According to folk stories, Orange Walk got its name from the many orange groves of the past that hugged the banks of the New River which flows through the town and was a major trading route centuries ago for the Maya.
The town is a cultural mix of Mestizos (Spanish-Maya), Maya, Chinese, East Indians and Creoles. The widely spoken languages in this district are Spanish, English and Creole. In the heart of town sits the 100-year old La Inmaculada Church, one of the many evidences of Spanish influence prevalent in Orange Walk. The British colonial history is also very much in evidence.
The Banquitas House of Culture was opened in September 2002 with a historical exhibit of Orange Walk Town from 1500 – 2002 AD. In addition to its displays of Maya artifacts, river travel, chicle making, sugar cane cutting and the north’s historic Catholic Church, Banquitas also reflects the colonial past. Banquitas, located on the western bank of the New River, was a way station for logwood cutters in colonial times; at the height of Maya life in the area, Banquitas was part of a community known as Holpatin; Banquitas was also the heart of colonial administration, where the British built Fort Mundy and today it is still the area where government offices are located.
Fishing along the New River is also common. Hand lines will pull up large mouth bass and other fish. Cruising the New River brings into view spectacular sites of flora and fauna, and crocodiles up to 16 feet long sunning along the river banks. Tours to the Mayan ruins of Lamanai, Cuello and Nohmul, as well as wildlife adventures, can easily be arranged, whether through guides in Orange Walk Town and its hotels, or directly from the nearby exotic jungle resorts mentioned earlier. Accommodations in Orange Walk Town itself are comfortable and moderately priced.
The nearby community of Shipyard is home to members of the Mennonite community. Like in other areas with Mennonite communities you can see the distinctive styles of denim-apparel with large straw hats, and use of the old-fashioned horse and buggy.
Nights in the town offer dancing, especially on weekends – punta rock, reggae, disco and bolero music are popular. Mi Amor Hotel downtown usually has regular weekend entertainment, and D* Victoria has a disco. In Orange Walk, probably more so than in other districts, Chinese and Spanish cultures are mixed – especially in the area of cuisine as there are more than two dozen Chinese restaurants in town. A little known secret to tourists is that the best carnival parade takes place in Orange Walk town every 21st September, Independence Day.
A 20-minute drive away from Orange Walk Town is Honey Camp Lagoon, which offers a freshwater swimming hole and a sandy beach surrounded by coconut palms. Also easily accessible from Orange Walk Town are the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, the Altun Ha Mayan Ruins and other Belize District sites (see Belize District for more information on these).
Rio Bravo Conservation Area
The Rio Bravo is managed by Programme for Belize , a nonprofit organization with offices in both Belize and the United States . The government has approved a management program for the reserve that includes low-impact tourism, approved agricultural projects and limited and controlled logging on certain portions of privately-owned lands that adjoin but are not actually on the reserve.
The reserve covers 280,000 acres. It is a tropical forest area that is home to all of the Belizean cats (jaguars, puma, ocelot, margay and jaguarundi) and numerous other animals, including both howler and small monkeys, gray foxes, king vultures, and over 80 species of bats. Over 400 species of birds reside in the area’s forests, as well as over 200 varieties of trees and 250 different kinds of orchids. Along one trail is located what some claim is the largest mahogany tree in Belize (the country’s national tree is the mahogany).
Visitors to the Rio Bravo area can find accommodations at Programme for Belize. Programme for Belize has two field stations in the area. La Milpa Field Station sleeps 46 in four cabanas (eight units each with private baths) and a 30-bed dormitory. The Hillbank Field Station is on New River Lagoon. It is a forestry research center which sleeps 38 in two cabanas (four units each with private baths) and a 30-bed dormitory.