Northern Belize

Lamanai Mayan ruins.

Getty Images/Lonely Planet Images

Perhaps the most fascinating Maya site 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 jungle overlooking the New River Lagoon. Climbing to the top of the 125ft High Temple to gaze out across the vast jungle canopy is an awe-inspiring experience that is not to be missed.

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, which goes deep into the home of the countless colorful and unusual birds that live in the area. Many guides who do the 1½-hour river trip are experts in both archaeology and the area’s wildlife, making it an especially worthwhile experience. The river voyage passes through some of the most beautiful jungle and lagoon country in Northern Belize, and the Mennonite community of Shipyard, before reaching Lamanai itself. There are a number of excellent tour guides in Orange Walk who specialize in the journey.