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Topographical features divide the Belizean landscape into two main physiographic regions. The most visually striking of these regions is distinguished by the Maya Mountains and the associated basins and plateaus that dominate all but the narrow coastal plain in the southern half of the country. The mountains rise to heights of about 1,100 meters, with the highest point being Victoria Peak (1,120 meters) in the Cockscomb Mountains. Covered with shallow, highly erodible soils of low fertility, these heavily forested highlands are very sparsely inhabited.
The second region comprises the northern lowlands, along with the southern coastal plain. Eighteen major rivers and many perennial streams drain these low-lying areas. The coastline is flat and swampy, with many lagoons, especially in the northern and central parts of the country. Westward from the northern coastal areas, the terrain changes from mangrove swamp to tropical pine savannah and hardwood forest.
Climate: Belize has a tropical climate with pronounced wet and dry seasons, although there are significant variations in weather patterns by region. Temperatures vary according to elevation, proximity to the coast, and the moderating effects of the northeast trade winds off the Caribbean. Average temperatures in the coastal regions range from 24° C in January to 27° C in July. Temperatures are slightly higher inland, except for the southern highland plateaus, such as the Mountain Pine Ridge, where it is noticeably cooler year round. Overall, the seasons are marked more by differences in humidity and rainfall than in temperature.
Average rainfall varies considerably, ranging from 1,350 millimeters in the north and west to over 4,500 millimeters in the extreme south. Seasonal differences in rainfall are greatest in the northern and central regions of the country where, between January and April or May, fewer than 100 millimeters of rain fall per month. The dry season is shorter in the south, normally only lasting from February to April. A shorter, less rainy period, known locally as the "little dry," usually occurs in late July or August, after the initial onset of the rainy season.
Identification. Previously called British Honduras, the country now known as Belize derives its name from one of two historical sources: Maya root words or the surname of the Scottish buccaneer Peter Wallace, who maintained a camp near present-day Belize City in the seventeenth century. Belizeans affectionately refer to their country as "the Jewel."
The formation of a consciousness of a national culture coincided with the growth of the nationalist movement in the 1950s toward independence. It was a phenomenon that occurred simultaneously among neighboring British West Indian colonies.
Ethnic and geographic identification coincides with the areas where ethnic groups settled. In the north and west there are the mestizos, people formed by the union of Spaniards and Maya. In the central part, there are the Creoles, formed by the intermarriage of the British and their African slaves. In the south, there are the Garifuna, also called Black Caribs, along the coast and the Maya farther inland.
The building of the capital city, Belmopan, in the late 1960s was a crowning achievement of the nationalist movement, radically transforming the settlement pattern. The immediate reason was to rebuild after the massive destruction of the old capital, Belize City, by a hurricane in 1961 another reason was to attract the population into the hinterland to engage in agriculture, which the government was promoting to replace timber, the hallmark of the colonial economy. The government was attempting to build a national culture emerging from colonialism with a new settlement pattern and a new economy.
Location and Geography. Belize is at the southern end of the Yucatan peninsula, facing the Caribbean Sea. It covers 8,866 square miles (23,000 square kilometers) and has the second largest barrier reef in the world, which shelters scores of cays.
Demography. Immigration has been a major demographic factor. The latest massive inflow came from Latinos in the neighboring countries fleeing the civil unrest of the 1980s. Together with the long-resident Spanish-speaking group, they have become the largest ethnic group, according to the census of 1991. This group numbered 81,275, or 44 percent, of the national population of 189,392. The other main groups are the Creoles, 55,386 (30 percent) Maya, 20,447 (11 percent) and Garifuna, 12,343 (7 percent). While immigration has built the population, emigration has introduced a transnational fluidity between Belize and the United States. Since the 1960s thousands have left to settle in American cities, although many of those people retain family ties in Belize.
Linguistic Affiliation. The different groups speak their own languages, but the language spoken across ethnic lines is a form of pidgin English called Creole. There is much bilingualism and multilingualism. English is taught in all primary schools however, its use is limited to official discourse and it appears more often in the written form than in the spoken.
Symbolism. The proponents of the nationalist movement introduced symbols as essential parts of the national culture they were crafting in the 1960s and 1970s. Prominent among them were the national bird, the toucan tree, mahogany and animal, tapir. In official discourse there was increasing use of the term "fatherland" to galvanize public sentiment away from a distant colonial power to a new nation state rooted in the cultural history of the Maya, the aboriginal settlers of the subregion.
- Belize is an independent nation located to the east of Central America.
- Belize is bordered by the Caribbean Sea to the east, Guatemala to the south and west, and Mexico to the north.
- Belize was made independent by the United Kingdom (UK) on 21 September 1981.
- Belize got its name in 1973, before that it was called as British Honduras.
- The total area of Belize is 22,966 sq km. (8,867 square miles).
- The official language of Belize is English.
- The name of the currency of Belize is Belize Dollar.
- According to the World Bank, the total population of Belize in 2016 was 3.67 lakhs.
- The religion of most people in Belize is Christian and a large part of the population is also an atheist.
- The most important ethnic groups in Belize are the Mestizo, Creole, Mayan, Garifuna and White.
- The highest peak in Belize is Victoria Peak, which has a height of 1,120 meters.
- The longest river of Belize is the New River, also known as Rio Nuevo, with a length of 132 km.
- Belize is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy based on the British parliamentary system that is governed by Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of England.
- The tallest building in Belize is the Caana, which is actually a pyramid of a Mayan civilization, with a height of 141 feet.
Corozal, Punta Gorda, Belize City, Orange Walk, El Cayo, Belmopan, Dangriga,
Belize is a small Central American nation, located at 17°15′ north of the equator and 88°45′ west of the Prime Meridian on the Yucatán Peninsula. It borders the Caribbean Sea to the east, with 386 km of coastline. It has a total of 516 km of land borders—Mexico to the north-northwest (250km) and Guatemala to the south-southwest (266 km). Belize’s total size is 22,960 km², of which 22,800 km² is land and 160 km² is water this makes the country ten times larger than the Australian Capital Territory, about half the size of Nova Scotia, slightly larger than Wales, and slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Massachusetts. Belize is the only English-speaking country in Central America and the only one without a Pacific coastline. Many coral reefs, cays, and islands to the east—such as Ambergris Caye, Lighthouse Reef, Glover Reef, and the Turneffe Islands—are part of Belize’s territory, forming the Belize Barrier Reef, the longest in the western hemisphere stemming approximately 322 km (200 miles) and the second longest in the world after the Great Barrier Reef. The country’s largest river is the eponymous Belize River.
Belizean geology consists largely of varieties of limestone, with the notable exception of the Maya Mountains, a large intrusive block of granite and other Paleozoic sediments running northeast to southwest across the south-central part of the country. Several major faults rive these highlands, but much of Belize lies outside the tectonically active zone that underlies most of Central America. During the Cretaceous period, what is now the western part of the Maya Mountains stood above sea level, creating the oldest land surface in Central America, the Mountain Pine Ridge plateau.
The hilly regions surrounding the Maya Mountains are formed from Cretaceous limestone. These areas are characterized by a karst topography that is typified by numerous sinkholes, caverns, and underground streams. In contrast to the Mountain Pine Ridge, some of the soils in these regions are quite fertile and have been cultivated during at least the past 4,000 years.
Much of the northern half of Belize lies on the Yucatán Platform, a tectonically stable region. Although mostly level, this part of the country also has occasional areas of hilly, karst terrain, such as the Yalbac Hills along the western border with Guatemala and the Manatee Hills between Belize City and Dangriga. Alluvial deposits of varying fertility cover the relatively flat landscapes of the coastal plains.
Topographical feature divide the Belizean landscape into two main physiographic regions. The most visually striking of these regions is distinguished by the Maya Mountains and the associated basins and plateaus that dominate all but the narrow coastal plain in the southern half of the country. The mountains rise to heights of about 1,100 metres, with the highest point being Doyle’s Delight (1,124 metres) in the Cockscomb Mountains. Covered with shallow, highly erodible soils of low fertility, these heavily forested highlands are very sparsely inhabited.
The second region comprises the northern lowlands, along with the southern coastal plain. Eighteen major rivers and many perennial streams drain these low-lying areas. The coastline is flat and swampy, with many lagoons, especially in the northern and central parts of the country. Westward from the northern coastal areas, the terrain changes from mangrove swamp to tropical pine savanna and hardwood forest.
The interlocking networks of rivers, creeks, and lagoons have played a key role in the historical geography of Belize. The largest and most historically important river is the Belize River, which drains more than one-quarter of the country as it winds along the northern edge of the Maya Mountains across the center of the country to the sea near Belize City. Also known as the Old River, the Belize River is navigable up to the Guatemalan border and served as the main artery of commerce and communication between the interior and the coast until well into the twentieth century. Other historically important rivers include the Sibun River, which drains the northeastern edge of the Maya Mountains, and the New River, which flows through the northern sugar-growing areas before emptying into Chetumal Bay. Both of these river valleys possess fertile alluvial soils and have supported considerable cultivation and human settlement.
Belize has a tropical climate with pronounced wet and dry seasons, although there are significant variations in weather patterns by region. Temperatures vary according to elevation, proximity to the coast, and the moderating effects of the northeast trade winds off the Caribbean. Average temperatures in the coastal regions range from 24 °C in January to 27 °C in July. Temperatures are slightly higher inland, except for the southern highland plateaus, such as the Mountain Pine Ridge, where it is noticeably cooler year round. Overall, the seasons are marked more by differences in humidity and rainfall than in temperature.
Average rainfall varies considerably, ranging from 1,350 millimeters in the north and west to over 4,500 millimeters in the extreme south. Seasonal differences in rainfall are greatest in the northern and central regions of the country where, between January and April or May, fewer than 100 millimeters of rain fall per month. The dry season is shorter in the south, normally only lasting from February to April. A shorter, less rainy period, known locally as the “little dry,” usually occurs in late July or August, after the initial onset of the rainy season.
Hurricanes have played key–and devastating–roles in Belizean history. In 1931 an unnamed hurricane destroyed over two-thirds of the buildings in Belize City and killed more than 1,000 people. In 1955 Hurricane Janet leveled the northern town of Corozal. Only six years later, Hurricane Hattie struck the central coastal area of the country, with winds in excess of 300 kilometers per hour and four-meter storm tides. The devastation of Belize City for the second time in thirty years prompted the relocation of the capital some eighty kilometers inland to the planned city of Belmopan. A hurricane that devastated Belize was Hurricane Greta, which caused more than US$25 million in damages along the southern coast in 1978.
There was a period of 20 years that Belize was considered as a hurricane-free zone by many until Hurricane Mitch (October 1998) caused quite a stir and gave rise to hurricane awareness and the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO). Two years later Tropical Storm Chantal and Hurricane Keith did much to put the country on the hurricane map. In 2001, Hurricane Iris swept through the southern part of Belize causing damage that ranged in the hundreds of millions due largely to wiping away the banana industry, crippling the citrus and tourism in the area. Six years later, the fury of Category Five Dean landed on the Yucatan coast at Mahahual but Corozal, on northern Belize, was not spared the brunt of reportedly Category 3 to 4 winds. The latter, did tens of millions in damages, especially to the infantile papaya industry and to a lesser extent to the endemic sugar cane industry.
Key Facts & Information
HISTORY OF BELIZE
- Belize was inhabited by the Maya Civilization at least three millennia ago in the area of the Yucatan peninsula, and its culture still permeates Belize today.
- Prior to 2500 BCE, the area now known as Belize was full of hunting and foraging groups who lived on domestic crops such as corns, beans, squash, and chili peppers, with the Maya Civilization emerging between 2500 BCE and 250 CE.
- The Mayas flourished in the area until about 900 CE.
