Belize is a small country wedged in the northeastern corner of Central America. Despite its small size, Belize packs an incredible array of sights and natural wonders. A diverse country with various cultures and languages, Belize also features some of the most breathtaking coastal scenery in the Caribbean and also boasts a wealth of archaeological remains. Here are some interesting facts about Belize.
Facts about Belize
1. Belize is quite small.
Belize has a total area of 22,966 km² (8,867 sq mi), which makes it the 147th largest nation in the world. Belize is roughly the size of Wales or the US state of Massachusetts.
2. Belize shares a land border with two countries.
Belize is bordered on the north by Mexico (276 km / 171 mi) and on the south and west by Guatemala (266 km / 165 mi).
3. Belize is the only Central American country without a Pacific coastline.
All of Belize’s 386 km (240 mi) coastline extends along the Caribbean Sea in the east of the country.
4. The highest point in Belize is 1,124 m (3,688 ft) above sea level.
Found in the Cockscomb Range, a spur of the Maya Mountains in southwestern Belize, Doyle’s Delight is the highest peak in the country that rises 1,124 m (3,688 ft) above sea level.
5. Belize is one of the most heavily forested countries in the world.
One of the random facts about Belize is that approximately 72% of the country is covered by forests.
6. Belize has the lowest population and population density in Central America.
With a population of just over 400,000 Belize is by far the least populated country in Central America. It also has the region’s lowest population density at 17.79/km² (46.1/sq mi).
7. The origin of the name ‘Belize’ is disputed.
One of the fun facts about Belize is that there’s some debate as to the origin of the name “Belize.” Some claim it comes from the Mayan word beliz, which translates as “muddy water.”
Others claim that the name comes from the Mayan phrase “bel Itza”, meaning “the road to Itza.” It’s also been claimed that the name “Belize” is the timeworn corruption of the name Wallace, one of the early buccaneer captains to set anchor here.
8. Belize was once home to the Mayans.
Before the arrival of the first Europeans, Belize was the land of the ancient Maya. Most people think of Mexico’s Mayan cities in the Yucatán and Guatemala’s Tikal when they think of the Maya Civilization. Ongoing archaeological discoveries show that what is present-day Belize was also once a major part of the Mayan Empire.
The Maya civilization expanded throughout the region that is now Belize between 1500 BC and 300 AD, flourishing until about 900 AD. The earliest known Maya settlement dating from around 1,200 BC can be found at Cuello in northern Belize. There are more than 700 Mayan sites scattered all across the country, and the most notable ones are Altun Ha, Caracol, Cahal Pech.
At its zenith, as many as one million Maya may have inhabited the region that is today known as Belize. No one knows for sure what led to the decline of the Classic Maya civilization, but somewhere around 900 AD, their society entered a severe and rapid decline. A prolonged drought, warfare, deforestation, and religious prophecy have all been cited as possible causes.
9. Belize was once home to some Spanish settlements.
During the second half of the 16th-century, the Spanish established some missionary outposts in northern Belize, most notably those near Lamanai, where you can still see the ruins of these early Spanish churches. However, the Spanish never had much success in colonizing Belize. In fact, they met with fierce resistance from the remaining Maya.
10. Belize is a former British colony.
Belize was formally declared the colony of “British Honduras” by the British in 1862. It became a major source of hardwood and dyewood for the still-expanding British Empire. The forests were exploited, and agriculture was never really encouraged. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, African slaves were brought to British Honduras.
The main economy of British Honduras remained forestry until World War I, after which agriculture and fishing became more prevalent. By the 1950s, there was a growing fervor in British Honduras for independence since it was the only country in Central America that was not yet independent.
The UK began giving British Honduras more autonomy. By 1964 it was only responsible for defense, security, and foreign affairs. In 1973 the name “British Honduras” was dropped in favor of “Belize”. Belize finally gained its true independence on September 21, 1981, making it Central America’s newest nation.
11. Belize is a multiethnic nation.
One of the most fascinating facts about Belize is for such a small nation, how multiethnic its population is. Belize has a very mixed cultural background, with thirteen recognized ethnic groups – though the two largest, Creoles and mestizos, form about 75-80% of the total population.
