Located in the Corozal district of Northern Belize, Corozal Bay is a crystalline inlet of the larger Chetumal Bay off the Caribbean Sea. The estuary is a poplar tourist destination in Central America due to its proximity to Mexico. Known for its fascinating Mayan ruins and luxurious resorts, Corozal Bay is only eight miles (thirteen kilometers) south of the Mexican border.
Corozal enjoys an excellent location as it is a short drive from Chetumal City, the capital of Quintana Roo, Mexico, and many historical sites on the Yucatan Peninsula. Nestled between the beautiful Hondo and New Rivers, Corozal Bay is home to the Commercial Free Zone, a major business sector that features casinos, hotels, shopping centers, and wholesale markets. This commercial area is known locally for its bargains, drawing visitors from all over the region.
Many tourists come to this part of Belize to visit archaeological ruins, and one of the most extensive sites, Cerro Maya, is located across the bay in Chetumal. While a portion of the city is submerged in water, one can enjoy a sensational view of its intricate canal system from one of many ancient temples and pyramids located at the site. Another ancient city, Santa Rita, sits on the northern border of Corozal.
Early History — Ancient Maya and European Colonial Eras
The Mayan ruins of Santa Rita and Cerro Maya have provided extensive historical data about the Corozal Bay area. Pottery and artifacts from these sites testify that the Maya began populating the bay during the Preclassical Period, which spanned from 2000 BC until the third century AD. Santa Rita had been a rich agricultural area around 1000 BC, while Cerro Maya served as a major sea trade route through which the Maya obtained most of their jade and obsidian stones. The ruins of Cerro contain stunning examples of Mayan architecture despite the fact that this city did not last very long. Changes in sea trade routes during the early Classic Period led to the early decline of this magnificent citadel.
The Spanish began to colonize Central America after the tenth century, but Belize escaped much of their influence at the time because the area was not a rich source for gold and other resources. British and Scottish traders began to build small colonies and develop logging and slave trades in Belize in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. After 1836, Central America was no longer under Spanish rule, and the British began to administer this area. Belize became an official British colony in 1862, and more British investors began to take an interest in its mahogany industry, which flourished until the Great Depression. As the English established more colonies in Belize during the mid-nineteenth century, refugees began to immigrate across the border from Mexico to escape the ravages of the Yucatan’s Caste War. These expatriates were the original founders of Corozal Town.
Cradle of Mestizo Culture
Many refer to the area as the “heart” of Mestizo culture. Today, more than half of the residents of Corozal Bay are Latino or Mestizo, a distinct ethnicity created from centuries of cultural blending among the Maya, Colonial Spanish, Mexicans and Latin Americans. Belizean history and legend states that the first Mestizo children were born in the sixteenth century to Gonzalo Guerrero, a shipwrecked Spaniard whom the Maya enslaved and later revered as a powerful war leader, and Zazil Ha, daughter of the Mayan Lord Nachan Can. Guerrero was one of the first Europeans to immigrate to Belize, and he is one of the most important historical figures in Central America.
Visitors to Corozal can enjoy numerous Mestizo cultural events throughout the year, including the pre-Lent Carnival, which is a festive week of parades, music and dancing akin to the New Orleans Mardi Gras celebration. The Posada is a Christmas tradition spanning nine nights that celebrates the legendary journey of Joseph and Mary before Jesus’ birth. Mestizos also celebrate their own version of the Day of the Dead festival called “Dia de Los Finados”.
Today, the laid-back residents of Corozal Bay welcome visitors from all over the world. With its glorious views of the Caribbean, fascinating cultural events, and unique attractions, this scenic inlet may be one of the best “hidden gems” on the Yucatan Peninsula. Visitors are not limited to the sights of the Corozal district since many other points of interest are located within a short drive or boat ride from the bay, and the mild climate makes this area one of the most desirable travel destinations in Belize.