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About Belize

Quick Facts & Figures

Physical Features

Map of Belize
Map courtesy of Cubola Productions

Belize (formerly British Honduras) lies within the eastern Caribbean coast of Central America and is bounded on the north by Mexico, and on the south and west by Guatemala. The inner coastal waters are shallow and are sheltered by a line of coral reefs, dotted with islets called 'cayes', extending the entire length of the country.

There is a low coastal plain, much of which is covered under mangrove but rises gradually towards the interior. The Maya Mountains and the Cockscomb Range form the backbone of the country, the highest point being Doyle's Delight (1124 meters above sea level) in the Cockscomb Range. The Cayo District in the west includes the Mountain Pine Ridge, ranging from 305 to around 914 metres above sea level. The northern districts contain considerable areas of tableland. There are many rivers navigable for short distances by shallow-draught vessels. A large part of the mainland is sub-tropical forest.

The area of the mainland and cayes is 8,867 square miles. The country's greatest length from north to south is 280 kilometres and its greatest width is 109 kilometres. The climate is subtropical, tempered by trade winds. Temperatures in coastal districts range from about 10 °C (50°F) to about 35.6°C (96°F); inland the range is greater. Rainfall varies from an average of 1,295 millimetres in the north to 4,445 millimetres in the extreme south. The dry season usually extends from February to May and there is usually a dry spell in August.

Population

Belize's population is estimated at approximately 300,000 people. The country is a melting pot of many races combining people of North, Central and South America, Asia, Europe and the Caribbean. Males outnumber the female population by a narrow margin of 1%.

The population census shows that the main ethnic groups: Mestizo, Creole, Ketchi, Yucatec and Mopan Mayas, Garifuna and East Indian maintains a large percent of Belize's population. Other ethnic groups: Mennonites, Chinese, Arab and African account for a small percentage of the population. The ethnic groups, however, are heavily intermixed.

Languages

English is the official language of Belize. However “Creole” is widely spoken and remains a distinctive part of everyday conversations for most Belizeans. Spanish is also common and is taught in primary and secondary schools.

Spanish is spoken as a mother tongue by the majority of the people in the Orange Walk/Corozal Districts, north of Belize and the Cayo in the west, In the southern Districts: (Stann Creek and Toledo), there are people whose first language is Garifuna and/or Maya.

Capital

Belmopan is the capital of the country. Built in 1970, it is the seat of Government and has been classified as the Garden City of the country. This modern “Mayan Ruin” was created following extensive damage to the former capital Belize City, caused by Hurricane Hattie in 1961. Belmopan is geographically located at the centre of the country, some 80 kilometers to the south-west of Belize City. Its population today is estimated at 11,100 and is steadily increasing as more people relocate to the Capital. However, Belize City still remains the hub of commercial activity and one of the most urbanized centers of Belize with a population of 78,000 people.

Agriculture

Agriculture currently provides some 71% of the country's total foreign exchange earnings, and employs approximately 29% of the total labor force.

Although about 1,998,230 acres or 38% of the total land area are considered potentially suitable for agricultural use, only perhaps 10 to 15% is in use in any one year. About half of this is under pasture, with the remainder in a variety of permanent and annual crops. The traditional system of "milpa" (shifting cultivation) involves the annual clearing of new land for crop production; however, there is an increasing number of farmers making permanent use of cleared land by mechanical means.

The expansion and improvement of agriculture is one of the principal aims of national development. The Department of Agriculture maintains an Extension Service with officers posted in all districts. Agricultural research is conducted at the Central Farm Research Station into a variety of tropical crops, livestock and pasture. Agricultural research is also done by other non-governmental bodies, such as the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) and the Taiwanese Mission, within the country. The Ministry provides mechanical, veterinary and quarantine services to farmers and an agricultural training college at Central Farm. Other government services include the Belize Marketing Board, which operates as a buyer and seller of agricultural products. The Development Finance Corporation, a quasi-governmental lending arm offers credit to farmers, among others.

Fisheries and Forestry

Belize has a viable fishing industry. During 1996, Bz $24.3 million of marine products were exported. There are laws to protect our rock or spiny lobster from over fishing. There is a closed season between March and July. Export markets for scale fish are mainly in the United States, Mexico and Jamaica.

There has been resurgence in forestry in recent years. Reforestation and natural regeneration in the pine forest (mainly in the Cayo, Stann Creek and Toledo Districts) and artificial regeneration of fast-growing tropical hardwood species are in progress. Many cacao plantations have been reestablished, mainly in the south, providing quality chocolate worldwide under fair trade practices.    

THE Belize Fishing Industry

The Belize Fisheries Department was established in 1965 and has been mandated to manage a sector that has been in existence for several generations. Belize's fisheries are exploited for commercial, recreational and subsistence purposes. In an effort to maximize the benefits obtained from the fishing industry, (ensuring its long-term viability), fisheries managers are promoting expansion through diversification of this resource

Belize's fishing industry is small but growing; it is an industry with great potential for development.

List of Fisheries Export Products

  • Lobster
  • Conch
  • Finfish
  • Aquarium Fish (NOS)
  • Stone Crab Claws
  • Shrimp
  • Shark
  • Dry Sea Farine
  • Smoked Fish

 

Roads

Belize has four major highways, the Northern Highway connecting Belize City with Orange Walk and Corozal Towns and to Chetumal on the Mexican Border; the Western Highway connecting Belize City with Belmopan and continuing to Santa Elena/San Ignacio and Benque Viejo del Carmen then to the border with Guatemala; the Southern Highway linking the Stann Creek and Toledo Districts and the Hummingbird Highway which links Cayo with the Stann Creek District. All principal towns and villages are linked by roads to Belmopan and Belize City.