The largest ethnic group (around 50-55%) are mestizos, descended from Amerindians and early Spanish settlers, most of whom speak Spanish as their first language. During the 1980s about 40,000 Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Nicaraguans sought refuge in Belize fleeing conflicts and repression in their countries. This caused a great shift in Belize’s demography.
Creoles, descended from Africans brought to the West Indies as slaves and early white settlers, comprise just about a quarter of the population. The Garinagu people, who form around 5-7% of Belize’s population, are a blend of West African, Arawak, and Island Carib ancestry. The Maya comprise about 10% of Belize’s population. The remainder of the population is of East Indian, European, and Chinese ancestry.
12. Belize is the only country in Central America to have English as an official language.
Being a former British colony, it comes as no surprise that English is the official language of Belize. English is used in print, in the media, in the judicial system, and in public services.
About two-thirds of Belizeans speak a mostly English-based creole called Belize Creole which is widely used in informal settings. Spanish is also widely spoken throughout Belize and about a third of the population speaks Spanish as their mother tongue. Besides these, a variety of Mayan languages, German, Garifuna, Chinese, and Caribbean Hindustani are spoken by a small minority in Belize.
13. Christianity is the major religion in Belize.
Approximately 70% of Belizeans are Christians. The majority of Christians in Belize are Roman Catholics followed by Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, Anglicans, Mennonites, Baptists, Methodists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. There are also smaller numbers of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Baháʼís, and Rastafarians.
14. The capital of Belize is Belmopan.
Located in the center of Belize, Belmopan is the capital of the country. Although it is the smallest capital city in the continental Americas by population, Belmopan is the third-largest settlement in Belize, behind Belize City and San Ignacio.
Founded as a planned community in 1970, Belmopan is one of the newest national capital cities in the world and was originally seen as symbolizing the country’s new independent era. Belmopan was named to combine “Belize” and “Mopan”, the language spoken by the Maya of Cayo.
15. Belize City is the largest city in Belize.
Belize City is a modest-size coastal city located at the mouth of the Belize River in east Belize. It is the cultural and commercial center of Belize. Belize City used to be the former capital of the country until flooding and other damage from Hurricane Hattie in 1961 prompted the government to relocate to Belmopan.
16. The currency of Belize is the Belize dollar (BZD).
The Belize dollar has been the official currency for Belize since 1974 when it replaced the British Honduras dollar. The Belize dollar is pegged to the U.S. dollar at a rate of 1:2.
17. Belize drives on the right.
Rather surprisingly for a former British colony, vehicles in Belize drive on the right side of the road.
18. Belize doesn’t observe daylight saving.
Clocks do not change in Belize and daylight-saving hasn’t been observed in the country since 1983.
19. The tallest structure in Belize is a Mayan pyramid built more than 1,000 years ago.
Believe it or not, the highest building in Belize isn’t a skyscraper. It’s a Mayan pyramid named Canna that rises 43 m (141 ft) into the sky at the Caracol ruins.
20. Belize’s national flag is the most colorful national flag in the world.
Belize’s national flag contains twelve colors, three more than any other national flag. The flag of Belize is a representation of the nation’s history, from its earliest days as a British colony to its modern history as an independent nation. The national flag of Belize is royal blue with a horizontal red stripe at the top and bottom.
The most striking feature about the national flag of Belize is the coat of arms, which sits in a white circle in the center. Two woodcutters hold the shield. The man on the left is a Mestizo and he is holding an ax; the man on the right is of black African descent, and he is holding a paddle. A mahogany tree features behind the men and below them is the national motto.
The shield displays a sailing ship and the tools of a woodcutter. It was the lumber industry that first attracted British colonists to Belize, so the symbols of the lumber industry and the ships that it built were given a place of honor on the country’s flag. The entire design is circled with a wreath of green leaves.
21. Queen Elizabeth II is Belize’s head of state.
Although Belize is a sovereign independent nation, it is a constitutional monarchy. Being a former British colony, Queen Elizabeth II still serves as Belize’s monarch and head of state.
