An Overview of Belize
Belize is located in the southern portion of the Yucatán Peninsula, bordering Mexico and Guatemala, with the Caribbean Sea to the east. The coast is at-or-below sea-level with swamps, mangroves, lagoons and sandy beaches. The Maya mountain range lies to the west and south, rising to over 3,000 feet at some peaks. The capitol, Belmopan, is in the center of Belize, near the Maya Mountain foothills, with Banana Bank and the El Salvadorian refugee settlement (called The Valley of Peace) right nearby.
Belize City, over 300 years old and the country's main commercial area and seaport, is the largest city with over 80,000 residents. The Burial Grounds is on the northern outskirts of the city where TWAW does a significant amount of ministry. This is also where St. Andrews Presbyterian Church is located (one of our ministry partners). Other areas of TWAW activity include Orange Walk and Corozal to the north.
Many come to vacation in Belize for its beautiful beaches, casinos, scuba diving off the 2nd largest barrier reef in the world, and its smattering of quaint islands. We spend 1 of the 8 days on TWAW mission trips recuperating and reflecting on the past week on a private island right near the barrier reef.
The center of the Mayan empire for almost 1,000 years, the Spanish arrived in the 16th century and used the area primarily for logging. During the next two hundred years, many British and Spanish pirates inhabited the area, battling for naval supremacy. Finally in 1798, the British navy defeated the Spanish and laid official claim to the area. In 1862, Britain formally named the territory “British Honduras,” a title that lasted until 1962 when a peaceful independence was granted and British Honduras became Belize. The country gained full independence by 1982.
Belize is the only country in Central America where English is their official language. Creole is often spoken among the locals, along with Spanish in the western region near the Guatemalan border, and in the north near the Mexican border.
Belize has what's called a subtropical climate the entire year. The rainy season lasts from late-August through November, followed by a dry season from December through March. Normal highs all year are 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit, while temperatures never drop below the mid-60's. However, your comfort has something to do with where you'll be serving... Belize City is on the Caribbean, so the sea breeze keeps things feeling a bit cooler. If you're in the jungle regions of central Belize there is no breeze to speak of, so it does feel a bit warmer.
Belize's dollar value is tied to the United States dollar. Two Belizean dollars equal one U.S. dollar, and either currency can be used. Belizean banks are still not connected to the international banking system, so Americans can not use the ATM's. Most hotels and restaurants accept Visa and MasterCard.
Belize's economy is seeing steady growth due to an increase in international tourism. Its jungles are touted as destinations for eco-lodges. And being located next to the world's second longest barrier reef makes it a great destination for scuba diving, snorkeling and fishing. The per capita income, however, is just over $3,000USD per year.
Most of the food in Belize is traditional Latin American (chicken, rice & beans... and GREAT enchiladas!), with some Caribbean, Creole and Chinese. Most restaurants serve a good variety of foods, from chicken to steak to shrimp & a variety of fish, and even pizza. Local fruits, such as mangoes, bananas and pineapples are widely available and taste great. REMEMBER: Avoid all fruits that aren't peeled or cooked!
The majority of Belizeans declare some sort of faith. Many are Roman Catholic, while Christian Protestantism continues to grow. Jehovah's Witnesses, Hindu and Voodoo are also practiced.