From its early days as part of the vast Maya civilization, Belize has carved out a place for itself in the busy Central and Latin American landscape.
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- Capital: Belmopan
- Largest City: Belize City
- Population (2016): 375,909 (170th)
- Total Area: 22,966 km² (151st)
- Official Language: English
- Currency: Belize dollar ($ or BZ$) (BZD)
History of Belize
Our story begins around 3000 years ago, with the large and powerful Maya civilization. From around 1500 BCE to until around 900-1000 CE, the Maya people flourished throughout the Yucatán Peninsula – with around 1 million living in Belize alone. Though the empire began to decline following the turn of the millennium, remnants of Maya territories remained.
In the 16th century, Spanish conquistadors arrived on the shores of Belize. Despite claiming it as a colony, exploration and settlement was limited due to hostile tribes and a relative lack of resources. The British also began to show an interest in the region, namely buccaneers and pirates known as Baymen.
By the 18th century, the Baymen had a degree of control of Belize – though it was not official to avoid angering the Spanish. As a result, the de facto colony was essentially under self-rule with little oversight from London. While Spain attempted to take back control of Belize around the end of the 18th century, the Baymen succeeded in pushing them back.
Beginning in the 19th century, Britain attempted to establish control over Belize – which included the Empire-wide abolition of slavery (though many former slaves remained in tough working and living conditions, predominantly in the important timber industry). In 1862, Belize was finally made an official British colony – then known as British Honduras.
British Honduras’s fortunes varied throughout the first half of the 20th century. Demand for timber decreased and military spending increased, playing havoc with the economy. The country was eventually granted self-government in 1964, renamed Belize in 1973, and granted full independence in 1981.
Despite territorial disputes with Guatemala (in this case meaning ‘Guatemala claims nearly all of the country’), Belize has maintained its territory thanks in part to mediation and assistance from the British. Though there remain speed bumps, Belize holds regular free and fair elections and is looking confidently towards the future.
Belizean culture comes from a wide range of backgrounds, particularly Native American and Spanish. British culture has also left its mark, as have German Mennonites. Courtesy is important in Belize (including regular greetings of passerby) while mysticism and shamanistic practices are also a key part of the culture.
The flag of Belize was adopted upon independence, and includes a blue background with red stripes on the top and bottom, plus the coat of arms in the middle. A prominent theme in the coat of arms is the logging industry, which played a key part of historic settlement in the country.
Food in Belize comes from a wide array of backgrounds, though it shares many similarities with Mexican and Caribbean food. Bread, fry jacks, and tortillas are popular for breakfast, while a range of rice, beans, meat, and vegetables are consumed during midday meals and at dinner. In rural areas, you can expect simpler meals than in the city.
Sports in Belize
Soccer, basketball, volleyball, and cycling are the most popular sports in Belize. Soccer is most followed amongst spectators, though the national team is not one of the stronger squads in North America. The yearly Cross Country Cycling Classic remains one of the most important annual events in Belize.
Geography of Belize
Belize is located in northern Central America with a coastline on the Caribbean Sea. The north of the country is mostly flat, swampy coastal plains with forests in other parts. On the other hand, the south of the country features a moderately sized mountain range.
Cities in Belize
The largest city in Belize is the aptly named Belize City – home to about 60,000 people. While it was the capital of British Honduras, it no longer serves as such. Beyond this there are no other cities or towns numbering more than 25,000. While small, the capital (Belmopan) is one of the newest capitals in the world.
Facts about Belize
- The country is home to about 450 islands, or ‘cayes’
- A Mayan temple is Belize’s tallest building
- Belize does not have fast food chains like McDonalds or Burger King
- Black Howler Monkeys are found in the country. They have a very…distinctive sound (obligatory warning for headphone users)
- Highways use speed bumps instead of lights to control traffic
- There’s a jaguar reserve in Belize
- Belmopan is the smallest capital in the Americas
From Maya civilization through European settlement, Belize has always maintained a unique place in the Central American makeup. Today, it attempts to forge a new chapter despite the challenges it faces.
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