Belize is located in eastern Central America and is bordered by Mexico and Guatemala. To the east, Belize has 240 miles (386 km) of coastline. Belize’s biggest draws are its islands and incredible dive sites, which include an expansive coral reef. The Belize Barrier Reef system spans the entire length of the country, and is part of the second-largest barrier reef system in the world. Inland, visitors can explore the ruins of Maya cities that once rivaled their Guatemalan neighbors.
The abundant and diverse marine life of Belize brings in divers, snorkelers, and fishermen from all over the world. Deep sea fishing off of Ambergris Caye, swimming with whale sharks in the Gladden Spit and Silk Caye Marine Reserve, or relaxing on white sand beaches in the South Water Caye Marine Reserve — these are just a few of ways you can spend your time in this idyllic Caribbean paradise.
The mainland coast of Belize also has a number of attractive beaches to choose from. Placencia Village, Hopkins, and Maya Beach are some of the most popular. In addition to the offshore attractions, these small beach towns also provide easy access to ancient Mayan sites, national parks, and wildlife preserves.
Moving farther inland is the heart of the Maya Mountains, Belize’s top destination for adventure vacations. Thick, healthy rainforest, abundant wildlife, hundreds of bird species, dozens of Mayan ruins, and an extensive cave systems all provide nature-loving travelers with a long list of things to do and see. Hiking, horseback riding, zip lining, birding, and cave tubing are some of the most popular activities.
The northern lowlands are the least-visited areas of the country. While tourist amenities are few, the ancient Mayan site of Lamanai is one of the most unique in the country. Visitors also travel through this region en route to Mexico.
Most travelers arrive via the international airport in Belize City. The airport is located on the outskirts of town. Dozens of daily domestic flights leave from Belize City’s municipal airport, making it quick to get to the different regions in the country. Since Belize is so small, driving is also possible. The main highways in Belize are well-maintained, although not marked or well lit at night.
Unlike other Central American countries, clean tap water can generally be found throughout the country and in most tourist destinations. Additionally, most visitors find that they are free to enjoy the local food without serious digestive repercussions.
The country’s total size is 8,864 square miles (22,960 sq km), just slightly smaller than the state of New Hampshire. It is the second smallest country in Central America next to El Salvador. Belize’s landscape includes a thick, healthy jungle, agricultural land, the Maya Mountains, beautiful beaches, and countless offshore island atolls.
Since winning independence in 1981, the government has taken a proactive approach to conserving its natural resources through a variety of protective measures. Nearly 100 different protected areas have been established, including avian reserves, archaeological sites, national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and marine reserves. In total, including land and marine resources, over 10 million acres are under some form of conservation management, totaling approximately 26 percent of the nation’s territory.
Belize’s climate is generally described as tropical or sub-tropical, with average temperatures fluctuating very little throughout the year. November to January tends to be the coolest months with an average high along the coast of 75° Fahrenheit (24° C), while the warmest months of May to September typically experience highs of 81° Fahrenheit (28° C). Thanks to the ocean breeze, the climate on the islands and along the coastline is considered comfortable year round. The hills of the Maya Mountains, with a high point sits of 3,688 feet (1,124 m) above sea level, often experience cooler temperatures, especially in the evenings.
Traditionally, the driest season lasts from January to May, while the wettest period occurs from June to December. However, changes in global weather patterns have uprooted these trends in recent years, making the weather more difficult to predict. The rainy season is generally characterized by increased humidity and periodic rain showers, with the southern part of Belize receiving significantly more rainfall.
The 2012 census reported that Belize has a population of 324,000. Almost half of the residents live in urban areas including Belize City, San Ignacio, Belmopan, Orange Walk, and San Pedro. The rest of the population resides in rural towns, remote islands, and small communities scattered throughout the countryside.
Belize was once dominated by the Maya civilization, with as many as 2 million Maya living throughout the country. While populations began to dwindle in 900 AD, the Maya persisted well into the late 16th and 17th centuries when European settlers arrived, bringing with them an onslaught of new diseases. The indigenous Mayan communities that still exist today are the Mopan, Yucatec, and Q’eqchi’ Maya who primarily live in southern Belize and engage in subsistence farming.
The official language of Belize is English, although throughout the country you will hear Spanish, as well as Kriol, an English based dialect stemming from various African languages.
Today, the Mestizo population, people of any Spanish and Maya descent, makes up more than 50% of Belize’s total population. The Mestizo are predominately Spanish speaking and live in northern Belize, including Corozal and Orange Walk. A large Mestizo population also lives on Ambergris Caye and in the Maya Mountain region around Belmopan and San Ignacio.
Belize also has a large Creole (21 percent) and a smaller Garífuna (4.6 percent) population. The Garífuna people, who are of any African and Caribbean descent, primarily live along the southern Caribbean coast in the communities of Hopkins, Placencia Village, and Punta Gorda. They are proud of their heritage and are known for their traditional drumming.
Finally, Belize is home to approximately 10,000 German speaking Mennonites who live throughout the northern lowlands. Belize Mennonites are seen in these areas wearing traditional clothing and driving horse-drawn buggies. The Mennonites have developed some of the most advanced agricultural techniques used in Belize and produce a large portion of the country’s agriculture.
Belize’s economy depends primarily on agriculture and tourism. Primary exports include cane sugar, bananas, and citrus, but there is a growing trade deficit. To compensate for this, there have been recent moves to develop the country’s oil deposits. In light of this, the government has enacted conservation policies in an effort to balance preservation of natural resources, sustainable development, and industry, but a growing tourism sector will help ensure that the country’s valuable natural ecosystems remain intact.
- Sandy T.
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