Belize is a country located on the northeast coast of Central America. It has an area of 8,867 square miles (22,965 square kilometers). After El Salvador, it is the smallest political unit on the mainland of the Americas. To the north and northwest, it is bounded by Mexico, to the west and south by Guatemala, and to the east by the Caribbean Sea.
Situated south of the Yucatán Peninsula, Belize is a land of mountains, swamps, and tropical jungle. The southern half of the country is dominated by the rugged Maya Mountains, an igneous plateau cut by erosion into hills and valleys that stretch in a southwesterly to northeasterly direction.
The small population of Belize is culturally diverse. Most of the people are the descendants of immigrants from Europe, Africa, and India, as well as of the indigenous Maya, and of the various mixtures of these peoples. The multiplicity of languages, religions, modes of dress, cuisine, styles of music, and folklore reflects the cultural mix.
Belmopan is the capital of Belize. It is located near the town of Roaring Creek, in the Belize River valley, 50 miles (80 km) inland from Belize City, the former capital on the Caribbean coast. The new capital was conceived after Hurricane Hattie and an associated tidal wave did extensive damage to Belize City in 1961.
Almost half of Belize consists of forests. There are at least 50 different forest tree species, which include mahogany, Santa Maria, cedar, and ironwood. In the north limestone soils support deciduous forest, and sapodilla and mahogany predominate. In the south the forest is taller and is evergreen.
The export of timber was for years the basis of the Belizean economy, but by 1960 the combined value of sugar and citrus exports exceeded that of timber. Chicle, used in the manufacture of chewing gum, is obtained from the sapodilla tree, and mahogany, pine, cedar, and rosewood have increased in economic importance.
Belize has a subtropical climate, with a well-marked dry season from late February to May and a wet season from June to November that is interrupted from August to September by another dry season. The mean temperature at Belize City is 74 F (23 C) in December and 84 F (27 C) in July.
San Ignacio is a town in west-central Belize (formerly British Honduras). It lies along the Belize River, near the Guatemalan border. With Benque Viejo del Carmen, which is about 8 miles (13 km) southwest, it traditionally dealt in chicle and lumber, but these products have now largely been replaced by cattle and corn (maize), beans, and rice.
Many Belizeans are of racially mixed ancestry. English-speaking people of largely African and European ancestry, who are called Creoles, predominate in the central coastal regions, while Maya Indians and mestizos (of mixed Maya and European ancestry) predominate in the more sparsely inhabited interior.