A large number of archaeological sites indicate that for hundreds of years Belize was home to around one million Maya, whose relatively advanced civilization reached its height between AD 250 and 900. While the Maya eventually abandoned many of their cities, they did not vanish. Today, their descendants, predominantly in the southern district of Toledo, still make up part of the important cultural fabric of Belize.
In 1638, British logwood cutters, known as the Baymen, were the first Europeans to settle in the area. The Baymen were dependent on slave labor for their logwood (used to produce purple and red dyes) operations, but also subject to attacks from neighboring Spanish settlements for a 150 years. It was not until 1763 that Spain, with the Treaty of Paris, allowed British settlers to engage in the logwood industry. Despite the treaty, Spanish attacks continued until, in 1798, a decisive victory was won by settlers, with British naval support, in the Battle of St. George’s Caye. After that, British control over the settlement gradually increased.
Constitutional advances came in 1834 with the emancipation of slaves. In 1871, British Honduras was formally declared a British Colony, and the Crown Colony System of Government was implemented. 1954 saw the introduction of Universal Adult Suffrage and an elected majority in the legislature. The Ministerial System was adopted in 1961 leading to Self Government in 1964. Then finally in 1973, the country changed its name from British Honduras to Belize. Full independence was achieved on September 21, 1981. Belize is now a member of the Commonwealth, the United Nations, OAS and the Association of Caribbean States.
Culturally, Belize is a diverse melting pot. By far the greatest number of settlers are the Mestizo (Spanish Indian) followed by Creole (African-European), Maya, Garifuna, Mennonites. More recently an influx of European, North Americans and Canadians have made the country their home.
The country itself covers 8,867 square miles, an area about the size of New Hampshire. It is bordered by Mexico in the north, Guatemala to the west and south, and by the Caribbean Sea to the east.
Shallow coastal waters are sheltered by the Belize Barrier Reef which is the largest reef system in the Western Hemisphere. This is dotted with hundreds of small Cayes and three separate offshore atolls. Much of the coastline of the mainland is low coastal plain covered with mangrove swamp. The northern plains rise to a slight plateau in the west that is crisscrossed by waterways. Central Belize is mostly savanna supporting abundant wildlife. Moving southwest from the old capital Belize City, the land rises gradually toward the interior with Mountains of over 3000 feet above sea level. The southern part of the country consists of many steep rivers that carry sand, clay and silt, which enrich the coastal belt and the agricultural areas. Much of this area is also covered in virgin tropical rainforest rich in palms, exotic flora and fauna, and tropical hardwoods.
Belize has a tropical climate with average annual temperatures of 80ºF (highs of 95ºF in summer and lows of 65ºF in winter months). The wet season runs June to November, but most rainfall is predominently short refreshing showers. Ideal clothing should be light and breathable. A sweater and waterproof gear may be advisable for mountains and for the jungle, long pants, light long sleeve shirt and good walking shoes.
Entry / Departure
Please visit our Immigration and Visa page for more details on entry requirements for Belize.
The Belize Dollar ($) is pegged to the US Dollar at the exchange rate of two (2) Belize Dollars to one (1) US Dollar. US Dollars are accepted countrywide, but we do suggest that you do bring crisp notes as torn, heavily worn or damaged foreign currency may not be accepted.