- Upon the arrival of the Spaniards, the Maya territories were split into three sections, all of which conquistadors explored and declared part of the Spanish empire they failed to settle it, however.
- British pirates visited the area and founded a permanent settlement in 1716 in what became the Belize District.
- In the 18th century, the Spanish attacked Belize every time they engaged in war with Britain, which led to resentment between the Spanish and the Belizeans.
- After several attempts to expel the colonists and take over Belize, Spain’s military engagements came to an unsuccessful end with the Battle of St. George’s Caye on September 10, 1798 (now a national holiday in Belize).
- The 19th century was peppered with significant events for Belize, including the abolishment of slavery in the British Empire in 1833, the emancipation of Central America from Spanish rule in 1836, the formal declaration of Belize as a British Crown Colony in 1836, and an influx of British activity into the 20th century.
- After a rough period in the early 1900s, “British Honduras” was granted self-government in 1964, officially became Belize on June 1, 1973, and was granted independence by Great Britain on September 21, 1981.
GEOGRAPHY AND ECONOMY OF BELIZE
- Belize is a relatively small nation, and the only country in Central America that does not border the Pacific Ocean.
- It has its own barrier reef called the Belize Barrier Reef (declared a World Heritage Site in 1996), the longest in the Western Hemisphere, which features many coral reefs, cays, and islands that are home to 70 hard and 36 soft coral species, 500 species of fish, and hundreds of invertebrate species.
- Belize is split into two main physiographic regions: one distinguished by the Maya Mountains and the other in the southern coastal plain, home to 18 major rivers.
- The country has the potential for hydroelectric and other renewable energy sources due to its vast water sources.
- Belize has a tropical climate and is a hotspot for hurricanes.
- While Belize is home to many important minerals, there aren’t enough of them to warrant mining.
- Environmental issues such as deforestation, water pollution, agricultural runoff, and industrial waste all contribute to the environmental degradation occurring in Belize.
- Belize’s economy is based primarily on agriculture, agro-based industry, and merchandising, producing minerals, crude oil, petroleum, and crops like sugar and bananas.
- Tourism in Belize also contributes to the country’s economy, but development costs remain high.
CULTURE AND DEMOGRAPHICS OF BELIZE
- Belize is a very diverse country it is home to several ethnic groups including the Maya, Creoles (descendants of the Baymen slave owners and slaves from West and Central Africa), Garinagu, Mestizos, German-speaking Mennonites, and about 5% of the population consisting of a mix of Indians, Chinese, white people from the UK, US, and Canada, as well as American Civil War veterans from Louisiana and confederate states.
- English is the official language of Belize, and over half of the population is multilingual.
- Approximately 40% of Belizeans are Roman Catholic, and religion plays an important role in the majority of households.
- Folklore, legends, and oral storytelling are popular in Belize and are a part of family life.
- Belizean cooking is a blend of all the ethnicities in the country, similar to Mexican and Jamaican cuisine, with influences from Indian and Chinese culture.
- Migration patterns have altered the ethnic composition of the population as well as the locations where people settle the urban-rural divide in Belize is almost 50/50.
- More than 90% of people 14 and older are literate in Belize.
- Belize has a high rate of violent crime, which stems from gang activity and drug and human trafficking.
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about the Belize across 21 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Belize worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about the Belize which is a Caribbean country located in Central America, bordered by Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, and Guatemala. It was occupied by the Maya Civilization until Christopher Columbus initiated European contact in the 16th century. Belize has a diverse society and a population of just over 400,000.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Belize Facts
- Biodiversity in Belize
- Map of Belize
- Coat of Arms Analysis
- Belize Wordsearch
- The Belize Barrier Reef
- Gender Gaps
- Cultural Cooking
- Belize Crossword
- A Brief Snippet of History
- Belize Acrostic
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A Geography of Belize
For a tiny nation, Belize shows the world just how much geographic diversity can be found within the nation’s borders.
Belize’s geological makeup is divided into 4 main regions: Low-lying Maya Mountains in the south that sprawl across a coastal plain, northern lowlands where rivers and streams dominate the landscape, swampy areas and hundreds of offshore islands. For a country the size of Massachusetts, this nation’s geological history is impressive.
Sharing a northern border with Quintana Roo, Mexico, a western border with Petén, Guatemala and a southern border with Izabal, Guatemala, Belize has the distinction of being the second smallest Central American nation. It’s only a little bigger than El Salvador, yet the nation is filled with natural treasures that belie its size.
Temperature and weather factors
Temperature changes throughout the year consist of a rainy season (May to November) and a dry season (February to May). Hurricanes have played a big role in Belize’s climatic vulnerability. From the unnamed hurricane of 1931 to Hurricanes Janet and Hattie in 1955 and 1961, the destruction of Belize City for the third time proved more than the government could tolerate. Belize moved its capital to the planned city of Belmopan.
Lush tropical rainforests and jungles cover more than half of Belize and according to the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) World Fact Book, the lowest point in the nation is found offshore in the Caribbean Sea while Doyle’s Delight is the highest at 1,124 meters. Though other resources insist that Victoria Peak, at 1,120 meters within the Cockscomb Mountains is the tallest, Doyle’s has been determined to be the winner of this contest.
Agriculturally, Belize is a powerhouse
Farmers grow wheat, maize, rice, fruit, coffee, nuts and flowering shrubs within the fertile plains of Belize. Timber has been the leading economic factor over time, say historians who point to the fact that harvested hardwoods literally supported the Belize economy for decades during the British occupation.
As the only Central American country without a North Pacific Ocean coastline, exposure to the Caribbean Sea, inlets, lagoons and other bodies of water contribute to the nation’s welfare, tourism and fishing industries. Although important minerals like dolomite, barite, bauxite, cassite and gold have been found to exist beneath the soil, quantities aren’t deemed large enough to warrant mining.
Belize’s topography hides secrets
Composed of varying types of limestone and Paleozoic sediments, Belize manages to escape the “tectonically active zone that underlies most of Central America,” notes WorldFacts.com, so earthquakes tend to be rare. But the nation’s bedrock exposes fascinating remnants of prehistoric Earth: ice caves formed as the planet’s crust hardened and those were repurposed as ancient Maya ceremonial chambers over time.
Above ground, Belize’s island chains tend to get the most attention from geologists and tourists. The Belize Barrier Reef, a 175-mile-long wonder that hugs the Belize coastline, is geologically similar to hundreds of islands, cayes and atolls found in close proximity.
Alternately, major rivers throughout the nation serve as both boundaries and agricultural necessities. The Old, Sibun and New Rivers help keep river valleys vibrant thanks to alluvial soils and the Hondo and Sarstoon Rivers mark distinct north and south national boundaries. In sum, terrain changes from “mangrove swamp to tropical pine savanna and hardwood forest” shows why Belize’s geography is so rich and complex.
Belize’s geological future
Although precious metals and minerals are insufficient to mine in Belize, limestone has proven to be a good source of revenue for both domestic use and exportation. U.S. oil companies infrequently explore the idea of off-shore and on-land drilling sites but, in concert with Belize’s serious conservation and ecology laws and practices, oil drilling remains a moot subject, which is why the nation must import petroleum for energy needs.
Happily, the nation’s vast waterways could be developed for hydroelectric projects down the road, but for the moment, Belize’s diverse geography attracts retirees, investors, athletes, bird watchers and trekkers to one-of-a-kind sites like The Blue Hole. This attraction, located 58 miles off the Belize coast, remains a premier dive destination and those underground Maya caves continue to thrill and delight. Should the nation pursue the topic of hydroelectric power, Belize may eventually use its geological wonders to become more self-sufficient, too.
History of Belize
The British began settling in Belize and harvesting hardwoods, such as mahogany, in the early 1600’s. Belize was under Britain’s colonial rule and was known as British Honduras until 1973. In 1981, Belize became an independent nation, but English is still its official language.
Maps of Belize
With a population of just over 300,000, Belize is the second smallest country in Central America. Despite its sparse population, Belizean society is truly multicultural with Creole, Mestizos, Garifuna, Maya and refugees from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador all living peacefully together.
The Belize rainforest is home to an incredible variety of wildlife including wild cats such as the elusive jaguar, tapir, crocodile, howler monkeys, armadillo, the keel-billed toucan, parrots, hummingbirds, heron, macaws, coati, and more.
Belize Barrier Reef
The Belize Barrier Reef is the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere and the second largest, after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, in the world. The Belize Barrier Reef runs the length of this Central American nation, some 180 miles.
Belize has hundreds of Maya architectural sites with many more waiting to be explored by modern adventurers and archaeologists.
Some of the best known are within easy reach from Ambergris Caye by boat to the mainland or short flights from San Pedro. Day trips are available to sites like Altun Ha, Lamanai, and Caracol.
Although it is now considered an island, Ambergris Caye is actually the southernmost tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. The village of San Pedro is located in the bottom third and has a local airport with services from Belize City.
General Information on Belize
This page relates mainly to Belize, for extensive information on Ambergris Caye and San Pedro Town click here.
This is a brief synopsis about Belize. For very extensive information on Belize history, geography, climate, government and more, click here.
Belize, only 8,867 square miles in size, is situated on the northeast coast of Central America. The Caribbean Sea lies to the east and from the air its turquoise waters are clear, allowing the multicolored coral formation of the Great Barrier Reef to be easily observed. Coral islands called cayes, covered with stands of mangrove trees, dot the coast. Lying in aquamarine and jade-colored bays, these cayes protect the jungled coastline from the ravages of the sea.
North of Belize lies the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. The Rio Hondo, which empties into Chetumal Bay, is the border between the two countries. The eastern border is demarcated by a surveyed line through the jungle separating Belize from the El Peten Department of Guatemala. To the south, the Belize/Guatemalan border is the Rio Sarstoon which flows east to the Caribbean Sea. The country is divided by the eastward flowing Belize River which is a major transportation route for native goods. The north half of the country is made up of synclinal folds of low lying, parallel limestone ridges running NNE to SSW. These jungle covered ridges are the spines of fossil coral reefs. In the valleys between run the perennial rivers, the Hondo, Nuevo, and Freshwater Creek. The Northern Peten and Campeche Regions of the Yucatan are drained by these river basins. This area, known as the "Maya Heartland," contains the classic Maya center of Tikal as well as many minor ceremonial centers and hundreds of occupation sites. The lagoons along the Nuevo River and Freshwater Creek are also areas of Maya site concentration. Great mangrove swamps line the northern coast, extend inland for many miles, and cover much of the northern district. For information on getting from Cancun to Corozal and Belize, click here.
Southern Belize is the site of large plantations that grow citrus, an important export. Rising out of the palm-covered coastal plain of southern Belize are the Maya Mountains. Mostly unexplored, they are covered by verdant jungle and a canopy of tropical rain clouds. The paleozoic horst is comprised of granite and metamorphosed sandstone which sustains stands of pine in its infertile acidic soil. Unsuitable for agriculture, the ridge (note that in Belize, ridge refers to any change in vegetation) was exploited by Preceramic peoples and Maya hunters. Averaging approximately 1,000 feet, the main divide is relatively dwarfed by Victoria Peak which reaches 3,680 feet. The southern plateau becomes broader and descends westwardly. The northern part of this region, known as the Mountain Pine Ridge area, lies in the Capo District.
The higher elevation (1,500-2,700 feet) provides spectacular falls for the many streams that lace the land. The plateau's northern edge is a broken limestone escarpment descending steeply to the Sibun River Valley, an area dotted with many unexplored caves.
Physical Features :
Belize (formerly British Honduras until the name of the country was changed in 1973) lies on the eastern or Caribbean coast of Central America, bounded on the north and part of the west by Mexico, and on the south and the remainder of the west by Guatemala. The inner coastal waters are shallow and are sheltered by a line of coral reefs, dotted with islets called cayes', extending almost the entire length of the country.
