Description of Belize
Belize is on the coast of Central America, on the northeastern part of the continent. It is the only country in the region that has English as its official language. Spanish and English creole are also spoken. Belize is bounded by Mexico, Guatemala, and the Caribbean Sea.
It has a population of just fewer than 340,000. It has the lowest population density in all of Central America. However, it has a very high population growth rate.
Belize has a wide variety of marine and terrestrial species and some very diverse ecosystems that make it an important place for preservation and scientific research.
Belize has an equally diverse society, with several languages spoken and cultures present. Belize used to be a part of the British Empire, and it has a painful colonial history - like many of the Caribbean countries. It was called British Honduras for more than 100 years, until 1973. It was designated an independent Commonwealth in 1981, and it still has Queen Elizabeth II as the official head of state.
Overall, Belize is thought of as a Caribbean and Central American nation with close ties to the whole Caribbean and Latin American region.
Belize offers a long coast on the Caribbean and the culture is similar to many of the West Indian islands that were formally British colonies. The majority of the population is creole, Afro-European mixes, and Afro-Caribbean. The Maya people live inland. In the north and the northwestern part of the country, Spanish is the main language. In the southeastern area located near the Caribbean coast is where many of the Garifuna live. This is an African Amerindian culture. In addition, many Mennonites that speak German live in Belize.
There are many Mayan Ruins located throughout the country, which indicate that the Mayan Indians populated the area for many hundreds of years. The civilization reached its height from 300 to 900 A.D. The civilization then started to collapse after these years and no one is really sure why. The Mayans then started to migrate out of the region. In 1502, Columbus entered the Bay of Honduras, which is now the nation of Belize. In 1638, the first European settlement was established in the area by British sailors who were shipwrecked. During this same year the Mayans and the Spaniards moved back into the area from the west and the north. The main activity of the settlement was cutting logwood that was used for dye, chewing gum, Mahogany, and for wood that would be used for furniture and housing. This industry was subject to attacks from the nearby Spanish settlements as Spain had claimed sovereignty over all of the new world except for certain areas of Central and South America that had been assigned to Portugal and England.
In the year 1763, Spain allowed the British settlers to be a part of the logwood industry through the Treaty of Paris. The regions were recorded as landmarks in order to navigate the import and export of logs through the rivers and streams. There were 3 major rivers near the coast of the Caribbean, the Rio Balis, Rio Xibum, and Rio Soyte. These names now correspond to the Sittee, Sibun, and Belize rivers. It is thought that the name Balis is actually belix in Mayan, which means muddy watered. There are some people who think the name comes from the Spanish pronunciation for Peter Wallace, who was a Scottish buccaneer and used the name for an area located at the mouth of the river.
In 1783, the Treaty of Versailles reaffirmed the Treaty of Paris and the logwood concession was extended in 1786. Attacks from the Spanish would continue until the settlers won a decisive victory with help from the British Navy. British control over the settlement increased and the area was named the British Honduras in 1862. It stayed a British colony until it won its independence from England.
In the year 1954 both universal adult suffrage and an elected majority for legislature were both introduced. In 1961 the ministerial system was adopted and a fully internal self-government was created by the letters patent in January of 1964. The official name of the country was changed to Belize in June of 1974. Full independence from England was gained in 1981 on September 21st. the country is currently a Commonwealth of Nations member.
There are many world class attractions to explore while in Belize. You can explore the lush jungles that are home to many animals and exotic plants. There are also places for swimming, diving, snorkeling, and deep sea fishing. You may also visit the Mayan ruins. The income levels of the country are relatively low and the infrastructure of the country is quite basic. The people of the country are a very proud people. They are friendly towards visitors and the tourist industry has seen some major growth in the past 10 years.
