Top tip: Barefoot on the boats, sandals on the sand flies, closed shoes on Caracol climbs
Belize is situated at the base of the Yucatan Peninsula in Central America, and borders Mexico and Guatemala, with the Gulf of Honduras to the east. Along the coast lies an almost continuous chain of reefs and cays (small islands formed by the growth of coral) which lie between 15 and 60 km offshore. It’s the longest coral reef in the world after the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. More than 65% of the country is forested and to the south and west rises the Maya mountain range. Many of the islands have stunning beaches with crystal clear waters which are superb for swimming and snorkelling. Equipment is for hire on most of the larger cays. To the south and westrises the magnificent Maya mountain range, with the Cockscomb range to the east and the Mountain Pine Ridge in the west.
The climate is subtropical with a brisk prevailing wind from the Caribbean Sea. There are high annual temperatures and humidity. Dry and hot climate from January to April with monsoon season from June to September.
Facts and Figures
22,965 sq km (8867 sq miles).
Belmopan City- population 13,654 (2009)
English is the official language, but Spanish is spoken to some extent by over half the population. Garifuna (Carib), Maya and Creole are also spoken as well as a German dialect (by the Mennonites).
The people of Belize are mainly Roman Catholic (approximately 60 per cent of the population). Other small groups practice Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Bahai, as well as other Christian denominations.
GMT – 6
Reefs and rainforest are the two defining features of Belize and the country is eager to promote eco-tourism. In the unspoilt inland jungle areas, fishing, kayaking, canoeing and mountain biking are popular activities. Magnificent Mayan sites such as Lamanai, Altun Ha and Caracol are hidden in the jungle as well as an amazing wealth of tropical wildlife, birds and flora. To the south and west rises the magnificent Maya mountain range, with the Cockscomb range to the east and the Mountain Pine Ridge in the west. Belmopan is the country’s new capital city, carved out of the tropical jungle in the geographic centre of Belize, near the foothills of the stunning Maya Mountains. The most impressive building is the National Assembly on Independence Hill, patterned in an ancient Maya motif. A visit to Ambergris Cay is essential when in the country – it is the most northerly cay and is regarded by many to be the best. It offers superb beaches with excellent opportunities for snorkelling and scuba diving. The reefs around the Great Blue Hole, a startlingly coloured underwater sink hole are a haven for divers. The bustling fishing village of San Pedro must not be missed. Most of Belize’s islands are uninhabited but the larger ones support fishermen and are very popular with divers and marine naturalists. Placencia in the south of mainland Belize has stunning beaches with crystal clear waters, which are superb for swimming and snorkelling.
Belize has an astounding variety of cultures, languages and ethnicities, with people of Creole, Garifuna, Mestizo, Spanish, Maya, English, Mennonite, Lebanese, Chinese and East Indian descent. Racial and religious tolerance and a relatively stable political culture successfully blend to give Belize a deservedly widespread reputation for its friendly peoples.
Fresh papaya or coconut juice, fragile coral reefs, majestic leopards and jaguars, beautiful mahogany trees and ruins of ancient civilisations. Belize offers travellers the best of both worlds – teeming jungles full of exotic wildlife, and the pristine white beaches and turquoise waters of the Caribbean.
The region which is today called Belize used to be at the heart of the Mayan empire (circa AD300 to AD800) which subsequently migrated to Yucatan.
Modern history begins when Belize, formerly British Honduras, was occupied by the British in 1638-40, with settlements spreading as wood cutting became profitable. Despite attacks from the Spanish, the settlers remained, but it wasn’t until 1862 that the territory was recognised as a British colony.
The country achieved internal self-government in 1964. George Price, the leader of the People’s United Party (PUP) came to power in 1965; the United Democratic Party (UDP) took power for the first time in 1984, but Price was returned to office in the most recent election in 1989. Even though the boundaries between Belize and Guatemala were determined in 1859 there has been a long-running dispute between the two, Guatemala claiming sovereignty over Belize. Throughout the 1970s British troops were sent over in response to Guatemalan hostility. As a result of negotiations, Britain agreed to grant Belize independence in 1981. The new Guatemalan President, Jorge Serrano took office in January 1991, and declared his government’s urgent desire to reach a settlement. An agreement was reached in September 1991 under which Guatemala recognised Belizean sovereignty in exchange for access to Belizean ports.
The Belizean government faced pressure from the United States for its alleged laxity in the ‘war on drugs’ – Washington believes that Belize has become a major transit point for transporting illegal substances into the USA, and for the laundering of drug money through their banking system.
On February 7, 2008, Belize elected its first black prime minister, Dean O. Barrow, when the United Democratic Party (UDP) won 25 of the 31 Seats of Representatives.
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