The northernmost district (state) in the country, Corozal has long been overlooked by most tourists, although that is beginning to change.
Near the district’s capital of Corozal Town can be found the Maya ruins of Santa Rita and Cerros. The ruins now known as Santa Rita once controlled vital trade routes between present-day Mexico and Guatemala. After the Caste War ended in 1901 in neighboring Mexico, thousands of ethnic Mestizos emigrated to Corozal to become farmers.
For most of Corozal’s modern history, the region was best known for its agriculture, particularly the sugar cane crop. Now that tourists have begun to explore this beautiful area, Corozal has become a leading site for eco-tourism, with visitors flocking to the fishing villages of Consejo and Sarteneja to experience an authentic taste of local life in Belize.
Corozal is also becoming a popular haven for expats and retirees from America and around the world, drawn to the town by its sleepy charm and easy access to affordable goods, high-quality medical care, and shopping opportunities just across the border in Mexico.
Things to See & Do in Corozal
Visitors are recommended to visit the nearby Mayan ruins of Cerros and Santa Rita. Cerros is located in the Bay of Chetumal, right on the coast, the only Mayan city in the world with an oceanfront view. It’s still possible to climb the steep steps of the main temple, offering visitors an unparalleled view of Chetumal, the New River, and the panorama of the Corozal District.
Another popular local attraction is visiting the fishing village of Sarteneja. Originally built by the Maya, it is now the largest fishing village in the country, home to locals who still fish the rich waters in small boats.
Birdwatchers will enjoy a trip to the Shipstern Nature Reserve, over 27,000 acres of unspoiled territory. The nature reserve is home to all five of Belize’s wild cat species, as well as more than 300 species of birds, including the endangered Baird’s Tapir.
What to Eat and Drink in Corozal
Just across the border from Mexico, Corozal is a great place to enjoy authentic Mexican food and drink. Local Belizean delicacies and snacks are also popular in Corozal, and visitors can explore the local markets to get the best in fresh produce and seafood. Roadside vendors sell some of the best fresh juice in the country, popular with locals and visitors alike.
Where to Stay in Corozal
Since Corozal is only just now being discovered by tourists, there are no large hotel chains or luxury accommodations. Quality lodgings can be found at the numerous family-owned small hotels and inns clustered on the coast or in the southern part of Corozal.
Getting to Corozal
Most international visitors to Corozal first fly to Belize City at the Phillip Goldson International Airport. From there, taxis or shuttles can take you to any location in Corozal District.
For visitors coming in overland from Chetumal City in Mexico, public transportation on so-called “chicken buses” is the only option, which offer little in the way of comfort, but ticket prices are extremely affordable.
Top Attractions in Corozal Belize
- Corozal House of Culture
- Santa Rita Maya Ruins
- Cerros Maya Ruins
- Corozal Town
- Shipstern Nature Reserve
A Brief History of Corozal Belize
For contemporary visitors coming to Corozal with more interest in water sports than this region’s exciting past, it can come as a surprise when, either by accident or intention, Belize’s history becomes a topic of conversation that reaches back around 5,000 years.
Once the home of nomadic Paleo/Archaic Maya who had grown weary of trekking from place to place in search of better topography and resources, Corozal was ultimately settled by pre-Classic Mayas who transformed this society dramatically.
Spectacular technological advances were achieved as this once nomadic populace settled their new home. Temple building, stele design and a sophisticated relationship with the cosmos provided all manner of civilization to the people, as did an expansive agricultural movement that resulted in surpluses rarely enjoyed by their ancestors.
Advances and sophistication mark the Post-Classic period
The Post-Classic period (900 to 1511 AD) saw an elevation of all things Mayan: religious practices, city-building and architectural innovation that prevailed until Spaniards arrived on the shores of Chetumal/Corozal. It took no time for these explorers to plunder and assume dominion over this lush green land located between the rivers Noh Ucum and Dzuluinicob, and along the coast of the pristine bay.
Further inland, the Spanish conquistadors found fertile soil, favorable weather and intensive agricultural practices that had allowed indigenous people to grow enough food to support a flourishing trading relationship in honey, salt and cacao beans, the source of chocolate. But Spanish greed and harsh rule lead to unrest, which is how and why Corozal became an epicenter of resistance to these conquerors.
Spaniards gain a foothold that extends to England
To add insult to injury, Spaniards brought with them disease and illnesses that had caused epidemics back home. Within a century, 90-percent of native populations throughout the region had been killed off by measles, smallpox and influenza. A Spanish Governor took control to oversee a search for gold and silver that never materialized, but logwood and dyewood plants proved to be just as valuable and access rights were stringently monitored by the governor.
During the 1500’s, pirates operated with abandon throughout the Caribbean and Belize was not spared from their assaults by sea. According to historians, pirates plundered the area most heavily between 1638 and 1662. Enter a new conquering nation at this point: Spaniards were unable to repel a British fleet. To keep the peace, a portion of the Yucatan peninsula was ceded to the Commonwealth, affording legitimacy to England via the 1763 Treaty of Paris that granted British settlers exclusive rights to harvest hardwood.
Dominating the entire Yucatan peninsula, Spaniards aligned themselves with Mestizos, triggering the Caste War of Yucatan (1847 to 1901). Mestizos were concentrated about 30 miles north of Corozal Town where a massacre lead to an unprecedented exodus of an estimated 10,000 displaced refugees. In fact, what’s now the northernmost town in Belize was officially founded by refugees surviving the Maya Indian uprising of 1848.
Ultimately, Mestizos took up residence Corozal where the unrest between them and indigenous Mayas became so contentious, by 1870, it had become a garrison town and resulted in the construction of Fort Barlee in 1870. Visitors can still see remnants of this fortress when they visit today.
Now a model of diversity, Corozal finds its place under the Belize sun
If Corozal were to be given a singular name that encompasses its current population, “melting pot” would be a good choice. An eclectic mix of Spaniards, Mayas and Mestizos, infused with a fascinating mix of Catholicism and ancient Maya religious practices, seem to have finally settled into a community—until the British came along to inflict yet another nation’s powerful dominance over the people and institutions of Belize.
By the time Corozal Town had been firmly established on an ancient past that included prosperity, rebellion, domination and extinction, the town was yet to suffer a final indignity: On September 27, 1955, Hurricane Janet barreled through Grenada before hitting Corozal Town and turning it into flattened landscape that resembled the aftermath of a war zone. Only 10 houses were left standing.
Building tomorrow from the remnants of yesterday
Having come through so many catastrophes over the centuries, the people of Corozal had no appetite for self-pity and began their rebuilding efforts just as soon as the rubble had been cleared. Today, Corozal remains an epicenter of cultural history where Santa Rita, a pyramid site located atop the vestiges of a Maya city that had thrived for 2000 years, still reminds citizens and visitors of the region’s rich past.