Overview Of Belize
Where is Belize? in South America? That is the question most people ask when first hearing about Belize. Contrary to what some people think, Belize is not in South America, nor Africa. It is, however, situated in the heart of Central America. Most people don't know that this Caribbean wonder is just a hop, skip and a jump from the U.S. Right under Mexico, next to Guatemala, welcoming the waves of the Western Caribbean Sea.
Anonymity is part of Belize's charm. It has always been there but nobody noticed it. For the most part, only a small portion of the world's tourist population have been to Belize; that has kept Belize's Maya ruins, pristine rain forest and especially the Belize Barrier Reef "unspoiled" for all to enjoy.
The cayes (pronounced keys), the offshore atolls, and the barrier reef are the main attractions in Belize. The barrier reef, which is 185 miles long, is the longest in the Western Hemisphere. The cayes are coral sand and/or mangroves islands, that are located between the mainland and the barrier reef, on the barrier reef, and on or within the reef perimeters of the offshore atolls.
Although the mangrove cayes are normally uninhabitable by humans, they do provide a superior habitat for birds and marine life. Many birds, fish, shellfish, and marine organisms begin their lives within the protection of the mangrove.
On the other hand, the coral cayes, which are distinguishable by their palm trees, have provided the foundation for the development of many fine resorts to serve the water sports enthusiasts and the marine naturalists. The cayes and atolls provide superior opportunity for SCUBA diving, snorkeling, fishing, boating, sailing, sailboarding, and sea kayaking, as well as habitat for both nesting birds and turtles.
The northern half of the mainland of Belize is a plain that was once the bed of a sea. The land is covered with a thin layer of soil, that supports scrub vegetation and dense hardwood tropical forest. The northern coastal area is neither land nor sea, but a lagoonal, marshy transition between the two. The coastal vegetation consists of mangrove and grasses, and lagoons are bordered by tussock grasses, cypress, and sycamore where the land meets the water.
The central part of Belize consists of sandy soil that supports large savannas. Approximately thirty miles southwest of Belize City, the land begins to rise dramatically to between 1,500 and 3,680 feet above sea level in the enchanting Mountain Pine Ridge region and the Maya Mountains. Abundant rainfall runs off the highlands to the northwest in a number of streams which flow into the Macal River. Ultimately, the Macal River and the Mopan River converge to provide the headwaters of the Belize River.
The southern part of Belize, with its watersheds sloping from the Maya Mountains to the southeast , consists of short rivers that rush through foothills combed with overhanging ledges and caves. The rivers, carrying sand, clay and silt, have enriched the coastal belt over the years, allowing Belize to develop significant agricultural products such as citrus and bananas. The watersheds have also built some of the finest beaches in Belize at the coastal villages of Hopkins and Placencia. Along with an annual rainfall of some 170 inches in the extreme south, southern Belize has a true tropical rain forest that is rich with ferns, palms, lianas, and tropical hardwoods.
The climate is subtropical, with brisk prevailing tradewinds from the Caribbean Sea. The country has an annual mean temperature of 79 degrees Fahrenheit, and the humidity, while high, is nicely tempered by the sea breezes.
Variation in weather features, emphasizes the interesting difference in elevation, geology, plant and animal life. A summer high temperature, usually never exceeds 96 degrees Fahrenheit, and winter lows are seldom below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, even at night.
Saltwater temperature varies between 75 degrees Fahrenheit and 84 degrees Fahrenheit.
Annual rainfall ranges from 50 inches in the North to 170 inches in the South. Although the rainy season is usually between June and August and the dry season is between February and May, global weather changes are making historical predictions somewhat invalid. At the end of October, the weather does become cooler, and from November to February, it is pleasant with occasional light showers of rain. Average humidity is 85 percent.
The population of approximately 200,000 people consists of a mixture of Creole, Garifuna, Mestizo, Spanish, Maya, English, Mennonite, Lebanese, Chinese, and Eastern Indian. Due to racial harmony and religious tolerance, all of these different elements have mixed and blended successfully, and Belize has gained a widespread reputation for its friendly people.
Language - English is the official language, but Belizean Creole is what you will hear spoken in the streets. Spanish is also spoken widely.
Currency - The Belizean dollar is tied to the U.S. dollar at two BZ$ to one US$. Credit cards and traveler's checks are accepted at major hotels and resorts (although most charge a service charge when using credit cards). U.S. dollars are used as readily as Belize dollars almost everywhere.
DIVING IN BELIZE
Diving Levels - Belize offers all ranges of diving - from shore diving in shallow water to the Great Blue Hole at over 200 feet deep. The barrier reefs offer excellent diving for beginners such as at Hol Chan Marine Park (recently expanded to include Shark-Ray Alley) a few miles south of Ambergris Caye. Many dive sites offer a range of dives from beginning to experienced.
Visibility - Because of the predominant north easterly winds, visibility along the Barrier Reef tends to get poor during high winds (20-30 feet). However, diving on the lee of the atolls usually guarantees good visability - in excess of 100 feet. Diving the three atolls offshore allows for the best conditions, though rarely is the visibility such that you would scrap a dive. Unfortunately, once you've experienced visibility in Belize in excess of 100 feet, you become spoiled so that 50 feet seems dark.