Belize is one of the most beautiful countries in the world and is known as a popular tourist destination, especially for scuba divers and ecotourists.
Surprising Facts About the Tiny Caribbean Nation
- Belize was formerly a British colony (“British Honduras”), and officially changed its name to Belize in 1973.
- Belizean independence was formally declared on September 21, 1981 but the tiny Caribbean nation suffered takeover threats from Guatemala for a decade. The Guatemalan Congress finally recognized Belize as an independent country in 1991. But in 1999, Guatemala restated its intent to claim Belize. As a result, Belize remains essentially a British protectorate.
- At 8,866 square miles, Belize is slightly larger than El Salvador but while El Salvador has more than 7 million people, there are only about 350,000 people in Belize, making it the least populated country in Central America.
- Belize was originally the heart of the Mayan empire.
- The highest building in Belize is Caracol, a Mayan ceremonial temple. Caracol means snail and refers to the abundance of shells found at the site.
- The ancient Maya were more advanced than their contemporaries in Greece, Italy, France and England. The Maya were skilled astronomers, mathematicians, accomplished farmers and engineers.
Language and Culture
- Belize is the only country in Central America in which English is the official language, but the constant immigration of refugees from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras means that Spanish is increasingly heard in Belize.
- Kriol, a lilting patois, is commonly spoken among Belizeans.
- Belizeans are a diverse population of Creoles, Mayans, Garifunas, Asians, Europeans and Mestizos.
- Belizeans love to eat beans and rice (cooked in coconut milk) daily.
- The government of Belize has designated ecotourism as the second-highest development priority after agriculture.
- The Belizean government is committed to sustainable development practices and has set aside more land for conservation than any other country in the world. Approximately 80 percent of the country’s pristine forest has been preserved. Unfortunately, refugees who do not understand the value of these conservation areas employ slash-and-burn agricultural techniques to homestead in them, harming and occasionally, even destroying these precious habitats.
- Belize’s major agricultural exports are sugarcane and citrus. Other important exports are bananas, shrimp, lobster, honey, maize, plantains, beans, mangoes, papayas, cocoa, rice and timber.
- More than 25 percent of Belizean food is imported.
- Mennonites own most of the agricultural companies in Belize. They are also the largest suppliers of local milk and poultry.
- Belize suffers from the highest AIDS rate in Central America. Diabetes is also a major health problem.
- Fifty percent of Belizean children are born outside of marriage, often to women who have several other children by different fathers. A woman with few or no children is pitied because children are believed to be shields against loneliness and a safety net for old age.
- Belize has one of the youngest populations in the world. There are many absentee parents so a small number of adults must care, educate and train the children.
- Crime, child abuse and unemployment are serious problems in Belize.
1 Belize: A Natural Destination by Richard Mahler and Steele Wotkyns, 2 Insights Guides: Belize