ORANGE WALK TOWN/ Hotel de la Fuente
In-land Adventure #2, One Week to 10 Days, 2weeks
Orange Walk Town, District of Orange Walk
We haven’t been able to visit the Hotel de la Fuente for a few years but we keep up-to-date by frequent contact with Cyndy and Orlando and sometime with their staff. If anything has changed since we last visited, we expect the change has been for the best and from all the reports from friends who have been there recently our expectations have more than been met. We are planing a visit in 2016.
HOW TO GET THERE
Depending when you land at the Philip Goldson International Airport outside of Belize City, you might be able to take a taxi to the Northern Highway and wait on the road for a bus headed north to Orange Walk, about an hour-long bus ride.
Or, you might want to take a taxi into Belize City to the main bus station and catch a bus there. There is a regular run from Belize City to Orange Walk town, so you should be able to get a bus without a long wait and still arrive in Orange Walk Town in an hour and a half.
Or if you have made reservations you can stay overnight at a hotel in the City, and set out in the morning after breakfast. The main bus station in Belize City is easy to find; just ask your host.
Or you can rent a car in Belize City and arrange to have it waiting for you at the Airport. It’s not a long haul at all and the Northern Highway is well-paved.
Whatever you decide to do, you’ll soon find yourself in Orange Walk Town, a clean, colourful town of 17,000, on the north-east of Belize, nestled up against the New River. Here the people are predominantly Mestizo, a mixture of Mayan Indian and European with a rich history that dates back centuries. Orange Walk Town is home to the once mighty Sugar Industry, until fairly recently the most important industry in Belize but now superseded by Tourism.
WHERE TO STAY
When you disembark from the bus, you will be almost directly across from the town centre and only a 10 minute walk from the Hotel de la Fuente, a magical family-owned hotel opened about seven years ago. Check out http://www.hoteldelafuente.com (a great web site) and firstname.lastname@example.org.
This sparkling hotel is run by Orlando and Cyndi de la Fuente, or perhaps more accurately Cyndi and Orlando because Orlando also operates a thriving pharmaceutical business adjoining the hotel and Cyndi runs the desk. Whatever the case, they are a charming couple and they and their staff have done an excellent job in meeting the needs of visitors who want all the creature comforts but don’t want to pay a king’s ransom for them.
Check in at the lobby which also serves as a meeting place for guests throughout the day. The Hotel de la Fuente offers complimentary toast, peanut butter and jelly, fresh fruits and coffee every morning between 7a.m. and 9a.m. The lobby is also a nice spot to catch your breath after a day-trip or a long walk.
After being awarded the prestigious Small Hotel of the Year by the Belize Tourism Board in 2005, the de la Fuentes never rested on their laurels but steadfastly renovated, expanded and improved, always with the best interests of the traveler in mind. Construction of a bar and grill has been completed and cabins are now available on a newly acquired property 10 minutes upriver from the hotel on the banks of the New River. Daily tours to the Lamanai archaeological site will depart from this new property on the river. A spa, bicycles and canoes will be available for guest use.
Construction has been completed on a courtyard between the main building and the new Riverside Cabins where you have a choice of Standard at $80 or Premium at $130.
Standard rooms in the hotel run from US$40 to 80, Premium rooms from $65-75 and Junior Suites from$65-85
Check out their website to determine which room suits your needs and budget. We stayed on the second floor of the original hotel and were very happy with our accommodation—scrupulously cleaned every day, comfortable, quiet, screened and secure. From the second floor, you can sit out on the verandah and sip a cup of coffee watching the shops below you open up for business as the locals parade by on their way to work or to school or to a rendezvous in a coffee shop. But that was then, this is now and you have many more choices than we had when the hotel first opened.
There are, of course, more hotels in Orange Walk Town, and many more in the vicinity. Search for hotels in Orange Walk Town, Belize or check out Trip Advisor.
WHAT TO DO
What’s to do in Orange Walk? Well, it’s not Disney World, that’s for sure, but why would anyone look for Disney World in Orange Walk Town? It’s what it is, and to discover what it is you’ve got to slow down and look around. The Banquitas House of Culture is five minutes down the road. That’s a good spot to get a sense of the community, its roots and its future.
