Flag of Belize Coat of Arms of Belize
Flag Coat of Arms
Motto: Sub Umbra Floreo
(Latin for "Under the Shade I Flourish")
Anthem: Land of the Free
Royal anthem: God Save the Queen
Location of Belize
Capital Belmopan
Largest city Belize City
Official language English (significant number of people speak Spanish and Kriol)
Government Commonwealth Realm
 - Monarch Elizabeth II
 - Governor-General Colville Young
 - Prime Minister Said Musa
Independence From the United Kingdom 
 - Date September 21, 1981 
 - Total 22,966 km² (150th)
8,867 sq mi 
 - Water (%) 0.7
 - July 2006 estimate 291,000 (179th**)
 - Density 12/km² (203rd**)
31/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2005 estimate
 - Total $2.098 billion (163rd)
 - Per capita $7,832 (77th)
HDI  (2003) 0.753 (medium) (91st)
Currency Belizean dollar (BZD)
Time zone (UTC-6)
Internet TLD .bz
Calling code +501
** These ranks are based on the 2005 figures.

Belize, formerly known as British Honduras, is a small nation on the eastern coast of Central America on the Caribbean Sea bordered by Mexico to the northwest and Guatemala to the west and south. The country is a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy which recognizes Queen Elizabeth II as Sovereign. The name is shared by the Belize River, Belize's longest river, and Belize City, the former capital and largest city.

The only English-speaking country in Central America, Belize was a British colony for more than a century and was known as British Honduras until 1973. It became an independent nation in 1981. Belize is a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Sistema de Integración Centroamericana (SICA) and considers itself to be culturally both Caribbean and Central American.

Belize is the smallest (in terms of population) non-island sovereign state in the Americas.




Xunantunich, Belize
Xunantunich, Belize

The Maya civilization spread over Belize between 1500 BC and 300 AD and flourished until about 900 AD. European settlement began with British Jews, privateers and shipwrecked English seamen as early as 1638.

The origin of the name Belize is not terribly clear, but one theory is that it derives from the Spanish pronunciation of Peter Wallace which is the last name of the pirate who created the first settlement in Belize in 1638. Another possibility is that the name is from the Maya word belix, meaning "muddy water", applied to the Belize River.

The early "settlement of Belize in the Bay of Honduras" grew from a few habitations located at Belize Town and St George's Caye into a de-facto colony of the United Kingdom during the late 18th century. In the early 19th century the settlement was called British Honduras, and in 1871 it became a Crown Colony.

Hurricane Hattie inflicted significant damage upon Belize in 1961. The government decided that a coastal capital city lying below sea level was too risky. Over several years, the British colonial government designed a new capital, Belmopan, at the exact geographic centre of the country, and in 1970 began slowly moving the governing offices there.

British Honduras became a self-governing colony in January 1964 and was renamed Belize on June, 1st 1973; it was the United Kingdom's last colony on the American mainland. George Price led the country to full independence on 21 September, 1981 after delays caused by territorial disputes with neighbouring Guatemala, which did not formally recognise the country until 1991.

Throughout Belize's history, Guatemala has claimed ownership of all or part of the territory. This claim is occasionally reflected in maps showing Belize as Guatemala's most eastern province. As of 2006, the border dispute with Guatemala remains unresolved and quite contentious [1] [2]; at various times the issue has required mediation by the United Kingdom, CARICOM heads of Government, the Organization of American States and on one occasion, the United States. Since independence, a British garrison has been retained in Belize at the request of the Belizean Government. Notably, both Guatemala and Belize are participating in the confidence building measures approved by the OAS, including the Guatemala-Belize Language Exchange Project[3].

Belize was recently the site of unrest directed at the country's ruling party concerning tax increases in the national budget.

Although Belize City has problems with crime and drugs, the coastal areas are quiet, safe and scenic. Breathtaking sights in Belize include the barrier reef that is second only to Australia's. That makes for world-renowned scuba diving. Beautiful spots include waterfalls like Antelope Falls at Mayflower Park, and the beach in Hopkins, a friendly village with hotels for tourists.



Belizean protests, 21 January 2005
Belizean protests, 21 January 2005

Belize is a parliamentary democracy and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.

The primary executive organ of government is the cabinet, led by a prime minister who is head of government. Cabinet ministers are members of the majority political party in parliament and usually hold elected seats within it concurrent with their cabinet positions.

The bicameral Belizean parliament is the National Assembly, which consists of a government House of Representatives and a Senate. The 29 members of the House are popularly elected to a maximum 5-year term and introduce legislation affecting the development of Belize. The 12 members of the Senate are appointed by the Governor General. The Senate is headed by a president, who is selected by its members, and is responsible for debating and approving bills passed by the House.

