Famed writer Aldous Huxley wrote in Beyond The Mexique Bay (1934) “If the world had any ends Belize would be one of them. It is not on the way from anywhere, to anywhere else. It is all but uninhabited.” Huxley’s off-the-cuff observation is one of the most famous made by a writer about Belize. More than eighty years ago he was one of the few adventurers daring enough to visit what at that time was one of the most remote corners of the then mighty British Empire. Belize Definition
Today Huxley would be amazed that the little country, while still relatively undiscovered, is a burgeoning nation-state with close to 350,000 inhabitants spread over a land area twice the size of Jamaica. On a good day four or more cruise ships pull into one of its major harbors bringing some 15,000 visitors from North America and Europe eager to get a taste of the only country in Central America with a British Colonial History and the largest Barrier Reef in the Western Hemisphere.
Belize’s relatively undiscovered status has been one of the country’s most powerful attractants over the centuries and the inhabitants from the time of its modern history have liked it just that way. The area was the center of the vast Mayan Civilization founded about 2,000 B.C. Dozens of pyramids and ruins – most not yet excavated – can be found throughout the country once known as British Honduras.
The country has a wonderfully diverse society, made up of a multiplicity of cultures and speaking many languages. English is the official language but Spanish is widely spoken as the major ethnic group of Belize is now Latino. But most Belizeans are fully bilingual in English and Spanish and most everyone speaks and understands Creole which is an English derived dialect. The education system is in English and is well regarded by expats living here.
The country is bordered by Mexico to the north, Guatemala to the south and west, and the Caribbean sea to the east. With 8,867 square miles (22,960 km²) of territory and 312,000 people (2011 census), the population density is the lowest in Central American and one of the lowest in the world making for wide open spaces to explore and discover. The country’s population growth rate, 2.21% (2008 est.), is the highest in the region. Its rich biologically significant and unique ecosystems contribute to it being designated as a bio diversity hot spot and a center for eco-tourism.
The country gained its independence from the Great Britain on September 21st 1981 under the Peoples United Party Government led by Prime Minister Rt. Hon. George Cadle Price now known as the Father Of The Nation. Mr. Price, along with Phillip Goldson and Leigh Richardson launched the movement for self-government with the formation of the People’s Committee on 31 December 1949 after the British Colonial rulers devalued the British Honduras Dollar bringing much economic hardship on the colony’s residents.
On 29 September 1950 the Peoples Committee evolved into the Peoples United Party with the stated mission of “To gain for the people of this country political independence and economic independence.” Mr. Goldson broke away from the P.U.P. to form his own party and Mr. Richardson emigrated to the U.S.A. never to return.
The movement to Independence was opposed by the United Democratic Party – the U.D.P. The U.D.P. is an an amalgamation of traditionally pro-colonial parties, namely the equivocally named National Independence Party, The Liberal Party, the Honduras Independence Party and the National Alliance for Belizean Rights.
Belize is a member of the United Nations, the Non Aligned Movement, the Organisation of American States, PARLACEN ( the Central American parliament), SICA (the acronym in Spanish for the Central American Integration System) and the British Commonwealth of Nations.
Capital: City Of Belmopan. Parliamentary democracy with two major political parties, the People’s United Party (PUP), and the United Democratic Party (UDP).
The UDP currently holds power, led by Prime Minister Dean Oliver Barrow (took office 7 February 2008). The Belize Constitution (this will open a new window where you can download the document in PDF format) includes a Bill of Rights.
The Executive Branch of government consists of the Governor General, the Prime Minister and The Cabinet. The Governor General’s role is ceremonial. The executive authority of Belize is vested in the Queen of England as the Head of State, who appoints the Governor General to represent her.
The appointment is made on the “advice” of Belize’s Prime Minister. In practice this means that Governor Generals are appointed and can be removed at will by the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister is the Head of Government and heads the Cabinet. The Cabinet is the chief policy-making body in the government. Cabinet members are appointed by the Prime Minister from members of the House of Representatives or the Senate. Regretfully, the country is ruled by a bloated Cabinet that includes all the government members of the House. It includes non-elected party officials who are brought in through a back-door device in the Constitution that allows the Prime Minister to appoint anyone a senator, and thereafter appoint the senator to the Cabinet. The Senate is by law controlled by appointees approved by the Central Government and is viewed as a rubber stamp body since it cannot reject bills sent to it by the House of Representatives.
