Lying on the Caribbean Coast, Belize is both an old and a new country. Ancient ruins dot the landscape, reminders of its Mayan history, but the country itself only achieved full independence in 1981. For many years, Belize was a British colony, the only one in Central America. English is the official language, but Belizeans are descended from several ethnic groups – Caribs, Africans, Mayans, Asians, and Europeans – and many people speak a Creole or African dialect. Caribbean foods and music are popular, and the country is famous for its wildlife.
In 1961, a massive hurricane and tidal wave devastated the coastal capital, Belize City. In 1970, a new capital, Belmopan, was built 50 miles (80 km) inland to protect it from tropical storms. Although people and businesses are gradually moving to the new capital, Belize City remains the country’s most populated city.
Deep in the forest
Dense tropical rain forest covers half of Belize’s land area. Rosewood, and other products from the forest, such as chicle, used to make chewing gum, and kapok, a silky cotton from the giant Ceiba tree, are important to the economy. So, too, are the increasing number of citrus groves. But cultivation is limited. Much of the rain forest is protected and provides a rich habitat for plants and animals.
The forests are filled with an amazing variety of wildlife. Jaguars, tapirs, howler monkeys, and coatimundi are just a few of the world’s endangered species still thriving in the forests of Belize. Butterflies and tropical birds fly through the trees. And there are 250 different types of orchid, including the black orchid, Belize’s national flower.
A chain of coral reefs, dotted with small sandy islands called cayes, runs 180 miles (290 km) along the coastline of Belize. It is the world’s second largest barrier reef, after Australia’s, and is home to turtles, sea anemones, and spiny lobsters, as well as a wonderful array of tropical fish. The clear, warm water attracts divers from around the world.