Located on the Caribbean coast of Central America, Belize stands out for two distinct reasons: one, it’s the only country in the region whose official language is English; and two, given its land mass (22,960 sq. km.), and just 312,000 people in the entire country, it has the lowest population density in that region.
The country’s history goes back to around 1,500 B.C., when the Mayan Indian civilization first came into being. Historians believe that as many as 400,000 Mayans once resided in the country now known as Belize. The country is rich in Mayan archeological sites, especially temples and other structures built hundreds, if not over a thousand years ago The first European sighting of the country occurred when Christopher Columbus travel by the shores during his fourth voyage to the Americas (where he also sailed through the Gulf of Honduras).
However, the first European settlement in Belize didn’t take place until the 1670s, when English sailors were attracted to the country’s abundance of logwood trees (whose sapwood was commercially valuable in Europe, since it was used to dye clothings), as well as mahogany. The British settlements in Belize became sizeable enough to repel a Spanish attempt to conquer it in 1798. Despite the de facto British presence in Belize (which brought in African slaves in part to aid in the extraction of mahogany and logwood in its dense forests), it was not officially declared a British Crown Colony until 1862, decades after Spain lost possession of the rest of Central America (in that region’s successful bid for independence from Spain at the time). That year, the country was known as British Honduras.
With British Honduras being granted self-government in 1964, the country would be renamed “Belize” in 1973, and gained full independence in 1981. British soldiers stayed in the country until the early 1990s, since neighboring Guatemala initially refused to recognize the new nation (since it attempted to claim, in vain, sovereignty over Belize). Belize is currently a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
These days, taking advantage of its geographic location in the western Caribbean, Belize annually attracts over 900,000 tourists a year (with over 580,000 coming from USA). Annual tourist receipts amount to $1.3 billion. Various factors – ranging from the favorable tropical climate, to its fishing, yachting, scuba diving & snorkeling, and emerging eco-tourism (owing to the country’s vast jungle and wildlife reserves, as well as archeologically-driven tourism (due to the country’s rich Mayan past and physical ruins) add up to a steady stream of visitors into the country.