There is a low coastal plain, much of it covered with mangrove swamp, but the land rises gradually towards the interior.The Maya Mountains and the Cockscomb Range form the backbone of the southern half of the country, the highest point being Victoria Peak (3,669 feet) in the Cockscomb Range. The Cayo District in the west includes the Mountain Pine Ridge, ranging from 305 to around 914 metres above sea level. The northem districts contain considerable areas of low tableland. There are many rivers, some of them navigable for short distances by shallow-draught vessels. A large part of the mainland is forest.
By definition there is no true rainforest in Belize however, the quantity of rainfall is only slightly insufficient. Instead, the country is decorated with broadleaf jungle and cohune forest termed "moist tropical forest". This forest, savanna wetlands and the Mayan Mountain areas of the country is habitat for an incredible variety of fauna.
The area of the mainland and cayes is 8,866 square miles. The country's greatest length from north to south is 280 kilometres and its greatest width is 109 kilometres.
The climate is sub-tropical, tempered by trade winds. Temperatures in coastal districts range from about 10*C (50*F) to about 35.6*C (96*F) inland the range is greater. Rainfall varies from an average of 1,295 millimetres in the north to 4,445 millimetres in the extreme south. The dry season usually extends from February to May and there is sometimes a dry spell in August.
COROZAL DISTRICT is located farthest north in the country and borders Mexico. ORANGE WALK is located in the northwestern part of Belize. BELIZE DISTRICT is on the east coast of Belize and encompasses Belize City, San Pedro on Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker. CAYO DISTRICT includes St Ignacio and Central Farm (Central Farm is just west of St Ignacio) and is located in the western Part of Belize bordering Guatemala. STANN CREEK is located in the southern part of Belize and includes the town of Placencia. PUNTA GORDA is located farthest south in Belize and is actually in Toledo District. and borders on Guatemala to the south.
92% Work Force: 65, 000, Agriculture 30%, Industry and Commerce 27%, Services 250%, Government 16%, Unemployment 15%.
Government type :
There are approximately 170,000 people in Belize, one-half of whom live in cities and towns along the coast. As a British colony, Belize was made up of pirates, lumbermen and their slaves. There was assimilation with the neighboring Spanish, Mexican and Indian populations. Today's population balance is approximately:
The original inhabitants of Belize were Preceramic hunters and gatherers. The Maya Indians populated the area from 2000 B.C. until the Spanish Conquest in the 1500s. However, many Maya groups had left the once heavily populated area in the 10th century A.D., and immigrated to the Yucatan. It was not until after the British occupied Belize that they returned. Today, there are three distinct Mayan groups, each speaking their own dialect of the Mayan language.
The Yucateco Maya live in the Corozal and Orange Walk region. Many of their ancestors immigrated to Belize from the Yucatan in the mid-1800s when war broke out between the pure Mayas who worked the land, and the Mestizos who owned it. Today these people, as well as the Mopanero Maya who live in Succotz near Benque Viejo, were the main force behind the chicle (chewing gum base) industry. It was also in the mid-19th century that the Kekchi, from Honduras and Guatemala, moved to the Toledo district of southern Belize to escape rising taxes, forced labor, and later, the military draft. This group has retained much of their ancient lifestyle.
In general, the Maya have remained less assimilated than the rest of the Belizean population. Their subsistence is based, as in ancient times, on shifting cultivation of one to ten acre plots of black beans and maize. They raise pigs, cattle and tobacco. Fiftyseven percent are literate and speak English or Spanish in addition to their native tongue.
Of the population population of Belize, almost 30% live in Belize City, the commercial capital and largest city.
Who's in the melting pot? Who isn't, might be more appropriate. Ethnic divisions for all of Belize in 1995:
Creoles - 30% of population. Creole is a mixture of English and African blacks, African or mixed African descent. The traditional political & economic bass in Belize. English dialect known as creole. Mixture of West Indian, British, and American cultural elements. Mestizos - 44% of population. Spanish-speaking. Originally, descended from Mexican immigrants from the Yucatan during the Caste Wars of the 19th century. Now joined by immigrants from Guatemala, El Salvador, & Nicaragua. Mestizo are products of Spanish and Maya culture (usually descended from Yucatan bloodlines).
Garifuna - 7% of population. Garifuna are a mixture of African blacks and Indian. Descended from a mixture of Africans & Caribs who arrived in Belize in the late 18th century. Have distinct cultural traits and language.
Maya - 11% of population. Kekchi, Mopan, & Yucatec Maya. Languages of each mayan group are mutually unintelligable. Groups occupy seperate villages and maintain nearly total endogamy. Found generally in the southern Toledo district. The Maya are the descendent's of the same people who built the incredible civilization here, hitting a high point about 1000AD.
East Indians - 2.1% of population. Migrated 1860's to 1880's. Although a distinct community with near total endogamy, have not perserved Indian languages or customs.
Other, including Caucasians - 8% of population. American, Arabian, Lebanese, British.
Belize currently has 220,000 people, 4000 on Ambergris Caye. At the high point of the Maya population, the whole of Belize including Ambergris Caye had 2,000,000 people. Ambergris Caye's population has a larger Mestizo percentage because of its proximity to the Yucatan.
Roman Catholic 62%, Protestant 30% (Anglican 12%, Methodist 6%, Mennonite 4%, Seventh-Day Adventist 3%, Pentecostal 2%, Jehovah's Witnesses 1%, other 2%), none 2%, other 6% (1980) - again for all of Belize. Ambergris has a larger percentage of Roman Catholics.
English (official), Spanish, Maya, Garifuna (Carib). I dislike seeing an (official) next to anything - my brain interprets that as NOT. In this case, all the school children do speak English, and all business and government activities on the island are conducted in English. However you can gain points if you know a few words of Spanish. For more information on the languages of Belize, click here.
Fifty-eight percent of the population is under the age of nineteen.
About 62% of the population are Roman Catholics, the other 28% are Protestants (this includes Anglican, Methodists, Seventh Day Adventists, Mennonites, Nazarenes, Jehovah's Witnesses, Pentecostal and Baptists). There are also small groups of Bahai's and Muslims.
In addition to their partnership with the Government in running the educational system, denominations provide many social and family welfare services.
The Constitution provides for the freedom of religion.
English is the official language and the language of instruction in schools-. Spanish is also widely spoken. It is taught in primary and secondary schools in order to further develop bi-lingualism.
Fifty point six: percent of the population speaks English 31.6 % speaks Spanish.
In certain areas of the country, such as the Corozal and Grange Walk Districts in the north and the Cayo District in the west, Spanish is spoken as a mother tongue by the majority of the people.
In the southern districts of Stann Creek and Toledo, there are people whose first language is Garifuna or Maya. Nearly everyone speaks an English dialect (or Creole patois), the vernacular of the country.
Belize Radio One broadcasts about 80% of its programmes in English and the remainder in Spanish. It has now introduced programmes in Garifuna and Maya.
Main Population Centres :
The capital of the country is Belmopan, built in 1970. It is the seat of Government. Belmopan was created following extensive damage to the former capital, Belize City, by Hurricane Hattie in 1961. Belmopan is situated inland on high ground, practically in the geographic centre of the country, some 50 miles to the south- west of Belize City. More people, mainly government workers, continue to relocate to the new city.
The following table lists the other main towns and their estimated population 1998.
The Maya people are, however, still much in evidence throughout Central America and may be seen in many areas of Belize. The Maya have not assimilated to any great degree into the multi-ethnic population of Belize. Though they took many of the symbols and beliefs of the Catholic religion, they mixed them quite successfully with their own. As to customs, language and mode of dress, these are still distinctive and quite different in many ways to the rest of the population.
There are three main groups of Maya in Belize, though only one, the Mopan, are indigenous to Belize. They returned from the Yucatan around 1850 and made their home in the central highlands. These people do not, however, appear to have retained any knowledge of the former greatness of their ancestors.
The coast of Belize was a vital part of what was known as the Spanish Main. It was first sighted by Europeans in 1502. Initial settlement of the area, named Capo Obispo and located near what is now Chetumal in Mexico, did not take place until 1531. Most of the Spanish exploration parties were put off by the mangrove coastal area and didn't consider it suitable for settlement.
Numerous ruins indicate that for hundreds of years Belize was heavily populated by the Maya Indians, whose relatively advanced civilization reached its height between A.D. 300 and 900. Thereafter, for reasons not yet fully known, the civilization collapsed and many of the people migrated.
In 1502, Columbus sailed into and named the Bay of Honduras but he did not actualy visit the area later known as British Honduras.
In 1603 a Scottish pirate by the name of Peter Wallace, under the auspices of King James I (the first king of Great Britain and son of Mary Queen of Scots), set out with six ships in search of Spanish treasure ships. Wallace built a temporary base camp at the mouth of the Belize River where Belize City now stands, and enjoyed a lucrative career relieving the Spanish ships out of Panama of their precious cargoes. The cayes and reef of the coast and islands were to provide safe haven for pirates and privateers for many years to come.
The later abandoned buildings of the pirate settlements were to become the basis of the town which was founded in 1638. This settlement proved to be permanent, as it was based on the cutting and shipping of Logwood (Haemat=lon campechianum), a valuable commodity in Britain where it was used as an effective fixing dye in the textile trade. The new technique involving logwood was developed by the Spanish and was such a great improvement on previous methods that logwood sold for a high price.
Piracy had been virtually ended by the mid to late seventeenth century with a treaty between England and Spain. Thus ended an era when such names as Blackbeard, Captain Kidd and Sir Henry Morgan brought fear to the Spanish Main, and untold numbers of gold doubloons changed ships and often ended up on the ocean floor or even, according to legend, buried on secluded beaches.
The first recorded European settlement was established in 1638 by shipwrecked British sailors. These were later augmented by disbanded British soldiers and sailors after the capture of Jamaica from Spain in 1655. The settlement, whose main activity was logwood cutting (logwood was used in the past to produce a dye), had a troubled history during the next 150 years. It was subjected to numerous attacks from neighbouring Spanish settlement (Spain claimed sovereignty over the entire New World except for regions in South America assigned to Portugal).
In 1670 the Godolphin Treaty, or the Treaty of Madrid, between Spain and Great Britain confirmed to Great Britain areas of the West Indies and America. There was always considerable contention as to whether the Honduras Bay Colony was included in this treaty. The colonists, therefore, were left unruled by both sides to establish their own brand of government. This turned out to be similar to the town meeting type of democracy of early New England and the tradition of representational government has remained strong in Belize.
The tiny area still remained a bone of contention between England and Spain after the era of piracy, and wars and politics in Europe were to have far reaching effects on the West Indian colonies as well as Belize. The Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 saw the trading rights with Spanish America go to the British South Sea Company. Spain was by now experiencing great hardship in trying to keep her New World holdings together and the subsequent jockeying for power in the Caribbean had by 1740 evolved into war.
As the logging operations had grown beyond what was manageable by the relatively small number of settlers, slaves had been imported into Belize and great numbers remained in bondage there until their emancipation in 1838. After this they worked and fought alongside the British and were invaluable in the frequent skirmishes with the Spaniards. After a number of such skirmishes where the homes and buildings of Belize City were burned down, it was decided that fortifications were necessary. As hostilities with Spain continued, it was to be expected that, with the American War of Independence in 1776, Spain would again declare war on Britain. This seriously imperiled the colony in Belize and was the reason for the arrival of British warships there in '77 one of these was the first command of a nineteen year old, a Lieutenant Horatio Nelson. The convoy was too late, however, and Belize City was sacked. It remained deserted until survivors slowly returned and colonists from other areas came in to help rebuild it, which took some years to do. As the American war came to its conclusion, some families who remained loyalist came to settle on Caye Caulker, where some still remain.
It was only in 1763 that Spain in the Treaty of Paris allowed the British settlers to engage in the logwood industry. This was reaffirmed by the Treaty of Versailles in 1783 and the area of logwood concession was extended by the Convention of London in 1786.
