Northern Belize is one of the best areas to explore by car. Starting in Belize City and heading north, travelers can explore some of the most beautiful, wild areas of the country as well as see some of the most impressive ancient Maya sites anywhere in Central America.

Two of Belize’s most pristine nature reserves are located in Northern Belize. The Shipstern Conservation Management Area near Sarteneja in Orange Walk District measures more than 43 square miles (112 square km) and features wetlands, lagoons, a belt of mangrove forest, and a large region of hardwood forests. The Shipstern nature reserve is home to all five of Belize’s big cat species as well as more than 250 different species of birds, including 300 pairs of wood storks that use the area as a breeding site.

The second large nature reserve located in Northern Belize is the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary (CTWS). Managed by the Audubon Society, the CTWS measures more than 16,000 acres (6,500 ha) in size and includes several wetland areas that are home to hundreds of different species of birds.

One of Belize’s most impressive ancient Maya sites is also located in Northern Belize. Located in Orange Walk District, Lamanai is one of the few Maya sites where the original name has been preserved. Continuously inhabited even during the post-Classic Period, Lamanai was conquered by the Spanish, who built several churches on top of destroyed temples. These churches were later razed to the ground by the Maya, giving visitors the chance to glimpse several historical ages in one location.

Other top attractions in Northern Belize include Corozal Town, the eponymous capital of Corozal District. Corozal Town is a charming mid-size town with three churches and a lovely central square lined with shops, cafes, and restaurants. In Corozal Town, visitors can visit the Old Customs House which was built in 1886, one of the oldest surviving colonial-era buildings in the country. Today, the Old Customs House is a combination cultural center and museum.

And be sure to visit the city’s town hall, which has a large mural painted by renowned local artist Manuel Villamor Reyes. The colorful mural depicts several key episodes of Corozal District’s history.

Just outside Corozal Town is the ancient Maya site of Santa Rita. Although much of the site is still being excavated, visitors can explore a pyramid that commands an impressive view of the coastline.

Travelers interested in exploring northern Belize can rent a vehicle from Tour Belize Auto Rental. Tour Belize Auto Rental has two convenient offices – one in Belize City and the other at the Belize International Airport.