Belize is a full participating member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).


Administrative divisions

Belize consists of six districts:

  1. Belize District- capital Belize City
  2. Cayo District- capital San Ignacio
  3. Corozal District- capital Corozal Town
  4. Orange Walk District- capital Orange Walk Town
  5. Stann Creek District- capital Dangriga
  6. Toledo District- capital Punta Gorda


Map of Belize
Map of Belize

Belize is located between the Hondo and Sarstoon Rivers, with the Belize River flowing down in the center of the country. The north of Belize consists mostly of flat, swampy coastal plains, in places heavily forested. The flora is highly diverse considering the small geographical area. The south contains the low mountain range of the Maya Mountains, whose Victoria Peak is the highest point in Belize at 3,675 feet (1,120 m) tall. The Caribbean coast is lined with a coral reef and some 450 islets and islands known locally as cayes, pronounced "keys". Belize is home to the longest barrier reef in the western hemisphere stemming approximately 200 miles (322 km) and the second longest in the world after the Great Barrier Reef. Three of the four coral atolls in the Western Hemisphere are also located off the coast of Belize. Belize is also the only Central American country without a coast on the Pacific Ocean.

The climate is tropical and generally very hot and humid. The rainy season lasts from May to November and hurricanes and floods are frequent natural hazards.



The majority of the Belizean economy is comprised of the tourism industry.  Agriculture is also a key part of the economy.
The majority of the Belizean economy is comprised of the tourism industry. Agriculture is also a key part of the economy.

The small, essentially private enterprise economy is based primarily on agriculture, agro-based industry, and merchandising, with tourism and construction assuming greater importance. Sugar, the chief crop, accounts for nearly half of exports, while the banana industry is the country's largest employer. Citrus production has become a major industry along the Hummingbird Highway. More recently, discoveries of petroleum deposits in the Cayo District and possible deposits in the Toledo District have radically altered Belize's previously untapped mining and manufacturing capabilities.

The ruling government's expansionary monetary and fiscal policies, initiated in September 1998, led to GDP growth of 6.4% in 1999 and 10.5% in 2000. Growth decelerated in 2001 to 3% due to the global slowdown and severe hurricane damage to agriculture, fishing and tourism. Growth was in 2005 3.8%. Major concerns continue to be the rapidly expanding trade deficit and foreign debt. A key short-term objective remains the reduction of poverty with the help of international donors.



Belize has a relatively young and growing population. Its birth rate is among the highest in the world and there are indications that this trend will continue for the foreseeable future.


Age and gender

The greatest portion of Belize's population is under the age of 30. Nearly 40% of Belizeans are under 15; a similar number are between the ages of 15 and 65. Males slightly outnumber females, though this trend is beginning to change among certain ethnic groups, such as the Creoles and the Garifuna, where there are more middle-age and elderly women. Maya and Mestizo families are more likely to have male-dominated households.


Birth and death rates/Life expectancy

Belize's birth rate currently stands at nearly 25/1000. Nearly 6 persons die per year out of a 1,000 members of the population; this figure includes murders, accidents and death from natural causes. Infant mortality, high at the beginning of the 20th century, is now down to a mere 24 babies out of a thousand. Male babies are more likely to die, however, than females. The life expectancy of a typical male is 66 years, while for a female it is 70. HIV/AIDS, while not a serious threat to national stability, does affect enough of the population to give Belize a high rating among Caribbean and Central American nations.


Ethnic groups, nationalities

According to the latest census, the country's population is close to 300,000, and much of that number is multiracial and multiethnic. The Maya are the most established of all ethnic groupings, having been in Belize and the Yucatán region since the 500's AD. However, much of Belize's original Maya population was wiped out due to disease and conflicts between tribes and with Europeans. Three Maya groups now inhabit the country: Yucatecs (who came from Yucatán, Mexico to escape the Caste War), Mopans (indigenous to Belize, but were forced out by the British; they returned from Guatemala to evade slavery), and Kekchi (also fled from slavery in Guatemala).[4]

White English and Scottish settlers entered the area in the 1630s to cut logwood for export and began settling down. The first African slaves began arriving from elsewhere in the Caribbean and Africa and began intermarrying with whites and each other, to create the Belizean Kriol people ethnic grouping. After 1800, Mestizo settlers from Mexico and Guatemala began to settle in the North; the Garifuna, a mix of African and Carib ancestry, settled in the South by way of Honduras not long after that.

