8 Things I Learned About Belize

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I seem to have acquired a new trend to my travels — I head to a new country that I've heard good things about and seen some pretty photos of, but don't actually know that much about. I go in without expectations, having done little to no research, and simply open myself up to whatever happens.

So far, this has actually been a surprisingly good approach to traveling. It has left me pleasantly surprised in places like Romania and Bulgaria; in Iceland and Slovenia. I've made some great memories, and learned a few things along the way.

Most recently, I approached a trip to Belize and Guatemala in this way. I had heard rave reviews of Belize, but didn't actually know much about the Central American nation at all.

Belize bus station

As it turns out, Belize is pretty darn interesting, despite being tiny. Here are some things I learned about the country:

8 fun facts you might not know about Belize

1. Ties to Britain

Belize is the only nation in the region with a British colonial heritage. The Spanish conquistadors originally explored Belize and claimed it for Spain, but they decided not to settle it because of a lack of resources.

Eventually they handed the colony over to the British, who first appointed a superintendent over the Belize area in the 1780s and formally declared it a British colony in 1854, calling it British Honduras.

Belize was granted independence from Britain in 1964, and became “Belize” in 1973. However, according to the CIA World Factbook, border disputes between the UK and Guatemala delayed Belize's actual independence until 1981. Today, it is still a Commonwealth country.

Curiously (to me, at least), they do NOT drive on the opposite side of the road in Belize. I had expected them to, since their ties to the UK are so strong and so recent. But they don't.

2. The prevalence of English

Perhaps because of its ties to the British Empire, the official language in Belize is not Spanish, but English. Nearly everyone in the country speaks it, which is almost odd since it is completely the opposite if you cross the border into neighboring Guatemala or Mexico. However, most Belizeans speak English as a second language, with Spanish and Kriol (Belizean Creole) being more prevalent.

Belize

3. Caribbean vibe

Even though Belize is situated firmly in Central America, the country has a distinctly Caribbean vibe to it. Perhaps it's because of the English influence, or the fact that Belize is on the Caribbean Sea. Or perhaps it's neither of those reasons.

Regardless, Belize felt less to me like a Latin country, and much more like a Caribbean one (especially out on Caye Caulker, where the Rasta culture is alive and well).

4. Mayan history

Before the Brits (or any Europeans, for that matter) came in, Belize's main population was the Maya. Even though most people associate the Maya with Mexico, the civilization actually extended through Belize, Guatemala, and even Honduras at its height.

The largest Maya city in Belize was Caracol (which you can still visit today), and it's estimated that, at one point, up to 400,000 Mayas lived in the area that is now Belize.

Cahal Pech Maya ruins, Belize
Ruins at Cahal Pech

5. Small population and size

Believe it or not, there are actually less people in Belize today than there were in the Pre-Columbian Maya days. There are only a little over 300,000 inhabitants in Belize these days, giving it one of the lowest population densities in Central America.

The country of Belize itself is small, though — it's not much larger size-wise than the U.S. state of Massachusetts.

6. Belize Barrier Reef

Off the coast of Belize lies part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, which stretches from the upper Yucatan peninsula all the way down to Honduras, making it the second-largest reef system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Because of how close the reef is to the coast of Belize, it is easily the country's top tourist attraction, popular with both snorkelers and divers. (Go on a snorkeling and sailing tour with Ragamuffin Tours – they're great!)

Belize Barrier Reef

7. Exchange rate

The exchange rate in Belize is $2 Belizean dollars to every $1 USD. It has been this way for decades, and will probably remain this way for decades more. Most places in the country will accept either Belizean or American money.

8. The dark side

I'd be remiss talking about Belize if I only focused on the good or safe facts. Like any country, Belize has its issues. Issues like poverty and bad roads and violence that cannot be glossed over. This isn't a “fun” fact, but one that I think it's worth knowing before planning a trip to Belize.

Belize currently has a heavy foreign debt burden, high unemployment, and a notable income disparity between the rich and the poor (more than 40% of Belizeans currently live in poverty). There's also growing involvement in the Mexican and South American drug trade, and gang violence in cities like Belize City.

