Belize, or the former British Honduras, is a parliamentary democracy on the Yucatán peninsula on the east coast of Central America. In the north Belize meets Mexico with some 250 km. of borders, while Guatemala lies west and south of the country. The Caribbean Sea is located to the east.
Geography: Coast, mountains, rivers, caves
Belize is 22,965 square kilometres large, which makes it the second smallest country of Central America, after El Salvador. The 280 kilometre coast has excellent coral reefs (the world’s second largest barrier reef) and over 200 so-called cays, which are sandy palm island consisting of coral. Ambergris Caye is the largest of all with its 40 by 7.2 km. measurements.
The coastal and northern regions of the country are flat, but the south and west with its Maya Mountain Ranges are around 1,000 meters high on average. The highest peak in Belize is Victoria Peak (1,120 m.). The Belize River splits the country in two. It is one of many rivers in the country, which are surrounded by swamps and sweet water lagoons. Apart from the Belize River, the main rivers are called Blue Creek, Rio Hondo, New River, Sibun River, Macal River, Rio Grande, Moho River, Tumex River and Sarston River.
Aside from the coast, the mountains and the rivers, Belize’s specialty is caves. The Cebada and Petroglyph caves belong to the largest in the world, with hundreds of other grottos being explored as we speak. The mountainous south and west own the most caves, but the underwater caves in the Caribbean Sea might be more spectacular. The Giant Cave is one of the longest underwater caves on earth. The caves played a key role in Maya mythology.
Belize’s capital is called Belmopan
. The city now has 40,000 inhabitants and was founded only a few decades ago when Belize City was devastated by the hurricane Hattie
. Other main cities are Corozal Town
, Orange Walk Town
, San Pedro Town
, San Ignacio
, Benque Viejo del Carmen
and Punta Gorda
Belize has 256,000 inhabitants. The main harbours are Belize City and Dangriga (previously Stann Creek). The main airport is called Philip S.W. Goldson Airport.
History: Maya, Spanish, British
The current Belize territory belonged to the giant Maya empire, which was at its highest point during the Classical Period from 250 BC to 900 AD. The first contact with Europeans occurred in 1511 by shipwrecked Spanish sailors. They were killed or – if they were lucky – made slaves. Belize soil became a safe harbour for the traditional population fleeing from the ruthless Spanish conquistadors. British pirates were more appreciated because they instigated trade instead of domination and conversion to Roman Catholicism.
Mahogany was the main reason the British eye fell on Belize. They used slaves from Jamaica to harvest the woods, in the meanwhile holding back the Spanish and the Maya’s. Officially the colony was governed by Great Britain from 1798, when the British beat the Spanish at the Battle at Saint George's Caye. Slaves and Maya’s continuously battled the oppression by both British and Spanish in the region.
It became an official crown colony in 1871, managed by the governor of Jamaica. From then on the colony was known as British Honduras. Rebellions were still the order of the day. Huge inflation in the 1950s lit the fire to nationalism, but Great Britain did not go further than some restricted self-government. Guatemala tried to conquer the country in 1972, but failed eye to eye with the British troops, who were backed by other Central American countries and the United Nations.
The name British Honduras was changed to Belize on June 1, 1973. Independency was gained on September 21, 1981. On request of Belize, the British army stayed until 1994 to ensure the country’s freedom. Not until 1992, Guatemala recognized the Belize nation.
Other country facts
Belize is the only Central American country where English is the official language. For around 15 percent of the population Spanish is the mother tongue. A Creole English dialect is spoken by most people. It’s a mixture of English, Spanish, Maya, and African languages, resembling the Jamaican Creole English. The nature of the Creole language is apparent in Belize sayings, such as:
Together with Costa Rica, Belize is a political oasis in rowdy Central America. The Belize government has its own web site at http://www.belize.gov.bz/.