South from the Mexican border, the road meets the sea at the town of Corozal, near the mouth of the New River. The ancient Maya prospered here by controlling river and seaborne trade, and the impressive site of Cerros is nearby, if complicated to reach. Present-day Corozal was founded in 1849 by refugees from Mexico’s Caste Wars, although today’s grid-pattern layout, a neat mix of Mexican and Caribbean, is largely due to reconstruction in the wake of Hurricane Janet in 1955.
There’s little reason to spend time in Corozal unless you are trying to get to Cerros. However, it is an ideal place for a few days of quiet relaxation. The breezy shoreline park is good for a stroll, while on the tree-shaded main plaza, the town hall is worth a look inside for a mural by Manuel Villamar Reyes, which vividly describes local history. In the block west of the plaza you can see the remains of Fort Barlee, built to ward off Maya attacks in the 1870s.Read More
The small Maya site of Santa Rita (open 24hr; free) is within walking distance of the centre, about 15 minutes northwest of town; follow the main road towards the border, bear right at the fork and turn left at the Super Santa Rita store. Though it is an interesting enough spot if you have time to kill, the site is no longer maintained and does not justify extending your stay in Corozal. Founded around 1500 BC, Santa Rita was in all probability the powerful Maya city later known as Chactemal. It was still a thriving settlement in 1531 AD, when the conquistador Alonso Davila entered the town, only to be driven out almost immediately by Na Chan Kan, the Maya chief, and his Spanish adviser Gonzalo Guerrero. The main remaining building is a small pyramid, and excavations here have uncovered the burial sites of an elaborately bejewelled elderly woman and a Classic-period warlord.