While staying at Orchid Bay for a week, I got to explore a non-touristy town. My friend I was visiting got sick, so when Dave and Damaris, the owners of Tradewinds Restaurant at Orchid Bay were heading over to Corozal to do some grocery shopping, I hopped on the boat with them. The boat ride was about 15-20 minutes to get to Corozal, which is 9 miles from the Mexico border and was once an important center on early Mayan trading routes. The seaside town is not a tourist hotspot, but it is popular as an expat retirement destination.
My first impression of Corozal was it could easily be in Mexico rather than Belize since Spanish seemed to be spoken more than English. I quickly picked up it’s off-the-beaten path for most tourists. This tourist was hungry. Dave headed off to the grocery store and Damaris took me over to Diana’s Saloon, a tiny place popular with locals. Damaris went for their salbutes, which are tortillas topped with shredded chicken, cabbage and pickled onions. Salbutes are popular lunch or snack fare in Belize. I went for panades, another “fast food” in Belize that’s the Belizean version of a meat pie, but with smoked fish and topped with chopped onions. I devoured every morsel. If it wouldn’t have been so close to their lunch closing time, I might have ordered more.
After our quick lunch Damaris went to help Dave and I set out to explore Corozal. I saw what looked like a historical marker sign so headed over to read what it says. It marked “El Convento,” the priest’s residence built in the early 1890s. The building survived catastrophic Hurricane Janet in 1955. It 1959 it opened as Xavier College. In 1978 it became Corozal Community College and the convent returned back to a parish office.
I walked over to the park then over to the market, which on weekends is very lively. It was pretty quiet since it was right after the new year, so I headed back over to the park then walked down what looked like one of the busier streets.
It was hot so when I saw the colorful Coconut Hut, I decided to pop in for a smoothie. I went for the pineapple and coconut one. The cool treat hit the spot as I chatted with two expats from the United States who both retired to Corozal.
I headed over to walk along the water. I saw what looked like a delightful neighborhood then by some small hotels and restaurants along the sea promenade.
When I got to the House of Culture, which open as the Corozal Town Public Market in 1886 and stayed in operation for a century. It was refurbished in 1995 and utilized as a community center until it was abandoned in 2000. It was restored again in 2011 and opened as the Corozal House of Culture in 2012. While reading the sign I realized I had already seen the public market, priest’s residence, park plaza and market on the Corozal Town Historic Walk and decided to look for the other ones.
I didn’t have to walk very far to my next stop on the walking tour. The Schofield Residence was built in the early 1880s, when mature mahogany still thrived in the forest of northern Belize. The wood home has survived many hurricanes, including Hurricane Janet. That was the second mention of the category 5 hurricane, which of course intrigued the meteorologist in me. The building was first a home, then headquarters for the Schofield family, which owned the Goshen and Pembroke Hall Estates in and around Corozal. In 1980, the grandchildren of William Schofield sold the house and property to the Catholic mission, which utilizes it as a resource center, classroom, conference space and even living space for Mexican nuns doing pastoral work in Corozal.
Next I headed over to the Corozal Town Hall, built in 1952. The concrete building was designed to withstand a catastrophic hurricane. In 1955, 300 people survived Hurricane Janet taking refuge in it. On one of the inside walls is a mural painted by artist Manuel Villamor in 1953. It depicts Corozal’s development. In 1986, Villamor redesigned the mural, restored it in 2003 and in 2012 at the age of 84 put his final touches on it.
The town hall is across from the Corozal Town Central Park, which has been a gathering place for activities and events since the town’s founding in 1849. Also right off the park and close to the market is Fort Barlee, built in the late 1870s to protect British interests and Yucatecan settlers during the latter years of the Caste Wars, is the last standing fort in Belize. From the early 1900s it was the Corozal Public Hospital until Hurricane Janet destroyed some of the structures. In the late 1950s government administrative offices were constructed and are used today.
The last stop on the Corozal Town Historic Walk is a few blocks from where most of the others are located. I walked over to Ahmad Residence and Store, built in 1949. A shop is still on the main level with Ahmad family members still living in the upper level of the historic building.
I was getting short on time and headed over to the sea wall to make my way to the boat now loaded with groceries for Orchid Bay. As we zoomed away for Corozal, I realized I thoroughly enjoyed my jaunt in a non-touristy town rich with hurricane history.
Author Jennifer Broome has stayed at Orchid Bay multiple times and highly recommends the resort for a Belize vacation. For other excursions from Orchid Bay, check out posts on New River Boat Tour and Snorkeling in a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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