Smaller than 46 of the United States, with a population around the size of Cleveland, Ohio, Belize is tiny by American standards. Yet it is attracting more and more visitors every year, creating a growing tourism industry worth over $1.3bn a year. So what is it about this place that is drawing the crowds and putting this tiny Central American country firmly on the vacation map?
Belize is a truly beautiful country, combining everything you could ask for into a single, easy to access package. Just a few hours flying time from the US, Belize has everything from tropical jungles to Caribbean beaches, all within easy reach. Best of all, at just 174miles by around 62miles, it is easy to explore, without long, arduous journeys into the interior. Whatever you are looking for in a holiday, from beauty to adventure, you’ll find it here in this welcoming wonderland.
Belize has a rich history, dating back to the Maya civilisation, which thrived for around two and a half thousand years from 1500BC. This has left the country with many fascinating ancient sites to explore. The mark of British colonialism, from the mid 19th Century until independence in 1981, is also there to see in the architecture of the major cities. Helicopter trips and trekking tours are a great way to discover the amazing past of the country that once had an advanced civilisation and a population three times its current size.
One of the biggest draws of Belize is the wildlife. Despite its diminutive size, the country has a huge range of habitats and is home to an enormous range of animals, birds and marine life. 60% of the country is forest, and it is one of the most important jaguar habitats in the world. Perhaps more importantly, 37% of the country is protected, and Belize has one of the lowest levels of deforestation in the region.
Around half of the one million or so tourists who visit Belize every year come for the famous barrier reef. This is the second largest barrier reef in the world (it’s not hard to guess the largest!) and is protected as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The reef is home to over 100 species of coral and 500 species of fish, making it a huge draw for snorkelers and scuba divers. There are also 450 offshore islands, called Cays, some of which are being transformed for the tourist trade.
For many, Belize is the ideal destination for a warm, exotic beach break, lazing on the Caribbean coast. But if you want a little more from your holiday, then there is plenty of excitement to be had. The range of environments in this small country make it a giant adventure playground, offering everything from diving to river rafting, jungle safaris to big game fishing. You can even pull on a hard hat and explore the largest cave system in Central America.
Low profile Belize
With everything it needs right here, Belize generally keeps itself to itself, with few Belizeans appearing on the world stage. Perhaps the most famous Belizean is Simone Biles, the gymnast with dual Belize / US citizenship, who won four gold medals at the Rio Olympics in 2016. Online poker player, PhiRi1, also put Belize briefly on the map in 2014 when he became the first Belizean winner in a major poker tournament.
Belize is a friendly, welcoming country, where the official language is English, so American and British tourists will find themselves right at home here. More than half of the country’s tourists come south from the US, with around half a million making the trip each year. That might sound a lot, but when you compare it to some of the other popular destinations it is just a fraction. Jamaica, for example, gets more than four times as many tourists, totalling over 4.3million per year, despite being only half the size.
Inevitably, Belize visitor numbers will rise as tourists seek new and original destinations to explore. However, with the focus strongly on ecotourism, protecting the natural environment that is attracting the tourists in the first place, Belize still remains an undiscovered, undisturbed gem. Just make sure you seek it out soon before the secret gets out.