Table of Contents
- Origin Of The Name Belize
- The Economy
- Common Questions About Belize
- Travel Advisory And Personal Safety
- Private Sector
- Television Stations
- Radio Stations
- Sources And Additional Information on Belize
Belize is a country located on the northeast coast of Central America. Belize, which was known as British Honduras until 1973, was the last British colony on the Americas mainland. Its prolonged path to independence was marked by a unique international campaign under the leadership of Premier and eventually Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. George Price, (even while it was still a British colony) against the irredentist claims of its neighbour to the west, Guatemala. Belize achieved independence on 21 September 1981, and has retained its historical links with the United Kingdom through membership in the British Commonwealth. Belize is the only English-speaking country in Central America, and while it has much things in common with the Caribbean island-states, formerly part of the British empire, the country has strong links with its geographic Spanish-speaking Central American neighbors.
In the past the majority of the population was English or Creole speaking African-descent Creoles. This is a legacy of its status as a former colony of the United Kingdom that introduced slavery to the settlement then known as British Honduras. Outward migrations of Creoles to North America, and the inward migration of Latinos following civil wars in the eighties in neighboring Guatemala and El Salvador, upended the demographics of its once mainly Anglo-Caribbean architecture.
Spanish speaking Latinos and Mestizos now comprise 53% of the population (2010 census) but the country continues in a relatively peaceful path of socio-political development as it finds its unique place as a bilingual and young nation state on the Central American isthmus.
The country has three official land border crossings, the first into Mexico at Santa Elena in the northern Corozal District, the second into Guatemala at Benque Viejo del Carmen in the Cayo District, and another to Guatemala at Jalacte in the extreme Southern Highway.
The only official port of entry by air is the Phillip Goldson International Airport at Ladyville 12 miles north of Belize City. This city is the commercial and crime capital of the country and its dilapidated condition does not make it attractive for tourists.
A new international airport is mostly completed at Independence Village in southern Belize, and while it has not been officially commissioned, it has been opened for special events.
Maritime entry and exit points are located at the north with Mexico, and at the south with Guatemala and Honduras. Passenger water taxis do daily runs into Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras.
Belizeans consist of the peoples and cultures of the Americas –bilingual Spanish-English speaking Latinos, Mestizos, who are of mixed Maya Indian and European ancestry and mainly speak Spanish, the original settlers the Maya who speak their own language, Creoles, that speak an English dialect and who are often of African and African-European extraction, and the Garifuna, who are the descendants of Arawak Indians and Africans deported and transplanted by the British from St. Vincent. More detailed information in our People Of Belize and also Belize Demographics pages.
Formerly known as British Honduras, this was England’s last colony on the American mainland. Its independence was delayed until 1981 by long-running friction with neighboring Guatemala, which claims a large portion of its territory. Guatemala recognized Belizean independence in 1991, but the two neighbors have yet to settle their border dispute. The matter is now before the International Court of Justice at The Hague.
Interesting Factoid: the Belize Flag is the only national flag in the world to depict human beings. See our Belize Flag and National Anthem page.
Belize has always had strong ties with Britain and the United States, but in the nineties forged closer links with Latin American countries such as Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Venezuela due in large measure to the reality of its physical location. Most of its corn, bean and beef production is exported to Guatemala and Mexico. Lobster and shrimp is exported to Mexico and the U.S.A., while sugar is exported to England and the U.S. A. Bananas are exported to the European Union and citrus concentrate to the Caribbean and North America.
Tourism is one of the largest sources of foreign currency. Attractions include extensive rain-forests, the largest cave system in Central America, major Maya ruins, wildlife, the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, and three of the four true atolls in the Americas including the Great Blue Hole. More than 100 islands and beaches nestled inside the reef make for traditional sun, sand and sea attractions as well as world class SCUBA diving. Check out our article on the Xunantunich Maya Ruin.
Cruise ship arrivals have increased in recent years and mass tourism operators such as Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise have flooded the country with day visitors to the detriment of overnight tourism.
The country has a problem with crime mostly concentrated in Belize City, some of it of it drug and gang related but it has so far been able to escape the very serious problems of this type plaguing Mexico and Guatemala.
