Belize, a nation on the eastern coast of Central America, is brimming with diverse cultures, wildlife, historical landmarks, and natural wonders. But perhaps what sets it apart the most is its language—Belize is the only Central American country where English is the official language.
From its iconic Great Blue Hole to its renowned Barrier Reef, Belize is a paradise for nature lovers. But there’s so much more to this country that’s worth exploring. Let’s dive in to discover what Belize is truly famous for.
1. Great Blue Hole
The Great Blue Hole is one of the most astounding dive sites on the planet. This enormous submarine sinkhole, located near the center of the Lighthouse Reef, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Formed during several episodes of quaternary glaciation when sea levels were lower, its crystal-clear waters and diverse marine life including various species of sharks make it a favorite among adventurous divers.
2. Barrier Reef
Belize’s Barrier Reef is the second largest in the world, trailing only behind Australia’s. This natural wonder is home to an incredibly diverse array of marine species, making it a haven for snorkelers and divers.
The reef is also a significant habitat for endangered species and a natural defense against hurricanes.
3. Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
This nature reserve in south-central Belize is the world’s first jaguar preserve. Spanning over 150 square miles of tropical forest, the sanctuary is home to jaguars, pumas, ocelots, margays, and jaguarundis.
Visitors can also spot over 290 species of birds, making it an absolute paradise for bird watchers.
Historic and Touristic Landmarks
4. Altun Ha
This ancient Mayan city, located 31 miles north of Belize City, is one of Belize’s most significant archaeological sites. Visitors can explore its two main plazas, and numerous temples, the largest of which is the Temple of the Masonry Altars, a 54 feet tall structure.
Nestled within the Chiquibul Forest Reserve, Caracol is the largest known Mayan site in Belize. At its height, it was one of the most significant political entities in the southern Maya lowlands.
Today, visitors can witness the site’s largest structure, Caana or “Sky Palace,” one of the largest man-made structures in Belize.
6. Belize City
The largest city in Belize, Belize City, serves as the country’s principal port and its economic and financial hub.
The city’s rich history, dating back to the Maya civilization, British colonial influence, and vibrant Garifuna and Creole cultures make it a must-visit destination. Points of interest include the Museum of Belize, St. John’s Cathedral, and the bustling Swing Bridge.
7. Garifuna Culture
The Garifuna are an Afro-Caribbean ethnic group dispersed throughout the coast of Belize. Recognized by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, the Garifuna culture is vibrant and rich in tradition, from their distinctive language and music to their religious practices and delicious cuisine.
8. Mayan Heritage
With a history that dates back thousands of years, the Mayan heritage in Belize is still palpable today. Many Belizeans are of Maya descent, and the country’s landscape is dotted with ancient Maya sites.
Furthermore, Belize is one of the key sites of the Mundo Maya, or Maya World, which is an initiative to promote tourism related to this ancient culture.
Popular Food and Drink
9. Belizean Cuisine
Belizean cuisine is a mix of African, Indian, Mexican, and Mayan culinary influences. Dishes like rice and beans, stewed meats, johnnycakes, and fry jacks are staples. Seafood, particularly lobster, conch, and red snapper, is incredibly popular due to the country’s extensive coastline and coral reefs.
10. Belikin Beer
This locally brewed beer is something of a national symbol in Belize. From stout to lager and seasonal sorghum-based beers, Belikin is the beer of choice for many Belizeans and visitors alike.
11. George Cadle Price
Known as the Father of the Nation, Price was instrumental in Belize’s journey to independence from Britain in 1981. His dedication to social justice and national development left an indelible mark on the nation’s history.
A Belizean rapper, Shyne (born Jamal Barrow, and later known as Moses Michael Levi Barrow) is the son of Dean Barrow, the former Prime Minister of Belize.
After serving nearly nine years in a U.S. prison for a nightclub shooting, he was deported back to Belize where he turned his life around and is now a prominent figure in the Belizean music scene.
13. Maya Ruins
Belize is home to numerous significant archaeological sites. The ancient city of Caracol, for example, was once one of the largest Maya cities, with an estimated peak population of about 150,000.