After the Treaty of Versailles in Europe, the situation in Belize deteriorated with many concessions being made to the Spanish. The first superintendent, a Colonel Despart, was appointed with mixed results. A first step had been taken toward colony status, but the old democratic process was lost. (Colonel Despart was eventually hanged for high treason in London.)
In 1796 war was again declared between England and Spain and Belize City was the scene of a battle. Spanish attacks had continued until a decisive victory was won by settlers, with British naval support, in the Battle of St. George's Caye in 1798. But this time the Spanish were evicted once and for all. The victory is celebrated each year on September 10th as a national holiday.
After that British control over the settlement gradually increased and in 1862 British Honduras was formally declared a British Colony.
The emphasis had now turned from logwood to mahogany, but much of the real power in Belize was still held by the loggers. The office of superintendent became more and more influential and culminated in the declaration of Belize as a colony in 1862 it become a vital part of the trade network with the Confederate States throughout the Civil War. Most Belizeans sympathized with the Confederates, but a sizeable number, especially among the black population, supported the north and some rioting took place. By 1863, though, blockade running had been stopped. A move was on to attract emancipated blacks from the States to help Belize with the cultivation of cotton, rice, tobacco and sugar, but was unsuccessful due to the efforts of the U.S. Agent who advised that those involved would find little advantage in the move. White emigrants did move south after reconstruction, however, with the blessing of the U.S. government. Economic decline in Belize was now at a crisis point and a border dispute with Guatemala continued unresolved. The government of Belize was directly connected with the Governor of Jamaica from 1841 to 1884, but this was discontinued when the first Governor of Belize was appointed in 1884. This appointment, riddled with scandal, and the reaction of the people against the many excesses of the Governor was to result in the boycott of the Legislature and a successful stand for representation.
Negotiations with Guatemala resulted in a treaty, in 1859, which initiated the building of a railroad connecting its capital with the coast. This project was finished in 1908, but did not put a stop to the continuing argument as to the boundary between the two countries.
From an early date the settlers had governed themselves under a system of primitive democracy by Public Meeting. A constitution based on this system was granted in 1765 and this, with some modification continued until 1840 when an Executive Council was created.
Below is a diagram which shows the evolution of the name "Belize" from the original "Wallace."
In 1853 the Public Meeting was replaced by a Legislative Assembly (partly elected, on a restrictive franchise), with the British Superintendent'sn office created in 1786 at the settlers request-as Chairman. When the settlement became a colony in 1862 the Superintendent was replaced by a Lieutenant Governor under the Governor of Jamaica.
The Crown Colony system of Government was introduced in 1871, and the Legislative Assembly by its own vote was replaced by a nominated Legislative Council with an official majority presided over by the Lieutenant Governor. An unofficial majority was created in 1892, and this constitution, with minor changes, continued until 1935 when the elective principle was once again introduced on the basis of adult suffrage with a low-income qualification. The administrative connection with Jamaica was severed in 1884, when the title of Lieutenant Governor was changed to that of Governor.
The beginning of the twentieth century in Belize was a time of modernization with the introduction of electricity, telephone communications and the Stann Creek narrow-gauge railway, which was all of eighteen miles long. The only other reliable means of transportation was still the rivers, and locally built steam paddle wheelers ran regularly between Belize City and the north. Most outlying areas still had virtually no contact with Belize City and went without the basic services available in town including medical, educational and social ones. No roads existed joining the city with any of these areas and no money was budgeted for building them.
Former governor of Barbados and Administrator of St. Kitts-Nevis, Governor Burdon was appointed in 1925. This administration, though short, accomplished much in the way of benefits to the country. The Burdon Canal was built connecting the Belize and Sibun Rivers, improving trade and communications. A written record of Belize was compiled by a group of residents commissioned by the governor. It covered the period from 1670-1884, filled three volumes and took five years to complete. It was at Governor Burdon's invitation that Charles Lindberg visited Belize in 1927 as part of his Goodwill Tour. This event was instrumental in putting the quiet little colony on the map. In 1928 a survey (by bicycle) was made from Belize City to the Capo District and a new 90-mile road was later built with the help of British funds.
Like all countries in the Caribbean area, Belize does experience periodic hurricanes, and some of them have been quite spectacular. One of the first recorded cyclones devastated the newly founded Bay Settlement in September of 1787.
In September of 1931, at a crowded celebration of St. George's Caye Day, a storm hit Belize City with 150 mph winds. It lasted an hour, after which a stunned population emerged to stare horrified at the damage. It was not over, however, for the lull was the eye of the hurricane. After a tidal wave fifteen feet high swept the already beleaguered city and the rest of the storm passed, the death toll rose to 2,500 and very little was left standing.
It was due to this catastrophic event that Britain, in rushing relief, aid and funds to Belize City, was able to take over financial control of the colony. Many improvements and benefits resulted from this British control, but it was a connection difficult to break in the future. One doubtful advantage was that though roads were built connecting the outlying districts of Corozal and Orange Walk with Belize City, the road beds were constructed of crumbled stone removed from many of the numerous Maya mounds along the way.
The years of World War II were on the whole good ones for the economy of Belize. Many workers were needed in the Panama Canal Zone, and also in Britain and the United States where manpower was low due to the war. The influx of money into Belize from these overseas workers created a false economic boom which was to end dramatically at war's end. The sorry state of the country's finances, together with the still strong control by Britain, forced the flowering of Belizean national politics. Devaluation of the currency caused riots in the late 1940s and the cost of living rose dramatically. A young and inexperienced reform movement, which was to evolve into the People's United Party (PUP), was initiated by the man who was to become the Premier, George Cadle Price. Belize was incensed at Britain's failure to address the devastating internal problems of the country. Due to the party's pressure, Britain began instituting reforms in the form of a more liberal constitution and general elections (though the control of the colonial governor remained absolute).
In the 1954 election, PUP won eight of the nine elective seats in the Assembly. After these encouraging beginnings, the party tended to split into factions, especially over such controversial issues as independence, relations with Guatemala, connections with the West Indian Federation and the Organization of Central American States. Belize was busy finding her role in the region and in relation to her geographical and political neighbors.
A new constitution, which remains in effect today, was adopted in 1964 and provided a fully representative government. Britain only retained responsibility for foreign affairs, defense, security and civil service employment. The nation of Belize was on the brink of coming into being, but it would take more than fifteen years before independence would finally be granted. This relinquishing of control was in many ways gradual, with the transfer of treasury control from Britain to Belize in 1966. The opening of factories within the country to manufacture needed commodities, thus cutting down on the dependence on foreign goods the improvement of agricultural methods and the encouragement of the tourist trade all have contributed to the relative financial independence of Belize. In 1971 Belize joined CARIFTA, the Caribbean Free Trade Area. This provided an extended market for Belize's agricultural products.
The country's name was changed on lst June, 1973, from British Honduras to Belize.
Belize attained independence on September 21, 1981. Despite continuing border problems with Guatemala, problems with the economy and dependence on foreign aid, the ensuing years have been profitable and full of hope. Thanks to foreign investment and tourism, the economy of the country has been slowly improving and, with it, an improvement in living' conditions and expectations for the future.
From 1975 to 1979, the U.S. abstained on all the United Nations resolutions concerning Belize's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. Finally, in 1980, it changed its policy of neutrality and voted in favour of the U.N. resolution that called for the independence of Belize. This resolution was adopted in November 1980. It demanded the secure independence of Belize, with all its territory, before the next session of the U.N. in 1981. It called on Britain to continue to defend Belize, and on all countries to come to its assistance. One hundred and thirty-nine countries voted in favour of the resolution, with seven abstentions and none against. Guatemala refused to vote.
The British are still maintaining a military presence in Belize, but are working with the Belizean Defense Force to help ensure national security.
Tourism is playing an important part in upgrading the economy of Belize. Such active organizations as the Belize Audubon Society are dedicated to preserving the natural beauties and habitats of the country while helping to make them available to visitors from all over the world
For extensive detail on Belize and Ambergris Caye history, click here.
Constitution and Government :
Belize achieved full independence on September 21,1981. It is now a member of the British Commonwealth, the United Nations and the Non-Alligned Movement. Diplomatic relations have been established with many countries. Belize is also a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and related institutions.
The Government of Belize is operated on the principles of parliamentary democracy based on the Westminster system. The country is a sovereign, democratic state.
A Prime Minister and Cabinet make up the executive branch, while a 28-member elected House of Representatives and eight- member appointed Senate form a bi-cameral legislature.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 11 is the titular [lead -of State. She is represented in Belize by a Governor-General, who must be a Belizean.
The Cabinet consists of a Prime Minister and other Ministers who arc appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister, the person commanding the support of the majority party in the Housc of Representatives.
Five Senators are appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister. two on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition. and one on the advice of the Belize Advisory Council.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate are elected either from among the Members of these Houses (providing they are not Ministers) or from among persons who are not Members of either House. The House of Representatives consists of:
The Speaker - plus here are listed the districts:
Orange Walk South, Pickstock, Corozal. South East, Fort George, Belize Rural South, Dangriga, Corozal North, Cayo South, Toledo East, Orange Walk Central, Lake Independence, Collet, Corozal Bay, Cayo West, Cayo Central, Caribbean Shores, Mesopotamia, Queen's Square, Albert, Freetown, Port Loyola, Belize Rural North, Orange Walk East, Orange Walk North, Corozal South West, Cayo North, Stann Creek West, and Toledo East.
Elections and Political Parties :
General elections are held at intervals of not longer than five years. The voting age is 18 and above. The Prime Minister has the right to advise the Governor-General to dissolve the National Assembly and so determine the date of the general elections. Click here for the 2000 Final Report Of The Belize Political Reform Commission
Administration and Local Government :
There are six administrative districts: Belize, Cayo, Corozal, Orange Walk, Stann Creek and Toledo. With the exception of the Belize District, each is administered by a locally elected Town Board of seven members. The island resort of San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, was granted township in 1984.
Belize City is administered by a nine-seat elected City Council. Local government in the villages is carried out with the help of the Village Councils.
The laws of Belize is based on the English legal system together with locally enacted legislation. There is a Supreme Court and a Court of Appeal. Each of the six judicial districts has summary jurisdiction courts (criminal) and district courts (civil), both of which are presided over by magistrates. Appeals against decisions of the Court of Appeal lie with the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. There is a Director of Public Prosecutions, a Chief Justice, and three Puisine Judges whose tenure is protected. The Attorney General is a member of the Cabinet.
The Belize Defence Force (BDF) was formed on I January, 1978 and since then has expanded rapidly. A small British garrison remains in Belize under agreement with the U.K. Government to help in the event of an external attack.
The BDF was started with the help of British Forces training personnel and with a substantial grant for equipment and the building of a barracks ten miles from Belize City at Ladyville. Besides the infantry force of regulars, volunteers and reservists, the BDF has Air and Maritime Wings. Training assistance has been received from the U.S. Government and from the Canadian Government, in addition to that tendered by the U.K Government.
Territorial Claim :
Guatemala has maintained an unfounded territorial claim over Belize. This has never been accepted by the Government and people of Belize nor by the former colonial power, Great Britain.
Guatemala claims to have inherited sovereignty over Belize from the Spanish Crown, and claims that the treaty of 1859 between Britain and Guatemala which recognizes the border between Belize and Guatemala is null and void.
Under article 7 of that treaty Britain and Guatemala agreed to use their best efforts to build a cart road between the settlement of Belize and Guatemala City, but this was never done. Guatemala has never occupied or exercised sovereignty over Belize. In fact, Belize and Guatemala are distinct and different, culturally and politically. Guatemala is a Spanish-speaking republic with a history of military coups and regimes. Belize is an English-speaking country within the Commonwealth with a history of democratic and stable governments.