The 1900s saw the arrival of Asian settlers from Mainland China, India, Taiwan, Korea, Syria, and Lebanon. Central American immigrants and expatriate Americans and Africans also began to settle in the country, presenting an interesting potage. However, this was balanced by the migration of Creoles and other ethnic groups to the United States and elsewhere for better opportunities. Estimates have generally placed the number of the Belizean diaspora, consisting mainly of Kriol and Garifuna, at an amount roughly equal to the number currently living in Belize.


Ethnic group mixing, and languages

Racial tension is very uncommon because of the multicultural environment of the society, and the constant admixture of the different ethnic groups. Many people simply identify as "Belizean", due to the numerous racial mixture. Because of this, the ethnic composition of the country is some times hard to determine, but self identified Mestizos comprise 50% of the population, and Kriol 25%. The rest is a mix of Maya, Garifuna, Mennonite Dutch/German farmers, Central Americans, whites from America, and many other foreign groups brought to assist the country's development. Not surprisingly, this mix creates an equally interesting mix of language and communication. English is the official language due to the fact that Belize was a British colony and still has ties to Britain. However, most Belizeans use the more familiar Belize Creole, a raucous and playful English-based language that contains colourful terms which are usually translatable in English. Spanish has become important as the mother tongue of Mestizo and Central American settlers, and is a second language for much of the country. Less well known are the ancient Maya dialects, Garifuna (a mélange of Spanish, Carib and other tongues) and the Dutch-German of the Mennonites. Literacy currently stands at near 80%.



Belize is a predominantly Christian society. Roman Catholicism is accepted by about half of the population, and Protestantism by about one-fourth. Much of the remaining population is comprised of Taoists, Buddhists and newer religions like Jainists, Islam, and Bahá'í. Hinduism is common among South Asian immigrants; Islam is also common among the Middle-eastern immigrants and has also gained a following among Creoles and Garifuna. Religious freedom is guaranteed and churches dot the streets of Belize almost as frequently as places of business; catholics frequently visit the country for special gospel revivals.



Courtesy is important to most Belizeans. It is not uncommon for Belizeans to greet each other on the street even if they have never seen each other before, or for acquaintances to spend minutes at a time chatting, oblivious to what is happening around them. Belize has retained an old world charm long lost in most other countries. Another aspect of the culture is the idea of the mystical healing and Obeah. However, there is still talk of evil shaman practices like putting "Obeah" on certain houses.


Marriage and Family

While marriage is common and tastefully celebrated with church weddings and colorful reception parties featuring food, drink and dance, an increasing number of Belizean families are headed by single parents, especially mothers. Men sometimes father children by several women without marrying any of them, or choose to enter a common-law marriage, living or visiting the family but not settling down.

The extended family is Belize's most common, due to the absence of a number of Belizean parents either in jail, dead, or living and working in the United States, Caribbean and Central America. Most of Belize's population is under 21, and more often than not grandparents raise the children, or else the women of the household take responsibility for them without input from men. Domestic violence, rape, carnal knowledge and incest are all being more widely reported as a result of such broken families. Most Belizean families either own or rent some type of house, typically wooden or concrete, and built to withstand fires and hurricanes, though in recent years entire families have perished by fire due to carelessness with matches and lights.


Food and Eating

Belizeans eat widely from among the food groups. The typical breakfast consists of bread, often homemade but increasingly bought from Chinese shopkeepers, eaten with cheeses, beans, eggs or cereal, topped off by milk for younger ones and coffee or tea for adults. Midday meals vary, from lighter foods such as tamales, panades (fried maize shells with beans or fish), and meat pies, escabeche (onion soup), chi mole (soup), and garnaches fried tortillas with beans, cheese, and sauce, to various constituted dinners featuring some type of rice and beans, meat and salad or coleslaw. In the rural areas meals may be more simplified than in the cities; the Maya use corn or maize for most of their meals, and the Garinagu are fond of seafoods, cassava (particularly made into hudut) and vegetables. The nation abounds with restaurants and fast food establishments selling fairly cheaply. Fruits are quite common, but raw vegetables from the markets less so. Mealtime is a communion for families and schools and some businesses close at midday for lunch, reopening later in the afternoon. Conversation during meals, unless the topic is important, is considered impolite.



