Like many of Belize’s northern cities, Orange Walk, the largest town in the region, was founded by mestizo refugees fleeing the Caste Wars in the Yucatán. Long before their arrival, however, the area around Orange Walk had been worked as some of the most productive arable farmland in Belize – aerial surveys have revealed evidence of raised fields and a network of irrigation canals dating from ancient Maya times. Today, Orange Walk is a thriving community by Belizean standards, and though there aren’t any real attractions in the town itself, it’s a pleasant, low-key base for those looking to explore one of the region’s highlights: the nearby ruins at Lamanai.
At the centre of town is a distinctly Mexican-style formal plaza, and the town hall is referred to as the Palacio Municipal, reinforcing the town’s strong historical links to Mexico. The only real sight in town, per se, is the Banquitas House of Culture (Mon–Thurs 8.30am–5pm, Fri 8.30am–4.30pm; free; 322-0517, http://www.nichbelize.org), on the riverbank near the bridge, which houses a permanent exhibition charting the history of Orange Walk District from Maya times to the present.Read More
Members of Belize’s Mennonite community, easily recognizable in their denim dungarees, can be seen trading produce and buying supplies every day in Orange Walk and Belize City. The Mennonites, a Protestant group often noted for their pacifist beliefs and rejection of modern advancements, arose from the radical Anabaptist movement of the sixteenth century and are named after Dutch priest Menno Simons. Recurring government restrictions on their lifestyle, especially regarding their objection to military service, have forced them to move repeatedly over time. Having emigrated to Switzerland, they then travelled to Prussia, and in 1663 a group moved to North America. After World War I they migrated from Canada to Mexico, eventually arriving in Belize in 1958. In recent years, farm-produced prosperity has caused drastic changes in their lives: the Mennonite Church in Belize is increasingly split between a modernist section – who use electricity and power tools, and drive trucks, tractors and even cars – and the traditionalists, who prefer a stricter interpretation of beliefs.