The History and Cultural Expressions of Belize
In a way, the history of Belize is widely different from that of the rest of Latin American countries.
This small country was never conquered by the Spanish—it was first a refuge for pirates and then became part of the British Empire.
This situation alone makes Belize a unique case in the continent, and one of the most enigmatic countries in the Americas.
Keep reading to learn about the rich history of Belize, its location, cultural expressions, and reasons to visit. I will also cover all you need to know before traveling to this beautiful country.
A Brief History of Belize
The territory of today’s Belize was first inhabited by the great Maya civilization, which endured for approximately 1,000 years. By the time the first Europeans arrived, these lands were occupied by different Indian tribes.
This situation made Belize an ideal pirate hideout. Pirates would make the most of Belize’s strategic location, south to the Spanish territory of Nueva España (today’s Mexico), and attack Spanish ships filled with the silver and gold from the Aztecs and other Mesoamerican peoples.
The British Crown was so pleased by the services of these pirates weakening Spain—one of their major rivals—that by 1862, the British recognized Honduras as part of the British Commonwealth.
Over a hundred years later and arriving late to most decolonization efforts, Belize finally achieved its independence in 1981.
Where Is Belize Located?
Belize is a Central American country located south of Mexico and east of Guatemala. You can see in this Belize map how its eastern shoreline is washed by the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea.
Modern Belize has an area of 22,970 sq km and a population of 419,199. This means that Belize has the lowest population density in all of Central America.
The flag of Belize has its National Coat of Arms at the center, with a royal blue background and red horizontal stripes on top and bottom. The coat of arms represents Belize’s logging industry and includes the national motto: Sub Umbra Floreo (Under the Shade I Flourish).
The capital city of Belize is Belmopan, although Belize City is its largest city.
Belize Culture 101
Although small, Belize has a unique history and a fascinating culture that differentiates it from the rest of Latin America.
Let’s learn a little bit about it!
English is Belize’s official language, making it the only Central American country that doesn’t have Spanish as its main language. However, Kriol or ‘Creole’ is widely spoken throughout the country and you can also hear some Spanish, Mayan languages, German, Chinese, and Garífuna.
Belize is a Christian country with a majority of Catholics, followed in different percentages by Protestants, Pentecostals, Adventists, Anglicans, Mennonites, and other Christian faiths.
Around a 10% of the population practices other religions including Islam, Buddhism, Bahá’i, Rastafarianism, Judaism, as well as Mayan and Garifuna religious traditions.
Belize is a true melting pot of different cultures that have mixed along the centuries. This has produced a fascinating effect on its cuisine.
As in most of the region, corn plays a central role in Belizean gastronomy. However, the long tradition of Chinese heritage in the country means that noodles, rice, and other traditional Chinese ingredients are also a mainstay of Belizean cuisine.
Finally, the Mayan and Garifuna cultures added distinctive touches like chocolate by the Mayan and many seafood dishes by the Garifuna, into the delicious gastronomy of this extraordinary country.
The Costa Maya Festival is Belize’s largest and most famous festival. It’s a celebration of Belize’s culture, but also a multilingual effort to embrace the whole Mayan world. It’s definitely worth a visit.
A series of food festivals are also attractive options to visit the country and get a taste of the exquisite Belizean cuisine, including the Belize Chocolate Festival, the Mango Fest, and the Lobster Festival.
Places to Visit and Things To Do in Belize
The location of Belize at the heart of the Central American Caribbean coast makes it an outstanding tropical destination with stunningly beautiful beaches that have nothing to envy from those in Mexico’s Riviera Maya or in the famous islands of Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic.
Let’s discover some of the best places to visit and things to do in Belize!
1. Ambergris Caye
One of the most popular destinations in Belize, Ambergris Caye is also the largest of the country’s hundreds of islands and the most developed. It has become a tourist hotspot featuring world-class hotels and extraordinary beaches of white sand and turquoise-blue waters.
During the summer, San Pedro Belize, which is Ambergris Caye’s capital city, hosts the famous Costa Maya Festival, which usually has a star-filled line-up.
2. Belize Barrier Reef
The Belize Barrier Reef is the country’s top tourist destination. A 300-kilometer section of the Mesoamerican Reef System (the second largest coral reef system in the world), and a popular spot for scuba diving and snorkeling enthusiasts.
In total, the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System includes 7 marine reserves, 450 cays, and 3 atolls, as well as the famous Great Blue Hole.
3. Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve
If you want to discover a different side of Belize, I recommend you to visit this stunning forest reserve where you can engage in lots of nature-driven activities such as hiking, swimming in natural swimming pools surrounded by waterfalls, and exploring the Río Frío Cave & Nature Trail.
4. Caracol Natural Monument Reservation
If you’re into Maya culture, Caracol is the largest archaeological site in Belize. Located near the border with Guatemala, it sits deep in the Chiquibul National Park waiting for you to visit. The ruins of this amazing Mayan city are impressive, as at some point it was larger than today’s Belize City.
5. Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary & Jaguar Preserve
Trying to give you a little bit of variety, I’m including this lovely wildlife sanctuary which is set in a tropical forest home to extraordinary biodiversity. The area is a haven for jaguars, pumas, tapirs, monkeys and snakes. About 290 species of toucans and scarlet macaws are also part of this extraordinary ecosystem.
The place is better explored through its vast web of trails which you can hike, and strangely enough, it also has an organic chocolate factory worth a visit.
Things To Know Before Traveling to Belize
Is Belize safe? Are there any travel restrictions or entry requirements to Belize? Which flights can you take to visit Belize? All these questions and more, can’t be answered just by watching Belize news, so here are the most important things you need to know before traveling to Belize.
Safety in Belize
For a country of just over 400,000 people, Belize attracts a lot of visitors. Just in 2018, 1.5 million tourists visited Belize. Those numbers tell you that Belize is a safe haven for tourists despite the security issues that locals sadly have to confront on a regular basis.
However, it’s always a good idea to avoid traveling at night or in isolated areas, favor the tourist attractions and parts of the country designated for tourism, and get your travel insurance to cover you for any issue that may arise.
- As of August 9, 2021, everyone entering Belize is required to present a negative COVID-19 test, even if you’re vaccinated.
- As of September 2021, there was a countrywide curfew from 7:00 pm to 4:00 am.
- Your passport should be valid for at least three months after your date of arrival to Belize.
- All tourists must book only Gold Standard Accomodation in Belize.
Flights to Belize
You can find flights to Belize from the following countries and airlines:
Canada: Air Canada (Toronto), WestJet (Toronto, Calgary).
USA: United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Alaska Airlines.
Mexico: Tropic Air (Cancun).
UK: American Airlines (via Miami).
Visit Belize and Discover a Truly Unique Country in the Heart of Latin America!
Nestled in a corner of the Caribbean between Mexico and Guatemala, Belize is a truly unique country, different from the rest of Latin America as Spanish is not its main language. You can learn a lot about this region just by understanding the importance the Maya culture has in the history of the country.
Learning Spanish is a useful tool that opens many doors when traveling to different countries. Although Belize’s official language is English, you’ll soon discover that Spanish is widely spoken in the country and that many locals are willing to speak it.
Sign up for a free class and prepare for your trip to Belize. We teach more than 24,000 actively enrolled students every month and offer flexible scheduling and tailored Spanish packages.
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