Occupying a long stretch of coastline on the country’s northern tip, this unheralded gem of Belize is modest but beautiful, with a contagious pull.
Even if you’re making plans to travel to Belize, there is a good chance Corozal, a quiet, seaside town on the northern coast, isn’t on your radar.
It should be.
Besides boasting great food at affordable prices and a long stretch of coastline that — though bereft of any classic beaches — is laden with dozens of hidden coves, swimming nooks and elegant sea grape trees, Corozal is worth a trip simply to meet the people that walk its streets.
Because this little Belizean community just might be one of the friendliest, warmest places you’ll ever go.
Be aware that unlike many of the country’s other destinations that boast snorkeling/diving trips, sunset sails, water sports, tours and more, there isn’t much in the way of conventional “activities” in Corozal outside a pair of worthy Mayan ruin sites nearby.
But if you’re keen on the idea of taking quiet walks by the undeveloped shore, savoring an array of skillful, transition-rich cuisines and falling, seamlessly, into the charming community routine, well, perhaps you’ll be enchanted as I.
Here’s what you should do while you’re in town:
Stroll the center.
Originally settled by Mestizo immigrants from the Maya uprising in the neighboring Yucatan, modern Corozal still boasts relics from that era. Start your stroll at the colorful clock tower in Central Park and walk to the western corner to view the cornerstone of Fort Barlee, constructed in the late 1800s as a defense from the Mayan incursions from the north. From there, continue southeast down 1st St., stopping at Town Hall, which boasts a magnificent wall-length mural illustrating Corozal’s past. Continue on down 1st, turning right at the waterfront to encounter the iconic House of Culture, a micro museum and information center built in the historic old market. Here, you might want to pause to take photos of the glorious red roof overlooking Corozal Bay. The center’s main streets, 4th and 5th avenues, are both worth the trek as well, littered with barbecue stands, eateries and stores. For some Belizean flavors to take home, pop into Roshni Supermarket for hot sauces, rums and spices, including bricks of the red and black recado used in dishes such as rice and beans and chirmole, a black stew.
Hit the markets.
Corozal holds two markets of note: first, the daily Gabriel Hoare market, just a block off Central Park. Here, you can find produce and clothing stands along with butchers and fish vendors. Come hungry; a multitude of stalls tout the likes of stewed chicken, rich tamales and fluffy salbutes. There are excellent lunch options all around, but the best is Norma’s stand — there’s no sign; just ask for Norma, the tamales and gorditas lady, by name.
Secondly, there is the farmer’s market, on the northeast end of town, on the far side of the cemetery (also worthy of a walk-through). This market’s big days are Mondays and Fridays, and it goes until mid day, but slows down considerably after 9:30 a.m. or so. At the farmer’s market, you can purchase the excellent fresh milk used around town, as well as select from beautiful assortments of fruits and coconuts. There are just a couple hot food options here, but it’s possible to have a simple breakfast of hot (instant) coffee and rolled tacos.
Take in the ruins.
Cerros, a magnificent Mayan site lies just on the other side of the bay from Corozal; unfortunately, it’s a bit tricky to get there. The boat that once trekked the short distance recently stopped service, and there isn’t a bus that goes directly there. Your best bet, if you don’t have a car, is to arrange for a taxi. It’s not a quick trip; the road there meanders and crossing a slow river ferry is required — but those who make the journey are rewarded with incredible views of ancient temples stacked up against the bay; crumbling history threatening to plunge in the ocean forever. This site, which also offers a small, one-room museum, represents the first Mayan coastal trading center. As a bonus, the beaches are some of the loveliest in the area, and visitors, likely having the whole place to themselves, might be treated to Coatamundi (called quash in Belize) sightings, too. The running rate for a round-trip cab ride (with a couple hours of waiting in between) is $100BZ or $50 USD.
Additionally, there is a single pyramid with great significance near the northern boundary in Corozal proper. Santa Rita is believed to once have been the capital of great Chactumal, which extended into the Yucaton, and also is considered the birthplace of the Mestizo people because it held the wedding of Gonzalo Guerrero and the Chactumal cheif’s daughter as the first Spanish-Mayan union. It costs $5 USD to enter both Mayan sites.
Walk the sea wall.
