Many North Americans have this misconception that Belize is a distant and forgotten land deep in the rainforests of Central America. It is, in fact, only a two hour flight from Florida or a just a few hour drive from Mexico. This tiny country with an area of 8,867 square miles is unique because it was the only British colony in the region where English is the official language and Elizabeth II is still the queen.
However, its colonial history and official language are not the only things that make this country so interesting and attractive for tourists. Here are 25 things you didn’t know about Belize:
1.) Best place to view whale sharks: The waters off the coast of Belize are visited by the mighty whale sharks, the largest fish, between April and July every year. These gentle giants are harmless to humans and can be viewed from either above or below the surface of the water.
2.) Howler monkeys: The rainforests of Belize are home to a species of monkeys called howler monkeys that live in the canopies and howl so loudly that they can be heard from miles away. They are among the ten loudest animals in the world.
3.) The only known jaguar reserve in the world: Although the elusive and mighty jaguar’s territory stretches from Mexico in the north to the rainforests of Brazil in the south, Belize has the only known jaguar reserve in the world. This makes it the ideal place for viewing the famed cats.
4.) Over 500 species of birds: The rainforests of Belize are home to over 500 species of birds. This makes it the country with the largest species of birds.
5.) Belize’s national animal: Baird’s tapir, the largest land mammal in the region, is the National Animal of Belize and it is protected by law. This semi-aquatic animal is related to the horse and rhinoceros.
6.) The second largest reef barrier: Off the coast of Belize is a great barrier reef which is second only to the Great Australian Barrier Reef. Called the Belize Barrier Reef, it has 200 separate subtropical islands of unsurpassed natural beauty. The reef is home to over 400 species of subtropics fish.
7.) Most Belizeans are trilingual: Almost every Belizean can fluently speak at least three languages: English, Spanish and Creole. Many people can also speak a few other languages.
8.) Belize is a constitutional monarchy: Until recently, Belize was a British colony (the only one in the region). After gaining independence in 1981, the country chose to keep the monarch of its former ruler as its titular head of state. That makes Belize a constitutional monarchy with Elizabeth II as its Queen.
9.) One of the least densely populated countries: Covered mostly by rainforests, Belize has a population of just over 333,000. This makes it one of the countries with the least population density. However, the country currently has one of the fastest population growth rates (3.7 percent).
10.) Rich Mayan history: Along with neighboring Guatemala, Belize used to be the center of the Maya civilization and great Mayan cities like Caracol, Lamanai and Xunantunich used to lie within the borders of the country’s present day borders. As such, the country is dotted with over 900 historic sites which are favorite tourist attractions.
11.) Belizeans do not swim on Good Friday: Most people in Belize are Christians, but are deeply superstitious and refrain from swimming in rivers and seas on Good Friday because they believe doing so brings bad luck.
12.) Belize is a multi- cultural country: For a small country, Belize is a remarkable multi-cultural society. In a population of just over 318,000, there are Mayas, Mestizoes, Creoles , Mennonites, Garifunas, East Indians, Guatemaltecos and Hondurans living in peace and harmony.
13.) The largest cave system in Central America: In the dense rainforest of this small country lie numerous caves that attract thousands of intrepid tourists. The country has the largest cave system in the region.
14.) Tourism is Belize’s main source of revenue: Over two hundred thousand tourists visit this tiny Central American country every year, including a large number of Americans and Canadians. Tourism is one of Belize’s largest industries that provide the biggest source of revenue.
15.) Gibnut, the famous Belizean cuisine, is not made of nuts: Gibnut is one of the most famous cuisines in Belize and contrary to what you might expect it is not made of nuts. It is, in fact, a rodent which tastes somewhat like tough chicken.
16.) Belize has only two seasons: Having a subtropical climate, Belize has only two seasons: wet (May to November) and green (December to April). The temperature in the coastal regions average between 66 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year.
17.) Belize was formerly known as British Honduras: Belize was a British colony from 1786 (officially) until 1981. The country was known as British Honduras until its name was changed to the present name in 1973.
18.) A quarter of the country has protected status: Belize has a very rich natural heritage and the government has set aside approximately 25 percent of the country as protected areas. These include national parks, wildlife reserves and protected reefs.
19.) Belizeans have a great sense of humor: The people of Belize have a great sense of humor and this is evident in the amusing place names that include Cattle Landing, Laughing bird caye, Monkey River, Bullet Tree Falls, Teakettle, Never Delay and More Tomorrow.
20.) It’s rude to call people by their first name: Although Belizeans have a great sense of humor, they like an air of formality when meeting people for the first time. So it is rude to call them by their first names until you are very familiar with them.
21.) Belize has a unique national motto: The motto of Belize is “Under the shade we flourish” which sounds very strange to the uninitiated. It is the modified version of ‘Under the shade of mahogany tree we flourish’. Mahogany trade was the backbone of the country’s economy at one time.
22.) The tallest building in Belize is a Maya ruin: Belize does have cities where every modern amenity is available, but they are not characterized by high-rise buildings that are common in large cities around the world. In fact, the tallest building in the country is a Maya ruin.
23.) British common law is the basis for Belize’s legal system: As a former British colony, Belize still follows the legal system of its former rulers and the British common law forms the basis of the country’s legal system.
24.) The smallest capital city in the world: The capital of Belize was moved to Belmopan in 1970 after the former capital and largest city in the country, Belize City, was almost completely destroyed by a hurricane in 1961. With a population of just over 12,000, Belmopan is the smallest capital city in the world.
25.) Tata Duende is one of the most popular folklore characters in Belize: For a small nation with a very small population, Belize has a rich mythology that includes a supernatural beast which is a 3-foot dwarf that has no thumbs. Known as Tata Duende, it is said to live in the forest and punish the kids who try to harm the local wildlife.
About the author: Riley Gladstone is a travel junkie, foodie and humanitarian. When she is not busy spreading love across the globe, she likes to blog about travel tips. Belize is a one the most beautiful places in Central America and she recommends everyone to visit. There are many websites where you could find some great deals on all inclusive vacations to Belize.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of The Lodge at Chaa Creek.