The Complete Guide
to Corozal, Belize
This post was published on Dec 17, 2018
Earlier this month I spent a weekend in Belize and absolutely loved it! I visited the quiet little town of Corozal right across the Mexico border and was fascinated by the little details that make this town so quaint. Corozal was the perfect place to get a first look at Belizean culture without having to venture further south into the country, although I’d sure love to see more next time I go!
Most people probably only pass through Corozal on the way to Belize’s more famous tourist destinations like San Pedro, Caye Caulker, or Belize City if they’re coming from Mexico. Even if that’s your plan, consider spending a night or two in this little town. It’s quiet, relaxing, and has a great atmosphere that isn’t dominated by tourism.
Why did I visit Corozal, you ask? Well, I wanted to visit another country and Belize seemed like an obvious choice. However, flights between Mexico City and Belize City are always very expensive for some reason. For a weekend trip, it was actually easiest and cheapest to fly into Chetumal, a city in Mexico a few miles north of the border, then cross over by land. Although I only spent two days in Corozal, I’m totally hooked on Belize and hope to explore much more of the country soon.
Crossing the border by foot can be confusing, and I’ve dedicated a whole separate blog post to that topic. For whatever reason, there is almost no up-to-date information online about it, so I tried to explain how to handle it as of December 2018. In this post, I want to focus on the town itself and why it was such an interesting destination despite its low profile.
General Info About Belize
If you’re an American like me, you may have briefly covered Belize in a middle school geography class, but as an adult in the world you may only be able to identify it by name or locate it on a map. Despite it’s small size, Belize has a fascinating history that ties it more closely with Jamaica and other Caribbean nations than neighboring Mexico or Guatemala.
Belize only gained independence from the UK in 1981, and before that was a dependent entity known as British Honduras. Because of this, the official language is English. However, due to the nation’s proximity to Spanish-speaking countries as well as its very diverse population, a large percentage of the population is multilingual. Most residents also speak Belizean Creole (a mix between English and local dialects), which I had the opportunity to overhear a few times during my visit. As an American, it was almost impossible to understand, but it was totally fascinating to listen to.
Belize also has strong cultural ties to other former British colonies in the region. Perhaps for this reason, the town of Corozal reminded me of some of the small settlements I’ve seen in the Bahamas, which gained independence from the UK in 1973, less than ten years before Belize did.
The capital of the country is Belmopan, a centrally-located city of only 16,000 people. In addition to being tiny compared to other world capitals, Belmopan has only been the seat of government since 1970. Before that, Belize City, the country’s largest settlement, served as the capital of British Honduras.
If you take a look at Google maps, you’ll see a dashed border between Belize and Guatemala. This is because Guatemala has claimed the southern half of Belize despite not exercising control there. This conflict has persisted for hundreds of years up until now, and continues to cause tensions and influence local and regional politics.
With all of these facts in mind, Belize is clearly a fascinating country. The country is also home to a large number of Mayan archaeological sites, reflecting the rich pre-colonial history of the region going back thousands of years. It’s a shame that Caribbean history is so often neglected in American education, not only because it is interesting and worth studying in its own right, but also because it paints a more complete picture of where America comes from and how British colonialism continues to affect life for many of our international neighbors even today.
Corozal is a town of only about 10,000 residents that is located about eight miles south of the Belize-Mexico border. Despite having almost no “standard” tourism infrastructure, it is a beautiful place that is absolutely worth a few days’ visit. There are a surprising number of charming restaurants, public spaces, and murals displayed around town. The entire length of the waterfront is public access. Corozal Bay, the adjacent body of water, has unique gradients from green to navy blue.
A visit to Corozal won’t be packed with activities and planned itineraries. It’s best to go with the intention to leisurely explore the town, try some family-owned restaurants and bars, and relax. Since there are no chain hotels in town, visitors will need to book lodging at one of the many guesthouses. I loved the one I chose because it was a great opportunity to meet a local family and stay in a beautiful home right on the water (more on that below).
As I mentioned before, you’ll pass by a bunch of parks, restaurants, and the Corozal House of Culture, which is a local museum (more on that below). Although the water is pretty and you’re likely to pass at least a few swimmers, the town doesn’t really have sandy beaches.
Corozal’s Public Square
Santa Rita Archaeological Site
This is probably one of the only things in Corozal that could be accurately called a tourist attraction. I went on Saturday afternoon only to find it closed, so don’t trust the hours listed online (8:00 to 17:00 daily). I went back earlier on Sunday and found that it was open, but only because one single employee who was inside raking leaves let me in.
There was a small fee (I think 10 BZD) so come with a bit of cash. Also, if the main gate (located here) looks closed, check the side gate. When I got in on Sunday, I was the only visitor, so it might look closed but actually be open.
