Belize Map Location
Belize on the Yucatan Peninsular of South America has an Eastern Caribbean Sea coastline and is bordered to the north by Mexico and to the South and West by Guatemala. This independent country covers a small area 290 km in length and at its widest point a mere 100 km, a total of 31,900 square km.
A Short History of Belize
The first known inhabitants of Yucatan Peninsular were the Mayan Indians who evolved from simple farmers to a highly civilised people who created one of the finest and most civilisations, if not equal, then certainly comparable to the Greek and Roman civilisations, which endured for approximately 1,000 years.
Mayans were great astronomers and mathematicians and it was these ancient people who first realised the concept of zero.They also built great, well-planned cities with palaces and temples typically built in the shape of pyramids.
Why the Mayan civilisation disappeared is much debated, but the accepted theory is that the Mayans overpopulated the area and as with the lack of space and resources internal fighting began eroding the very foundation of the civilisation until it simply broke apart. By 900 CE the civilisation was fast disappearing but you will still come across people in Belize who are of Mayan origin.
The Pirates of Belize
In early past of the 17th century Pirates, the most notable of which was Captain Peter Wallace who is said to have discovered the mouth of the River Belize and with his crew and fellow pirates numbering 80 men set up the first rough settlement in Belize. From here they were able to plunder and capture ships sailing from and to the New World. These were the famous Pirates of the Caribbean. Eventually after the Treaty of Madrid piracy came to an end and these first settlers began the first logging camps of Belize and were known as Baymen.
Slavery in Belize
When the British discovered the value of the dye obtained from the Logwood Tree used in the dying of wool and silk, they imported thousands of slaves from Africa to fell, first the Logwood and later Mahogany and so established an economy in the region that lasted for approximately 100 years. Slaves had many uses in this British colony. Woman and children were used as domestic workers, and nannies. Men not employed in felling the forest trees often served as gardeners and small holding labour which gave the colony self-sufficiency at a basic level. Other slaves were trained to work as blacksmiths, nurses or bakers. However these were all basic skills and none were able to work where a high level of skill was required. Intermarriage between British Settlers and slaves gave rise to the Creole population of Belize.
British Honduras and Belize
After Britain captured Jamaica from the Spanish in 1655 many disbanded soldiers and sailors came to Belize and settled there thus increasing the settler population. However, life was not peaceful, and for the next 150 years there were many wars between the Spanish in Mexico and the settlers of Belize which continued despite the Treaty of Versailles in 1783 and the Convention of London in 1786. This continuing harassment of Belize by the
Spanish finally came to an end at the Battle of St. George’s Caye when the British and their slaves defeated the Spanish. On the 10th of September every year the people of Belize still celebrate this victory.
Finally the British won sovereignty over the this Yucatan territory in 1858 and in 1862 it was given the name of “British Honduras”. British Honduras became gained its right to self-government in 1964 and on the first of June 1973 changed its name to Belize. Finally, on the 21st of September 1981, Belize became an independent territory. Today ongoing disputes continue with Guatemala over ownership of much of the territory of Belize.
The Languages of Belize
Although the official language of Belize is English, the most heard language in Belize is its own particular Creole which is a strange mix of English although this is not easily understood by an English speaker. As you near the Guatemalan and Mexican borders, however, you will find Spanish to be the dominant language. In addition and because of the variety of ethnic groupings in Belize it is not unusual to hear Mayan, German, Lebanese, Arabic or even Chinese being spoken.
Food and Drink in Belize
There is no national dish in Belize or even one national cuisine, it is instead a mix of all the influences that have coloured its history an eclectic mix of Caribbean, Mexican, Spanish, Mayan and African.
In Dangriga, in the district of Stann Creek, cassava is plentiful and so you should really try their cassava bread and perhaps sample the delights of Hudut a fish dish where the fish is cooked in coconut milk and served with a side dish of mashed plantain. Perhaps even accompany your gastronomic adventure with a glass of cashew wine.
There are so many more delights to tease the palate and give heart to any gastronomic adventurer such as a traditional Mayan meal and the delights of Suckling pig which is cooked in outdoor underground ovens. All the food is spicy and more often than not includes hot peppers. Coconut milk is also widely used and instead of bananas plantains are used in many of the dishes.
The Top resort areas of Belize
Along the coast of Belize are the islands of Belize, many of which are not included in any travel brochure and because they are so secluded and less travelled do not enjoy the infrastructure required to make them popular tourist havens. But there are the larger islands where you are able to enjoy beautiful beaches, great restaurants from high end to budget style beach bistros.
Ambergris Caye – Thanks to the ingenuity of the Mayan people who dug a canal across what was the tip of the peninsula, is now the largest island of Belize, larger than Barbados. This is the island that hums with life, from the gas drove golf carts that buzz around everywhere to the great restaurants and nightlife. Watersports are the thing here, as well as scuba diving. If its Mayan ruins that interest you can take an excursion from here to the mainland.
Caye Caulker – not quite as big as Ambergris, but quieter with a slower pace. You can get to the island either by water taxi or a speedy short flight. A visit to this island is for those who wish to experience more of the local life without all the tourist trappings, but it is changing and working its way to becoming a challenge to the larger island of Ambergris. Although without much of the infrastructure of the larger island this is a great place to go windsurfing, snorkelling. Sailing, canoeing or kayaking.
Placencia – in the southern part of Belize has the best beaches in Belize and is accessible by road, sea or by air. Here you find a rich culture of music and Garifuna traditions. The Garifuna people are of mixed race, descendants of African, Caribbean Islanders and the Arawak people. Unlike Ambergris Caye it is not so congested and there is no buzz of golf-carts. As Placencia is near the great reef there is plenty to see if you like to snorkel or scuba dive and you might even see a great whale shark. There are numerous islands offshore from Placencia where the romantically inclined can spend a night, or you can arrange an adventurous day trip to Laughing Bird Caye.