Or just do a walk-about when it’s not too hot. Check out the town square, the market place, city hall and the business district. Hire a cabbie to take you on a tour of the town and the outlying villages. (Ask your hosts to recommend someone.)
Catch a bus to Corozal Town. This is a town close to the Mexican border and worth exploring for a future visit. Hire a taxi for a couple hours to give you a guided tour. Check out the nice public beach on the shore of the Caribbean. You can also cross the border to Mexico for some serious shopping. Ask you host for details.
Or, you can bus to Corozal, catch a water taxi to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, an island off the coasts of Mexico and Belize but inside the country of Belize. Spend a few hours kicking back before making the return voyage. San Pedro is very commercial and congested with gas-guzzling cars and trucks, but there are some good shops to browse through and many places to have a very nice lunch.
The highlight of our trip to Orange Walk was our boat ride up the New River and the tour of the Lamanai ruins. We booked the trip through the hotel and fully recommend it. (The staff can also arrange cave tubing and a visit to a baboon sanctuary or the Belize Zoo and more.) The guide was personable, very knowledgeable about the wildlife that calls the river home and about the vegetation that festoons the sides of the river. We took two hours going upriver to the ruins but they were hours chock full of the contagious excitement of two of our companions on the boat who were full-fledged, unrepentant bird watchers. That’s when we realized there are two kinds of people—those who watch birds and bird watchers. We watch birds. Under our companions’ tutelage for a couple of hours we became bird watchers.
It was a lot of fun. Evelyn counted and recorded more than 30 different birds on the way up and another dozen or so on the way back. We also spotted a half dozen crocodiles and a few large turtles but they can’t fly so they don’t count.
Lamanai lived up to its reputation as an important Mayan ruin or archaeological site. In the glory years of the Maya civilization, Lamanai was the last stop on a trading route which connected the Yucatan peninsula to Tikal in present day Guatamala. As the centuries slipped by and the Mayan civilization began to fade into memory, the Mayans in Lamanai survived as they had before, meeting and greeting the waves of European adventurers that swept over Central America. The ruins are well preserved and, though less dramatic than some of the other ruins we’ve seen, are in their modesty more manageable, more comprehensible and more fun.
Our trip back was faster (45 minutes) and proved that our guide and captain, Hilberto, could likely navigate the twists and turns of the New River at very high speeds with a blindfold on. We didn’t put him to the test.
WHERE TO EAT
Of course, if you stay in Orange Walk or day-trip the outskirts, you still have to eat. We found some very good places to eat but to make sure we had covered the waterfront I contacted Cyndi de la Fuente and sought her advice. She recommended several places, some we haven’t have a chance to visit.
Take a 10 minute walk to Lee’s Chinese Restaurant with its air-conditioned ambiance, authentic Chinese décor and generous portions of good Chinese food.
3 km. south of town (a $12.00 bze cab ride) La Hacienda Steak House offers steaks and Mayan Fish, a cut of fillet baked in plantain leaves.
El Establo is 4 km. north of town. It used to be one of Cyndi’s favourite places to eat and relax. She recommended the ceviche (shrimp and conch marinated in lime and served with fresh tomatoes, onions and cilantro) and the salpicon (dry baked pork diced and soaked in lime juice and served over a bed of fresh tomatoes, onions and cilantro).
You might also check out the Nahal Myab Restaurant and Patio and the Nohoch Ma’ac, the latter located by the market. Both serve good local food and both are recommended by the Hotel.
We got a good lunch on the patio at the House of Culture restaurant or you can take breakfast, lunch and supper at the Lamanai Riverside restaurant where you can eat inside or on the patio. Good menu. Very, very pretty in the evening as the sun goes down.
Before you know it, it’s time to move on or go home. You’ve had some good adventures, met some travelers like yourselves, had time to chat with locals about their lives, their hopes and dreams… regret will pluck on your heart strings as you leave Orange Walk Town and the Hotel de la Fuente.