Belize is a peaceful, English-speaking
country just two hours away from 3 major U.S. Gateways. With a diversity
of adventure opportunities unmatched by any other country, the Belizean
people have protected over 40% of the country as parks and natural reserves.
Belize is on the Caribbean coast, nestled between Mexico and Guatemala
and offers an intriguing mix of tropical forests rich with wildlife,
majestic mountains, mysterious Maya temples, and diving and fishing
experiences beyond comparison. In a single day, one can go from tropical
forest to the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere.
The history of Belize can be divided in four major periods.
Archaeologists estimate that at their peak, 1 to 2 million Mayas lived
within the borders of present day Belize. Mighty Maya cities such as Caracol, Xunantunich and Lamanai
dotted the landscape, with small agricultural communities farming the
land between. The Maya civilization is divided into the Pre-Classic
(1000 BC to AD 300), the Classic (AD 300 to 900) when the civilization
reached its height of development, and the Post-Classic (AD 1000 to
1500) when the civilization fell apart and disappeared.
No one knows for certain what caused the disappearance of the Maya.
Perhaps it was war, loss of faith, famine, or a series of natural
Christopher Columbus sailed along the coast of Central America in
1502, and named the Bay of Honduras which borders the southern part
of the barrier reef.
The first settlers in Belize were English Puritans, setting up trading
posts along the coast of Belize. Various bands of ship-wrecked sailors,
buccaneers, and pirates established permanent bases in Belize, harassing
the Spanish galleons carrying gold, silver, and hardwoods from Central
America to Europe. It wasn't long before logging became the dominant
This band of rugged individuals took to calling themselves Baymen
after the Bay of Honduras. Spain continually attempted to expel these
British buccaneers from then Spanish territory, but finally signed
treaties in 1763 and 1786 allowing the British to continue to harvest
timber in exchange for protection against pirates preying on the
The Colonial Period
During the 1840's, Great Britain declared Belize to be the colony of
British Honduras. Development of Belize became more organized and multiethnic
through a series of cultural changes. The European settlers began to
marry freed slaves forming the Creole majority that still is dominant
in the population. Mexican citizens began cultivating small farms in
In Southern Belize, the Kekchi and Mopan Maya sought refuge in the
hills of the Maya Mountains. A small band of Confederate Civil War
veterans settled in what is now Punta Gorda. And from the Bay Islands
of Honduras, the Garifuna people migrated and settled along the coast
Early Twentieth Century to Present
By the early 1900's, Belize had grown to nearly 40,000 inhabitants. But
a destructive 1931 hurricane destroyed Belize City and by the 1930's,
the economy was so poor that the residents began to call for
independence. By 1954 voting rights were extended to all adults, and by
1961, England agreed to begin the process of setting Belize free.
In 1973, the colony's name was changed from British
Honduras to Belize and on September 21, 1981, Belize's Independence was
Belize is a country of various cultures, languages, and ethnic groups. Approximately 270,000 people in Belize consist of Creole, Garifuna, Mestizo, Spanish, Maya, English, Mennonite, Lebanese, Chinese, and East Indian. Due to racial harmony and religious tolerance, all of these different elements have mixed and blended successfully, and Belize has gained a widespread reputation for its friendly peoples.
One of the most prominent ethnic groups are the Creoles, which formed 30% of the population in 2001. Creoles are descendants of the intermingling of the early British settlers with African slaves. More than 40% of the population is Mestizo. They are descendants of mixed blood Mexicans and Yucatec Mayas who fled from the Yucatan in the mid 1800's. Another 6.6% of Belize's population are the Garifuna. The Garifuna have their own language and culture. The Yucatec, Mopan, and Kekchi are three Amerindian groups which also make up Belize's population. The Chinese, with a population of 6,000 have made distinct communities, as well as the East Indians and the Mennonites.
English remains the most common language spoken followed closely by Creole, but Spanish is becoming more widely spoken. The Garifuna, Mayas, and Mennonites each speak their own language.