Our day trip to the Lamanai ruins in northern Belize made for one of the best days of my life so far. It was perfect in every way, probably because we left and had simple faith we’d have a great day.
We started outside the Happy House north of Corozal, and got a shared taxi van to the center of town. That cost $1.
From town, we took the 7:15 local bus to Orange Walk, which is about an hour west. It’s an old school bus with newer seating and a sound system that played upbeat music. This second bus ride cost $2.
Our plan was to show up in Orange Walk and visit one of the tour guide offices to arrange something.
Instead, we met a delightful couple on the bus. Shannon and Jon were taking a tour to Lamanai arranged through their accommodations. We ended up going with them on their tour because there was room for us.
It cost $55, and included transportation from the Orange Walk bus station to the boat, a 25 mile river ride, lunch at the ruins, a tour of the ruins, the return river ride, and then back to the bus. We used Lamanai Eco Adventures.
First we had to fuel up with breakfast, so we went to Mother’s Kitchen near the Orange Walk market, across the street from the town square. It’s a small building in the middle of a parking lot.
For $6, we got two orders of fry jacks (fried dough like bread) with beans and okra, one orange juice (spouse), eggs (spouse) and one coffee (me). The fry jacks were great. The place came recommended by the man who took us to our next bus ride.
On our third ride, we met our tour guide for the day, Alberto, and he was awesome. On the way to the boat, pointed out the area’s sugar cane factory, next to a distillery. Sugar cane is a major crop in this area, and people are proud to support their families from all business aspects of its production.
Finally – we loaded up into the boat and set out on the New River. We saw bats, countless birds and shortly after we started, we saw a spider monkey. It likes to hang down from the branches and take gifts from tourists. So I fed it a banana from our pack. Alberto told me to put small chunks in my hand, and the little creature gently took them. I offered for others on the boat to try – but no one wanted to.
One of the more interesting birds we saw on the way to the ruins was what the locals call “Jesus Christ” birds, because they look like they are walking on water. But they’re really just lily pad hopping. The birds are jacanas.
Alberto told our group the females leave their eggs with the males, and the males do the nesting duties and care for the eggs while the females go look for other mates. The females basically have male harem, which is rare.
We also saw many other birds, including herons and egrets, but it was to be our lucky day. Alberto abruptly stopped the boat and pointed out two pink birds called roseate spoonbills. He said they are very rare to see. My spouse did the best he could to capture their color against a cloud while in a moving boat – but the camera doesn’t do them justice.
We also saw a Mennonite community on the way to the ruins. It just looked like a farming community. Mennonites produce about 65% of the country’s produce, according to Alberto and other locals we’ve talked to while in Belize. And we saw a crocodile, but it was too far away and jumped into the water pretty fast. (We saw something better on the ride back.)
The lunch included in the trip was chicken, rice and beans, a bottle of coke and a bottle of water. I had two servings of rice and beans, since I don’t eat meat (just fish).
Then it was time to tour Lamanai. It’s like many other Mayan sites in Mexico – but this was our first ruins visit in Belize. The city is only partially excavated. In fact, the site is something like 10 miles along the river, and we walked just 3/4 of a mile. There were several buildings and areas to see. If you know anything about Mayan ruins, you already know a lot about Lamanai.
After the tour, it was time for the boat ride back. About halfway, we saw something really cool.
We were flying down the river in the boat when Alberto spotted a baby crocodile on a log at the river’s edge that wasn’t more than a foot long. I have no idea how he saw it going as fast as we were.
When we got back to Lamanai Eco Adventures offices and dock, a small bus took us to the airport to drop off half the group, and of course we tipped Alberto. He really went out of his way to make our day special. We parted ways and next we went to the bus station in Orange Walk for the 75 minute bus ride back to Corozal ($2), and the shared taxi van back to the Happy House ($1).
It was a 12-hour day of sightseeing that wasn’t entirely planned out, and it was perfect. We met great people, and had great times, and enjoyed every ride along the way. That happens when I give up the wheel and let God do the driving.