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An adventurer's paradise, Belize is your peaceful, English-speaking neighbor only two hours away from 3 major U.S. Gateways. With a diversity of adventure opportunities unmatched by any other country, the Belize people have protected 40% of the country as parks and natural reserves.
Belize is on the Caribbean coast, nestled between Mexico and Guatemala and offers an intriguing mix of tropical forests rich with wildlife, majestic 3,675 foot mountains, mysterious Maya temples, and diving and fishing experiences beyond compare.In a single day you can go from tropical forest to the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere. And the people are as warm and friendly as the climate.
A Brief History of Belize
A brief history of Belize can be divided in major four periods. Following is a very brief synopsis of these periods.
Archaeologists estimate that at their peak, 1 to 2 million Mayans lived within the borders of present day Belize. Mighty Maya cities such as Caracol, Xunantunich, and Lamanai dotted the landscape, with small agricultural communities farming the land between. The Maya civilization is divided into the Pre-Classic (1000 B.C. to A.D. 300), the Classic (A.D. 300 to 900) when the civilization reached its height of development, and the Post-Classic (A.D. 1000 to 1500) when the civilization fell apart and disappeared.
No one knows for certain what caused the disappearance of the Maya. Perhaps it was war, loss of faith, famine or a series of natural disasters.
Christopher Columbus sailed along the coast of Central America in 1502, and named the bay which borders the southern part of the barrier reef Bay of Honduras.
The first settlers in Belize were English Puritans, setting up trading post along the coast of Belize. Various bands of ship wrecked sailors, buccaneers and pirates established permanent bases in Belize, harrassing the Spanish galleons carrying gold, silver, and hardwoods from Central America to Europe. It wasn't long before logging became the dominant occupation.
This band of rugged individuals took to calling themselves "Baymen" after the Bay of Honduras. Spain continually attempted to expel these British buccaneers from then Spanish territory, but finally signed treaties in 1763 and 1786 allowing the British to continue to harvest timber in exchange for protection against pirates preying on the Spanish galleons.
During the 1840's, Great Britian declared Belize to be the colony of British Honduras. Development of Belize became more organized and multiethnic through a series of cultural changes. The European settlers began to marry freed slaves forming the Creole majority that still is dominant in the population. Mexican citizens began cultivating small farms in northern Belize. In Southern Belize, the Kekchi and Mopan Maya sought refuge in the hills of the Maya Mountains. A small band of Confederate Civil War veterans settled in what is now Punta Gorda. And from the Bay Islands of Honduras, the Garifuna people migrated and settled along the coast of Belize.
By the early 1900's, Belize had grown to nearly 40,000 inhabitants. But a destructive 1931 hurricane destroyed Belize City and by the 1930's, the economy was so poor that the residents began to call for independence. By 1954 voting rights were extended to all adults, and by 1961, England agreed to begin the process of setting Belize free.
In 1973, the colony's name was changed from British Honduras to Belize and on September 21, 1981, Belize's Independence was declared.
One of the most prominent ethnic group is the Creoles, which formed 30% of the population in 2001. Creoles are descendants of the intermingling of the early British settlers with African slaves. More than 40% of the population are Mestizos. They are descendants of mixed blood Mexicans and Yucatec Mayans who fled from Yucatan in the mid 1800's. Another 6.6% of Belize's population are the Garifuna. The Garifuna have their own language and culture. The Yucatec, Mopan and Kekchi are three Amerindians groups which also make up Belize's population. The Chinese, with a population of 6,000 has made distinct communities, as well as the East Indians and the Mennonites.
English remains the most common language spoken followed closely by Creole, but Spanish is becoming more widely spoken. The Garifuna , Mayas and Mennonites speak their own language.
The Creoles are descendants of British settlers and African slaves and can be more recognized by their values and way of life rather than by a biological manner.
Two thirds of the Creole population reside in Belize City. Creole men, even after slavery, dominated positions in logging crews, and even now dominate civil service.
The Garinagu came to Belize from the Bay Islands of Honduras on 19th November 1802. They are the result of the intermingling of African slaves, Carib and Arawak Indians. The Garinagu dominate the southern towns of Punta Gorda and Dangriga as well as the villages of Seine Bight, Hopkins, Georgetown and Barranco. Some Garinagu are also residing in Belize City and Belmopan.
Fishing and agriculture is a traditional way of living for the Garifuna. Rituals and traditions are still being retained as the Garinagu strive to maintain a place in Belizean society.
