How much do you know about Belize? If you only know it as a place with wonderful beaches and world-famous dive sites, you are missing out. Belize has a long, rich history that dates back to the ancient Maya. It is also a culturally diverse country committed to conservation and responsible tourism. Here are 31 facts you may not know about Belize.
1. Belize is a much-loved destination among travelers who value ecotourism and an authentic experience.
It still has untouched areas and there are no chain restaurants or North American fast food eateries like McDonalds and Burger King. Tourism has become the second largest industry in Belize and most tourism centers on diving, snorkeling and fishing around the Belize Barrier Reef.
2. Belize is home to the second largest barrier reef in the world.
It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is home to 450 species of marine life. Marine reserves surrounding the reef include South Water Caye Marine Reserve, Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve, Blue Hole Natural Monument, Half Moon Caye Natural Monument, Glover’s Reef Atoll, Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve, Laughing Bird Caye National Park and Reef Marine Reserve.
3. San Pedro Town is the heart of Ambergris Caye.
It was founded in 1848 and is a popular tourist destination. It was also the alleged inspiration for Madonna’s hit song La Isla Bonita. Although, this hasn’t been confirmed (yet) by Madonna herself.
4. Belizeans eat Marie Sharp’s Hot Sauce with almost everything.
Marie Sharp is a Belizean woman who created the world-famous sauce still made in Belize today. Sharp was recently inducted into the Hot Sauce Hall of Fame. And, the sauce was also recently featured in Forbes Magazine.
5. Belize has the lowest population density of any country in Central America.
Its total population is about 400,000 in a country about the size of New Hampshire.
6. The Afro-Caribbean Garifuna people are small in number but massive in terms of their contribution to Belize’s culture.
They created the popular Punta Rock musical style and are famous for their food, customs and traditional drumming.
7. Belizeans are mostly multilingual.
Most Belizeans are fluent in English and Creole, while some speak Spanish and others also speak one of the Maya languages. The Mennonites speak German and at least two of the other chief languages.
8. You can use US dollars in most places in Belize.
The Belize dollar is pegged to the US dollar at a ratio of BZ$2 to US$1.
9. About 40% of Belize is in a marine reserve, national park or wildlife sanctuary.
Protected areas range from small community-led preservation efforts to vast national parks. Belize has made a commitment to preserving its delicate, extremely important ecosystems.
10. Belize has no skyscrapers.
The tallest building in the country is the El Castillo pillar at the Maya ruins of Xunantunich.
11. Belize’s national flower is the black orchid.
It is a deep purple flower that grows wild in the Belizean forests.
12. Maya chocolate from Belize is a world-famous delicacy.
Belizeans celebrate it during the annual Chocolate Festival.
13. Fry jacks are a traditional breakfast food in Belize.
These fried, sweet cakes are similar in popularity as flapjacks are to North Americans.
14. Belize was once part of the United Kingdom, when it was known as British Honduras.
This is why English is the country’s official language. British Honduras became a self-governing colony in January 1964 and was renamed Belize on June 1, 1973. Belize achieved total independence from Great Britain on September 1, 1981.
15. Baron Bliss was one of Belize’s greatest benefactors.
The generous Bliss never set foot on Belize. He moored his yacht in the harbor, and local people came out in boats to visit him and sell him food and other goods. When he died, he left much of his fortune in a trust for Belize’s future. He also asked to be buried in Belize.
16. Belizean food is a rich blend of all Belize’s cultures, including Afro-Caribbean, Maya, Mestizo and Yucatec.
17. Over 580 bird species are native to Belize.
Belize has become a favorite destination for birders from around the world, and more species are recorded year-after-year. Not to mention, it is the perfect introduction to tropical birdlife.
18. Belize’s national bird is the keel-billed toucan.
This colorful bird is the one many Americans are familiarized with as the Fruit Loops cereal mascot.
19. Belize is home to several small but thriving Mennonite communities.
They supply produce, dairy products and handcrafted furniture. The Mennonites are an important part of the country’s agricultural economy. In Belize, there are both modern and traditional Mennonites.
20. The Belize Blue Hole is one of the deepest ocean sinkhole in the world.
It is over 400 feet deep and nearly 1,000 feet wide. First discovered by famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, it is a favorite destination for advanced scuba divers. The Belize Blue Hole is even visible from space.
21. Belize has acres of pristine coastline featuring white sandy beaches and pristine offshore islands.
The Placencia Peninsula is 16 miles of Caribbean beachfront. Placencia is one of the most visited vacation spots in Belize.
22. Belize has over 400 offshore islands.
They are known as cayes here. Visiting these islands is a favorite day trip from the Belize mainland.
23. Belizeans believe it’s bad luck to swim on Fridays.
They also believe you should wear red underwear on New Year’s Eve to ensure you find love in the new year.
24. One of Belize’s many folklore tales is the legend of Tata Duende.
According to legend, Tata Duende is a little old man with backward feet and only four fingers on each hand. Parents warn misbehaving children that Tata Duende will steal them away from their families if they misbehave.
25. Belize’s official motto is, “Under the shade I flourish.”
This slogan pays tribute to Belize’s mahogany logging history. It appears on the Belizean flag and on official government designs.
26. The mountain tapir, also known as the mountain cow or Baird’s tapir, is a great conservation success story.
At one time, Belizeans hunted the odd-looking mountain cow to near extinction. Today, the tapir is Belize’s national mammal. The mountain tapir is related to domestic cows but is smaller and leaner.
27. The Maya empire built many important settlements in what is now Belize.
The ruins of these great cities are everywhere in the country. Modern Maya still live in the rural areas of Belize.
28. Belmopan became the capital of Belize in 1961.
In October 191, Hurricane Hattie struck Belize. The hurricane killed 400 people and demolished half of Belize City, the former capital. The new capital city is 50 miles inland. The City of Belmopan, “the new capital,” is the youngest city established in 2000, although it was designated as “Belmopan” in 1973.
29. Belizeans love to party and there are major festivals almost every month of the year.
In May, enjoy cashew wine, roasted cashews and other delights at the Cashew Festival. In June, celebrate Mango Festival and Lobster Fest. There are many more all year.
30. Belize is south of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.
It is east of Guatemala and north of Honduras. Belize is part of the Caribbean economic and political group CARICOM. It is a Central American country whose coastline has a distinctly Caribbean look and atmosphere.
31. The earliest European settlers in Belize were shipwrecked pirates and sailors who called themselves the Baymen.
In 1798, the Baymen helped England defeat Spain for control of Belize in the decisive battle of St George’s Caye. Belize celebrates this historic victory on September 10 each year.
Visit Belize To Learn More
Belize is a beautiful country with a rich history. You can learn all about it when you visit. Take tours of our historic sites, visit our museums, and experience our many cultures. We look forward to seeing you here on your next vacation.
Featured Photo of Caracol Maya Site by Aaron Colussi
Editor's Note: This article was first shared on December 16, 2020