Where is Belize? Which countries does Belize share borders with? Is there really a land dispute with Guatemala? Here’s everything you need to know about Belize’s geography and location within Central America.
Located in Central America, Belize is a small sovereign nation bordered to the north by Mexico, to the south and west by Guatemala and to the east by the Caribbean Sea. Thanks to its long history as a British colony (Belize was formally named British Honduras until independence in 1981), it’s the only English-speaking country in Central America, although many of its inhabitants also speak Spanish, Creole and other indigenous languages.
The country is known for its diverse culture, lush rainforests, Mayan ruins and the Belize Barrier Reef, which is the second-largest coral reef system in the world. Yet, despite its allure, the question, ‘Where is Belize?’ frequently arises.
With its Caribbean culture, Maya history and British influences, there’s no doubt that pointing Belize out on a map can be tricky; until you’ve actually been there of course. I’ve met travellers who believe Belize to be a Caribbean island or even a region of Mexico. Not true, of course, but if you’re planning a trip to Central America, it’s time to get clued up on your Belizean geography.
Keep reading, as I explain exactly where Belize is, and why you should visit!
Table of Contents
Where is Belize?
Belize, situated in the heart of Central America, serves as a bridge between the distinctive worlds of North and South America. Bordered to the north by the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, it shares its western and southern boundaries with the sprawling Petén and Izabal departments of Guatemala. To the east, Belize enjoys an expansive coastline along the Caribbean Sea, boasting beaches, tropical islands and the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Belize Barrier Reef.
With a total area of approximately 22,966 square kilometres, Belize might be small in size, but it’s rich in geographic diversity. The country’s topography varies massively, ranging from the flat, swampy coastal plains to the undulating hills and rugged mountains of the Maya Mountain range in the south. The Caribbean coastline, littered with cays and atolls, is one of the country’s most celebrated features, particularly given its proximity to the world’s second-largest barrier reef system.
Its distinct location, on the edge of the Caribbean but rooted in Central America, gifts Belize with a unique cultural and ecological blend. This positioning not only defines Belize geographically but also plays a pivotal role in shaping its rich biodiversity, cultural heritage and significance in the Mesoamerican biological corridor.
Fact about Belize
To help you understand Belize before travelling here, are some of the most important facts to know about this Central American destination:
- Official Name: Belize
- Capital: Belmopan
- Official Language: English
- Currency: Belize Dollar (BZD)
- Population: Approximately 400,000
- Area: Approximately 8,867 square miles (22,966 square kilometres)
- Time Zone: Central Time (CT)
- Calling Code: +501
- Driving Side: Right
- Climate: Tropical (with a wet and dry season)
- Major Rivers: Belize River, Macal River, New River
- Highest Point: Doyle’s Delight (1,124 meters)
- Major Industries: Tourism, agriculture (sugarcane, citrus, bananas), fisheries and forestry.
- Major Exports: Sugar, bananas, citrus, clothing, fish products, molasses, wood.
- Neighboring Countries: Mexico (north), Guatemala (west and south)
- Coastline: Caribbean Sea (east)
- World Heritage Sites: Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System
- Life Expectancy: Approximately 74 years
- Main Religions: Roman Catholicism, Protestantism (includes Pentecostal, Anglican, Seventh-day Adventist, and Mennonite)
Read more: 25 Best Places to Visit in Belize
Belize’s six districts
Belize is divided into six districts for administrative purposes. These districts are the primary subdivisions of the country, and each one has its own distinct character and geographical features.
Each district in Belize is administered by a district capital, and further subdivision within the districts is done through villages, towns, and cities. The administration and governance at the district level include local town councils or city councils responsible for local affairs.
Here are the six districts:
This district contains Belize City, which was the former capital and is still the largest city in the country. The Belize District also includes several cayes (islands), such as Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, which are popular tourist destinations.
Cayo District, located in the western part of Belize, is renowned for its lush landscapes and rich Mayan heritage. Boasting the magnificent Maya ruins of Xunantunich and Caracol, the district is a haven for history enthusiasts. Natural sights, such as the ATM cave and the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, cater to adventurers while towns like San Ignacio serve as gateways to exploration.
Corozal District, in the northernmost part of Belize, boasts a unique blend of Mayan history and modern-day culture. Lying just south of the Mexico border, its coastal town, Corozal Town offers picturesque bay views. The district is dotted with ancient Mayan sites, including Santa Rita and Cerros. Its proximity to Ambergris Caye and Chetumal, Mexico, makes it a strategic point for travel, infusing the district with a rich cultural heritage taken from both sides of the border.
