One of the biggest and best excavated Maya sites in northern Belize, Lamanai lies 24 miles south of Orange Walk Town up the New River (or 36 miles by unpaved road). The ruins are known both for their impressive architecture and marvelous setting, surrounded by dense rainforest overlooking the New River Lagoon. The translation of the word lamanai – which means 'submerged crocodile' in Mayan – gives a pretty good indication of the local residents of this jungly setting.
Most visitors approach Lamanai by guided river trip from Orange Walk, not just to avoid the long and bumpy road, but to take advantage of the river trip itself. The boat ride is an opportunity to observe the river's prolific and colorful birdlife, as well as crocs, iguanas, monkeys and other wildlife. Most guides who do the 1½-hour trip are experts in local archaeology and ecology, making this tour a two-for-the-price-of-one experience. Besides the beautiful jungle and lagoon, the river voyage passes the Mennonite community of Shipyard before reaching the ruin site. There are a number of excellent tour guides in Orange Walk who specialize in the journey.