Numerous attempts have been made to resolve the problem with Guatemala by negotiation, including mediation by the United States of America in 1965-68. The mediator's proposals presented in draft treaty were unacceptable to the people and Government of Belize and were rejected.
Bilateral negotiations were resumed in 1970-72 when various possibilities of resolving the problem, including measures of economic cooperation between Belize and Guatemala, were discussed. Further talks were held in 1975, but these broke down over unacceptable dernands from Guatemala for land cession.
Belize has always maintained at these talks that its independence was not up for negotiation. The Belize Government continues to seek an amicable end to the dispute and to have Guatemala drop its unfounded claim to Belize.
In 1975, Belize's position at the negotiations was greatly strengthened by the international support gained for its cause. That year the question of Belize was placed on the agenda of the United Nations General Assembly. The General Assembly voted in favour of Belize's right to self-determination, independence and territorial integrity. Since then, at every General Assembly from 1976-1980, Belize received resounding support for its just aspirations.
The crucial step forward came with the resolutions passed in November, 1980 by the United Nations and the Organisation of American States. These resolutions declared that Belize should achieve independence before the end of 1981. They made it clear that this did not depend on the progress of the negotiations with Guatemala. As the deadline approached, Guatemala came under heavy pressure to drop its unfounded claim to Belize.
In February, 1981 more efforts were made to settle the dispute. For the first time the Guatemalan regime agreed to recognize the territorial integrity of Belize. Talks, however, broke down after Guatemala demanded the use of Belize's southern cayes for military purposes. Efforts to find a negotiated settlement continue. Following agreement reached in May, 1988 a Joint Belize- Guatemala Commission has been set up to draft a treaty to resolve the problem. Any draft agreement proposed will be put to the electorates of Belize and Guatemala for their decision.
The Economy :
A number of Government and international development agencies are involved in assisting the Government of Belize in its development through economic cooperation programmes. These include the U.K. Government, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), CARE, United Nations agencies, the European Development Fund (EDF) and the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).
The economy of Belize was traditionally based on forestry, mainly the export of logwood, mahogany and chicle. The country's economy is now based on agricultural development. But in recent years there has been a resurgence in forestry. The main exports arc sugar, citrus, bananas, fish products (mainly lobster), timber and garments.
Dairy farming is growing in importance and the livestock industry continues to grow.
Several oil companies hold exploration or prospecting licenses. Oil was discovered in the north of the country in 1981, but not in commercial quantities.
Tax concessions and other incentives encourage the development and diversification of manufacturing industries which include clothing and textiles for export, plywood and veneer manufacturing, matches, beer, rum, soft drinks, furniture, boat building, and battery assembly.
Currency and Banking :
The currency unit is the Belize Dollar (Bz$). The fixed rate of exchange is Bz. $2.0 to US $1.0 There are four commercial banks (the Belize Bank Ltd., Barclays Bank PLC, the Bank of Nova Scotia and Atlantic Bank Ltd.), and a Governmcnt Savings Bank.
A Central Bank has been set up to replace the Monetary Authority of Belize. Recent amendments to the Banking Act permit offshore banking.
Customs duties account for more than half of total revenue. The next important source is income tax, which accounts for more than a third. The main items of expenditure are agriculture, public works, education and defence. Belize does not receive any external aid for its recurrent revenue. Capital expenditure is financed through economic cooperation programmes with the U.K., Canada and U.S.A. and the loans from the Caribbean Development Bank. Belize received Bz. S20.0 million under U.S. Caribbean Basin Initiative to assist in private and public sector projects.
On December 31, 1973 the Belizean Government published an Act (No. 31 of 1973) designed to discourage land speculation and encourage land development by aliens and alien-controlled companies.
As a result of this law, in order to purchase land in excess of one half acre within a city or town, or in excess of ten acres outside a city or town, an alien must obtain a license from the Minister of Natural Resources. Such license shall be recorded in the General Registry as a deed. The terms and duration of such license are negotiable but generally will require the licensee to do a certain amount of development work or spend a certain amount of money on development of the land under license during the period of the license. The Minister may at his discretion alter, amend or extend the terms of such a license.
Breach of any term or condition in a license shall render void. The Minister may by notice in writing give a licensee three months to comply with any term or condition of the license which has been breached, and if the licensee fails to comply within the time specified. the Minister may, by notice in writing to the licensee, declare the license void.
If the license is declared void by the Minister, the licensee has a right to appeal to the Supreme Court for review of the Minister's decision.
If there is no appeal or if the appeal is dismissed, then the Minister may record a deed in the Registry cancelling the license and thereupon the land in respect of which the license was issued and all buildings, fixtures and appurtenances thereon shall forthwith be forfeited to the Government.
An alien leasee (or beneficiary) under a will has the right to receive the proceeds of sale from land left to him under the terms of a wi1l.
Once the conditions of the license have been fulfilled to the satisfaction of the Minister, the Minister shall grant a certificate declaring that the license shall no longer be voidable, thus cancelling the encumbrance created by the license. This certificate shall be recorded in the General Registry as a deed.
The incumbent Minister has given an assurance that any bona fide developer will encounter no problem in obtaining a license provided that the developer is prepared to carry out a meaningful amount of development during the term of his license. The Minister has also affirmed that once this development obligation has been fulfilled, there will be no delay in the issuance of a certificate declaring the license no longer voidable. In the case of land which already is developed, a license will be required but there will be no development obligations under the license.
While no regulations have been made by the Minister governing the issuance of license, in the case of licenses covering agricultural land the general requirement is that the licensee must agree to develop at least 10% of the amble land annually until all such land is developed.
As a rule, Government does not sell its land outright. But it provides arrangements whereby the leasee must first develop the land within a certain period with option to purchase afterwards.
Agriculture currently provides some 65% of the country's total foreign exchange earnings, and employs approximately 30% of the total labour force.
Although about 1,998,230 acres or 38% of the total land area are considered potentially suitable for agricultural use, only perhaps 10 to 15 % is in use in any one year. About half of this is under pasture, with the remainder in a variety of permanent and annual crops. The traditional system of "milpa" (shifting cultivation) involves the annual clearing of new land for crop production however, there is an increasing number of farmers making permanent use of cleared land by mechanical means. A tax is levied on the unimproved "value" of the land.
The expansion and improvement of agriculture is one of the principal aims of national development planning. The Department of Agriculture of the Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries maintains an extension service with officers posted in all districts. Agricultural research is conducted at the Central Farm Research Station into a variety of tropical crops, livestock and pasture. Agricultural research is also done by other non-governmental bodies within the country. The Ministry also provides mechanical, veterinary and quarantine services to farmers and an agricultural training college at Central Farm. Other government services include the Belize Marketing Board, which operates in the buying and selling of producers' crops, and the Development Finance Corporation, which offers credit to farmers, amongst others.
Farming Patterns :
The agricultural sector is dominated by the sugar industry, which is concentrated in the Corozal and Orange Walk Districts. A statutory Sugar Board controls and regulates the sugar industry and the production of cane. A Cane Farmers' Association, formed in 1959, acts on behalf of the cane growers in negotiations with the manufacturers and provides technical and financial assistance to farmers. The industry has suffered from severely depressed prices on the world market, and efforts are therefore being made to encourage diversification.
The citrus industry, centered in the Stann Creek District, is the second major contributor to export earnings. The bulk of output from orange and grapefruit groves is processed into concentrate, oil and squash for export. The statutory Citrus Control Board is responsible for regulating the industry, while the Citrus Growers' Association represents the growers and provides assistance in various forms.
Bananas. again located in the Stann Creek District, are the third largest export crop. Despite damages from hurricanes and drought in the 1970's, more than 1,482 acres are now established. Funds from the Caribbean Development Corporation have enabled the expansion of the industry.
Cacao is becoming increasingly important as an export crop. Hershey Food Corporation of the United States. has established a commercial plantation in the Cayo District and the crop is being adopted by many farmers, particularly in the Cayo and Toledo Districts. Mangoes are also grown commercially, but production fluctuates, mainly due to climatic conditions.
A dairy plant has been constructed at San Ignacio in the Cayo District under the Belize Livestock Development Project with USAID cooperation. The plant has a capacity of processing 400 gallons of milk per day. It began operations in July, 1986.
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries :
Belize has a viable fishing industry. Millions of dollars of fish products are exported.
There are laws to protect the rock or spiney lobster to avoid overfishing. There is a closed season between March and July.
Export markets for scale fish are mainly in the United States. Mexico and Jamaica. There are 13 registered fishing cooperatives which contribute to the success of the fishing industry in Belize.
The Canadian International Development Agency and CARE are providing assistance for the training of Belizean fishermen in fish processing, marine engineering, navigation and modem fis
hing techniques. There has been a resurgence in forestry. Reafforestation and natural regeneration in the pine forest (mainly in the Cayo, Stann Creek and Toledo Districts), and artificial regeneration of fast- growing tropical hardwood species are in progress.
The main industries are sugar, citrus, fisheries and bananas. Sugar accounts for more than 50% of the country's foreign exchange earnings. Because of the uncertain future of sugar, major efforts are being made towards agricultural diversification.
Industrial development is encouraged through concessions which include "tax holidays" of up to 15 years.
Small enterprises include the manufacture of metal doors and windows, furniture, concrete blocks, bricks, clothing, boat building, soft drink bottling, brewing, cigarette manufacture, tire recapping, the production of flour and animal feed, wire and paper products, an agricultural fertilizer plant, matches, plywood and other wood products, a meat packing plant, food processing operations and the manufacture of rolled steel bars for the construction industry.
Duty Exemption and Other Fiscal Incentives :
A one-stop shop has been created in the form of the Belize Export and Investment Promotion Unit (BEIPU). BEIPU is designed to assist and counsel potential investors in an effort to realize their projects. As part of its export promotion activities BEIPU will assist existing and new companies in product and market development.
Cooperatives and Credit Unions :
The cooperative movement has been tremendously successful in stimulating the success of fishing and farming. There are 179 cooperatives, including arts and crafts, bee-keeping, crop marketing, farming, fishing and transport.
There are more than 25 active credit unions in Belize with an estimated membership over 41,500 with assets of over Bz. $60 million.
The Belize Credit Union League comprises active registered credit unions. They are insured under CUNA Mutual Life Savings and Loan Protection Insurance for the protection of shares and loans of members.
Tourism is taking on a new look. Work on a new terminal at the Phillip S. W. Goldson International Airport is completed, the resurfacing of the runway and expansion of the apron was also completed. A promotional campaign has been launched aimed at the nature-loving tourist. Belize is blessed with the second largest barrier reef in the world, three of the four atolls in the Caribbean, a large network of caves on land and in the sea, a wide variety of animals-including the endangered Jaguar, 500 species of birds, colourful flora and fauna. Over 600 Maya ruins, many rivers and a small easy-going and harmonious multiracial society characterizes this Caribbean country in Central America.
Belize has four major highways, the Northern Highway connecting Belize City with Chetumal on the Mexican Border, the Western Highway connecting Belize City with Belmopan and continuing to the border with Guatemala, the Southern Highway linking the Stann Creek and Toledo Districts and the Hummingbird Highway. All principal towns and villages are linked by roads to Belmopan and Belize City.
Regular bus services operate to and from all main towns.
Inland Waterways :
Several rivers and lagoons are navigable by shallow draught vessels. The Belize River is used for logging.
The main airport, Phillip S.W. Goldson International Airport, is situated 10 miles from Belize City, and is owned and operated by the Government. The runway, at present 7,100 feet long, can accommodate large, wide boded jet aircrafts. Regular international services are maintained by six airlines to and from the United States of America, Central America and Mexico. There are numerous government owned or privately licensed airfields suitable for light and twin engined aircraft. Domestic air services provide connections to all main towns and three of the main offshore islands. A modern weather radar system, part of the World Meteorological Service, gives early warning of approaching hurricanes. The Belize Weather Bureau is now equipped with satellite communication facilities to assist in weather forecasting.