The employee there was friendly and gave a brief history of the site, including how it was discovered and partially destroyed by the British, as well as how it hosts a recreation of a Mayan wedding once a year.
If you head over here and the gates are closed, you’ll still be able to at least see it through the fence. It’s worth the attempt to visit (about a 30-minute walk from the waterfront) but if you don’t get in, there are a bunch of other Mayan ruins to visit throughout the region.
Corozal House of Culture
This distinctive building with a red roof located here functions as the town’s main museum. Unfortunately, it’s not open on weekends, so be sure to go for a visit if you’re in Corozal during the week!
Since Corozal isn’t filled with activities per se, I think it’s fair to say that the town’s restaurants count as a main attraction. Read on to see what kind of delicious local cuisine can be found here!
Restaurants in Corozal
For a town of only 10,000 people, Corozal has a ton of restaurants to choose from. Ask around for recommendations, and try to order some local dishes that you wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere. Belizean food is more similar to Caribbean cuisine than Mexican, although there are a large number of Mexican restaurants in Corozal. This means you’ll likely be enjoying coconut rice with beans, potato salad, and veggies along with beef, chicken, or seafood.
My favorite place was probably Patty’s Bistro. They had a menu with quite a few American standards, but I decided to try their conch soup special, which reminded me a bit of clam chowder. Since conch fishing is illegal in the States, you can only get it in places like the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and apparently also Belize, so don’t pass it up if you love seafood and see it on a menu!
I also stopped in for a beer at Jam Rock, a bar and grill that my taxi driver recommended. Which brings me to an important topic…
Be sure to try the local brews when you’re here! Your two main options are Belikin and Lighthouse Lager. Both are light and refreshing: a nice alternative if you aren’t in the mood for a rum-based cocktail.
Random Interesting Facts
Small, off-the-beaten-path towns like Corozal are bound to have a few surprises that you wouldn’t expect. Here are a few.
There are so many parks and playgrounds here.
It is impossible to walk for more than a few minutes in Corozal without seeing a park or playground. It’s nice that there are so many public spaces, but most of the time they seemed pretty empty. However, on Sunday afternoon, families gathered in the parks along the shore to play sport and have BBQs.
Corozal is home to a large Chinese expat community.
I was surprised to see so many restaurants and shops with Chinese names here, but they are everywhere!
One couple I met at a bar recommended trying the Chinese food here, so I popped into one of the restaurants. It looked very much like a hole-in-the-wall, and I think I was expecting a menu of very authentic Cantonese food, but they mainly had burgers, chow mein and fried rice.
It might be an interesting experience to try some other ones in search of authentic Chinese food. But I’d say stick to Belizean cuisine if you’re only spending a few days here.
Corozal has a lot of public art.
Corozal is supposed to have a reputation as a popular place for American retirees. I’m not sure if that’s true, but it seems that there are quite a few artists in Corozal. Keep an eye out for the public pieces that can be found around town!
Where I Stayed
Part of the reason I liked Corozal so much is that the guesthouse where I stayed had so much character. I found The Waterfront SeaBreeze Guesthouse on Airbnb and loved the vibe. The interior was so colorful and cheerful, and there were a bunch of public spaces to relax including a balcony.
My hosts were so friendly and welcoming, which made it such a great stay. Marion answered all my questions about the town and helped me arrange a ride back to the border on Sunday night. A stay here also includes breakfast, and it was absolutely delicious! If I come back to Corozal, I would totally stay here again.
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Tips and Last Thoughts
All my tips regarding crossing the border can be found on my other blog post. Once you make it to Corozal, things are pretty straight forward. If you have USD or Mexican pesos, you’ll want to convert to BZD (Belize dollars). Try Shanti’s Store, which I think is located here (if you don’t find it, just ask around; it’s within a block or two of the public square). You won’t have to go through a bunch of paperwork and they seem to give a good rate.
There are at least a few 24-hour ATMs around town. If you plan to cross into Mexico, note that you must pay a 40 BZD exit tax which can only be paid in BZD and in cash. I’m guessing the immigration office might have an ATM, but just withdraw the money in town and don’t take your chances! Other than that, you will probably need BZD to pay for food; credit card didn’t seem widely accepted and neither did USD or Mexican pesos.
Corozal, Belize was my last major trip of the year. It was the perfect relaxing end to a year of adventure! Writing this blog has been so much fun and I hope it has inspired you to consider at least some of the destinations I visited this year.
I’ll be continuing to travel and write in 2019, and I can’t wait to find out which states and countries I end up exploring in the year to come. In January and February, I’ll be visiting Dallas, Puerto Vallarta, and Mérida, which I’m so excited for! If you have any suggestions or places you’d like me to consider, leave a comment below! Thanks for following and have an amazing holiday season!
This post was published on Dec 17, 2018