Just south of Mexico on the Caribbean coast lies Belize; unassuming, small, and full of life. Wandering down a rutted dirt road in this sleepy Central American country, it's easy to forget what things were like back home. Here, nobody is in a hurry. Ever. With only four paved highways, just one single fast food chain restaurant and a stress- and smog-free atmosphere, Belize truly earns its title as Mother Nature's best kept secret — ideal for anyone looking to cut loose from the developed world.
As the most sparsely populated nation in Central America, Belize seems almost untouched by human activity — and the people strive to keep it that way. In fact, you're more likely to see a no littering sign than a traffic light. Vast expanses of forest and jungle dominate the landscape, hiding dozens of long-forgotten Mayan ruins. Below these ancient cities, pristine rivers cut through the caves of Xibalba, the Mayan underworld. Scenes of sacrifice and forgotten treasures lie undisturbed in the pitch black of the caves, promising clues to the mysteries of the Maya civilization. Out of the caves, these rivers flow to the coast, where the second largest barrier reef in the world hosts incredible underwater beauty.
A plethora of natural wonders makes Belize an Eden for outdoor lovers. Hiking, diving, and caving are just the beginning, and the best part is that they're open year-round. A subtropical climate means the thermometer never drop below freezing and the yearly average temperature is a pleasant 75 F (24 C). The only reason to bring a long-sleeved shirt or long pants is to protect your skin from the sun or hungry bugs. The dry, warm winter months are more popular for tourists, as the summer months host the rainy season and the occasional tropical storm or hurricane.
Formerly called British Honduras, Belize gained independence from Great Britain in 1981. At 27 years old, with the population of a small American city, this tiny nation is still struggling to find its niche in the world. Running a whole nation with so little manpower limits development in Belize; many things like safety standards, infrastructure and emergency services aren't as sophisticated as some might be used to. Most people who fall in love with this country relish the easygoing attitude that all Belizeans share, and those with patience and a pioneering spirit will fit right in.
As a former British colony, Belize has the distinction of being the only nation in Central America with English as its official language. Everywhere you look, you'll see Latin American life with unmistakably British influences, which can bring a sigh of relief from travelers seeking something more familiar and provide comfort for anyone looking to move to Belize. With European, African and Mayan heritage, and an increase in Chinese and American immigrants and tourists, Belize is a true melting pot; a culmination of culture and custom. The people here are just as warm and diverse as the nature surrounding them, and wherever you turn you're bound to see smiling faces welcoming you to their home and hoping you enjoy their paradise as much as they do.
- Major Cities: Belize City, San Pedro, Santa Elena
- Capital City: Belmopan
- Boundaries: Mexico to the North, Guatemala to the West and South, and the Caribbean Sea to the East.
- Languages: Spanish 46%, Creole 32.9%, Mayan dialects 8.9%, English 3.9% (official), Garifuna 3.4% (Carib), German 3.3%, other 1.4%, unknown 0.2% (2000 census)
- Population: 314,522 (July 2010 est.)
- Diversity: Mestizo 48.7%, Creole 24.9%, Maya 10.6%, Garifuna 6.1%, other 9.7% (2000 census)
- Government: Parliamentary democracy
- Official Religions: Roman Catholic 49.6%, Protestant 27% (Pentecostal 7.4%, Anglican 5.3%, Seventh-Day Adventist 5.2%, Mennonite 4.1%, Methodist 3.5%, Jehovah's Witnesses 1.5%), other 14%, none 9.4% (2000)
- Currency: Belizean dollar (BZD). 1 USD = 2 BZD
- Time Zone: UTC-6 (Central Standard, Mountain Standard During Daylight Savings Time). Belize does not observe Daylight Savings
- Country Calling Code: +501
- Climate: Subtropical (dry and wet seasons). Hot and humid. Rainy season from May to November, dry season from February to May
- Gross National Income (GNI) per capita: $8,500 (2008 est.)
- Population using Improved Drinking Water Sources: 91% (2004)
- GDP (PPP): $2.575 billion (2009 est.)
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