Population and Language
Travel to Belize
Travel in Belize
Location: Belize lies on the eastern coastline of Central America, adjacent to the Caribbean Sea. It is bordered on the north by Mexico, on the west and south by Guatemala, and on the east by the Caribbean Sea. It is separated by sea from its neighbor to the southwest, Honduras. It lies between latitudes 15o 53" and 18o 30" north and longitudes 87o 15" and 89o 15" west.
The entire north and southern coastal areas are lowland plains, with much of the coastline covered with mangrove swamp. In the south, the land rises almost 4,000 feet to the Maya Mountains and Cockscomb Range. The mountains are surrounded by rugged karst limestone hills. Beyond that, most of the north of the country and the entire coastal area consists of low-lying plains. Major rivers erode the Maya Mountains, spreading sediment onto the coastal plains and continually extending the coastline. Approximately 93% of the country is still classified as forest, with 35% of the national territory held by the government afforded the status of Forest Reserves and Protected Area. Over 49 distinct types of forests have been identified to date. The rest of the country is covered by farmland, scrub and swamp.
Climate: Belize is subtropical, with a mean annual temperature of 80o F. In the winter, temperatures may reach the low 60's while it is not unusual to have temperatures in the mid-90's on the mainland in the hottest part of summer, generally from mid-August through mid-September. During most of the year, trade winds blow along the coast and on the cayes, keeping temperatures pleasant. Rainfall varies from less than 50 inches per year with a four month dry season in the north and on the Cayes, to over 180 inches per year with a much shorter dry season in the south and in the jungle areas. The dry season generally lasts from November through May. The rainy season is typically June to November. Hurricanes occasionally occur; they are most likely to hit in August and September. Water temperature averages between 79o and 83o F.
Size: The total land area of Belize is 8,867 square miles (22,700 square kilometers). The country's greatest length, north to south, is 170 miles (274 km) and its greatest width, east to west, is 68 miles (109 km). Belize also includes over 200 cayes (islands), ranging in size from a few hundred feet to 25 miles long and four miles wide; most of these cayes are located inside the 200 mile-long Belize Reef. Using an offshore territorial limit of 20 km, the country covers 46,620 km2 (18,000 sq mi), of which only 49% is land.
Government: Belize is Central America's newest independent country. From 1862 to 1981, Belize was a colony of Great Britain known as British Hondurus. It is now an independent nation and a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organization of American States and CARICOM. It has a parliamentary democracy with two major political parties, the United Democratic Party (UDP) and the People's United Party (PUP). The PUP currently holds power, led by Prime Minister Said Musa who took office on August 27, 1998. Belize has a constitution, which includes a Bill of Rights. The capital of Belize is Belmopan.
Population: Approximately 200,000 people live in Belize. The largest city is Belize City, with a population of 80,000. More than 50% of the people in Belize are less than 18 years old. The annual population growth rate is 3.5%. There is a great deal of ethnic diversity among Belizeans. The single largest ethnic group (more than 43%) is the Mestizo (Spanish-Indian). The Creole population (of primarily black African descent) makes up approximately 30% of the population. Other significant ethnic groups include the Mayan Indians (11 per cent), the Garifunas (descendants of Carib Indians and escaped African slaves – 7%) , and the Mennonites (3%). Sixty-two percent of the population is Catholic and 25% are Protestant.
Language: English is the official language and is widely spoken, as is Spanish. Other languages include Creole, Mayan, and Garifuna.
Currency: Local currency is the Belize Dollar. One U. S. dollar is worth BZ $2. U.S. dollars should be exchanged directly in purchasing goods and services, as banks will charge a fee (currently is at .0125) to exchange U. S. to Belize dollars. U. S. dollars are accepted everywhere in Belize.
Credit Cards/Travellers' Checks: Nearly all hotels, restaurants, and shops in the major towns and tourist areas take all major credit cards. Street vendors and smaller establishments in remote areas may accept only cash or travellers' checks. It is important to keep travellers' checks in a waterproof pouch, as they are considered void if they get wet. Representatives of VISA, MasterCard and American Express can be contacted at the four commercial banks in Belize City (Atlantic Bank Ltd., Bank of Nova Scotia, Barclays Bank, and the Belize Bank). Banks are generally open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. American Express also has a representative at Belize Global Travel Services, Inc., at 27-7257.