Lamanai, another notable site, was one of the longest-occupied of the Maya cities. Discoveries from these ruins continue to provide invaluable insights into the Maya civilization.
14. Marine Research
The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, the largest in the Northern and Western hemispheres, is a key site for marine research.
Scientists study the diverse ecosystems within the reef system, including coral reefs, mangroves, and lagoons, to understand their complex interactions and to devise strategies for conservation.
Belize’s economy is primarily driven by tourism. This small country has become a premier destination for both eco-tourists and adventure enthusiasts alike. From the grandeur of the Mayan ruins to the rich biodiversity in its national parks, Belize offers a plethora of experiences.
Coastal tourism has also taken off with the recognition of the Belize Barrier Reef as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Every year, thousands of tourists visit Belize, making a significant contribution to the nation’s GDP and providing employment opportunities for a significant portion of the population.
Another pillar of Belize’s economy is agriculture, playing a crucial role in the country’s export revenue. The fertile soils and tropical climate make Belize an ideal location for cultivating a variety of crops. Major exports include sugar, which is primarily grown in the northern districts of the country.
Belize also exports a significant amount of bananas and citrus fruits. In addition, the country’s marine products, such as shrimp and lobster, are also significant contributors to the economy, primarily driven by the rich marine life of the Belize Barrier Reef.
Sports and Recreation
Belize is a haven for fishing enthusiasts, owing to its diverse and abundant marine life. The waters are teeming with bonefish, tarpon, and permit, making Belize one of the best destinations for fly fishing.
Deep-sea fishing and sport fishing also draw a considerable number of tourists each year. Popular catches include wahoo, tuna, and marlin. The growth of recreational fishing has led to the development of several fishing resorts and charter services, boosting the local economy.
As the most popular sport in the country, football (or soccer as it is known in North America), is a cultural mainstay in Belize. The Belize national football team, known as the ‘Jaguars,’ has not yet made it to the FIFA World Cup, but the passion for the sport is palpable.
Locally organized football tournaments, as well as national-level competitions, are held regularly, fostering community spirit and contributing to the promotion of sport at the grassroots level.
Education and Innovation
19. Education System
Belize’s education system is unique, particularly in Central America. Given its history as a British colony, the country’s education system is based on the British model, and English is the primary language of instruction.
The country boasts a high literacy rate of over 82%. Belizean schools offer primary, secondary, and tertiary education, with several institutions also providing vocational and technical training.
20. Protection of Natural Resources
Belize has been an innovator in the conservation of its natural resources. The country has established numerous protected areas, marine reserves, and wildlife sanctuaries to protect its diverse ecosystems.
The co-management approach, where community-based organizations and NGOs are involved in the management of these protected areas, has been a pioneering effort.
Belize has also made strides in promoting sustainable tourism, recognizing the balance between development and conservation.
21. Garifuna Settlement Day
Celebrated on November 19th each year, Garifuna Settlement Day is a vibrant and colorful festival that commemorates the arrival of the first Garifuna people in Belize in 1802.
The celebration is marked by parades, live music, traditional Garifuna drumming, and dancing. The event is a significant part of Belize’s cultural heritage and a great way for tourists to experience the rich Garifuna culture.
22. Lobster Fest
An annual seafood celebration that takes place in June, Lobster Fest is eagerly awaited by locals and tourists alike. Coinciding with the start of the lobster season, the festival is a culinary delight.
From lobster BBQ to lobster ceviche, the event is a showcase of innovative lobster-based dishes. Held in different parts of the country including Caye Caulker, Placencia, and Ambergris Caye, the Lobster Fest is one of Belize’s most popular events.
From its exceptional natural beauty to its unique cultural heritage, Belize truly stands out as a fascinating country. Despite its small size, Belize offers a richness of experiences that make it a gem in Central America.
Whether you’re an explorer at heart, a history enthusiast, or a food lover, Belize has something for everyone. Visit this country to immerse yourself in its charm and to discover why it’s renowned for its natural wonders, cultural treasures, and its dedication to preserving the environment.
Belize, with its diverse offerings, truly lives up to its motto: “Under the shade, we flourish!”