Historically an important centre of the ancient Maya Civilisation, the sovereign nation of Belize evokes images of paradise cays, atolls, coral reefs and Caribbean shores. Located along the northeastern coast of Central America, Belize is bordered by Mexico, Guatemala and the Caribbean Sea and is a haven of wildlife-filled jungles and luscious turquoise oceans. A relatively small country in comparison with its giant neighbourhoods, its population is the lowest in Central America, with approximately 400,000 inhabitants, so there is certainly enough paradise to go around!
Aside from the idyllic coastline, Belize is known for its diversity, with many different languages, cultures and ethnicities contained within the small nation. Its ties with Britain are also well remembered, and it was formerly known as British Honduras, although it has been independent since 1981, when it became part of the Commonwealth, with the British Monarch remaining as its head of state. English is the official language, although Belizean Creole and Spanish are widely spoken and much of the population are at least bi-lingual.
A mixture of both Caribbean and Central American influences have fostered a unique country, whilst its geographical perfection ensures that holidays to Belize remain popular with travellers from around the world. Ambergris Caye, the largest Belizean island, is the most sought-after and well-known beach-holiday destination in the country. It’s palm tree-lined white sand beaches are said to have inspired Madonna’s hit song, ‘La Isla Bonita’. To reach the isolated paradise of the countries series of cays and atolls, one must first arrive in bustling Belize City, known for its museums, colourful buildings and culture. From here there are countless taxi boats and private transport services to take you to your desired cay or island is you are looking for relaxation. On the other hand, a tour of Belize is incomplete without exploring the interior of the country, home to Mayan ruins hidden amongst the verdant rainforests and Maya Mountain range.
History in Belize
The most notable part of Belizean history is that of its ancient Maya civilisation, which emerged in approximately 2,600 BC and whose heritage can still be experienced at the numerous archaeological sites which are scattered around the Cayo and Toledo districts of the country. In the later age of Maya civilisation, the territory of modern-day Belize is estimated to have been home to a population of approximately 1 million. A package holiday to Belize is the perfect way to uncover the famous civilisation as you walk in the footsteps of the ancient Maya in a number of impressive ruins and historical sites.
As with much of Central and South America, Spanish conquistadors arrived in the 16th century, and although they claimed the country as a colony they did not settle in Belize due to its apparent lack of resources. Instead, the following century saw the arrival of English and Scottish ‘Baymen’, settlers and pirates who lived and set up communities on the Belizean coast, eventually establishing a trade port and city.
After the Spanish had seen the development and discovery of natural resources by the new settlers, they attempted to regain control over Belize but were repelled in the Battle of St. George’s Caye in 1798, an event which is still celebrated as a national holiday in Belize every September. Despite centuries of British involvement, Britain did not formalise its interests in the country until 1862, marking the renaming of Belize to ‘British Honduras’. A continued economic downturn during the 20th-century gave rise to a number of significant independence movements, resulting in Belize’s self-governance in 1964, the re-establishment of the name ‘Belize’ in 1973 and the declaration of full independence in 1981. Nevertheless, the British influence on the country was significant and it still remains a member of the Commonwealth, so travel to Belize for UK Citizens is visa-free.
Nature in Belize
Belize’s small human population leaves plenty of room for an abundance of wildlife, something the country is well-known for. The jaguar is perhaps the most iconic creature, with the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, located on the slopes of the Maya Mountains, thought to be the world’s best jaguar protection site. In fact, there are a number of national parks in Belize, with approximately 36% of the country’s landmass falling under the category of ‘protected habitat’. The country’s unique location between North and South America engenders a wide range of habitats and climatic zones for plant and animal life to flourish, with a tropical climate divided into distinct wet and dry seasons. To uncover the true treasures of nature on a trip to Belize you will need to head to the coast and out into the Caribbean Sea, where the Belize Barrier Reef amazes visitors with its biodiversity and sheer size.
At 190 miles long it is the second largest coral reef on earth. It is listed in UNESCO’S World Heritage Sites and attracts multitudes of sea-life loving scuba divers and snorkellers, who can explore the underwater world, home to at least 500 different fish species, not to mention amazingly colourful hard and soft coral. The awesome Blue Hole is part of this reef system; a giant marine sinkhole in the shape of a near-perfect circle, located 70km from the mainland.
As deep as 125 metres in places, it’s home to an array of unique fish species. It is a rare and beautiful natural attraction and unmissable sight on a tour of Belize as you can choose from a number of day trips out to the Blue Hole from Belize City or the surrounding islands. With numerous beach resorts and island hideaways it is no surprise that snorkelling is one of the highlights of a holiday to Belize, and where better to get up close to the native sea-life than in the aptly named ‘Shark Ray Alley’ a popular snorkelling spot and marine reserve close to Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, where harmless nurse sharks and rays can be found in abundance.
Culture in Belize
Belize’s diverse cultural and ethnic groups are what make the country a unique and vibrant travel destination. It’s Maya heritage lives on in the three Mayan groups which inhabit the country and can trace their ancestry back to those original settlers. Creoles, descendants of the English, Scottish, African and West Indian settlers are another prominent group in Belize, along with people of mixed Spanish heritage, known as Mestizos, Garihagu people of African, Arawak and Island Carib heritage as well as foreign expats who have been drawn to the country’s paradisical lifestyle.
This melting-pot of cultural influences ensures a trip to Belize will offer you a cultural insight unlike anywhere else you have visited before. The long-lived British influence has left an air of typical formal British manners, mixed with laid-back Caribbean vibes. In Belize, you might think twice before greeting an acquaintance by their first name but will think nothing of high-fiving a stranger in the street. The Caribbean penchant for parties is represented in the well-known September Celebrations, a month-long calendar of festivities, complete with parades, live music and carnival. Belize; a tiny country with a complex past and abundant natural beauty. To travel to Belize is a treat for the senses, as vibrant blue skies, crisp sea breeze and a coral reef adorned with a rainbow palette of colours are sure to leave you invigorated and safe in the knowledge that you, yourself, have stumbled upon paradise.