Orange Walk & Lamanai
Most travellers in Belize ignore Orange Walk, located on the west bank of the New River, although it is a strategic base for visiting major Mayan cities such as Lamanai and other attractions in the northern part of the country.
The capital of the district of the same name with 15000 inhabitants is a sleepy small town with the mix of cultures typical for Belize. Mestizos, Creoles, Mennonites, Chinese, Indians and people from other parts of Central America live here.
Orange Walk is an important agricultural centre, also called “Sugar City” because of the importance of sugar cane processing for the city.
Worth seeing is the complex of the Banquitas House of Culture consisting of a museum, a small amphitheatre, a restaurant and the regional cultural centre.
The one-room museum hosts monthly changing exhibitions on the cultural past and natural attractions of the region.
Lamanai – “Diving Crocodile” – has a prominent position in the history of the Maya.
It is the longest inhabited of all Mayan cities and was still populated in the 17th century.
Its decline was much slower and more gradual than in other Mayan centers, and the population maintained its ceremonial activities.
It is believed that Lamanai has either had very strong local leaders or that food and commodity resources have remained largely intact.
Among Lamanai’s buildings, the structure P9-56, also known as the Mask Temple, is the best known iconographically as well as the best researched. Underneath the building from the late early classical period, a well-preserved building was discovered that had been modified by later construction phases. The monumental masks on either side of the front staircase are in an unusually good state of preservation, and although so far only the masks on the south side have been uncovered, test excavations show that the masks on the north side are also comparatively well preserved.
In order to uncover the masks, the outer wall of a later construction phase was removed close to the ground. The masks, covered in an unusual grey stucco, are reminiscent of the Olmec colossal heads of the Gulf Coast in their pictorial language, especially their broad noses and raised lips. The archaeologist Pendergast, who was also responsible for the excavations in Altún Há, recognized crocodile representations in the headdress of the masks, which he believed to be found in ceramic finds.
This recurring crocodile motif proves that “Lamanai” or “Lama’anayin” is indeed the self-chosen name of the city, and gives an indication that the crocodile had a prominent status as an object of ritual worship in the faith of the local society.
From the N10-43 named, 33 meter high temple of the complex you can enjoy impressive panoramic views over the New River Lagoon, which visitors of Lamanai can already enjoy during the journey by boat.
Lamanai’s ball court, one of the smallest in the Mundo Maya and the largest marker ever found, appears mysterious. Under the marker a ceremonial vessel with liquid mercury was found, which probably comes from Guatemala. Guided tours often omit the site’s greatest architectural achievement: To the north of the ceremonial centre, near the shore, lies a huge platform measuring 110 x 90 metres, supporting several buildings that rise up to 28 metres. In the immediate vicinity are the remains of a canal leading from the river bank into the country, forming the old port of Lamanai.