Origin Of The Name Belize
The origin of the name Belize is traditionally believed to have evolved from the Mayan word belix (“muddy water” “belize river”) or belikin (“road to the sea” “road to the east”). Another theory is that it derived from the Spanish pronunciation of the last name of Peter Wallace, a Scottish pirate who may have had a hideout at the mouth of the Belize River about 1638. How do you pronounce the word BELIZE? Click Here For Belize Definition and Pronunciation
• Full name: Belize (English) Belice (Spanish).
• Capital: City Of Belmopan
• Population: 400,900 (Belize Statistical Unit Extrapolation July 2020)
• Area: 22,965 sq. km (8,867 sq. miles)
• Major languages: English, Spanish, Creole, Maya, Garifuna
• Political System: Westminster style two party democracy – general elections every 5 years.
• Legal System: Based on English Common Law
• Legislative: Bicameral – elected House of Representatives – government controlled rubber-stamp Senate
• Major religion: Christianity
• Head of State: His Majesty King Charles III
• Head of Government: Prime Minister Johnny Briceño – elected 2020
• Life expectancy: 75 years (men), 79 years (women) (UN)
• Currency Exchange: Fixed peg to U.S. Dollar – 2 Belize dollars = 1 U.S. Dollar
• Monetary unit: 1 Belize dollar = 100 cents
• Main exports: Sugar, bananas, citrus concentrate and solids, grain, beef, fish products, gold, molasses
• GNI per capita: US$4,510 (World Bank, 2014)
• Internet top level country domain: .bz
• Belize country International dialing code: +501
Head of State: King Charles III, represented by a local ceremonial governor.
Prime Minister John Briceño.
General elections were held in Belize on 11 November 2020 to elect the 31 members of the House of Representatives.
The People’s United Party achieved its first national election victory since 2003 in a landslide, winning 26 seats, while the incumbent United Democratic Party had its worst result since 1998, winning the remaining 5 seats. Despite the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and a recent tropical storm, election turnout was over 81%, the highest since 1998
Belize’s First Prime Minister and the architect of Belizean Independence Rt. Hon. George Cadle Price passed away on 19 September 2011.
Belize’s second prime minister Sir Manuel Esquivel passed away on 10 February 2022
Small, open economy with high vulnerability to external shocks. The country remains relatively dependent on the agricultural sector, which accounted for 11.6% of GDP in 2019. The U.S. remained the largest single destination with a market share of around 30% (followed by the UK with a share of around 20%). The country remains vulnerable to bad local climate conditions, lower commodity and petroleum prices as well as a weaker US and UK economy. Source: Deutsche Bank Research Frontier Country Report.
Nature lovers find a fantasyland in Belize. A walk through the jungle brings you close to myriad animal and bird species, many of which are almost extinct in other Central American countries, Although Belize is a relatively small country, it has an amazing variety of wildlife living in a wide range of habitats. The country’s savannahs and lowlands are home to rare waterfowl, its forests provide a refuge for numerous mammals.
The abundant wildlife of Belize includes such animals as monkeys, tapir, deer, jaguar, puma (known locally as “red tiger”), Morelet’s crocodile Crocodylus Moreletii (not to be confused with the American crocodile), and manatee, as well as many species of turtles, tortoises, birds, reptiles, insects, and fish. The herbivorous Baird’s tapir (Tapirus bairdii), which is colloquially named the “mountain cow” and can weigh as much as 600 pounds (270 kg), has protected status as the national animal of Belize. In the shadow of Victoria Peak lies the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, which covers about 150 square miles (390 square km). The sanctuary, founded in 1986, has the most concentrated jaguar population in the world. Seven species of cats are found in North America and five distributed in the tropics. The jaguar is heavy chested with sturdy, muscled forelegs, a medium sized tail and small rounded ears. It’s tawny coat is uniformly spotted, the spots form rosettes large circles with smaller spots in the centre. The jaguar’s belly is white with black spots.
Common Questions About Belize
What country owns Belize?
Belize achieved independence on September 21, 1981, but it has retained its historical link with the United Kingdom through membership in the Commonwealth. Belize is often thought of as a Caribbean country in Central America because it has a history similar to that of English-speaking Caribbean nations.
Is Belize a good place to live?
While Belize is a beautiful, sunny, affordable and easygoing haven, it certainly isn’t perfect. Living here, like anywhere, you’ll encounter challenges and frustrations. Here are three signs you won’t be happy in Belize: You need extensive medical attention. You do not like warm or hot weather. You like big malls and franchise fast food.
Is Belize a rich country?