The main port is Belize City, now equipped with a modem deep-water port able to handle containerised shipping. Nine major shipping lines move cargo to and from Belize to Central and North America, Europe and Japan. The second largest port, Commerce Bight just south of Dangriga, has been improved to accommodate the medium sized vessels required to handle increased exports of bananas and citrus products.
Coastal services are operated between towns and villages on the mainland to some of the offshore islands, and to Puerto Barrios in Guatemala.
- Belize Estate & Company Ltd.
- Belize Shipping Agents
7202 Caesar Ridge Rd.
- Caribbean Shipping Agencies
115 Albert Street
- Eurocaribe Shipping Service Ltd.
14 Fort Street
- Marine & Services
95 Albert Street
The Belize Telecommunications Limited (BTL) owns the automatic telephone service which covers the entire country. BTL operates a regional service to Mexico, Guatemala and Central and South America, as well as all other extemal services. A recent expansion programme has doubled the capacity of the telephone system. A satellite earth station in Belmopan provides high quality telecommunications with the outside world.
The Office of Telecommunications acts on behalf of the Government in monitoring and regulating all telecommunication services within Belize, including the assignment of frequencies.
Belize is relatively free of endemic diseases. Malaria, like in all other Central American countries, continues to be a problem requiring constant surveillance.
There are seven govemment hospitals, one in Belmopan, one in Belize City, and one in each of the other five districts. A new hospital is to be built in Belize City by Govemment. The Government maintains an infirmary for the care of geriatric and chronically ill patients. Matemal and child welfare services arc available countrywide.
Medical services in rural areas are provided by rural health care centres and mobile clinics operate in remote areas.
Local training for nurses and midwives is provided at the Belize School of Nursing. Medical students usually attend the University of the West Indies, whose medical faculty is in Jamaica.
The Belize literacy rate is over 90 per cent, one of the highest in this area. Education is compulsory for children aged between 6 and 14. Primary education is free. In 1988 there were 40,287 pupils enrolled in 226 primary schools, 7,376 in 27 secondary schools and 1, 170 in 8 post-secondary institutions. Most schools are run by the churches, some b
Government. The Government maintains one special school for mentally handicapped children and another for children with physical disabilities.
Specialized training is available at other institutions. The Belize Technical College offers craft and technical courses, the Belize Teachers College runs a two-year diploma course leading to trained teachers status. The Belize Vocational Training Centre in Belize City provides courses for primary school teachers, while the Belize Youth Development Centre and the Belize College of Agriculture offer training for those interested in entering the field of agro-industry.
Advanced training is provided to Belizeans in the professional and technical fields at Belize's first university, the University College of Belize, which opened in 1986.
The University of the West Indies maintains an Extra-mural Department in Belize City. This institution's work includes organizing adult education classes and lectures. In addition, it offers courses in social anthropology, constitutional law, and conversational Spanish and Garifuna.
The Extra-mural Department encourages creative arts and sponsors an annual festival of dance, music and drama. There is a well-equippcd library service. It has its headquarters in the Baron Bliss Institute in Belize City and 74 service points scattered throughout the country. Remote areas are serviced by a mobile library.
The Bliss Institute is maintained and operated by Government in order to encourage cultural activities.
Broadcasting and the Press :
The Belize Broadcasting Network (B.B.N.), the national broadcasting service, is presently operated by Government. It comprises two radio stations, namely Belize Radio One and Friends FM, and a small video production unit known as B.B.N. Teleproductions. Both radio stations are semi-commercial, and broadcasts are in English and Spanish.
The new Government promised in its Manifesto - BELIZEANS FIRST - that "the Belize Broadcasting Network will be removed from direct government control and be replaced by a Statutory Body along the lines of the British Broadcasting Corporation (B.B.C.)." Another manifesto promise states that, "Licenses for private radio stations will be granted on merit."
There are several low-powered TV stations covering most of the country. These stations use TVRO dishes to intercept satellite-relayed TV programming, mostly from the U.S. They then re-transmit these signals to their viewers. Some stations are strictly commercial, others solicit contributions to help pay their operating expenses. Some transmit scrambled signals on the air or through cable for which service one must pay.
Locally originated TV programmes are produced on a regular basis by B.B.N. Teleproductions.
There are several newspapers and periodicals published in Belize. Among the leading newspapers, all weeklies are: The Amandals, The Belize Times, The People's Pulse and The Reporter. The Government Information Service publishes a monthly magazine BELIZE TODAY, which is free.
National Symbols :
National Flag : A rectangular dark blue background with narrow red stripes at the top and bottom and with the country's Coat of Arms on a white circle in the centre.
National Flower : The Black Orchid, (Encyclia Cochleata)
National Tree : The Mahogany Tree, (Swietenia Macrophilla)
National Bird : The Keel Billed Toucan, (Ramphastos Solfuratus)
National Animal : The Tapir or Mountain Cow, (Tapirello Bairdii)
Profile of Attractions in Belize :
Belmopan, the new capital established in 1970 in the centre of the country, continues its 20-year development period. When this is completed, the city will accomodate up to ten times its present population with housing areas, central commercial and government areas, green belts, industrial estates, schools, hospitals and other amenities of a modern city.
The most important buildings are the National Assembly on Independence Hill, patterned off a basic ancient Maya style, and flanked by the Government Ministries around a spacious esplanade.
Two commercial banks are located in Belmopan. A small strip provides air service.
BELIZE CITY - (Population: 58,000 approximately)
Founded some 300 years ago by pirates and seafarers turned timber-men, Belize City straddles the estuaries of the Haulover Creek, Belize River.
To begin with, there were two streets, conveniently named Front Street and Back Street (now Regent and Albert Streets). Today the city has thirteen sections with romantic sounding names like Cinderella Town, Queen Charlotte Town and Lake Independence.
The City has a quaint 'old world' atmosphere with timber dwellings perched high on posts in order to make the most of the prevailing winds and to allow for easy expansion as the need and opportunity arises. Following bitter experience with recurrent fires and the occasional hurricanes (only two bad ones in thirty years) the people have been turning more and more to reinforced concrete structures.
An elected City Council, presided over by a Mayor, runs the municipality. Belize City was the seat of the national government until the establishment of Belmopan in August 1970.
You will find the oldest Anglican Cathedral 1826 in Central America in Belize City. Here, in great splendour, Kings of the Mosquito Coast were crowned. Other old buildings include Government House (1814), the Supreme Court Building and former slave quarters along Regent Street.
But the City also looks towards the future. There are some 20 elementary schools, 8 secondary schools, a Teachers' College, Technical College, Vocational Centre, 5 libraries and 3 centres for adult education. The Baron Bliss Institute, centre for performing arts, is the setting for the annual Festival of Arts, established in 1953.
Amenities include modern electricity, telephone and telecommunications systems, a sanitary and reliable water system, modern wellstaffed hospitals, government radio station, private and public recreation facilities. There are comfortable, modern hotels, restaurants night clubs, and a trailer park which cater to tourists.
The Belize International Airport is ten miles away.
You will find the people, mostly Afro-creoles, warmhearted, English-speaking and eager to assist strangers.
COROZAL TOWN - (Population: 10,000 approximately)
Located on the fringe of picture-book Corozal Bay, the town is set off by a multitude of coconut palms and flowering flamboyant' trees. It is 96 miles north of Belize City. Corozal Town is a modern well-planned community with wide boulevards and many parks.
A private estate prior to 1849, it was settled predominantly by Mestizo refugees from neighbouring Quintana Roo province of Mexico. It was once the scene of determined attacks by Maya Indians. The remains of an old fort still exist in the center of the town.
Ringing the Central Park are a modernistic Catholic Church, Library, Town Hall, Adventist Church and government administrative offices. The town has two secondary schools, five elementary schools, three filling stations, two banks, a government hospital, clinic, cinema, small hotels, piped water supply and several clubs.
Corozal Bay is ideal for fishing and sea-bathing. Cerros, at the head of the Bay, is an interesting Mayan archaeological feature. The international bridge to Mexico is just nine miles away.
The town is surrounded by many small villages, and its economy is sustained by a-large sugar industry with a processing factory nearby. Both Spanish and English are spoken. There are many festive occasions like the Columbus Day Celebrations, Carnival and fiestas in the surrounding villages.
ORANGE WALK TOWN - (Population: 9,600 approximately)
Orange Walk Town, on the New River, 66 miles north of Belize City and 30 miles south of Corozal Town. From here roads lead off in four directions linking the more than 20 villages in the Orange Walk District.
Prior to its settlement by Mestizo refugees from Yucatan in 1849, the area had been for over 100 years a timber producing encampment. In the past it thrived on chicle, and maize grown by peasant farmers. More recently the establishment of a modern sugar factory and expanded sugar-cane production throughout the district has had quite an impact on the area.
The modern and the traditional is reflected in the industrial complex of the sugar factory, mechanized company estates on its outskirts and the ancient Catholic Church. The ruins of Fort Cairns and Mundy provide a reminder that this settlement was once the scene of pitched battles with Indian war parties, the last of which occured on September lst, 1872. Public amenities include a modern park and town hall, two banks, three filling stations, one secondary school, two large elementary schools, a cinema, and a public library.
The Spanish language predominates, although most of the people will have at least a working fluency in English.
DANGRIGA - (Population 7,700 approximately)
Largest town in the country, this municipality is divided by the North Stann Creek River and another wide creek. It is a busy town, sustained by the thousands of acres of citrus cultivation in the fertile valley nearby.
It is said that Dangriga was one of the first European settlements, dating back to the 17th century. Latterly, it became a haven for fishermen and subsistence farmers.
The majority of its citizens are Garinagu (Black Caribs), whose ancestors arrived here from Honduras in 1823. This 1823 settlement is commemorated every year on November 19th with house-to-house dancing, public ceremonies and re-enactment of the first landing.
Dangriga has a Piped water supply, three filling stations, a bank, two secondary schools, five elementary schools, a public library, civic centre and a cinema.
The town provides a convenient embarkation points for excursions to the many coral islands off-shore. The distance from Belize City by sea is only 36 miles. By road, one motors through 105 miles of all weather road which cuts through fertile lands and thick hardwood forests. Along this road, the Hummingbird Highway, can be seen. The "Blue Hole" and St. Herman's Cave are popular scenic spots.
SAN IGNACIO - (Population: 7,500 approximately)
San Ignacio sits on the banks of the Macal River, a branch of the Belize River, 72 miles due west of Belize City, and 22 miles from Belmopan. It is surrounded by hills, a town of entrancing beauty.
Its beginnings go back approximately 100 years. But to this day it preserves a robust, pioneer atmosphere. The early settlers were mainly Mestizo and Maya immigrants from neighbouring Guatemala and a few Lebanese businessmen. The town has now embraced the former neighbouring village of Santa Elena, linked by the Hawkesworth suspension bridge. Nine miles to the west of the town lies Benque Viejo Del Carmen.
San Ignacio is the administrative centre of the Cayo District. It boasts a secondary school, three elementary schools, three filling stations, a government hospital, a cinema, small hotels, several clubs and a piped water supply. Radiating around its central park is the police station, public library and government offices.
Not far from San Ignacio are the Mayan centres of, Cahal Pech ("Place of the Ticks") and Xunantunich ("Maiden of the Rock")
BENQUE VIEJO DEL CARMEN - (Population: 3,100 approximately)
Benque Viejo Del Carmen is the town farthest west from Belize city (81 miles), a few hundred yards from the Guatemalan (Peten) frontier. Set on the banks of the bubbling Mopan branch of the Belize River, the famous Maya archaeological site of Xunantunich just a mile away.
