Belize is positioned on the eastern coast of Central America, bounded by Mexico and Guatemala, and sharing maritime borders with Honduras.
Let’s have a look at the top 10 most interesting facts about Belize.
1. In 1961, a hurricane destroyed the old capital, Belize City.
In 1961, Hurricane Hattie landed in Belize and left 400 dead and thousands injured. The eye passed close to Belize City and destroyed half the city. At the time, Belize City was the capital of Belize, but in 1970 the government was moved to Belmopan for safety. Hattie also completely submerged the reef islands of Turneffe and Caulker Cayes. The town of Hattieville was established as a refugee camp for people left homeless after the hurricane, but it became a permanent town with a population of about 1,300.
2. The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is the only jaguar reserve in the world.
An interesting fact about Belize is that the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary was declared the world’s first and only jaguar preserve in 1986. It gets its name from the Cockscomb Mountains that resemble a rooster’s comb. The reserve covers an area of about 150mi2 and houses approximately 200 jaguars. Also, visitors will find jaguarundis, skunk pigs, Howler monkeys, coatimundis, rodents, snakes, and more than 300 species of birds. Jaguars are solitary animals who come together only for breeding. They are the largest cat in the Western hemisphere, but the chances of seeing one are very slim as they are adept at hiding themselves.
3. Belize has around 900 Maya ruins and sacred sites.
The Mayan civilization encompassed a million people at its peak and spread through Central America from Mexico to El Salvador. Its heart lay in Belize, though, where there are still three distinct groups of Mayas today. Grouped by their dialects, they are the Yucatec, Kekchi, and Mopan. The Mayan kingdoms were highly organized, with well-established, effective bureaucracies. They established trading posts, stone cities, farms, and impressive temples. The civilization had collapsed mainly by the time Europeans settled in Central America, but we know something about them from the structures that remain and their hieroglyphic writings. A fun fact about Belize is that there are about 900 Maya ruins and temples in this country.
4. Belize used to be British Honduras.
The Treaty of Versailles (1783) and the Convention of London (1786), awarded logging rights to Britain in the area between the Hondo and Belize Rivers. In 1862, British Honduras was created as a British colony. In 1973, it gained full independence and became known as Belize. It was Britain’s last colonial possession in Central America.
5. The Black Howler Monkeys are one of the loudest animals in the world.
Black Howler Monkeys, or baboons as they are known in Belize, are the loudest of all primates. Their cries, which sound like a howling wind, can carry up to three miles in the jungle and are used to defend their territory. The Community Baboon Sanctuary in Bermudian Landing is located about 26 miles outside Belize City. The forest is voluntarily protected and is responsible for Belize’s healthy population of Black Howlers. Elsewhere, they are endangered from hunting and habitat destruction.
6. One million cruise tourists visit Belize annually.
The population of Belize is approximately 400,000. It is the least densely populated country in Latin America and one of the lowest in the world, a fun fact about Belize. In 2019, the country welcomed 500,000 overnight tourists (double the 2010 figures), and more than 1 million cruise tourists. Before independence, there was very little tourism because the country didn’t have the infrastructure to support large-scale tourism. Today, tourism is the government’s second development priority after agriculture.
7. The Belize Barrier Reef is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
At 190 miles long and 370 mi2, the Belize Barrier Reef is the next biggest reef after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. It was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. The reef’s coral atolls are the only ones in the Western Hemisphere, and it houses 500 species of fish, 65 species of stony corals, 178 land plant species, and 247 species of marine flora.
8. Sir Richard Branson found plastic at the bottom of the Great Blue Hole.
In 1971, the famous French undersea explorer, Jacques Cousteau, drew the world’s attention to Belize’s Great Blue Hole on Lighthouse Reef, an atoll on the Belize Barrier Reef. He described it as one of the best scuba diving sites in the world. In 2018, Cousteau’s grandson, Fabien Cousteau, was part of a group sponsored and joined by Sir Richard Branson, to reach the bottom of the hole by aquatic submersible. In a blog post, Branson, commenting on the plastic bottles they observed on the floor bed, wrote, “As for the mythical monsters of the deep? Well, the real monsters facing the ocean are climate change – and plastic.”
9. It is the only Central American country with English as its official language.
At the time of its independence from Britain, Belize’s population was predominantly Creole. Creole people speak Kriol – a form of English with West African influence. So, it made sense to keep English as the official language. Throughout the 1980s, an influx of Hispanics fleeing civil unrest in other Central American countries made Belize their home. At the same time, many Creoles left Belize to seek better opportunities elsewhere. Almost overnight, Belize found itself with a majority Spanish-speaking population. However, it seems the immigrants are happy for their children to learn and speak English because of greater job opportunities offered in English-speaking North America, a fun Belize fact.
10. When Queen Elizabeth visited, she was served “Royal Rat.”
In 1985, Queen Elizabeth visited the freshly independent Belize and was served gibnut – a large rodent that tastes a bit like rabbit. The British press was not impressed, and one newspaper even ran with the headline “Queen Served Rat.” Belizeans now refer to gibnut as “Royal Rat.”
Belize is a small nation with an impressive ancient history, reinventing itself for the modern world.
I hope that this article on Belize facts was helpful. If you are interested, visit the Country Facts Page!