What makes a place great? What goes into that unscientific formula for calling cities and towns our “favorites?”
Probably we take into account the landscape — a region’s rolling hills, its swaying palm trees, it’s proximity to the ocean, it’s proclivity for good sunsets.
We likely think about the delicious foods of a place, it’s intriguing culture, it’s opportunities for exploration and immersion and entertainment.
For me, I’ve come to realize, it’s less complicated than all that.
It’s the people, pure and simple.
Sure, the other stuff is nice. Great climate, clear, cerulean waters and long-rooted traditions so different from our own attracts us all. But what makes me stay? What grabs ahold of me and digs in deep?
It’s the people.
Never, in my travels the world over, have I been met with a community so tightly woven yet so genuinely warm and open-hearted toward someone new as here, in Corozal, Belize.
It’s why I know, without hesitation, that it’s my favorite place I’ve ever been.
Were you to simply pass through on a bus, you might not believe it, because not all of Corozal is beautiful in the classic sense.
Set in the northern tip of Belize, just down the coast from the white sands of Quintana Roo, it is a seaside town with no beach. Many of its roads are strewn with potholes. Many of its streams are filled with trash.
The beauty, instead, is found within the houses, the restaurants, the bars.
It’s the people.
People who take the time to ask questions to a stranger, who approach all who pass with smiles, who don’t take long to call you a friend. Starting a conversation on the street with a construction worker, with people waiting outside a barber shop, with children on bicycles? It’s normal and almost expected.
And that, in a world full of waterfront paradises is what’s truly unique.
I landed in town two weeks ago; already two families have invited me into their homes, lovingly fed me home-cooked meals and sent me home with more. With many others here I have shared stories and laughs and gaggles of beers; we’ve made plans; we’ve checked up on each other; we’ve exchanged hugs.
At the restaurants and bars, you see young mingling with old; people of Creole and Mestizo and white backgrounds as interspersed around the bar as shells on the shore. Entrances and exits take 20 minutes because there are so many people to whom friends need to say hellos and goodbyes.
In Corozal, this attitude of acceptance and camaraderie is so pervasive, it’s clear that it has become engrained as part of the town’s culture. When someone new shows up at the bar, many will make the rounds to introduce themselves and hear a bit about what brought them to Corozal.
Kindness a resource you won’t likely find in a tourist guide, but its sure to leave a longer impression than any dazzling vista.
So no, Corozal is not rich. It’s not polished, or pristine. There are no tours, no white-sand beaches, no opportunities to snorkel or sail; to climb mountains or crawl through canyons.
It’s wealth is its people.
I felt the warmth almost instantly. I sensed its singularity soon after.
I gained a new family so quickly, and now I am slow to leave.