The Belize Judiciary consists of the Supreme Court headed by a Chief Justice and Justices of the Supreme Court. The country has its own court of Appeals. The lower courts are known as the Magistrate Courts. The system of law is based on English common law.
The members of the Supreme Court are appointed by the Prime Minister “in consultation” with the Leader of the Opposition. In practice this means that the Prime Minister needs to discuss his intended appointment with the Leader of the Opposition. But not obtain his approval or assent .
In the final analysis the Prime Minister of Belize has the dubious distinction of being the only politician in a modern democracy to in his sole and absolute discretion appoint and remove members of the Supreme Court and the Belize Court of Appeals. Further control of the judiciary is exercised by the Prime Minister, through his appointee, the Attorney General, appointing members of the Supreme Court via contract rather than by lifelong term until retirement due to age or ill health as is done in other democracies.
The weather in Belize is characterized by two seasons: a rainy and a dry season. Belize annual rainfall: most of the year’s rainfall occurs during the period June to November, that is, the rainy season. It is noted that the transition from dry to the rainy is very sharp. Annual rainfall ranges from 60 inches (1524mm) in the north to 160 inches (4064mm) in the south. Except for the southern regions, the rainfall is variable from year to year.
The onset of the rainy season begins in the early May in Toledo, (where the annual rainfall is highest) progressing north to the Stann Creek, Belize, Cayo and Orange Walk District in late May, followed by Corozal District in early June. The mean temperature varies from 81°F/ 27°C along the coast to 69°F/21°C in the hills. The coldest month is January while the highest temperatures are experienced during the month of May.
Travel to Belize and Things To Look Out For
Getting here is easy, by air, sea or land. By road from north America it is usually a three day trip or longer if you want to tarry and explore Mexico. The land border crossing with Mexico is at Corozal – popular with retirees and the expat community. Many visitors come to the country via their yachts. Caveat: it is recommended that mariners hire a local pilot to steer them through the Barrier Reef. Beaching your boat on the reef can be dangerous and very expensive.
Belize is well-known among mariners as a mariner’s speed trap. Just having your anchor drag on a portion of the coral reef can result in detention by the ham-fisted Belize Coast Guard and heavy fines. Captains and their crew are routinely arrested and their craft seized until they can post substantial bail before a court hearing date is set. The most recent court case involving a commercial vessel – the Westerhaven – that lost power and ended up scraping part of the Belize Barrier Reef, placed the cost of damages at a minimum of US $2,000. per square meter of damage to the reef. The ship was fined $11.5 million. In another incident in September 2013, the Prime Minister of Dominica Roosevelt Skerrit who was vacationing in Belize was humiliated when his yacht was detained and his staff roughly interrogated by the Belize Coast Guard.
Most airline hubs in the U.S.A. offer direct connections to Belize. From Central and South America several airlines offer non-stop service or connecting flights. To find the most affordable flights, stay flexible on your dates, avoid peak holiday travel (around Christmas and Easter), and sign up for Internet specials and e-mail fare alerts. The big airlines currently serving the country are American, Continental, US Airways, Delta, and TACA. Regional airlines such as Maya Island Air and Tropic offer flights to Cancun (Mexico) as well as Guatemala and Honduras. More on Airfare to Belize.
Many visitors from North America fly into Cancún, for the cheap airfares, then catch a bus (about five hours) to Belize. The country is well served by private air and Belize helicopter services for transport and aerial sight seeing. Helicopter tours of the many natural wonders of Belize are a new service and can be arranged by most resorts and travel agencies.
Cradle of Latin American Mestizo Ethnic Group
Modern day Belize was founded in the 1600s by English and Scottish pirates. But the first European to live here was a Spanish soldier, Gonzalo Guerrero – the victim of a 1511 shipwreck off Cozumel. He was one of the first Heroes of Belize. A statue in Chetumal, Mexico commemorates Guerrero and his children. Belize has many monuments, statues and written history about its colonial masters and their descendants but has yet to erect a monument to its very first national hero.
