Belize (i//; formerly British Honduras) is a constitutional monarchy, and the northernmost Central American nation. Belize has a diverse society, comprising many cultures and languages. Even though Kriol and Spanish are spoken among the population, Belize is the only country in Central America where English is the official language. Belize is bordered to the north by Mexico, south and west by Guatemala, and to the east by the Caribbean Sea. Belize’s mainland is about 290 kilometers (180 miles) long and 110 kilometers (68 miles) wide.
With 22,960 square kilometers (8,867 square miles) of land and a population of only 333,200 people (2010 est.), Belize possesses the lowest population density in Central America. The country's population growth rate of 2.21% (2008 est.), however, is the highest in the region and one of the highest in the western hemisphere. Belize's abundance of terrestrial and marine species, and its diversity of ecosystems give it a key place within the globally significant Mesoamerican Biological Corridor.
Belize is culturally unique among its Central American neighbours; it is the only nation in the region with a British colonial heritage. As a part of the Western Caribbean Zone, however, it also shares a common heritage with the Caribbean portions of other Central American countries. In general, Belize is considered to be a Central American nation with strong ties to both the Caribbean and Latin America. Belize is a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana (SICA).
Belize has a tropical climate with pronounced wet and dry seasons, although there are significant variations in weather patterns by region. Temperatures vary according to elevation, proximity to the coast, and the moderating effects of the northeast trade winds off the Caribbean. Average temperatures in the coastal regions range from 24 °C (75.2 °F) in January to 27 °C (80.6 °F) in July. Temperatures are slightly higher inland, except for the southern highland plateaus, such as the Mountain Pine Ridge, where it is noticeably cooler year round. Overall, the seasons are marked more by differences in humidity and rainfall than in temperature.
Average rainfall varies considerably, ranging from 1,350 mm (53.1 in) in the north and west to over 4,500 mm (177.2 in) in the extreme south. Seasonal differences in rainfall are greatest in the northern and central regions of the country where, between January and April or May, fewer than 100 mm (3.9 in) of rain fall per month. The dry season is shorter in the south, normally only lasting from February to April. A shorter, less rainy period, known locally as the "little dry," usually occurs in late July or August, after the initial onset of the rainy season.
Hurricanes have played key—and devastating—roles in Belizean history. In 1931 an unnamed hurricane destroyed over two-thirds of the buildings in Belize City and killed more than 1,000 people. In 1955 Hurricane Janet levelled the northern town of Corozal. Only six years later, Hurricane Hattie struck the central coastal area of the country, with winds in excess of 300 km/h (186 mph) and 4 m (13.1 ft) storm tides. The devastation of Belize City for the second time in thirty years prompted the relocation of the capital some 80 kilometres (50 mi) inland to the planned city of Belmopan. Hurricane Greta caused more than US$25 million in damages along the southern coast in 1978. On 9 October 2001, Hurricane Iris made landfall at Monkey River Town as a 145 mph (233 km/h) Category Four storm. The storm demolished most of the homes in the village, and destroyed the banana crop. In 2007 Hurricane Dean made landfall as a Category 5 storm only 25 miles north of the Belize/Mexico border. Dean caused extensive damage in northern Belize.
The most recent hurricane to affect Belize directly was the Category 2 Hurricane Richard, making landfall approximately 20 miles south-southeast of Belize City at around 0045 UTC on 25 October 2010. The storm moved inland towards Belmopan, causing estimated damage of BZ$33.8 million ($17.4 million 2010 USD), primarily from damage to crops and housing.
Battle of St. George's Caye
The Battle of St. George's Caye was a short military engagement that lasted from 3–10 September 1798, undertaken off the coast of what is now Belize. The name, however, is typically reserved for the final battle that occurred on 10 September. The British first appointed a superintendent over the Belize area in 1786. Prior to that time, the British government did not initially recognize the settlement in Belize as a colony for fear of provoking Spanish attack. The delay in government oversight allowed the settlers to establish their own laws and forms of government. During this time a few wealthy settlers gained control of the local legislature, known as the Public Meeting, as well as of most of the settlement's land and timber.
The battle took place between an invading force from what would become Mexico, attempting to wrest Belize for Spain, and a small force of resident woodcutters called Baymen, who fought for their livelihood assisted by black slaves.
The Spanish repeatedly tried to gain control over Belize by force, but were unsuccessful. Spain's last effort occurred on 10 September 1798, when the British repelled the Spanish fleet in a short engagement with no known casualties on either side known as the Battle of St. George's Caye. The anniversary of the battle is now a national holiday in Belize.
A combination of natural factors—climate, the Belize Barrier Reef, over 1,000 offshore Cayes (islands), excellent fishing, safe waters for boating, scuba diving, and snorkeling, numerous rivers for rafting, and kayaking, various jungle and wildlife reserves of fauna and flora, for hiking, bird watching, and helicopter touring, as well as many Maya ruins—support the thriving tourism and ecotourism industry. Of the hundreds of cave systems, it also has the largest cave system in Central America. Development costs are high, but the Government of Belize has designated tourism as its second development priority after agriculture. In 2007, tourist arrivals totalled 251,655 (with more than 210,000 from the U.S.) and tourist receipts amounted to $183.3 million.