Birds, monkeys and crocs: a trip down the New River, Belize
The town of Orange Walk is the main stop on the road through northern Belize from southern Mexico, and unless you like Chinese restaurants (of which it has an amazing number), the only real reason to stop here is to see the Mayan ruins of Lamanai. But it’s well worth stopping, not only for Lamanai itself but for the beautiful and fascinating boat trip to get there.
Lamanai is located deep in the Belizean jungle, once exploited by British loggers for its mahogany and logwood, which was used to make indigo. You can get there by car if you don’t mind loosening a few teeth on the unpaved roads, but most people opt for a scenic one-and-a-half-hour boat ride down the New River.
The river got its name because the British loggers began to use it as a logging route after they’d cleaned out the lands around the first Belize River. But despite the intensive logging, the river still looks almost untouched, lined with dense stands of cypress and other local trees, and populated by an amazing variety of birds, animals and reptiles. Best of all, it’s a beautiful place.
If you’re looking for thrills, the ride down the river is a good choice. Our boat powered through the water at breakneck speed, carving fast turns around the many bends in the river. But our boatman, Guadelupe, was more than willing to throttle back whenever he saw things of interest, and there were many.
Only a few minutes into the trip, he drifted near the bank to show us one of the river’s most sinister denizens, a huge crocodile. This one was sunning himself, while shedding some heat by propping his mouth open. He wasn’t perturbed by having an audience: when you have rows of fearsome teeth and lightning-quick jaws, I guess these things don’t bother you.