November 19th is a national holiday in Belize to commemorate the arrival of the Garifuna to Belize.
There are three groups of Mayas present in Belize namely the Yucatec, Mopan and Kekchi Mayas.
The Yucatec originated from Yucatan, and came to Belize in the mid nineteenth century running from the Guerra de Castes (Caste War). They now reside in the Corozal and Orange Walk Districts. Today the Yucatec Mayas have exchanged their spoken language for English and Spanish.
The Mopan Mayas, who were fleeing taxation and forced labor, came to Belize in 1886 from Peten. Settlements can be found in San Antonio Village in Toledo District and other villages in the Cayo District.
Kekchi Mayans came to Belize in 1870's, running from enslavement by the German coffee growers in Verapaz, Guatemala. They settled in the lowland areas along rivers and streams, forming small isolated villages throughout Toledo. Because of their isolation, the Kekchi have become the most self reliant ethnic group in Belize. They are also peaceful people known for their cooperative practices in farming and cultural development.
All Mayans have become very much concerned with retaining their cultural identity.
Belize was the home of the earliest Mayan settlements as proven by glyph translations and diggings. In the Orange Walk District Archaeologists have found traces of Mayan communities to as far back as 2000 B.C.
Mayas considered themselves, and still do, as products of the ceiba tree. This tree is said to be in the center of the universe, holds up the heaven and is a symbol of life.
The fact that the Mayans have contributed the concept of the zero among other things, tells that they had an advanced civilization. Yet it is somewhat a mystery why such a civilization disintegrated.
The Mestizos are people of mixed Spanish and Mayan descent representing roughly 48% of the Belizean population. Originally arriving in Belize in 1840 to escape La Guerra de Castas in Yucatan they were joined by others fleeing an oppressive regime in the Peten. The Mestizos are found everywhere in Belize but most make their homes in the northern regions of Corozal and Orange walk and in the western district of Cayo. The Mestizos are an integral part of the Belizean community and have been instrumental in the growth and progress of the county.
East Indians make up about 2% of the population and first began to arrive in Belize after Emancipation in 1838. Initially coming in as indentured, many of them stayed on to work the sugar plantations and were joined by other East Indian immigrants. East Indians are spread out over many villages and towns primarily in the Corozal and Toledo districts and are fairly well integrated into the Belizean population.
The Chinese population in Belize first began to arrive here to escape the Japanese invasion of China just before World War II. Moving around the Central American republics, many of them settled in Belize. More recently, many Taiwanese made their homes and established businesses in Belize as part of the economic citizenship program that was being offered by the Belizean government.
The Mennonites began arriving in Belize in 1958 from Manitoba, Canada, Chihuahua and Mexico. They reside in the Orange Walk and Cayo District in six main communities : Blue Creek, Shipyard, Little Belize, Progresso, Spanish Lookout and Barton Creek. Mennonites are easily identified by their apparels, the women who wear bonnets and long dresses and the men with denim overalls and hats.
The Mennonites have made it a point to have their own school, church and financial institution in their community. They are well grounded in agriculture, as most Belizeans benefit from the sale of their poultry products throughout the country. Furniture crafted by the Mennonites have also been placed on the Belizean market. Throughout the country they are recognized as a group of hard working people.
The cayes (pronounced keys), the offshore atolls, and the barrier reef are on of the main attraction to Belize. The barrier reef, which is 185 miles long, is the longest in the Western Hemisphere. The cayes are islands, that are located between the mainland and the barrier reef, on the barrier reef, and on or within the barrier reef perimeters of the offshore atolls.
Although the mangrove cayes are normally uninhabitable by humans, they do provide a superior habitat for birds and marine life. Many birds, fish, shellfish, and marine organisms begin their lives within the protection of the mangrove. On the other hand, the island cayes, which are distinguishable by their palm trees, have provided the foundation for the development of many fine resorts to serve the water sports enthusiasts and the marine naturalists. The cayes and atolls provide superior opportunity for SCUBA diving, snorkeling, fishing, boating, sailing, sailboarding, and sea kayaking, as well as habitat for both nesting birds and turtles.
The northern half of the mainland of Belize is a plain that was once the bed of a sea. The land is covered with a thin layer of soil, that supports scrub vegetation and dense hardwood tropical forest. The coastal area is neither land nor sea, but a sodden, swampy transition between the two. It consists of mangrove and grasses, and is bordered by tussock grasses, cypress, and sycamore where the land separates the water.