However, the Queen does not have a role in the day-to-day running of Belize. The real executive power over Belize lies in the hands of its prime minister. On the advice of the Prime Minister, the Queen appoints the Governor-General, who is the Queen’s representative in Belize.
22. Belize’s Great Blue Hole is one of the world’s biggest sinkholes.
Made famous by Jacques Cousteau, who declared it one of the top five scuba diving sites in the world, the Great Blue Hole is a 318 m (1,043 ft) across and 124 m (407 ft) deep depression in the Caribbean Sea. That’s big enough to easily fit a pair of Boeing 747’s into the area with plenty of room to spare.
23. Belize’s national animal is like a wild-hog with a snout.
Belize’s national animal is the Baird’s Tapir. Although tapirs are often confused with hippos, pigs, or anteaters, their closest living relatives are actually rhinos and horses. Known as the “mountain cow” in Belize, the tapirs are active mostly at night, foraging along riverbanks, streams, and forest clearings.
24. Belize’s national bird is the Keel-billed toucan.
The keel-billed toucan is instantly recognizable for its huge orange, red and green beak. This social bird is found throughout Belize’s forests.
25. Belize has the world’s second-largest barrier reef.
Belize’s Barrier Reef is an unbroken barrier reef that stretches for roughly 300 km (186 mi) along the country’s coastline, making it the second-largest coral reef system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It features one of the most colorful ecosystems on earth. The Belize Barrier Reef is the sole UNESCO World Heritage Site in Belize
26. The mahogany tree is the national tree of Belize.
The mahogany tree can grow to heights of more than 30 m (100 ft) Mahogany wood is heavy and strong and resists rot and termites. Artisans and carpenters use mahogany wood for crafting fine cabinets, household furnishings, caskets, and musical instruments.
27. Football is the most popular sport in Belize.
Although football is the most popular sport in Belize, the men’s national football team has tasted very little access at the international level and has never even qualified for the FIFA World Cup.
28. The black orchid is the national flower of Belize.
The black orchid grows in damp areas and flowers all year. Its most characteristic feature is its lip, which resembles the shape of a clam shell. The flower has a deep blackish color with purple veins, and its leaves are greenish-yellow with purple spots.
29. American fast-food chains don’t exist in Belize.
Definitely one of the most unique Belize facts. Despite being a popular destination with Americans, Belize doesn’t have a single KFC, Burger King, Wendy’s, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, or McDonald’s in the entire country. So, you won’t be able to get a Big Mac, Zinger, or a Whopper in Belize.
30. Belize is one of the few countries that has jus soli (birthright citizenship).
Like most countries in the Americas, Belizean nationality law is based on jus soli, meaning anyone born on Belize soil acquires Belizean citizenship regardless of parental citizenship.
31. Belize has never won a medal at the Olympics.
Despite having participated in the Summer Olympics since 1968, Belize has never won a medal. The nation has never participated in the Winter Olympic Games.
32. Belize is incredibly rich in biodiversity.
For such a small country, Belize has a remarkably rich and varied collection of flora and fauna. The country is home to more than 150 species of mammals, 150 species of amphibians and reptiles, 540 species of birds, nearly 600 species of freshwater and marine fish, and over 3,400 species of vascular plants.
33. Belize has a long-standing border dispute with Guatemala.
Throughout Belize’s history, Guatemala has claimed sovereignty over all or part of Belizean territory. The territorial dispute between the two Central American nations dates back more than 150 years.
This claim is reflected in maps drawn by Guatemala’s government, showing Belize as Guatemala’s twenty-third department (Guatemala has 22). Guatemala’s claim to Belizean territory rests on a clause in the Anglo-Guatemalan Treaty of 1859, in which Britain was obligated to help Guatemala construct an access way from Guatemala City to Belize’s southern border to the Caribbean Sea. Unfortunately, the access way was never built. Guatemala says that the treaty is void, and because Britain violated it, they have a claim over Belize.
Both countries are now planning to take the dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in Hague.