Regular bus services operate to and from all main towns and villages.

Inland Waterways

Several rivers and lagoons are navigable by shallow draught vessels. The Belize River was once used for logging.

Air

The main airport, Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport, is situated 10 miles from Belize City, and is owned by the Government and operated by an Airport Concession Company. Regular international services are maintained by five airlines to and from the United States of America, Central America and Mexico. Domestic air services provide connections to all main towns and to four of the offshore islands.

A modern weather radar system, part of the World Meteorological Network, gives early warning of approaching hurricanes. The Belize Weather Bureau is now equipped with satellite communication facilities to assist in weather forecasting.

Sea

The main port is in Belize City, now equipped with a modern deep-water port which is capable of handling containerized shipping. Nine major shipping lines move cargo to and from Belize to Central and North America, Europe and Japan. The second largest port, Commerce Bight just South of Dangriga, has been improved to accommodate the medium sized vessels required to handle increased exports of bananas and citrus products. A new port has been built at Big Creek. Coastal services are operated between towns and villages on the mainland to some of the offshore islands, and to Puerto Barrios in Guatemala.

Telecommunications

The Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL), a public limited company, owns the automatic telephone service which covers the entire country. BTL operates a regional service to Mexico, Guatemala and Central and South America, as well as all other external services. A recent expansion programme has doubled the capacity of the telephone system. A satellite earth station in Belmopan provides high quality telecommunications with the outside world.

The Public Utilities Commission acts on behalf of the Government in monitoring and regulating all telecommunication services within Belize, including the assignment of frequencies.

National Symbols

The National Flag

The red, white and blue flag of Belize is a symbol of the unity of our nation.

The Coat of Arms

  • The shield of the Coat of Arms is divided into three sections by a vertical line and an inverted V.
  • The base section represents a ship in full sail on waves of the sea. The two upper sections show tools of the timber industry in Belize: a paddle and a squaring axe in the right section and a saw and a beating axe in the left section.
  • Supporting the shield are two woodcutters, the one on the right holding a beating axe over his shoulder in his right hand, and the one on the left holding a paddle over his shoulder in his left hand.
  • Above the shield rises a mahogany tree. Below the shield is the motto scroll. A wreath of leaves encircles the Coat of Arms.
  • The Coat of Arms embodies an important aspect of the history of Belize, as the mahogany industry formed the basis of our economy in the 18th and 19th centuries.
  • NATIONAL MOTTO: "Sub Umbra Florero" - These Latin words me, "Under the shade we flourish."

National Flower

  • The Black Orchid (Encyclia Cochleatum) is the National Flower of Belize. This orchid grows on trees in damp areas, and flowers nearly all year round.
  • Its clustered bulblike stems vary in size up to six inches long and carry two or three leaves.
  • The black orchid flower has greenish-yellow petals and sepals with purple blotches near the base. The "lip" (one petal of special construction, which is the flower's showiest) is shaped like a valve of a clam shell (hence the name Encyclia Cochleatum) and is deep purple-brown, almost black, with conspicuous radiating purple veins.

National Tree

  • The Mahogany Tree (Swietenia Macrophilla) is one of the magnificent giants of the forest. Rising straight and tall to over a hundred feet from great buttresses at the roots, it emerges above the canopy of the surrounding trees with a crown of large, shining green leaves.
  • In the early months of the year, when the leaves fall and new red-brown growth appears, the tree can be spotted from a great distance.
  • The tree puts out a great flush of small whitish flowers - the blossom for dark fruits, which are pear-shaped capsules about six inches long.
  • When the fruits mature they split into five valves, freeing large winged seeds which are carried away by the wind. They fall on the shaded protection of the forest floor and germinate to begin a new life cycle. The mahogany tree matures in 60 to 80 years.
  • British settlers exploited the forest for mahogany, beginning around the middle of the 17th century. It was originally exported to the United Kingdom in the form of squared logs, but shipments now consist mainly of sawn lumber.
  • The mahogany tree forms part of Belize's Coat of Arms. The motto "Sub Umbra Florero" means: Under the shade (of the mahogany tree) I flourish.

National Bird

  • The Keel Billed Toucan (Ramphastos Solfurantus) is the National Bird of Belize. It is noted for its great, canoe-shaped bill, brightly colored green, blue, red and orange feathers
  • The bird is about 20 inches in overall length. It is mostly black with bright yellow cheeks and chest, red under the tail and a distinctive white patch at the base of the tail.
  • Toucans are found in open areas of the country with large trees. They make a monotonous frog-like croak. Toucans like fruits, and eat by cutting with the serrated edge of their bills.
  • Toucans nest in holes in trees, using natural holes or holes made by woodpeckers, often enlarging the cavity by removing soft, rotten wood.
  • They lay two to four eggs which are incubated by both parents. The nesting stage lasts from six to seven weeks.

National Animal

  • The Tapir or Mountain Cow (Tapirello Bairdii) is the largest land mammal of the American tropics.
  • The tapir is a stoutly built animal with short legs, about the size of a donkey and weighs up to 600 pounds.
  • Its general color is dusty brown with a white fringe around the eyes and lips, white tipped ears and occasional white patches of fur on the throat and chest.
  • In spite of its local name, the tapir is not a cow. It is closely related to the horse and is also kin to the rhinoceros.
  • The tapir is a vegetarian. It spends much of its time in water or mud shallows, and is a strong swimmer.
  • The National Animal is protected under the wildlife protection laws of Belize, thus the hunting of the tapir is illegal.