ORANGE WALK forms the centre of a busy agricultural region. The tranquil, slow-moving New River, a few blocks east of the centre, was a heavily used commercial waterway during the logging days, and today provides a lovely starting point for a visit to the ruins of Lamanai, to which several local operators offer tours.
Orange Walk was founded by mestizo refugees fleeing from the Caste Wars in Yucatán in 1849, who chose as their site an area that had long been used for logging camps and was already occupied by the local Icaiché (Chichanha) Maya. Orange Walk has traditionally thrived on its crops, first with the growth of the sugar (and the consequent rum distillation) and citrus industries, and after the fall in sugar prices, with profits made from marijuana. In the 1990s, however, pressure from the US government forced Belizean authorities to destroy many of the marijuana fields, and today the town has less of a Wild West atmosphere than it did several years ago. The land around the satellite villages of Blue Creek and Shipyard has been developed by Mennonite settlers, members of a Protestant religious group who choose to farm without the assistance of modern technology. You'll often spot them, the men in wide-brim hats and the women in ankle-length dresses, shopping for supplies in town – it's an arresting image, particularly against the dusty, tropical backdrop of Belize.
Orange Walk bustles around a distinctly Mexican-style, formal plaza, shaded by large trees, and the town hall across the main road is called the Palacio Municipal, reinforcing the strong historic links to Mexico. The town isn't heavy on sights, but, on the riverbank just north of the centre, it does feature the Banquitas House of Culture (Mon– Fri 8.30am–5.30pm), a well-run museum and cultural centre overseen by the National Institute of Culture and History.
Hourly buses from Belize City and Corozal pull up on the main road in the centre of town, officially called Queen Victoria Avenue but always referred to as the Belize– Corozal Road, and head north on the hour and south on the half-hour. Services to and from Sarteneja stop at Zeta's store on Main Street, a block to the east, while local buses to the surrounding villages (including Indian Church, for Lamanai) leave from around the market area, near the centre of town behind the town hall and fire station.