Orange Walk District
Orange Walk District, situated in northern Belize, is known for being home to the ancient Mayan ruins of Lamanai, which sit along the New River. The district is steeped in history, but beyond its archaeological allure, Orange Walk is the centre of Belize’s sugarcane industry. The town of Orange Walk, often referred to as ‘Suga City’, reflects the district’s blend of Maya, Mestizo and Mennonite heritages.
Stann Creek District
Stann Creek District, stretching along Belize’s southeastern coast, offers travellers a mix of beaches, mountains and culture. Home to the Garifuna town of Dangriga, it’s a hub for traditional drumming and dance. The district also features the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, a haven for jaguars. Placencia, a popular peninsula in Stann Creek, offers serene beaches and a gateway to the Belize Barrier Reef.
Toledo District, the southernmost district of Belize, is home to untouched rainforests and traditional Mayan villages. Often referred to as the ‘Forgotten District’, its remoteness is often its biggest draw. The town of Punta Gorda serves as a gateway to Belize’s most pristine landscapes and indigenous cultures. Rich in tradition and boasting sites like the Blue Creek Cave, Toledo offers an authentic, off-the-beaten-path Belizean experience.
A brief history of Belize
To better understand why Belize’s borders and boundaries lay where they do, it’s useful to learn more about the country’s history. Here’s a brief overview:
Ancient History: The Maya Civilization
The area that is now Belize was once home to the advanced Maya civilization. From around 1500 BC to 900 AD, the Maya established complex city-states, practised advanced agriculture, and made significant contributions to astronomy, mathematics, and architecture. Major ancient cities like Caracol, Lamanai, and Xunantunich were located in this region.
European Contact and Settlement
The first European contact was by Spanish explorers in the 16th century. However, despite attempts, the Spanish never established a permanent settlement, largely due to the resistance of the Maya and the inhospitable coast. By the late 17th century, English and Scottish buccaneers, who later turned to logging, began settling along the Belizean coast, especially for the extraction of logwood.
Conflict and British Control
Throughout the 18th century, the British settlers, known as Baymen, faced both commercial competition and military challenges from the Spanish, who claimed the territory as part of New Spain. The Battle of St. George’s Caye in 1798 marked a pivotal victory for the Baymen over the Spanish, cementing British control over the territory. In 1862, the area was officially declared a British Crown Colony, named British Honduras.
20th Century and the Path to Independence
In the early 20th century, the colony experienced economic hardships, especially due to the decline in the mahogany trade. This led to social and labour unrest. Post World War II, a nationalist movement began to take shape. The People’s United Party (PUP) was formed in 1950 and advocated for Belizean self-governance.
British Honduras became a self-governing colony in 1964 but remained under British control in defence and foreign matters. Territorial disputes with neighbouring Guatemala, which laid claim to Belizean territory, delayed full independence. However, with international support, Belize finally became an independent nation on September 21, 1981.
Belize has maintained a stable democratic tradition since its independence. The territorial dispute with Guatemala persisted, but significant steps were taken towards its resolution in the early 21st century. Today, Belize is known for its commitment to environmental conservation, cultural preservation and a balanced approach to development.
What’s Belize’s geography like?
Belize boasts a varied geography, characterised by its coastal features, flatlands and mountainous terrains. The combination of these geographical features makes Belize a hotspot for biodiversity and a haven for eco-tourism, with opportunities for diving, hiking, bird-watching and archaeological exploration.
Here’s a brief overview of the country’s geographical features:
Coastline and Barrier Reef
One of Belize’s most iconic geographical features is its coastline along the Caribbean Sea, which includes the Belize Barrier Reef.
This reef system, the second-largest in the world after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, spans approximately 300 km and includes countless atolls, hundreds of cayes (islands) and rich marine biodiversity. Popular cayes include Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, which are vital tourist destinations.
Northern and central parts of Belize consist mostly of flat, swampy coastal plains. These plains are interspersed with many rivers and lagoons. This region is important for agriculture, particularly sugarcane and citrus farming.
The Maya Mountains dominate southern Belize, providing a rugged and elevated landscape. Doyle’s Delight, at 1,124 meters, is the country’s highest point. The Mountain Pine Ridge area, part of this range, is characterised by pine forests, granite hills, and some of Belize’s most impressive waterfalls.
Belize is crisscrossed by numerous rivers, with the Belize River being the most significant. Other notable rivers include the Hondo, which forms part of the northern boundary with Mexico, and the Sarstoon, which forms part of the southern boundary with Guatemala. These rivers have historically played crucial roles in trade, transportation, and agriculture.
Rainforests and Reserves
Vast stretches of tropical rainforests cover much of Belize, especially in the western and southern parts. These rainforests host a plethora of plant and animal species. The country has numerous protected areas, wildlife sanctuaries, and nature reserves, like the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, which is the world’s first jaguar preserve.