Guerrero was captured by the Belize Maya along with fellow soldier Geronimo de Aguilar. The young Spanish soldier was sent to Chief Na Chan Kan at Chaktemal (present day Corozal Town in northern Belize). Guerrero fell in love with and married the Chief’s daughter had children and this was the genesis of the Mestizo (Spaniard-Indian admixture) of Latin America. Gonzalo Guerrero passed on his military skills to his new Maya family and successfully fought off attempts by Spain to settle in northern Belize.
The best known literary work celebrating Guerrero as the father of the mestizos in Mexico is Gonzalo Guerrero: Novela historica by Eugenio Aguirre ISBN-10: 9685827265 published in 1980 in Mexico. The novel became a national bestseller in and went on to win the Paris International Academy’s Silver Medal in 1981.
In the state anthem of Quintana Roo, Mexico, Gonzalo Guerrero is celebrated and referred to as the Father of the Mestizos. The relevant section in Spanish follows with translation into English:
Esta tierra que mira al oriente
cuna fue del primer mestizaje
que nació del amor sin ultraje
de Gonzalo Guerrero y Za’asil.
Oh, this land that looks off to the east
the cradle of the first mestizo,
born from the pure loving breast
of Gonzalo Guerrero and Za’asil
Using his training as a Spanish soldier, Guerrero became a famous war lord for the Maya at Chaktemal. Because of his knowledge of Spanish military tactics, Guerrero (which literally translated into English means “warrior”) became an important military adviser to the Maya in this area of the Yucatan in their subsequent resistance to Spanish domination: noted archeologist Dr. Eric Thompson calls him the first European to make Belize his home.
In 1531 Gonzalo Guerrero and his father-in-law led the Maya and defeated an invading army from Spain at Chaktemal – modern day Corozal – headed by Alonso Davila. This was the first defense of our country against an invading European army.
The first battle of Belize was actually fought at Corozal Town and prevented Spain from occupying territory south of the Rio Hondo – the northern border of present-day Belize. The British and Scottish pirates would not arrive in Belize until more than a century later, 1650.
Fascinating Facts About Belize
Belize’s Black Howler Monkeys, locally known as “Baboons” are one of the top 10 loudest animals in the world.
Close to 1 million tourists visit Belize annually, 70% of who are North Americans.
The Belizean seawater temperature averages between 79 to 83 degrees F.
Whale sharks are harmless to humans – they eat plankton and fish eggs.
Approximately 1,000 Mayan ruins are scattered throughout Belize. Most are unexplored and sadly some like the famous Noh Mul have been destroyed and used for road fill.
Belize’s mainland is about 180 miles long and up to 68 miles wide.
If you select Gibnut from a menu, you’re about to dine on a rainforest rodent (Paca Cuniculus)which is a popular game meat in Belize also known as the Royal Rat. (The Queen of England ate it during a visit to Belize and gave it the Royal Thumbs Up).
Belize’s wetlands are home for two of the 23 species of Crocodilians, the fresh water Morelet’s Crocodile and the saltwater American Crocodile.
Some of Belize’s most interesting place names include Baking Pot, Double Head Cabbage, Laughing Bird Caye, Cattle Landing, Monkey River, Gallon Jug, Bullet Tree Falls, Teakettle, More Tomorrow, Never Delay, Crooked Tree, Hummingbird Highway, Raspaculo (scrape your bottom), Sal Si Puedes (come out if you can) and Labouring Creek
A typical Belizean breakfast consists of creole bread, corn or flour tortilla, cheese, fried beans, eggs, bacon and coffee, tea or milk.
Like in many deeply religious countries, many Belizeans avoid swimming in the sea or rivers on Good Friday with the belief that it can bring misfortune.
The least visited destination in Belize is Toledo, sometimes referred to as “the forgotten district” (1,669 square miles of rainforests, mountains, rivers and Maya Villages).
Belize is the only Central American country with English as its official language. However, you will hear a variety of Spanish, Creole, and Maya in some greetings:
Weh di go ahn? (Translation: Hello, what’s up?) Creole
Bix a bèel? (Translation: How are you?) Maya
Buenos dias! (Translation: Good Day!) Spanish
Buiti Binafi! (Translation: Good Morning) Garifuna
Article Updated 27 June 2014