The town is one of the best examples of well laid out municipal areas in the country. It is also famous for its gardens and fruit.
The inhabitants, mostly Spanish speaking, are descended mainly from Guatemalan immigrants of the 19th century. The early history of the town was marked by the drama and excitement of hectic episodes involving banditry,. border raids and ribald living by hardy chicleros (chicle-bleeders).
The town boasts two large elementary schools, a secondary school government and Nazarine clinics, a public library, two filling stations and piped water supply.
Benque Viejo Del Carmen is a charming Mestizo town with marimba bands, fiestas and colourful social customs centered around baptism, marriage, Christmas the highly flavoured 'Spanish dishes' and serenades by night.
PUNTA GORDA - (Population: 3,000 approximately)
Punta Gorda, is the southernmost town in the country, some 15 feet above sea level. Although the town bears a Spanish name, its inhabitants are mostly English-speaking. The people are of Garinagu (Black Carib) , East India and African stock.
Commencing as a little fishing settlement, Punta Gorda was the site selected by a number of Garinagu settlers who moved over from Honduras in 1823.
The town, established on the margin of the sea, is flanked by seven hills announcing its northern commencement. There is a big promontory at the southern end. Small-boat traffic is frequent between Punta Gorda and the nearby ports of Barrios Jn Guatemala and Cortez in Honduras. Communication with Belize City is by coastal boats, small aeroplanes, and by the new, unpaved, Southern Highway a distance of 210 miles. A paved road from Punta Gorda leads-inland for 21 miles to San Antonio and beyond to a dozen Mayan villages.
A few miles from Punta Gorda is the site of the former Toledo settlement where American Civil War refugees settled. Today the area consists of two villages. Not far away is the important Mayan archaeological centre of Lubaantun.
Punta Gorda, once an isolated and little visited place, now has a secondary school, three elementary schools, a cinema and public library. It is the gateway to fertile lands, which have the capacity of producing an abundance of rice, corn and livestock.
Maya Archaeological Sites :
Xunantunich archaelogical site with its vaulted masonry buildings and elaborately carved stone and stucco friezes, has a history going back more than 1,400 years. Recent field-work at this site has revealed that it is much more extensive than was formerly thought to be the case. The most striking edifice within the complex is the A6 pyramid, now 127 ft. above the plaza and once believed to have been topped by a towering roof comb some 10 ft. higher. A free translation of the word Xunantunich is "Maiden of the Rock", a name given to the site by present day Maya Indians but unlikely to have been the original name. The site is 80 miles by road southwest of Belize City.
Most extensively excavated of all the Mayan centres in the country, Altun Ha, just 30 miles from Belize City, is an important ceremonial centre of the ancient Maya. A team lead by Dr. David Pendergast of the Royal Ontario Museum started work at the site in 1965. It has unearthed some spectacular discoveries, including the ornately carved head of Kinisch Ahau-Mayan sun god. This head, weighing 9 3/4 lbs. and measuring nearly 6 inches from base to crown, is reputed to be the largest carved lade in existence.
Click here for extensive and detailed information on Belize Maya sites.
UNDERGROUND ATTRACTIONS :
St. Herman's Cave is part of a vast cave system which occurs in the hilly limestone country of the Cave Branch area or the Mountain Pine Ridge.
Attractions in this zone apart from huge caves with their fairyland configurations, underground streams and evidence of use by Ancient Maya- include the magnificent tropical hardwood forest, ferns, orchids and animals to be found in the woods. Elsewhere, e.g. in the Northern Lagoon there are interesting caves.
An intriguing natural phenomenon not far from St. Herman's Cave is the "Blue Hole", a body of water which emerges from deep beneath a massive hill, runs for a short distance in an oasis setting only to disappear again under a ledge in the dark recesses of a hollow in the rosk.
NATIONAL FOREST RESERVE :
The Mountain Pineridge
This area is a favourite destination for nature lovers, due to its high elevation, mountain-fed streams and falls, the abundance of wildlife, orchids, caves, plus hundreds of miles of some of the best roads in the country. Picnic grounds have been prepared with swimming facilities, a shelter, barbecue grills, and toilet facilities. The Forest Department's Command Station for the Mountaain Pineridge has a landing field for light aircraft. Jaguar Preserve
This 5,000 acre preserve is located in the midst of a natural forest of the southern highway in the Cockscomb Basin area.
MAINLAND RESORT ZONE OF PLACENCIA :
This mainland resort zone can be reached by land (ferry transfer) sea and air. There are miles of the finest quality beach covered with the prolific coconut palm. Sea bathing, fishing offshore or in the lagoon behind, hunting in the foothills of the Cockscomb Range nearby, are the big attractions. Placencia is known for its wonderful informality, and a sense of timelessness that one forgets could still exist. This is a place where summer is the wine of the year, the time for vacationing is any time, and hospitality is always in season.
San Pedro, Ambergris Caye
Thirty-six air miles from Belize City, Ambergris Caye is the
home of a thriving fishing industry. Within the past few years there has been rapid development of the island's tremendous tourism potential
The island, about the size of Barbados, has many miles of white sandy beach. Less than half-mile offshore is the Great Barrier Reef which, besides offering protection to the island, is in itself a great challenge to the adventurous scuba diver. The journey by small airplane takes approximately 20 minutes. A "speed boat" will do the journey in from 1 to 3 hours. There are a number of small hotels offering accomodation, meals, fishing, snorkelling and diving, and sightseeing trips.
Playground for ancient pirates, the island has a community of about 450 people among whom are some permanent tourists. Most of the fishermen are members of the Northern Fishermen's Co-operative, who supply lobster, conch and fish to the export market. A regular boat run from Belize City takes both local and tourists to the island.
St. George's Caye
Just about 9 miles (14 kilometres) from Belize City, St. George's Caye is steeped in history. It was the first capital of the settlement from 1650 to 1784 and was the scene of the great sea battle against the Spaniards in 1798 now celebrated as "St. George's Caye Day". There still remains evidence of the early magistrates and leader The caye was divided into two parts during the devastating hurricane "Hattie" of 1961.
A popular picnic spot for Belizeans and visitors, English Caye is a beautiful little cluster of sandy beaches with coconut trees, and coral formations. It sits at the entrance from the Caribbean Sea into the Belize City harbour. An important lighthouse is located here and there are two pilots who guide the many ships that call at the Belize City harbour. It is located about 10 miles (16 kilometres) from Belize City. Not too far away is Goff's Caye with its beautiful sandy beaches.
Half Moon Caye
Located some 70 miles (113 kilometres) from Belize City, the crescent-shaped Half Moon Caye stands as a beacon to seamen entering Belizean waters. With its historic lighthouse and it unmatched beauty, Half Moon Caye is near to the famous "Blue Hole" scientifically examined by oceanographer Yves Jacques Costeau. It lies at the entrance to the Atoll known as Lighthouse Reef and is the home of the almost extinct Booby bird. Half Moon Caye boasts Belize's clearest waters - 200 feet visibility - and its beaches are among the finest.
NORTHERN BELIZE :
Just a wee bit off the beaten path, unheralded, but unrivalled in their diversity, are the wetlands of Northern Belize: the swamps, marshes, shallow bays and estuaries - lagoon country. A birdwatcher's and naturalists paradise, the lagoons, Crooked Tree, Ketz, Progresso and Shipstern represent low places between ridges of an earlier geologic time. They provide excellent feeding ground for water birds: eqrets, herons ibis, storks, spoonbills and others that represent a good cross-section of the nation's wildlife.
Further north, new archaeological discoveries from the preclassic, Classic and modern Maya periods are even now being uncovered. At Lamanai, Orange Walk District, the entire range of pre- Classic to modern features of the Maya civilization have been excavated. Nearby at Indian Church, the remains of a church built by Spanish missionaries of the 16th century stand amid the dust of time, and an English. colonial sugar mill, with its flywheels intact, gives testimony to the crude industrialization of the past century. At San Antonio on the Albion island, ridged field systems bear evidence of ancient Mayan agricultural expertise and El Pozito, between Guinea Grass Village and August Pine Ridge, depicts a pre-classic (300 B.C.) building found beneath the plaza of a Classic (600-900 A.D.) Maya construction. Across the bay from Corozal Town about 3 miles (5 kilometres) along the coast are Los Cerros with large mayan mounds,- some of which have not yet been excavated.
Two Mennonite communities are located in Northern Belize - Blue Creek and Shipyard in the Orange Walk District. The Mennonites, originally German farmers, were given refuge in Belize after facing difficult times in other lands. They are a self-contained community engaging in agriculture, manufacturing and sawmilling. With their unique customs, their traditional dress and their language - a low German patois - the Mennonites add variety to the Belizean scene.
There are hundreds of caves, mostly unexplored in the limestone hills between the Maya Mountains and the plain. The role of caves in Maya culture is principally ritual, although they have also been used as places of refuge, storage, clay quarries, and as a source for both ritual and drinking water. Believed to be the entrance to the underworld, the ancient Maya preferred those with difficult access for their ritual descent down to Xibalba, the abode for the dead.
The Popul Vuh, a Quiche Maya document from the Guatemala highlands, makes reference to the Maya's origin in caves. Since many caves in that area are vertical, and completely inaccessible, it is argued that underworld mythology developed in the lowland area where caves are more easily entered. Vuh also mentions the Hero Twins who journeyed the hazardous path to the underworld. Their trials in the "House of Darkness" may reflect actual rites wherein the young elite Maya duplicate the legendary journey.
Often restrictions such as stalagmites, if not natural, were placed at the mouth of the cave or at the opening to an inner chamber within the cave. Stalagmites resembling the sacred ceiba tree have been depicted in the Dresden Codex, one of the four surviving Maya books. Ceiba supports the heavens at the center of the Maya universe and represents the fifth up and-down direction of the Maya conception of space which divided space into four quadrants corresponding to the Cardinal directions.
There are nine levels in the Maya underworld, each represented by a deity. In the Long Count Calendar, the lords make up a perpetual cycle each serving as a current lord of the night, influencing daily events. The Jaguar god of the number seven and lord of the underworld, was most revered. The death god, a human skeleton figure often depicted with saurian characteristics, is also a prominent figure.
The interpretation of caves as an access to the underworld is enforced by evidence of snail shells, which had death symbolism, strewn along paths inside many caves. Rites often include the burning of copal incense in censers to honor ancestors. Offerings of ground cocoa and sacrifices of birds, dogs or children were often made to the gods, especially to Chac, the rain god. Other archaeological material includes stingray spines, an item used to draw blood. Finally, caves were also used to collect "Zuhuy ha" or "remote water." Jars (ollas) were placed as receptacles for water dripping from stalactites and used for a variety of ceremonial purposes. Individual pot shards were often placed in wet crevices which kept the "virgin" water from touching the ground. It is interesting to note that ceramic vessels found in graves at Lamanai usually lacked one fragment suggesting that a single shard was retained for ceremonial purposes. The demands for Zuhuy ha were probably great and the olla jars and fancy polychrome wares were very likely smashed at the semi-annual renewal rites. Caves may have been the receptacle for these broken vessels explaining the large number of pot shards often heaped or strewn in them.
THE BARRIER REEF AND ASSOCIATED ECOSYSTEMS OF BELIZE :
YOUR TOUCH KILLS ME!
During your visit to the reef, you will encounter many beautiful coral types and formations. These corals have been growing for thousands of years. Each coral "rock" is composed of thousands of tiny animals called polyps. These animals belong to the same group of animals as the sea anemone, sea fan, jellyfish, and Portuguese man-o-war. The colonies of polyps are very fragile and are damaged when touched by a hand or a fin. When damaged, the corals are much more susceptible to contamination by bacteria and other organisms. The contamination may lead to the death of an entire colony of polyps. PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH OR STAND ON LIVE CORAL HEADS!