Getting to Belize: Belize is about 2 hours and 15 minutes by air from Miami, Houston, and New Orleans. Direct flights are also available from Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, Washington, D.C., and Toronto. From Mexico, direct flights to Belize are available from Cancun and Chetumal. Most Central American countries offer direct flights to Belize, including Guatemala, Honduras and Costa Rica.
International airlines serving Belize:
Customs: U. S. residents are permitted a $400 per person (or $1,100 per family) duty-free tax exemption upon returning to the U. S. and can also bring back one quart of alcohol and 200 cigarettes duty-free.
Departure Tax: A tax of $11.25 US is charged when leaving Belize; this must be paid in cash or travellers' checks (credit cards are not accepted for departure tax.) Further, travellers entering Belize International by air and connecting to in-country flights are charged a $0.75 US security fee.
Ports of Entry By Sea: Boats may clear customs and entry at Belize City, Dangriga, Big Creek, Punta Gorda and San Pedro, on Ambergris Caye. There is no customs officer in San Pedro; boats wishing to enter must pay the cost of transport for the customs officer to and from San Pedro from Belize City.
Getting Around by Air in Belize: International travelers fly into the newly renovated and expanded Philip Goldson International Airport in Belize City. From there, connections can be made to various destinations within Belize, including: Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker, Caye Chapel, Corozal, Dangriga, Big Creek, Placencia and Punta Gorda; as well as to Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, etc. Travelers already in Belize City should utilize the smaller Municipal Airport for in-country flights, as costs are much lower.
Belizean Airlines Offering In-Country Service:
services: Several bus lines depart out of Belize City for most
of the major towns (Corozal, Orange Walk, San Ignacio, Belmopan, Dangriga,
Punta Gorda) and border towns in Mexico and Guatemala.
Animals: Animals must be accompanied by a certificate of freedom from infection/contagious disease by a veterinarian following examination not more than 48 hours prior to shipment; animals must also be certified as having been vaccinated against rabies not less than one month nor more than six months prior to departure and must be free of open wounds. Dogs must have a valid certification of vaccination against distemper, parvovirus, infectious canine hepatitis and leptospirosis. Animals may be required to be re-vaccinated against rabies on arrival if certifications are deemed unsatisfactory.
Getting Married: Foreign visitors who wish to marry in Belize can now apply for a marriage license after being in the country only three days, plus give one day's notice. Blood tests are not required, but you must provide proof of citizenship, a certified copy of your birth certificate and certified copy of divorce certificate or death certificate, if applicable.
Electrical System: Same as US (110 volts AC).
Telecommunications: All telecommunications services (direct dial phones, fax, telex, cable) are available but calls from Belize are much more expensive than an equivalent call to Belize. The country code for Belize is (501) and there are currently 17 area codes within Belize. Remote jungle lodges usually have short wave radio communications linked to cellular service. If you are business visitor planning to spend some time in Belize and want a temporary internet account, you can make arrangements by contacting Belize Telecommunications, Inc. ("BTL"), Belize's sole internet access provider (email them at: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Postal Rates: Postal rates to the U. S. are: BZ $0.60 for letters, $0.30 for postcards. Rates to Europe are: BZ $0.75 for letters, $0.40 for postcards. First class mail from Belize takes an average of 8 to 10 days to be delivered to the U. S. International Express mail from the U. S. to Belize usually arrives in three business days; cost is $14.00.
Time Zone: Belize is in the Central Standard Time zone, and does not utilize daylight saving time.
Sales Taxes: Belize recently instituted the "value added" ("VAT") tax. This tax, set at 15%, is applied to all goods and services except hotel accommodations. There is a 7% hotel tax. Some hotels also add a 10-15% "service charge" to the bill; inquire about this when checking hotel prices.
Tipping: Tipping is voluntary; tips of 10% are acceptable, more if the service is exceptionally good.
Water: Most Belizean homes and hotels use cisterns to collect rainwater for drinking and home use. Thus, tap water is potable with no ill effects. In severe droughts, cisterns may run dry, making bottled water advisable. Visitors should be aware of the need to conserve water during the dry season, especially on the cayes.