Top Attractions of Belize
Belize is a country whose waters are warm and clear, and a great coral reef follows the length of its coastline. This is where those who enjoy tropical sands, diving along coral reefs, or all the pleasures of water sports as well as the typical laid back Caribbean warmth and hospitality, come to holiday. But that is not all, there are ancient Mayan temple ruins hidden away among the lush forests. It is the top Central American destination for tourists from all over the world.
Xunantunich dated as far back as 900BC is made up of 26 separate structures made up of palaces and temples. The main pyramid stands 40 meters high and is known as El Castillo. El Castillo is the second tallest structure in Belize, the tallest being the temple at Caracol.
Lamanai – meaning ‘submerged crocodile” is in the northern Orange Walk District of Belize, was still inhabited by the Maya in the 16th century. Not all of Lamanai has as yet been uncovered and so there is still much archaeological excavation taking place, but its High Temple and other high structures make for great sightseeing.
Caracol is the largest Maya ruin in Belize and was once the largest ancient Mayan city of the Mayan Classic Period 250 to 900 CE which was the period when the Mayan civilisation was at its zenith. The ruins lie deep in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve and covers an area of more than 160 square meters (180 square miles). Radiating out from the main centre or core of the city are a myriad of causeways or sacbeobs that radiate outward, like the rays of the sun, through the city. The highest structure in Belize is to be found here in the Sky Palace, the Temple of China. It rises to a height of 42 meters above the plaza. For the avid sightseer, there are excavated tombs to explore where hieroglyphic texts are to be found, and much else to marvel at.
Cahal Pech – The Place of Ticks is in the Cayo District above the town of San Ignacio. There are 34 structures in all that include residences and temples. Archaeologists revealed in 1988 that this was already inhabited by 1200 BC, but abandoned around 850 CE. So this is the earliest Maya ruin in Belize.
The Districts of Belize
There are six Belizean districts each with its own distinct environment and a blend of cultures. The main islands of Ambergris and Caulker make up two of these districts but the remaining four are divisions of the mainland of Belize.
Belize District with the colourful city of Belize with its history of pirates, loggers and slaves and slave owners has many points of interest, the most important without a doubt is the Baron Bliss lighthouse bequeathed to the city by the Baron on his death aboard his yacht at the age of 57. All his wealth was left in trust to the city and the city celebrates Baron Bliss Day every year on the Monday closest to the date of his death, the 9th of March. It is a national holiday marked by a grand sailing regatta. The district has many picturesque villages with delightful names such as Lucky Strike, Double Head Cabbage, and Scotland Halfmoon.
Cayo – in the west of Belize is the home of the Capital of Belize, Belmopan. This district is lush and green with networks of rivers and beautiful waterfalls and many caves an eco-tourist paradise. It is home to Mennonite community of Spanish Lookout a thriving and important agricultural settlement. The countryside is dotted with quaint villages with names that will delight you, such as Tea Kettle and Ontario. Cayo is said to be the cultural heart of Belize with its historical sites, tasty cuisine and much to see and do. You can go kayaking in the Ridge Forest Reserve, swim at Butterfly Falls, explore the caves or visit the great Mayan ruins of Xunantunich.
Orange Walk – in the northern part of Belize is what was once the sugar growing area of Belize and producer of the renowned Belize rum. Now, however, farming has diversified to include soybean, onion and papaya cash crops as well as cattle farming. Orange Walk has the one and an only toll booth on the northern highway placed at the entrance to Orange Walk Town a strange mix of sugar cane refinery smokestacks and river boats that offer tours upriver into the jungle. In this district are the Amun Ha (Lamanai) ruins. It is certainly a paradise for bird watchers and eco-tourists alike.
Corozal – 89 miles (143 km) north of Belize City. This district is a little off the beaten track for the average tourist and it is for this reason that many retirees from Europe and North America make it their retirement home. But it has much to offer the eco-tourist, avid fisherman especially in the Shipstern Nature Reserve, as well as sites of Mayan temples.
As it is only 7 miles from the Mexican border there are also trips to Mexico from here if you feel you need a little Mexican chilli in your itinerary.
Toledo – The forgotten district of Belize is only now beginning to wake to the sound of tourists. Its Mayan communities settled in tiny quaint villages. The two larger villages of San Pedro with its pretty stone church and San Pedro Columbia through which runs the Colombia River offer hiking trails to the Lubaantun ruins. If you wish to explore the Rio Blanco National Park Falls and Uxbenka ruins then head for the tiny villages of Santa Cruz or Santa Elena.
Stann Creek – This is where you find the wonderful golden beaches of Placencia and the offshore cases. The district is also known for its mountains and lush jungles. Here you can experience Garifuna art, music and cuisine and still in some places, Mayan culture. This district is the major fruit growing area, exported to Britain and Europe from its large and deep port, Big Creek. The capital of Stann Creek is Dangriga also known as the cultural capital of Belize. But the great attraction of Stann Creek is Hopkins Village which celebrates its own national holiday Hopkins Day. The people of Hopkins Village love their drums and many of their drum ceremonies, most particularly Garifuna Independence Day, can last until the early hours of the following morning. As the village has moved on from being just a sleepy little fishing village it now offers the tourist good restaurants, small bars and gift shops. While you are in Stann Creek you a visit to the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Preserve, but be prepared as it is within a 159 square miles of broadleaf rain forest so you will get wet.