11 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Belize
Although one of the smallest countries in Central America, Belize is home to an extraordinary amount of natural diversity and culture: lush rainforest, steppe-like savanna, marshy coastline, low-lying mountain ranges, wildlife reserves, Mayan ruins, and an abundance of marine species found in the world’s second largest barrier reef system.
With tourism slowly on the rise, Belize still manages to be one of the least visited countries in the Americas; it’s entirely possible to spend an afternoon at archaeological ruins and have the whole site to yourself. Having room to breathe and not being pushed around by masses of tourists makes a trip to Belize that much more special, but it also means that far less information is available in comparison to neighboring Latin American countries.
On my recent visit, I quickly realized that I knew absolutely nothing about this charming and diverse little country, and there were plenty of little bits of information that I found surprising. Here are 11 things you probably didn’t know about Belize!
1. English is the official language
Belize is the only nation in Central America where the official language is English. Spanish, Kriol (a mix of African and English), and Maya can also be heard.
2. One of the richest countries in Mayan ruins
There are thought to be over 900 historic locations scattered throughout the country, some extensively excavated while others remain covered in the jungle. Popular sites include Xunantunich, Altun-Ha, and Lamanai.
3. Small yet naturally diverse
Although only 109 km wide and 275 km long, there are many different climates and landscapes in Belize, including lush rainforest, wet marshlands, dry steppe-like savanna, and forested mountains. If you end up driving from one side of the country to the other in under a day, which is entirely possible, then you will pass through all of these landscapes.
Belize has a large Mennonite community. You’ll often see them on horse-drawn buggies on the side of the road carting their freshly grown produce to sell at markets.
5. then vs. now
About 4000 years ago, at the height of the Mayan civilization, there were more people living in Belize than there are today.
6. Multicultural Community
The country has a large Chinese community, many of whom are descendants of immigrants who were brought to the former British colony as laborers and workers.
7. Room to breathe
Despite its ecological abundance, Belize remains the least populated nation in the Americas.
8. Longest cave system in Central America
The nearly 540,000-square-foot Chiquibul Cave System is the largest in the country, the longest in Central America, and contains countless geological and archaeological wonders.
9. Underwater paradise
Off the coast of Belize you'll find the Blue Hole, the largest sinkhole on the planet and one of the top dive sites in the world (originally proclaimed and made famous by Jacques Cousteau). It’s more than 300 meters across and more than 120 meters deep. The Blue Hole is a part of the larger Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
10. Watch out for speed bumps
Roads in Belize are as well maintained today as they have ever been. That being said, watch out for the country's infamous speed bumps, which are sometimes unmarked and some of the biggest I've ever encountered.
11. Belizean Heart
Okay, I'm not entirely sure if this is something ingrained in Belizean culture or simply a unique trait of my friendly tour guide, but whenever he heard or explained something that surprised or shocked him he always exclaimed "Holy Christmas!" with a hearty laugh. It's one of those things that I've never heard anyone say, and likely will never forget.