Belizeans are informal and friendly in greeting one another; it is considered rude not to hail even a slight acquaintance or greet the clerk or receptionist when entering a place of business. A simple nod of the head or a wave is acceptable when passing someone on the street, and acquaintances might also be greeted with any number of introductory phrases as covered here:

Other acceptable greetings are handshakes, combinations of palms and fists touching, thumbs locking and pats on the back, or even a kiss on the cheek for someone you really appreciate. Formal situations call for use of titles, and children are expected to address their elders with Miss/Mister and answer “Yes, ma’am” or “No, sir” when asked questions.

Since the introduction of television in 1980, visiting with friends is not as common as it used to be. So when such a visit occurs Belizeans generally take care to make even unexpected guests feel at home. Arranged visits most often occur on weekends. A visit might start with a conversation and refreshments at the gate or on the porch before continuing in the house. They most often occur on holidays.


Recreation and Sports

The most popular sports are soccer and basketball, and there is enthusiastic support for league teams formed since the early 1990s. Other sports enjoyed in Belize include volleyball, track and field, boxing, cycling, and softball, which all have established associations. Catching on in recent years are canoeing, chess, darts, billiards, martial arts and even ice hockey (in the Western Cayo District among the Mennonite population). An international cross-country cycling race is held every Easter weekend. Concerts and school fairs are well supported. Belize has the world’s second largest barrier reef and hundreds of small islands, called cayes, that are popular recreation areas for urban people, particularly during school vacations and Easter.



Punta is by the far most popular genre of Garifuna music and has become the most popular genre in all of Belize. It is distinctly Afro-Caribbean, and is sometimes said to be ready for international popularization like similarly-descended styles (reggae, calypso, merengue, etc). Established stars include Andy Palacio, Herman "Chico" Ramos, "Mohobub" Flores, Adrian "The Doc" Martinez, and Lindsford "Supa G" Martinez. A slower, more melodic variant, known as Paranda, has been catching on recently behind the talents of Honduras' Aurelio Martinez and Paul Nabor of Punta Gorda; Nabor's signature track "Naguya Nei" is considered the informal popular anthem of the Garifuna nation.

Brukdown is a very popular modern style of Belizean music. It evolved out of the music and dance of loggers, especially a form called buru. Its greatest proponents include Wilfred Peters and Gerald "Lord" Rhaburn of Belize City and Leela Vernon of Punta Gorda.

Reggae, Dancehall, and Soca imported from Jamaica and the rest of the West Indies, and Rap, Hip-Hop, heavy metal and rock music from the United States, are also popular among the youth of Belize. Belize's recording industry turns out a few CD's each year; the majority of musical exposure occurs at monthly concerts featuring Belizean and international artists sharing the same card, or else DJ's mixing music at local nightclubs.


Ethnic groups


National holidays

National holidays include Baron Bliss Day on 9 March, honouring the Portuguese born philanthropist; Labour Day on 1 May for the nation's workers; Commonwealth Day 24 May, celebrating Belize's membership in the Commonwealth of Nations; The Battle of St. George's Caye Day/National Day on 10 September, honouring the 1798 battle that virtually guaranteed Belize's becoming a British colony after an invading force from Mexico was turned back; Independence Day on 21 September, Pan American Day/Columbus Day on 12 October; Garifuna Settlement Day on 19 November to honour the intrepid group of settlers arriving on that date in 1832; and Christmas on 25 December and "Boxing Day" on 26 December.


National Symbols

Agreed on by decision of the Executive in 1981. They are:


See also

Material in some of these articles comes from the CIA World Factbook 2000 and the 2003 U.S. Department of State website.





  1. Nation News 2006
  2. ACP-EU summit 2000
  3. Guatemala-Belize Language Exchange Project
  4. Cho, Julian (1998). Maya Homeland. University of California Berkeley Geography Department and the Toledo Maya of Southern Belize. Retrieved 4 January 2007.

Further reading


External links

Countries in Central America
Belize | Costa Rica | El Salvador | Guatemala | Honduras | Nicaragua | Panama

Caribbean Community (CARICOM)
Flag of the Caribbean Community
Antigua and Barbuda | Bahamas¹ | Barbados | Belize | Dominica | Grenada | Guyana | Haiti¹ | Jamaica | Montserrat² | Saint Kitts and Nevis | Saint Lucia | Saint Vincent and the Grenadines | Suriname | Trinidad and Tobago
Associate members: Anguilla | Bermuda | Cayman Islands | British Virgin Islands | Turks and Caicos Islands
Observer status: Aruba | Colombia | Dominican Republic | Mexico | Netherlands Antilles | Puerto Rico | Venezuela
¹ member of the community but not the CARICOM (Caribbean) Single Market and Economy.
² territory of the United Kingdom awaiting British instruments of entrustment to join the CSME
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