This feature, a worn cement construction with cracked pain and plenty of years behind it, ushers those patient enough to walk it along a labyrinth parks, docks, restaurants and hidden coves. From the red flashes of the almond trees at water’s edge, to the dramatic branches of the glorious sea grape trees stretching over the surf, there is so much beauty to take in. During your jaunt, you’re likely to see families lunching, kids swimming and playing in the many parks and young lovers ducking beneath the wall for moments of privacy.
Take a dip.
Just because Corozal doesn’t have beaches, doesn’t mean it’s not possible to swim. Those who wander into the clear, cerulean water will be pleased to find that though the bay’s banks are rocky, in many places there is soft, fine sand below the ocean’s surface. A couple prime spots: just south of the bar Jam Rock, a stone-encased inlet stretches into the water; and just south of Rainbow Park, a small wooden dock with ladders into the surf offers a great nook, too, complete with a sunning rock great for getting lost in a book. Bring beers, too, if you like.
Peruse Art in the Park.
Once a month, the town hosts a delightful little artistic fair in Central Park that starts around 5 and goes well into the evening. Here, you can purchase painted canvases, wooden goods, fruit wines, hot sauces and more — there are also many snack carts and food trucks for dinner al fresco, and bakeries peddling lime tarts and a variety of cakes. Check the Facebook page for dates.
Picnic in Mangrove Park.
If you don’t know to pursue it, Mangrove Park, just enough off the beaten bath, would be easy to miss. Make sure you don’t — the pristine shoreline laden with the namesake trees and other foliage is a fantastic spot to bring a sandwich, a bottle of Corozal’s excellent fresh juices (bought from many street-side vendors in town) and just feel at peace.
Belt one out on karaoke night.
Thursdays and Sundays are karaoke night at Scotty’s in Corozal — and the whole town takes notice. But this isn’t just any karaoke; you’ll likely be treated to some of the most talented amateur singers you’ve ever encountered in bar. Still, don’t be shy. The culture at Scotty’s — effectively the modern town square in Corozal — is extremely inclusive and welcoming. You’re likely to make friends within minutes, and if you choose to get up and belt one out yourself, you can count on a hefty applause, regardless of your skill level.
Sip cocktails on the water front.
Despite its complete lack of tourism, there are many places in Corozal to have a drink with a great view. The pinnacle: Corozo Blue’s, a stunning little restaurant (try the wood-fired pizza) on the water’s edge. It will also be your most expensive option. Closer to the center of town you’ll find Jam Rock, a relaxed bar that hosts its own karaoke and trivia nights, with a location, nearly on top of the bay, that can hardly be beat. Meanwhile, Scotty’s and Tortuga are each just across the road from the water; patrons are still treated to tranquil views and sea breezes.
Get some exercise.
Looking for a free gym membership? The workout park, near Round House, touts simple outdoor equipment like shoulder presses and ellipticals, with bay views.
Browse the bakeries.
Corozal is full of little independent shops selling crave-able baked goods for breakfast or a mid-day treat. Start at Y Not bakery, which boasts the best selection of pastries, donuts, pies and cakes in town. A couple other worthy options: the stand at The Corner Store, which sells the most sublime coconut tarts on Mondays (and delicious lemon pies when you can catch them), and the Argentinian bakery on College Rd., which bakes banana bread, bread pudding and more, daily, and offers a Johnny cake breakfast in the early mornings.
Take a day trip to Sarteneja.
The water taxi, which departs Corozal for San Pedro island makes a pit stop in Sarteneja, a small village known for its wooden boat craftsmanship, on request, and it’s a lovely way to spend the afternoon — as long as you avoid the smelly sink mud that gathers on the beaches when the conditions are right (it can crust over and appear to be a beach; it definitely is not). There isn’t much to the village besides two restaurants, a couple guest houses and a handful of lunch stands. But the photos are fabulous, and the locals are friendly. The boat departs Corozal at 7 a.m. and returns from Sarteneja at 4:30. It’s about a half-hour ride. Round trip tickets are $25 USD.
Within days, I was invited to barbecues, birthdays and graduations; I had conversations with men and women, old and young, Mestizo and Creole, just about everywhere I went. After a month, I had made friends for life. If you have anything like the experience I did, you won’t have to try too hard: Corozaleños are genuine, welcoming people down to their core.