Belmopan is the Belize capitol, and with a population 20,000+ is the fastest growing population center in Belize. Once a sleepy town mainly populated by public employees, the city has rapidly expanded primarily due to immigrants who have settled on the outskirts. And by an increasing number of Belizeans fleeing the crime, congestion, rickety infrastructure and lack of land for housing in the old capital Belize City.
Belmopan was constructed with British aid following the devastation of Hurricane Hattie in 1961 that demolished approximately 75% of the homes and business places in Belize City. The government of then Premier George Price promoted the building of a new capital city more inland, safe from tropical cyclones. This new capital would be located on better terrain, and would also provide for an industrial area. In 1962, a committee chose the site now known as Belmopan, located 82 kilometers (51 miles) west of the old capital of Belize City. Belmopan is 76 metres (250 ft.) above sea level, near the Belize River Valley, with an imposing view of the majestic Mountain Pine Ridge mountains. It enjoys cool climate conditions at night.
Work began In 1967. The first phase of the new city was completed in 1970. There was a reluctance initially among foreign governments to relocate their embassies to Belmopan as there was some doubt as to whether this inland area would really become the functioning capital of Belize. In February 2005, the U.S.A. government broke ground and started building a new United States Embassy in Belmopan, 43 years after Belmopan was chosen as the new capital city. The U.S. Embassy in Belize was inaugurated in December 2006. This is the largest and most modern U.S. embassy in Central America.
Today Belmopan is one of the safest cities in Belize. It has evolved into a thriving city with four banks, embassies and consulates, several supermarkets, good night life, well-laid out streets, avenues and paved roads. Belmopan is a one hour drive from Belize city, heading west on a well paved highway. San Ignacio and Santa Elena are forty minutes further west. The population of Belmopan is rapidly expanding as Belizeans and immigrants have flocked to the area and built several suburbs such as Salvapan, San Martin and Las Flores. Maya Mopan is an interesting new suburb formed in 2004 by a land-grab migration of Mopan Maya and Ketchi Maya immigrants from the south and west of Belize.
Western Belize, from the capital city of Belmopan to the Guatemalan border, is a land of rolling hills, dense rainforest and jungles, abundant waterfalls, clear rivers, extensive caves, and numerous Maya sites. This region was the heart of the Belize Maya world, with the major ruins of Caracol, Xunantunich, and El Pilar, as well as lesser sites such as Cahal Pech. Archaeological research indicates that at the height of the Classic Maya Period, there were more inhabitants in this area than in all of modern day Belize.
Belmopan and areas extending throughout the Cayo District are the centre of Belize’s ecotourism industry. There are numerous national parks and protected areas, including the Guanacaste Park and St. Herman’s Blue Hole, the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, and the Chiquibil National Park. The pine forests and rainforests are great for hiking and bird-watching; the rivers are excellent for swimming, canoeing, kayaking, and inner tubing; and the dirt roads are among the best in the country for horseback riding and mountain biking.
Belmopan is laid out around a Ring Road that encircles the city. It has good road signage, pedestrian ramps, exercise paths, wide open green spaces, and a building code requiring all buildings be made of concrete in order to reduce fires which plague Belize City where wood buildings and extreme congestion make this a recurring peril. This code does not apply to outlying areas where traditional wood and thatch construction is used by the Maya communities. Market days in Belmopan are Tuesdays and Fridays. Here you will find farmers, fisher folk, butchers, artisans, mobile pet stores, peddlers, traveling tradesmen, and furniture makers. An eclectic variety of fresh produce, marine products, new and used furniture and appliances, clothing, pets, retail and wholesale groceries, and cookouts make these the best days for shopping in the capital.
Being in the centre of Belize, many Belizeans and visitors make Belmopan a watering hole for refueling, stopovers or a jumping-off point for adventure in other Belize destinations. Belmopan is still a relatively quiet city and increasingly a home for retirees looking for a safe city with easy access to essential services. With the growing population several nightclubs have sprung up in the outskirts to provide for a vibrant nightlife. Belmopan is one of the few places in Belize with branches and ATMs of all banks operating in the country. These include the Belize Bank, Atlantic Bank and Heritage Bank. Belmopan is the official home of the annual Belize Agriculture and Trade Show that features exhibits from Belize and Central America, a rodeo, mechanical rides, music and cultural presentations. It is the single largest fair in Belize usually held in the month of May.
The city has the best FIFA certified football synthetic pitch in the country, the Isidoro Beaton Stadium (home of the Belmopan Bandits Sports franchise) and city folk are understandably football fanatics. It also boasts a second FIFA certified football stadium (synthetic pitch) owned by the Football Federation of Belize. As of 2019 Belmopan has won the national football championships 3 years in a row.
The City of Belmopan has a reasonable number of hotels. Recommended places to stay: Yim Saan Hotel and Restaurant at the entrance to Belmopan (excellent Belize Chinese food), the Bull Frog – good but not much value for money, and Garden City Hotel. For backpackers and those on a tight budget El Rey Inn is popular. Banana Bank jungle lodge is located in the suburbs of Belmopan on the Belize River and offers safe accommodation, horseback riding and a swimming pool.