Achí – Achi’
a Quichean language of Guatemala, in the Mayan family
- Rabinal Achi
- Cubulco Achi
Continuing our quest to explore the world’s English-speaking countries, today we’ll take a look at Belize’s place on the map. Have you ever wondered Where is Belize? Or simply, I want to learn about Belize. Here we’ll see a bit about its geography and help you all understand this place a bit better. Of course, this won’t be a definitive description, so whoever wants to add on to it can feel free to chime in! You can find more about Geography on The Actual English World. And the Geography Now video is below to enjoy. Let’s get started.
To start off, Belize is a pretty small country, a drastic contrast to our last country, Canada in many ways. The country is broken up into six districts. From north to south:
Belize has got over 403 thousand people in an area of almost 23,000 square km, or 9,000 square miles. That places Belize as smaller than countries like Haiti or Albania, about the size of states like New Jersey or New Hampshire. It’s also the second-smallest country on the American mainland, but don’t let that fool you! This place has a lot to offer in such a small area.
Belize has a very interesting place on the map. It sits right at the crossroads of Central America and the Caribbean, making its land features and culture really unique. It’s actually the only country mostly on the mainland to be considered a full Caribbean nation on par with Jamaica or Trinidad & Tobago, even though it does still have lots of little islands and cays. The landscape is generally flatter with plains in the north and gets more hilly and mountainous as you go south. This also goes for traveling from the east coast as you get further inland. At last, you culminate with the Mayan Mountains in the interior of the south. Most of the country has rainforests and jungles too since Belize has some of the best-preserved forests that exist.
Going back to the coast, Belize also has lots of reefs. If you’ve seen pictures of this country, you probably know there are tons of reefs, not to mention some giant blue sinkholes. Belize and its neighbors are actually home to the second-biggest reef system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia (we’ll talk about that one later). That makes it a perfect place for snorkelers and a haven for marine life to grow and reproduce. Put that together with the jungles that are havens for wild creatures like jaguars and you’ve got a pretty big refuge for tons of important critters.
Besides the flatter north to the hillier south, the weather also changes a bit depending on location. North Belize is a bit drier and has a more savanna-type setting. Meanwhile, south Belize is wetter and gets more rain, which can explain the thicker forests down that way. Another thing to keep in mind is the storms. Belize does sit right on the Caribbean and just below the Gulf of Mexico. That means it’s not just a paradise for people, but for hurricanes too! To talk more on that, you might notice that Belize City is the biggest city in the country. It actually used to be the capital, but that all changed when a series of storms knocked it nearly out of place. Nationals picked up and moved their capital to Belmopan which is the current capital, a nice safe distance from the sea (in Cayo district, if you wanted to know).
But not to dwell too much on that, you’ll see a common trend of hurricanes in pretty much all the Caribbean/West Indies countries. Belize is still beautiful as heck and has a lot of biodiversity for such a small country. They owe it to their numerous habitats and the protection provided for them.
Okay, I feel you. You want to know about some history. I know this isn’t a history post, but you might know that Belize is the only country in Central America where English is the official language. That doesn’t mean Spain didn’t try to take it. Spanish sailors were actually the first Europeans to claim what we call Belize, but they didn’t really care to settle it. In fact, they cared so little that eventually the British swooped in and just took it for themselves. Caught you sleeping, Spain. Well, even with that, the country was called British Honduras for a pretty long while because Honduras is what Columbus called that whole bay region. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the name was changed to Belize, and the country became independent from Great Britain only in the 1980s. That’s not even that long ago.
Belize of course had a big African slave trade initially which brought tons of black people to the country. There were also lots of migrants from other Caribbean countries like Jamaica which continues to this day. Before Europeans, the region was inhabited by indigenous Americans, most noticeably the Mayans. Proof of this exists all across the country with majestic Mayan ruins being a major tourist draw and source of general awe. There have also been many other migrations from neighboring countries like Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras of people seeking refuge from war, violence, or poverty. You also have migrants from further in the past like the Russian Mennonites, Pennsylvania Dutch, and American Southerners who were looking for religious freedom, cheaper land and whatnot.
Even with all of those diverse cultural influences already listed, I still didn’t talk about the South and East Asian (mostly from India and China) communities that were taken to Belize to do the work that slaves used to do. And I’m sure that I’m forgetting somebody. Oh, yes, the Garifuna! The Garifuna are mostly descendants of Africans that were able to escape slavery or ended up shipwrecked and founded their own communities on the Caribbean coast. Most of the other countries in Central America have Garifuna or related cultures, but we won’t talk about them in this section since those countries speak mostly Spanish. Still, it’s an interesting fact to know. Garifuna, no matter where they live, much like the rest of Belize, speak a creole language (in Belize’s case, Kriol), although their creoles are a bit different. Here you can read some examples of Kriol phrases.
That’s right, even though English is the official language and most people can speak or understand it, Creole is the main language for a large portion of the people. It’s a more informal way of speech, but it serves a lot for the national identity of Belizeans no matter what their ethnicity or background is. Besides that, it’s kind of interesting as an American seeing people who look Mexican/Mestizo or Chinese speaking Belizean Creole.
Much like Canada, Belize is also a Commonwealth state of the British Crown. If you want to read about Canada, I explain more in-depth what the Commonwealth is (kind of). Otherwise, just know that Belize was part of Great Britain for a long time before it became an independent state. Like most Caribbean nations, Belize celebrates versions of Carnival and has some special events of its own. September is considered an entire month of festivities and celebrations by itself. Because of nearby Latin American contact, there are some Spanish-influenced traditions as well, and many people even have Spanish surnames. Spanish itself is widely spoken in Belize too, given that most of the population is multilingual in at least two of the national languages like Creole, Garifuna, or the several German and Mayan dialects used throughout.
So that’s that! I hope you enjoyed mapping Belize with me. It’s a spectacular country with tons of diversity right up in your face. It’s colorful, tropical, all kinds of paradise and beautiful. It may be English-speaking, but Belize has a whole identity unique to its own. Comment below if you love Belize. If you’re Belizean or know some Belizeans, please tell me how I did. What do you have to add about this compact powerhouse? Can you teach us some words in your language? Be well, and I’ll be writing to you soon!