Belize is only a few hours by air from the United States and Canada, yet many travelers know little about this Central American jewel. Below, you’ll find 10 interesting facts about Belize.
A Crown Colony since 1862, Belize gained full independence on September 21, 1981. However, it remains a member of the British Commonwealth and Queen Elizabeth is the country’s titular head of state. Her majesty maintains contact via our Governor General, His Excellency Sir Colville Young.
Belize has no pacific coastline
Belize is the only Central American country with no coastline along the Pacific Ocean. It does, however, have the world’s second largest barrier reef system in the world.
The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System
Also known as the Mesoamerican Reef, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is more than 180 miles long. Belize’s offshore wonders boasts over 500 species of fish and a regional stronghold of the Antillean Manatees.
The Blue Hole Natural Monument, known internationally as the Great Blue Hole, is the crown jewel of our barrier reef. Located in one of Belize’s three atoll, the almost perfect circular chasm of deep blue measures 1,000 feet across and is more than 400 feet deep, making it the only “Blue Hole” visible from space. After Jacques Cousteau explored it in 1971, it became a beacon for scuba divers around the world.
Established in 1990, the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is the world’s first jaguar reserve. Within its 127,000 protected acres lie all five of Belize’s wildcats, boisterous howler monkeys, over 350 species of birds, and even the boar-like Peccaries of Belize.
A local delicacy – the “Royal Rat”
In Belize, the Paca (known in Belize as the gibnut) are vegetarian, nocturnal rodents. After Queen Elizabeth’s visit in 1985, Belizeans have since nicknamed this local delicacy “the royal rat”. Available seasonally in the last 3 quarters of the year, you’ll commonly find gibnut on menus as stewed or smoked. Quoting her majesty, this favourite is “quite nice really.”
Ancient Maya Pyramids
The Maya settled in Belize around 1500 B.C.E. and it became the capital of their ancient empire. Today, over 900 fascinating archeological sites remain, including vast pyramids at places like Caracol and Altun Ha.
English is the official language
As a Central American country, most visitors are pleasantly surprised that the vast majority of Belizeans speak English. They shouldn’t be, since Belize has the distinction of being the only Central American nation where English is the official language. Most of the population is tri-lingual in English, Spanish, and Creole. You may also hear Garifuna, Maya, Mandarin, and German spoken here.
There are Mennonite Communities
The reason you may hear German spoken – there are ten Mennonite communities in Belize! First settling in the 1950s, the traditional Mennonites are to recognize in horse-and-buggies.
No Swimming on Good Friday!
Good Friday is observed here as a Holy Day of Sacrament, though currently only about 40% of the Belizeans are Catholic. Nevertheless, many believe you should do absolutely nothing on Good Friday – especially swim. In fact, a Belize folklore says expecting mothers that swim on Good Friday will give birth to a mermaid!