Belize is considered an upper-middle-income country with a GDP per capita of $4,806.50. Despite this, a 2009 study revealed that 41.3 percent of the population of Belize lives at or below the poverty line. The main at-risk group in Belize are children.
How does Belize make money?
Tourism is the Number One Foreign Exchange Earner for the Belize Economy. English remains the country’s dominant language, especially since tourism has become the fastest growing source of income for Belize.
Are Belizeans Black?
Black Belizeans or Creoles as they prefer to be called are remnants of the slave trade in the Caribbean and are the most prominent group in the Belize district, home of the largest population centre Belize city. Once the main ethnic group, Creoles are the second largest in the country after Latinos.
For more information see our Belize Frequently Asked Questions Page
All newspapers are weeklies, except for the Amandala which is a biweekly; some of the privately-owned weeklies are subsidized by political parties. Government advertising is routinely channeled to media that are in its good graces.
The state-run Broadcasting Corporation of Belize (Radio Belize in the colonial era) was privatized in 1998, and eventually dismantled. It was sold to LOVE FM chief Rene Villanueva.
A staple of local electronic media are call-in shows in the mornings on weekdays where members of the public call to report political shenanigans and complaints or share community news. Private television stations are on the air in major population centers and cable TV is available in the towns and villages.
The constitution guarantees freedom of the press, but there are exceptions in the interest of national security, public order and morality. There is no U.S. style First Amendment and the laws are more in line with those of its former colonial ruler the UK.
Travel Advisory And Personal Safety
This is a poor and developing country and there are several country specific issues travelers and visitors need to take into account. While crime is no different from any other country, certain local conditions make it imperative for the traveler to take into account the reality that the crime rate is among the highest in Central America. Concerns include travel at night, road conditions, remote areas, and health risks.
Boating accidents due to overloaded vessels, or vessels operating at high speed near the beach and running over snorkelers with disastrous results are not uncommon. See our related article Is Belize Safe?
The country has a small but active private sector. Like most developing countries much of the economy is informal. The two main private sector advocacy groups are the Belize Chamber of Commerce and the Belize Business Bureau.
The Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) publication produced by the World Bank, “Snapshot Caribbean – Benchmarking FDI Competitiveness in Caribbean Countries”, recently looked at three sectors: Export Services, Food Processing, and Tourism Investment in Belize. These are three of the five priority sectors for export and investment promotion in Belize. In this report, it listed several reasons investors chose to invest in Belize.
Exports: English-speaking workforce, proximity to the United States, labor availability, reasonable quality but expensive telecommunications, tax holidays, relative political stability.
Food processing: Land availability, availability of raw materials, business opportunities in aquaculture and citrus, prevalence of traditional growing methods, good agricultural and corporate, practices, market access, infrastructure and facilities, availability of managers and professionals.
Merchant and Retail Trade
With a few exceptions, the retail trade in this country, especially foodstuffs, supermarkets and small shops is dominated by immigrants from China and Taiwan. The two largest supermarkets still owned by Belizeans are in Belize City and survive mainly because they are also long-standing importers with a large portfolio of western brands that they represent, and also have “a man in congress”. Dry goods, namely clothing and shoes are dominated by immigrants from India and Pakistan.
• Amandala – biweekly – supports the opposition Peoples United Party – family members are prominent in the opposition.
• The Independent – weekly – (now defunct) an independent newspaper launched 2011 by former P.U.P. operatives Glenn Tillet and Omar Silva.
• The Belize Times – weekly – official organ of People’s United Party (this newspaper ceased print publication August 2012).
• The Reporter – weekly U.D.P. affiliated
• The San Pedro Sun – expat community weekly, published on San Pedro Island
• The Guardian – official organ of the United Democratic Party
• Love FM – commercial, music and news
• Estereo Amor – private, Spanish-language
• Krem FM – private, commercial – part of the Amandala newspaper
• More FM – private, music station aimed at younger listeners
• Wave Radio – organ of the United Democratic Party
• Vibes Radio – organ of the People’s United Party
• My Refuge Radio – Christian
Sources And Additional Information on Belize
Note: External links will open in a new browser tab
Amnesty International: Belize
BBC Country Profile: Belize
The Heritage Foundation: Belize
Human Rights Watch: Belize
Reporters Without Borders: Belize
The Commonwealth: Belize
Worldbank Data: Belize