Many colorful fishes will be encountered during your visit to the reef. Fishes live in and all around the coral community. For example, squirrel-fish can be found hiding in coral branches or coves, sandtile fish can be found living in burrows in the sand of the sea floor, houndfish and barracudas can be found swimming near the surface of the water, large groupers can be found hiding in overhangs or caves, and moray eels can be found hiding in holes and crevices within the corals.
Fish are very friendly and may move close enough for you to touch. However, fish secrete a mucous coating that protects them from bacterial infections. When touched, this coating is removed and allows bacteria to infect the fish.
PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH THE FISH!
- Feeding can cause harm to divers or snorkelers (e.g., attacks by large fish trying to get "their share").
- Feeding increases the fishes' vulnerability to predation by other fishes and to hook and line fishing.
- Feeding introduces unusual food to the environment and may pose a threat to overall health of a fish, thus lowering the resistance to disease.
- Feeding affects the fishes' natural behavior (e.g., nibbling of humans).
By Hol Chan Marine Reserve San Pedro, Belize
The diverse and ornate populations of coral reefs make them among the most beautiful of all underwater ecosystems. These tropical shallow-water ecosystems are inhabited by a myriad of creatures of bizarre color, form and behavioral adaptation. This association of plants and animals in the tropical waters of the world is the most complex of all ocean ecological systems, and it also represents the oldest ecosystem on earth.
The barrier reef complex of Belize extends roughly 155.35 miles in a north-south direction and ranges from six to twenty-one miles in width. It is the largest continuous reef in the Caribbean. The reef complex includes an almost unbroken barrier reef, beginning as a fringing reef off the peninsula of Ambergris Caye, with numerous patch reefs and mangrove cayes in its shoreward lagoon, and ending in the Gulf of Honduras. The lagoon separating the reef from the mainland is twelve to fifteen miles wide in the northern regions but in the south the reef bends eastward and the lagoon becomes more than twenty-four miles wide before it opens into the Gulf of Honduras.
In the north where Pleistocene topography is reflected in the line of elongate cayes just behind the reef two distinct types of lagoons are present. The "black-reef' lagoon (only .93 miles wide) found between the barrier reef and the cayes has clear, circulating water, normal salinity, and .a sandy bottom supporting a seagrass community interspersed with coral patch reefs. The "inner-shelf" lagoon, which may be up to 15 miles wide, lies between the caye line and the mainland, and contrasts strongly with the black-reef lagoon. The diversity of organisms is lower in the inner shelf lagoon which is characterized by slightly murky, sluggish water that is susceptible to considerable seasonal temperature and salinity changes, and a muddier bottom supporting seagrass beds but rarely any corals or calcareous algae. The life of the inner-shelf lagoon becomes considerably more restricted near the mainland where freshwater runoff is important. Passes between the cayes where the two types of lagoons meet exhibit varying characteristics depending on the extent of water circulation and the stability of the salinity.
REEF STRUCTURE :
Despite their diverse forms, all reefs share common characteristics in being structures of varying shape rising above the level of the adjacent sea floor constructed by and consisting mainly of organisms. These structures generally reach the surface and are confined to shallow, warm water areas due to the growth restrictions of the organisms which build them. The term "reef' is derived from the Dutch for "something on which a ship can run aground." It is most likely that this definition first referred to only two of the four types that one is more likely to "run aground." All four types of reefs are represented in the Belizean reef complex the fringing reef which is attached to an island or the mainland, the barrier reef separated from the mainland by a lagoon, the patch reef consisting of small clusters of reef materials found in the lagoon area, and the circular "atolls," here found in association with Lighthouse Reef, Turneffe Islands, Glovers Reef and some of the more southern cayes. All of these have some basic similarity in makeup. The outer frame of a reef which forms the basis for the whole ecosystem consists mostly of branching corals. At the base are the calcareous skeletons of the dead coral with the young living coral growing on top. The skeletons of the dead corals, the living corals, the shells of other organisms, and the lime secreted by certain encrusting and creeping algae accumulate and form the physical structure of the reef. This framework in reality represents only a small portion of the reef with over nine-tenths being composed of fine, sandy detritus stabilized by the algae and corals and cemented or anchored to the reef surface. The reef is by no means a solid mass of rock, but rather the coral tends to arch over natural depressions in the reef surface so caverns are formed. Some of these fill with debris swept in by the currents, but others remain open and house abundant life. Smaller holes in the surface of the reef are the result of boring organisms such as the spiny echinoids (sea urchins) and the boring mollusks. The action of such organisms is destroying the reef, but it is constantly being rebuilt. Reefs have been measured to increase their diameter from about one half to two inches per year.
- Back Reef Zone -
The shallow back reef grades upwards from the deeper seagrass beds of the lagoon and can be frequently subdivided into a patch reef zone with clustered massive coral growths, and a rubble and pavement zone where gravel, silt, and storm-deposited debris overlie a relatively smooth, undulating rock pavement consisting of a conglomerate of coral, mollusks, and crustose coralline algal fragments cemented together. The rock pavement surfaces may be overgrown by isolated coral heads, scattered algae, and boring sponge, and covered by sand and silt sediments.
- Reef Crest -
The very shallow reef crest represents a transition zone between the back reef which is subject to relatively low mechanical stresses, and the fore reef which endures greater mechanical stresses and environmental changes than the back reef. The reef crest is subjected to the forces of breaking waves and may be distinguished by a framework of more dead than living corals covered by crustose coralline algae, patches of well-sorted sands and sometimes dense algal turfs.
- Fore Reef Zone -
The fore reef zone withstands severe environmental stresses in some places and grades downward until finally dropping off to the deep ocean floor. It maintains the highest productivity of the reef and surrounding areas. The fore reef can be sub-divided into the "inner fore reef' and the "outer fore reef." The inner fore reef begins with a shallow water "forest" of elkhorn coral and knobby mounds of star coral and as the bottom drops, tall coral pinnacles continue to jut out from the sandy bottom like "spurs" with "grooves" of sandy-bottomed canyon between them. Sometimes this spur and groove zone, where the high-energy oscillating movements of water promote growth on the spurs and cause erosion in the grooves, is divided into a "high" spur and groove zone and a "low" zone. In the zone of "high" relief the spurs may rise 10-33 feet, while in the zone of "low" relief the 3-foot high coral spurs are dominated by a variety of gorgonians which also cover the rock and rubble substrates of the sandy grooves. The outer fore reef generally begins with a sharp drop called the "inner reef slope" to a bottom at about 49 feet covered by a thicket of living and dead corals providing substrate for massive sponges and gorgonians. Between this inner reef slope and the rise of the outer ridge and fore slope is often found an area of sedimentation of the barren "sand trough" where particles ranging from very fine sand to coarser fragments of calcareous algae, mollusks, forams and echinoids are deposited. The outer ridge and fore reef slope support a rich mix of corals, sponges, gorgonians and benthic fauna, until at a depth of about 90 feet the steep "wall!' of corals and associates most tolerant of the depth give way to the sand and rubble-covered limestone floor of the continental slope, dropping on to a depth of 660 feet.
The black mangrove (Avicennia sp.), recognized by its many pneumatophores sticking up from the roots through the mud flats or supratidal to intertidal sands which generally surround it, usually forms "forests" along more sheltered areas of the shore. It frequently has the same landward associates as the red mangrove. Black mangrove is not as tolerant of ranges in salinity and prefers higher salt concentrations than found in the fresher waters sometimes tolerated by the red mangrove. In fact, the area where the white and black mangroves are found is the saltiest mangrove environment. This is due to irregular (in higher areas), periodic (intertidal) flooding by tides and saltwater mists which evaporate, leaving salt deposits behind in the soil. These backwater areas are also subject to occasional freshwater runoff and flooding requiring great phycological adjustment on the part of the plants, so frequently white mangrove dominates since it manages adjustments better than the black.
The mouths of rivers and low energy beaches where most mangroves are found are areas of soil deposition, and during storms these substrates tend to be removed or rearranged. The presence of mangroves tends to stabilize these substrates and to increase soil deposition and add organic materials to the soil. Under the soil surface, at the end of the prop roots, huge mats of thread-like secondary roots form thick layers similar to peat moss. This stabilized soil or mud frequently is high in decaying organic matter and therefore deficient in oxygen, and the water cannot supply sufficient quantities of oxygen to meet the roots' demands. The red mangrove solves this problem with numerous lenticels located on its prop roots just above the high tide mark. The pneumatophores of the black mangrove which are always (at maturity) taller than the high tide level allow oxygen exchange under normal circumstances.
The mangrove community is a transition zone between the marine and dry land environments and as such has many transient species with a relatively smaller number that can be considered permanent residents. The most obvious visitor species are the birds which not only feed in the mangroves, but utilize them for nesting and nighttime perching. At various stages of their life cycle many species of fish and invertebrates take advantage of the cover and high productivity of the mangroves to enhance their survival and growth.
Among the resident species we find the most fascinating in the red mangrove community where vertical stratification due to tides determines the species distribution. Among the roots in the subtidal zone we find the oyster toadfish with a large mouth for gulping small fish prey and camouflage coloration causing it to blend in with the mangrove oysters (Crassostrea rhizophorae) and mussels ( r i n) which attach to the roots. Barnacles are commonly found along the prop roots in the intertidal zone. Periwinkle snails move up and down the branches and leaves of the mangrove, always remaining above the tide. Epiphytic algae of many different types covers the parts below the high tide mark and lichens of many forms and colors cover the branches where the tide never reaches. A variety of organisms occupy the surface layer of muddy debris among the roots including several species of starfish and brittle stars, conchs, and many species of worms.
The basic plant communities of Belize are similar in many ways to those found in nearby Central American countries and in some ways to those in the southern Atlantic states of the United States. Most U.S. field guides, however, will be of little use. The most readily available literature applicable to Belize will probably include guides designed for use on Costa Rica, Mexico, or southern Florida.
Plant associations in Belize are usually designated by the term "ridge" which has nothing to do with elevation, but rather with changes in vegetation.
Another term frequently encountered is the Aztec word "milpa" meaning corn. This term, spread by the Spanish, now refers to land which has been cleared and cultivated by hand for two or three years, then allowed to lie fallow for a variable length of time (2 to 20 years) and then reused. This system of "milpa" agriculture has been important in altering the plant cover of the country. Abandoned milpa fields are called "guamil."
You will probably recognize many familiar genera in the following habitat descriptions and species lists, however, many of the common names will be in Spanish or some local dialect. Just as occurs in the U.S., common names are frequently regional with a different name in each region, and many times one common name will be applied to several different species or even different genera. Some common names were given by the Spanish who used terms familiar to them from home, yet have no relation whatsoever to the species they encountered in the New World. Their common names were also of a descriptive nature as with the "cohune" palm. Thus there is a valid argument for the inclusion of scientific names in these accounts. Be aware that the common names given will not necessarily be recognized by the locals in all parts of Belize and that since one plant may have many common names (in English and in Maya or Spanish), only one or two have been selected.
Sources of Information :
Chief Information Officer , Government Information Service, P.O. Box 60, Belmopan, Belize, C.A.
Secretary Belize Touris t, Bureau P.O. Box 325, Belize City, Belize, C.A.
Commissioner of Lands & Survey , Ministry of Natural Resources, Belmopan Belize, C.A.
Chief Agricultural Officer , West Block Belmopan, Belize, C.A.
Comptroller of Customs & Excise , Fort Street Belize City Belize, C.A.
Central Bank of Belize , Treasury Building, Belize City, Belize, C.A.
Chief Education Officer , West Block Belmopan, Belize, C.A.
Chief Statistician, Central Statistical Office , Belmopan, Belize, C.A.
Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry , P.O. Box 291, Belize City, Belize, C.A.
Belize Export and Investment and Promotion Unit , 7 Cork Street, Belize City Belize, C.A.
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