There are many Mayan ruins in Belize that can be seen in person while visiting the country. Unlike many ruins, the ones in Belize can be explored by foot and climbed. Some of the ruins that you may want to explore include:
The ATM cave, Caracol, and Xunantunich, can be easily accessed from San Ignacio either on a guided tour or by driving yourself. San Ignacio is also a starting point for those who want to visit Tikal. Many of the hotels in the city will arrange tours for their guests to the nearby sites. There are also several tour companies that will arrange trips.
One unique opportunity that many people who visit the country want to experience is exploring the jungles of the country on horseback. Hanna Stables is located in San Ignacio and offers adventure tourism, horseback riding, and an eco-farm stay that is educational for travelers of all ages. This is one of the oldest establishments in the area and has been owned by a family for several generations. Some of the popular destinations for horseback tours include Actun Kan, Xunantunich, and the surrounding farms.
Another landmark attraction of Belize is Old Belize. This area offers a total experience for travelers. The Old Belize exhibit is a stirring historical and cultural display that takes tourists back to various defining segments of the country’s past. There are many authentic relics on display from several key time frames. There is an introduction to the Mayan legacy of the country a depiction of Belize City from the colonial days, as well as a glimpse into the logging camps from the 18th century.
Cucumber beach is also located in Old Belize. This is the only beach in the city. Make sure to visit the Old Belize marina, which offers a full service restaurant, a banquet hall and conference facilities.
There are many fun activities to participate in while in Belize. You can try a zip-line tour that will allow you to soar through the rain forest. The cost ranges from $95 to $100. The sports fishing in the area is like no other. The premier fly fishing game is the bonefish. It is found throughout the grassy shallows of the country. This is one of the strongest animals found in salt water.
There are many great places to snorkel and scuba dive on the coasts of Belize as well. One of the best options is to charter a catamaran or sailboat to make the most of your time. If you are on a tighter budget you may want to try one of the diving or snorkeling excursions that are found by the beaches of Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye. Many of the common excursions will take visitors to either Shark Ray Alley or Hol Chan reserve. This type of trip will run about $35 and will include your snorkeling gear. Foreigners will be charged and extra $10 as a park tax. This money is used for the upkeep of the parks.
There are many caves that can be explored in Belize as well. There are huge caverns combined with tight passages. You will also find dazzling groups of mineral encrusted stalagmites and stalactites as well as some amazing underground waterfalls. This magical underground world was sacred for the ancient Mayas and there are many artifacts including human remains and decorated pots that are found in these caves. It is illegal (and dangerous) to enter any of the caves without a licensed guide along with you. Most of the guides will be trained in both mythology and geology of the caves and will also know cave rescue techniques and modern first aid.
Perhaps the greatest attraction of the area is the Actun Tunichil Muknal. This group of caves combines adventure caving with a spectacular history. You can go through the caves with a guide and view the calcified remains of Maya sacrifices.
When visiting Belize it is important to stay safe. There are violent crimes related to gangs that sometimes occur in and around Belize City. Most of the violence is related to narcotic traffic along with struggle for power over the streets. When traveling you need to be careful. Similar to South Africa, the country can be as safe as it is dangerous. The economic gaps and a lack of social welfare often make some of the poorer areas prone to crime. If you use caution, and avoid areas that obviously have a large amount of poverty or crime, the country can be extremely rewarding and safe.
The most dangerous city in the country is Belize City. However, it is quite easy to be safe while traveling there. Make sure that you stay in the tourist zone that runs from just north of where the marina is located to the south extension of the main canal. There are many police that monitor this area and if you have any problems you should be free to approach one of them. However, there are some corrupt officers in the country as well, so make sure that you know they are truly a police officer before approaching them. Stay near the commercial zones and the tourist areas and use your common sense and you should be fine. Do not travel anywhere alone after dark.
Most areas in the country are relatively safe, but like anywhere in the world you will need to be careful when dealing with strangers. Most people are going to be helpful, but you still want to remain cautious. Make sure that you only drink bottled water and eat at only tourist restaurants as dysentery is quite common. Take along antibiotics and over the counter medications as these are somewhat difficult to find in the country.
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