The central part of Belize consists of sandy soil that supports large savannas. Approximately thirty miles southwest of Belize City, the land begins to rise dramatically to between 1,500 and 3,680 feet above sea level into the enchanting Mountain Pine Ridge Area and the Maya Mountains. Abundant rainfall runs off the northwest from the highlands in a number of streams which flow into the Macal River. Ultimately, the Macal River and the Mopan River converge to provide the headwaters of the Belize River.
The southern part of Belize, with its watershed to the southeast from the Maya Mountains, consists of short rivers that rush through slopes combed with overhanging ledges and caves. The rivers, carrying sand, clay and silt, have enriched the coastal belt over the years, allowing Belize to develop significant agricultural products such as citrus and bananas. Along with an annual rainfall of some 170 inches, southern Belize has a true tropical rain forest that is rich with ferns, palms, lianas, and tropical hardwoods.
The climate is subtropical, with a brisk prevailing wind from the Caribbean Sea. The country has an annual mean temperature of 79 degrees Fahrenheit, and the humidity is nicely tempered by the Sea breezes.
Variations in weather features emphasize the interesting difference in elevation, geology, plant and animal life. A summer high temperature, usually never exceeds 96 degrees Fahrenheit, and winter lows are seldom below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, even at night.
Saltwater temperature varies between 75 degrees Fahrenheit and 84 degrees Fahrenheit.
Annual rainfall ranges from 50 inches in the North to 170 inches in the South. Although the rainy season is usually between June and August and the dry season is between February and May, global weather changes are making historical predictions somewhat invalid. At the end of October, the weather does become cooler, and from November to February, it is pleasant with scattered showers of rain. Average humidity is 85 percent.
What language is spoken in
English is the official language of
What are the public and bank holidays?
New Years Day - January 1
Baron Bliss Day- March 9
Labour Day-May 1
Commonwealth Day- May 24
St. George's Caye Day- September 10
Independence Day- September 21
Columbus Day- October 12
Garifuna Settlement Day- November 19
Christmas Day- December 25
Boxing Day- December 26
What currency is used in Belize and what is it worth?
The Belize Dollar (BZ$) has a fixed rate of exchange of BZ$2 to US$1. Most hotels, resorts, restaurants, and tour operators will accept
Is electricity 110 or 220 volts?
Although most of the electricity is provided by Diesel/Generator Sets, the power is stable at 110 Volts A.C., which is the same voltage as in the
What type of health services are available?
There is a well staffed hospital and several private doctors in Belize City. Also the district towns and larger villages have hospitals or clinics. There is an American run Presbyterian Health Clinic in Patchacan, 7 miles outside of Corozal Town.
Can I drink the water?
Potable water is available in most areas of
Are there any diseases I should be concerned about?
There are no serious epidemic diseases in
What will it cost to send a letter home?
Postal rates to the
Are there any taxes or services charges I should know about?
Hotel Room Tax Ð 7%
Service Charge (In lieu of tips) - 10%
There are Departure Fees when leaving the country at the airports and at the borders.
Are taxis available?
Taxis are available in towns and resort areas, and they are easily recognized by their green license plates. Unless specific arrangements are made prior to your arrival at Belize International Airport (P.S.W. Goldson), taxis are available at the entrance to the main terminal.
Although there are no meters on the taxis, the drivers do charge somewhat standard fares, but it is always important to understand what your fare will be, prior to hiring a taxi.
What time zone is
Time observed year round is GMT-6, which is the same as United States Central Standard Time. Daylight Savings Time is not observed in
How do I bring my pet with me?
Bringing a pet into the country falls under live animal importation and is regulated by the Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA).
Requirements: Domestic pets will be allowed to enter the country provided that owners present the following:
* valid import permit
* international veterinary certificate
* valid rabies vaccination certificate
* inspection by quarantine officer
* US $12.50 entry fee + US $12.50 fax fee
Animal Import Permits:
To apply for an import permit,
1. Request application form from:
Tel: 822-0197 or 822-0818
2. Return completed form to Permit Unit of BAHA (Note: date of arrival must be specified) Approved permits will be faxed to applicant at a cost of US $12.50 to be paid at the point of entry on the day of arrival. Persons who forego the application process will be subject to a US $100.00 violation fine in addition to the US $12.50 entry fee.
How do I get around in
If you are short on time or would like to forego the scenic highways, flying is safe, fast and efficient in
Maya Island Air
The above information has been compiled by the Belize Tourism Board.