Belize boasts a tropical climate characterised by two distinct seasons: wet and dry. Warm temperatures prevail year-round, averaging between 25 °C to 31°C. The dry season, from November to April, offers sunnier days and cooler nights, making it popular for tourism. Conversely, the wet season, extending from May to October, brings heavier rainfall, especially in the south, with periodic tropical storms and occasional hurricanes, particularly between June and November.
What’s the capital of Belize?
The capital of Belize is Belmopan. Located in the heart of the country, Belmopan stands distinct as one of the world’s youngest national capitals. It became the seat of government in the late 1960s, succeeding Belize City, which had long been the administrative centre. The decision to shift the capital was precipitated by the catastrophic damage inflicted upon Belize City by Hurricane Hattie in 1961. Recognising the vulnerability of Belize City to coastal storms and the strategic importance of safeguarding the nation’s administrative core, the government decided to establish a new capital further inland, away from the threat of hurricanes.
Located in the Cayo District, about 50 miles west of Belize City, Belmopan was meticulously planned to be a modern administrative hub. Its layout was designed with a mix of residential, commercial, and governmental areas. Over the years, the city has grown and evolved, but it remains comparatively small. Today, Belmopan not only hosts the nation’s key governmental institutions but also stands as a symbol of Belize’s resilience and forward-thinking approach.
Is Belize a sovereign nation?
Yes, Belize is a sovereign country. Located in Central America, it is bordered to the north by Mexico, to the south and west by Guatemala, and to the east by the Caribbean Sea. Belize was formerly known as British Honduras and was a British colony. It achieved its independence from the United Kingdom on September 21, 1981.
Belize is the only country in Central America where English is the official language, due to its colonial history. However, its cultural landscape is diverse, with influences from the Maya, Mestizo, Creole, Garifuna and other ethnic groups. This makes Belize unique both linguistically and culturally within the Central American region.
Is Belize in Mexico?
No, Belize is not in Mexico. Belize is a sovereign nation located in Central America, distinct from its northern neighbour, Mexico. Both are separate countries with their own governments, histories and cultures.
Although Belize and parts of Mexico (like the Yucatán Peninsula) share some cultural and historical ties, especially due to the ancient Mayan civilization that inhabited both territories, they are distinct entities in the modern geopolitical landscape.
While Belize and Mexico are neighbouring countries with intertwined histories and some shared cultural elements, Belize is not a part of Mexico; it stands as its own independent nation.
Is Belize in Guatemala?
No, Belize is also not a part of Guatemala. However, there’s a historical context to this question:
For many years, Guatemala claimed Belize as part of its territory, based on the 1786 Anglo-Spanish Convention. The British had settled in Belize and began using its resources, especially timber, in the 17th century, even though Spain, which then controlled much of the Americas, did not recognize their right to do so. The 1786 agreement between Britain and Spain allowed the British to cut timber in Belize but did not cede the territory to them. Later, after much of Central America gained independence from Spain, Guatemala inherited the Spanish claim on Belize.
The UK and Guatemala went through various rounds of negotiations in the 20th century. By the time Belize became independent in 1981, Guatemala did not recognise its independence due to its territorial claim. It wasn’t until 1992 that Guatemala formally recognised Belize’s sovereignty, though the boundary dispute was not completely resolved.
In 2018, Guatemala held a referendum in which its citizens voted to take the territorial dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for final resolution. Belize held a similar referendum in 2019, with its citizens also agreeing to let the ICJ decide on the matter.
While Guatemala had long-standing territorial claims on Belize, Belize is an independent nation and not a part of Guatemala.
Is Belize in Honduras?
No, Belize is not a part of Honduras. Belize and Honduras are two distinct, sovereign nations located in Central America. Belize is situated to the north of Honduras. Honduras is further south and shares its borders with Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
Historically, while both regions were once part of the Spanish Empire, their paths differed considerably over time. Belize, previously known as British Honduras, became a British colony and eventually gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1981. Honduras, on the other hand, achieved independence from Spain in 1821 and became part of the short-lived Federal Republic of Central America before becoming an independent republic.
Is Belize in Central America?
Belize is located in Central America. Positioned at the northeastern tip of this region, Belize serves as a nexus between Central America and the Caribbean. Belize is one of the seven countries that constitute Central America, alongside Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.
While Central America is often recognised for its Spanish-speaking nations due to Spanish colonization, Belize stands out as the only country in this region with English as its official language. This is a result of its colonial history under British rule. However, its culture is diverse, with Spanish, Creole, Mayan, Garifuna and other languages and traditions interwoven into its societal fabric.
Read more: Don’t Skip El Salvador!
Is Belize a Caribbean country?
Belize is also considered a Caribbean country, even though it is located on the mainland of Central America. This designation is due to several factors:
- Geographical Proximity to the Caribbean Sea: Belize has a coastline along the Caribbean Sea to its east. This coastline includes many islands, or cayes, which are part of the larger Caribbean archipelago.