I'm not sharing this to scare you off of visiting Belize; I'm just simply pointing it out because you DO see evidence of most of this while traveling here. You'll find many unpaved or rough roads, there are many run-down houses and huts, you are not advised to drink the water, and Belize City is certainly not a place I would ever want to go walking around in on my own.

Most tourists won't be affected by this side of Belize; in fact, many might completely miss it depending on which part of the country they visit.

And, the positive things about the country – the friendly people, the beautiful landscapes, the interesting history, the uncrowded destinations – more than make up for Belize's shortcomings.

Belize jungle

Overall, my experience in Belize was an extremely positive one. I learned all of these things about the country, plus one more:

I also learned that Belize is definitely a place I want to go back to.


Tips for planning your trip to Belize

I went to Belize on a tour with Intrepid Travel, but it's absolutely a Central American destination you can visit on your own.

How to get to Belize

Belize is a fairly short flight from most US destinations; all the major airlines fly to Belize City.

Where to stay in Belize

I would recommend spending some time on the mainland in San Ignacio (near Mayan ruins and some cool adventure activities), and then heading out to the Cayes – Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye are the two most popular.

Hotels to check out include:

  • Ka'ana Resort in San Ignacio – One of the best hotels in the city (and maybe in all of Belize), this eco resort can help you book all sorts of adventurous activities.
  • Island Magic Beach Resort on Caye Caulker – This property is “beachfront” (really, waterfront as Caye Caulker doesn't have many actual beaches), and has a 4.5 rating on TripAdvisor.
  • The Phoenix Resort in San Pedro (Ambergris Caye) – This is the #1 hotel in San Pedro. It's located in town, but gives you the feel of staying at a secluded beachfront resort.
Caye Caulker, Belize
Caye Caulker

Cool tours to take in Belize

Here are some fun day tours to check out:

More essential info


Have you been to or would you like to go to Belize?

*Note: I explored Belize as part of a complimentary “Land of Belize” trip with Intrepid Travel. As always, though, all opinions are my own.

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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79 Comments on “8 Things I Learned About Belize

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  1. Thank you that was very interesting and informative. I am planning a trip there next January.

    iwould like to drive there leaving from fl. withmy dog any suggestios ?

      I don’t have any advice on that – you’d have to drive around the Gulf of Mexico, including through the south and all of Mexico!

    Hi Amanda, just retired and I want to visit other countries and just travel so I’m looking for different places that are all inclusive and info about the places. Your info was very interesting and helpful, thank you.

    My husband and I love to travel,explore new places. Belize didn’t disappoint us. We’ve been there 3 different times, been on some outstanding tours. We agree Belize has so much to offer. Educating your self first on Belize Is important.

    Had no idea Belize was a British colony. Must have fallen asleep during this portion of world history. 😉😁 Live and learn.

    In December 2017 I took the same tour! Loved Belize so much came back on my own in September 2019 for a month to live “local” I now live in Santa Elena (September 2020) full time in my own house. I love it here, my neighborhood is safe, friendly & I am content. Travel is more difficult now, COVID-19 has put a damper worldwide, but my move here was a good move.

    A well produced report on Belize. I spent 6 months in Belize in 1980 with the RAF, the experience was amazing with a visit to the Maya ruins and a weekend trip to Mexico. Things have changed since my time, the GBP was 4.70 B$ to the pound then, now around 2.56 to the pound. Tropical storms frequent in October so be aware.

    I really appreciated learning these interesting things. I am looking forward to visiting next year with a couple of my sisters.

    It was lovely. BUT we went in the evening to eat at an outdoor restaurant in Corosal. The flies were SO big and energetic you had to eat with one hand and quickly, continuously swat with the other. They were large enough that I worried a little they would carry me off. Kinda like the old movie “The Inlaws”.

    Very nice blog about Belize and its many marvels. I would like to however, take this space to clarify a couple things. The majority of roads in the country are not dirt roads (please see poverty assessment), nor is there a ‘massive’ income disparity in the country, that descriptive sadly goes to its Central American neighbours. There IS a difference between poverty (which takes into account other indicators) and income as measurements. As for not drinking the water, bottled water became all the rage in the 90’s, but the fact remains that Belize has potable water countrywide and is in the top percentile for quality drinking water worldwide. So go ahead, drink the water especially the one from Dangriga where they say once you’ve had a taste of it, you never want to go back!

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