Belize lies on the east coast of Central America’s Caribbean Basin, just south of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, east of Guatemala and north of Honduras. The east coast of Belize is lined by the Caribbean Sea and hundreds of island cayes, which support one of the world’s most diverse underwater habitats. The shoreline is bordered by the world’s second largest barrier reef, making Belize a popular diving and fishing destination. The country itself occupies a land mass smaller than most US states and its size is comparable to Massachusetts. At its broadest point, Belize is 68 miles (109 km) wide and 175 miles (280 km) long.
Formerly known as “British Honduras” Belize was a British colony. With a history of logging, slavery and colonialism, Belize became a democracy with the creation of political parties when Great Britain abolished slavery in the mid nineteenth century. Belize garnered independence from Great Britain September 21, 1981. It was at this time the country’s name was changed from British Honduras to Belize. Belize has become one of the fastest growing tourism industries in the Caribbean, is strong in farming, particularly in citrus and sugar.
Recent discoveries and expanded analyses have led many archeologists and cultural anthropologists studying Maya history to conclude that the center of Maya civilization was, in fact, Belize. Belize is a treasure trove of ancient Mayan temples, towns and cities, only a few of which have been uncovered.
The Maya are probably the best-known of the classical civilizations of Mesoamerica. Originating in the Yucatán around 2600 B.C., they rose to prominence around A.D. 250 in present-day southern Mexico, Guatemala , northern Belize and western Honduras. Building on the inherited inventions and ideas of earlier civilizations such as the Olmec, the Maya developed astronomy, calender systems and hieroglyphic writing.
The Maya were noted as well for elaborate and highly decorated ceremonial architecture, including temple-pyramids, palaces and observatories, all built without metal tools. They were also skilled farmers, clearing large sections of tropical rain forest and, where groundwater was scarce, building sizable underground reservoirs for the storage of rainwater. The Maya were equally skilled as weavers and potters, and cleared routes through jungles and swamps to foster extensive trade networks with distant peoples. Today in Belize, Maya culture is still strong. One can visit ancient Maya temples and present day Mayan villages.
Although English is the official language of Belize, Belize is a country with numerous languages, cultures and ethnic groups. In addition to the Maya people and culture, Belize is also home to Creole, Garinagu, Spanish, Mestizo, Mennonite, Chinese, Indian and recently a growing number of ex-pats from North America.
Unlike many countries in Central America, Belize still has a huge portion of unspoiled natural forest. These forests teem with wildlife and provide havens for many endangered species. Belize’s coral reef, which stretches the entire length of the coastline, is second only to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia and is important for many marine species. Fortunately, appreciation of this natural wealth was achieved in time to conserve it. Following independence in 1981, both the Government of Belize and the increasingly active non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were able to develop an internationally respected network of national parks and protected areas.
We encourage all our visitors to respect these protected national treasures using a fun rule of conservation coined by the Audubon Society – Take only pictures, Leave only footprints. Enjoy the wonders of Belize!!