populated and booming town of Alvaro Obregon on the Mexican side. Chetumal City with a population larger than that of the entire country of Belize is a 20 minute drive down the road or a 5 minute boat ride from Consejo village near to Corozal Town.
The Corozal Free Zone operates as a minimal tax area providing casinos, hotels, shopping arcades and wholesale depots for many consumer items. Mexicans come across by the thousands every day to look for bargains that may be difficult to find in their country. As of 2020 the Corozal Free Zone has fallen on hard times due to the closure of the land border with Mexico due to COVID19.
Attractions In Corozal
A visit to market located just two streets from the the bay area is a wonderful experience of exotic fruits and friendly faces. On the seaside is a renovated 19th century Customs house, with a distinctive steeple that serves as a makeshift museum. It displays, among other things, Mayan artifacts, a pictorial history of the sugarcane industry and the district.
The history of Corozal, including a graphic depiction of the Yucatan Caste War and the impact of colonial rule on the Mayan people, are sketched in a strikingly beautiful mural on the wall of Corozal’s Town Hall. The Corozal Town Hall Mural, painted by artist Manuel Villamor Reyes, was restored in 1986 and updated to depict the exploitation of immigrant workers during the 1850’s and 1860’s. The mural can be viewed through the windows on the ground floor if the town hall is closed.
Corozal has two main Maya sites, Santa Rita, located on the northern outskirts of the town, and Cerros which is across the bay. Several resorts dot the picturesque bay and the Shipstern Protected area is nearby. But most residents would argue that the best attraction is Chetumal City with its distinct culture, malls, entertainment – all within an easy drive just down the road.
What To Eat In Corozal
Given its proximity to Mexico, Mexican / Latino food is abundant and delicious in the Corozal area. Much like other districts in Belize, you will find the standard local fare and Belizean snack foods that are so beloved around the country. Food stands abound in the southside Miami Beach area, especially on weekends. Corozal also has excellent markets offering some of the freshest produce, especially the downtown market near the bus station. Be sure to stop at one of stands in town and try fresh fruit juices, another local specialty that is even better in Corozal.
Popular snacks include chamoyadas and smoothies made with fresh local fruit, tamales made with chicken, beans, chaya and pork. Fish empanadas, paletas, ice cream and the ubiquitous barbecue.
Retirement In Corozal
The proximity of Corozal to Mexico and its splendid big city attractions makes the district a favorite for retirees. Several expat communities can be found in Corozal, the largest one at Consejo which is a 20 minute drive on a bumpy road north of the town. Consejo is the northernmost population centre of Belize, at the very tip of Belize facing Chetumal city. If you stand on the shore at Consejo you can actually see Chetumal city with the naked eye about a mile across the water. Once a fishing and cane farming community, the area is now taken up with sprawling residential communities.
Most home owners are from North America and Europe and the properties are well developed with manicured lawns and prosperous looking homes. There are always lots of land available for development (remember this is a retirement community) but seafront properties like everywhere else fetch a premium. Although Chetumal city is so close, access by motor boat is easiest – about an 15 minute ride. Driving from Consejo to Chetumal involves a circuitous route – first back south to Corozal Town, then driving up north to the border – about a 30 to 40 minute drive depending on traffic.