Belize, formerly known as British Honduras, considers itself to be both a Caribbean and Central American country. It is the only country in Central America where English is the official language and it has the lowest population density in the region. In fact, it is the least populous non-island nation outside Europe with an approximate population of 320,000 people. The name Belize is believed to come from the Mayan world “belix” meaning muddy water, which is pretty descriptive of the Belize river.
The Mayan civilization dominated the area now known as Belize from 1500 BCE to about 800 ACE. The civilization was large, with as many as 400,000 people living in the area during the late classic period of the Mayan civilization.
The Mayan’s rebelled and attacked, forcing away the Spanish who were the first to try and settle in the inland area of Belize.
Baymen, English and Scottish Buccaneers, sought to attack the Spanish and settled on the coast of Belize in 1638. in the 1700s the settlers began cutting logwood which yielded a fixing agent for clothing dyes which became an important part of the European woolen industry. African’s were being brought from Jamaica as slaves and by about 1800, they outnumbered the Europeans by 4 to 1. The settlers established a lot of their own laws and government because Britain did not want to aggrivate the Spanish and provoke an attack by claiming Belize as a British Colony. While the British Empire abolished slavery in 1838, not much changed for the slaves in Belize because their superior skills with Mahogany extraction made them an expensive commodity.
In 1928 Monrad Metzen, the govenor of the colony of British Honduras, went on a bike ride in the country and concieved the idea for the first Cross Country Cycling Classic (which still continues today). Because of the experience of riding in the races he began proclaiming “roads, roads, and still more roads” which eventually worked at getting the govenors intersted in road building.
The Belize Cross Country Cycling Classic occurs over Easter weekend so it is sometimes refered to as the Holy Saturday Cross Cycling Classic. It is a one day race, meant for amateur cyclists, but it gained popularity around the world. It is probably Belize’s most popular event bringing in many tourists who enjoy the race as the route highlights some of the most beautiful rivers and forested areas in Belize.
Belize holds a largely diverse ecosystem. Only about 20% of the countries land is used by humans (agriculturally or for human settlements). The rest is mostly protected and contains a range of biodiversity not seen in very many places in the world. Along the east coast of Belize, the Caribbean Sea holds the 2nd longest barrier reef in the world.
Belize has the largest cave system in Central America.
Mestizo is a Spanish term which refers to people of mixed European and Amerindian ancestry in Latin America. About 34% of the population in Belize is Mestizo. Though they once controlled all of Belize, only three Maya groups continue to inhabit the country:
1. The Yucatec:
2. The Mopan:
Much of the population (25%) are Kriol. However Kriole culture denotes more than just a look and you can often find blonde, blue-eyed Kriol. While English is the official language only about 5.6% of the population speaks it in their home, about 37% consider Kriol their primary language.