For the majority of first time visitors, northern Belize means Orange Walk District and most head at some stage to the tiny hamlet of Indian Church where the Maya city of Lamanai is located.
Access to the area is challenging – an irregular bus service travels 35 miles from the town of Orange Walk twice weekly – but most people arrive by boat along the New River. Many opt for day trips to the ruins but others, including ourselves, choose to spend a few nights at the Lamanai Outpost Lodge.
Lamanai Outpost Lodge
This is a great place for newcomers to Belize – because everything is done for you! With full board, your stay includes 2 free activities per day ( from a choice of 8) so you can’t go wrong.
About the Lodge – In a jungle setting on the banks of the New River, the lodge has just 17 cabins. Built by an Australian, who’s son now runs it, the local elders agreed to the construction on condition that employees be recruited from Indian Church where possible. It has therefore become a very important part of the local economy. It opens for most of the year but staff are given the option of staying on to help with maintenance in low season therefore having employment all year round. The nearby Mennonite community provides most of the food for the lodge.
Getting There – all part of the adventure: The lodge arranged a transfer from the airport to a landing dock (about an hour’s drive) where we transferred to a boat. It takes another hour or so by river to reach the lodge. We were the only passengers and the driver stopped along the way if anything caught his eye. He pointed out birds and wildlife along the river banks and slowed down at a Mennonite community where a family were building a jetty.
(New River was surprisingly wide)
(Ah this is the life!)
(‘Jesus Christ bird’)
Arrival: This establishment runs very well with no obvious hierarchy of management. We were greeted at the jetty by the guide assigned to us for the duration of our stay. 23 year old Abdul is from the village and works at the lodge with 2 of his brothers. There is no registration delay – we were taken straight to our cabin and, although lunchtime had passed, there was a welcome drink and a very welcome bowl of soup with hot rolls ready for us when we went to the main lodge.
Abdul reappeared with the schedule options: for a 3 night stay we could choose 6 from the following:
- Sunrise canoeing on the lagoon
- Early morning guided birdwalk
- Guided tour of nearby Lamanai Maya Ruins
- Rainforest medicine walk which included a visit to the village and some cookery.
- Nature walk
- Sunset cocktail cruise
- Spotlight Night river safari
- Night walk
On top of that there were options for purchasing other trips and activities – longer birding expeditions, fishing, crocodile encounter, visiting Mennonite community, etc. We were happy to settle for the lodge activities and made our selection which we could, of course, change at any time.
When not involved in a scheduled activity, there are walking trails, seating areas at the river, river swimming ( no recent croc attacks reported!) and always animals and birds to be spotted.
Accommodation: Individual cabins are set in very lush surroundings.
Food and Drink
Meal times work around activities. There is a set daily menu but dietary requirements are catered for. The food is excellent and served in a lovely setting.
(A chance for new experiences – soursop juice)
(The dining area has a lovely setting with views of the lagoon)
1. Birds and Animals around the Lodge
Night and early morning are the best times for spotting wildlife and the guides are brilliant at pointing out everything that moves. Although official walks last about 90 minutes, there isn’t a lot of ground covered because its stop, start, look and listen. Howler monkeys are around all day but are particularly noisy in the morning when claiming their territory for the coming day and then again in the evening. They keep to themselves however and stay in the trees.
Howler monkeys everywhere as well as squirrels, iguanas and lizards.
The early morning walk is the best opportunity for birds.
The Lamanai Maya city is practically next door and with an early start, we were the first visitors at the site. Its hard to describe the walk among the deserted ruins – you actually feel as though you have discovered the place yourself. Within an hour or so, visitors will arrive, but no crowds so the atmosphere isn’t spoiled.
(No one around – eerie and stunning)
(Keeping an eye on things …)
(ok – so someone cleared away a few ton of vegetation and someone else stuck up a few signs – but APART from that – its as though I’ve discovered a lost world)
(Jaguar Temple and Plaza)
(Detail of Jaguar mask)
(Visitors are encouraged to climb the structures)
3. Village Life
The village of Indian Church is right behind the lodge and offers a good opportunity to experience rural Belize. When the archaeological reserve was established in 1991, residents were allocated individual family plots of land just outside the boundaries. A stroll though the village quickly exposes the challenges in water and power supplies as well as infrastructure. Residents are dependent on farming or on employment at the lodge and at the Maya site.
(We found Ireland on the school map but Belize itself is omitted!)
(Almond trees provide great shade)
One lodge activity includes a visit to a restaurant to grind corn and make tortillas and tamales before having lunch there. Las Orquideas is run by a local women’s co-op. Besides the cookery lessons, they get business from villagers, some day trippers to the ruins and residents in the lodge not on the full board plan.
(Grinding corn is hard work)
(Its obviously not all done by hand nowadays – the mill in the restaurant is for use by anyone in the village – or else the flour is bought of course)
(Not a bad effort though I say so myself – my tamale with my own corn based dough, stuffed with chicken and ready for steaming in a banana leaf)
The Mennonites originated in Europe in the 16th century but various government restrictions caused them to emigrate to Canada and from there to Mexico and on to Belize in 1958. An excellent work ethic led them to great success as farmers and they can be seen trading their produce in villages and markets.
The men wear dungarees and straw hats while the women wear long dresses and cover their hair. They mainly speak Plautdietsch (a German dialect). The community in Belize has split between traditionalists and a modernist faction that drives trucks rather than carts and uses electricity, etc. Some groups facilitate visitors with guest lodgings and allow you participate in their activities.
(Local Mennonite farmer delivering produce to a restaurant in Indian Church)
4. The River
There’s plenty of opportunity to see crocodiles and river birds. You can just sit at the dock and watch or avail of some of the river trips – there is a spotlight trip after dinner where you spend a few hours up along the river with a driver and a ‘spotter’. There’s also a great sunset cruise with free cocktails and again a spotter to direct your attention away from the booze when something moves in the water or along the river bank.
(The dock is the perfect spot to sit and read or just enjoy the peace and calm…)
(…crocodile spotting – quiet today…)
(…anything they can do…)
(…don’t expect me to come rescue you!)
(The pontoon is used for sunset cruises and special events)
(all eyes right!)
The river bank is eerie at night. Spotters draw your attention to wildlife on the river banks and in the water.
(Spotlights from the boat create great reflections…)