- Cultural Ties: Belize’s culture, particularly in its coastal and island regions, has strong affinities with the Caribbean. For instance, the Creole and Garifuna populations in Belize share linguistic, musical, and culinary ties with other Caribbean nations.
- Political and Economic Affiliations: Belize is a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), an organisation of Caribbean nations and dependencies focused on promoting economic integration, cooperation, and shared foreign policy among its members.
- Historical Ties: Belize’s history as a British colony links it to other former British colonies in the Caribbean. This shared colonial history has resulted in similarities in legal and educational systems, as well as other institutions.
So, while geographically situated in Central America, Belize’s cultural, historical and geopolitical connections firmly place it within the Caribbean context.
Is Belize in South America?
Belize is not in South America. Belize is firmly located in Central America, the region that connects North America and South America.
Belize is situated on the eastern coast of Central America, bordered to the north by Mexico, to the south and west by Guatemala, and to the east by the Caribbean Sea. While its location makes it a bridge between North America and South America, it is definitively not part of the South American continent.
South America, on the other hand, is a larger landmass to the south, made up of countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Peru, and Colombia, among others. Belize shares some cultural and historical similarities with several nations of South America, especially given the spread and influence of indigenous cultures and Spanish colonization. However, geographically and geopolitically, Belize remains within the Central American region.
What languages are spoken in Belize?
Belize has a linguistic diversity reflective of its multicultural heritage. Several languages are spoken throughout the country. Here are the most prominent:
- English: The official language of Belize is English, making Belize the only country in Central America with English as its official language. It is used in government, education, media, and business.
- Creole (Belizean Kriol): Derived from English but heavily influenced by African languages, indigenous languages, and other languages, Belizean Kriol is the lingua franca for many Belizeans. It’s a first language for many and is often spoken alongside English.
- Spanish: Due to Belize’s proximity to Spanish-speaking countries and the presence of the Mestizo population (people of mixed Mayan and Spanish descent), Spanish is widely spoken. It’s especially prevalent in areas near the borders with Mexico and Guatemala.
- Mayan Languages: There are three Mayan languages spoken in Belize:
- Yucatec Maya: Spoken mainly in the north.
- Mopan Maya: Predominant in the south and west.
- Q’eqchi’ Maya: Also found in the southern part of Belize.
- Garifuna: The Garifuna people, descendants of African and indigenous Carib people, speak this unique Arawakan-based language. It’s mostly spoken in communities along the southern coast.
- German and Plautdietsch: These are spoken by the Mennonite communities in Belize. The Mennonites, who have lived in Belize since the 1950s, maintain their traditional language and way of life.
- Other languages: There are smaller communities of Chinese, Lebanese, and East Indian descent in Belize, so you might hear Mandarin or other languages in specific locales.
With this linguistic diversity, it’s not uncommon for Belizeans to be bilingual or even trilingual, effortlessly switching between languages depending on the context.
What religions are practised in Belize?
Belize is a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities, and this diversity is reflected in its religious landscape as well. Several religions are practised throughout the country, and the religious affiliation of individuals often intersects with their ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Here are the main religions practised in Belize:
- Roman Catholicism: Historically, Roman Catholicism has been the predominant religion in Belize. Spanish missionaries introduced it during the colonial period, and today a significant portion of the population, especially among the Mestizo and some Maya communities, identify as Roman Catholic.
- Protestant Christianity: Several Protestant denominations have sizable followings in Belize, including:
- Seventh-day Adventist
- Mennonite: The Mennonite communities in Belize are especially distinct due to their traditional lifestyle and practices.
- Creole and Garifuna Spirituality: While many Creole and Garifuna people are Christian (often Catholic or Protestant), some also practice or integrate elements of traditional African and indigenous spirituality in their religious observances.
- Maya Religion: Some Maya people in Belize continue to practice traditional Mayan religious rituals and ceremonies, although many have also integrated Christian beliefs.
- Other Religions:
- Jehovah’s Witnesses
- Rastafarianism: Particularly among some of the Garifuna and Creole communities.
- Hinduism and Islam: Small East Indian communities in Belize brought with them Hindu and Islamic traditions, though these religions have a smaller presence in the country.
- Non-religious: As in many countries worldwide, there is a segment of Belize’s population that identifies as secular, agnostic, atheist, or non-religious.
Belize’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and as such, the country is generally characterised by religious tolerance and coexistence.
FAQ: Where is Belize?
Here’s an FAQ on the topic, ‘Where is Belize?’:
Q1: What continent is Belize located on?
A: Belize is located on the continent of North America, specifically in the region known as Central America.
Q2: What countries border Belize?
A: Belize is bordered by Mexico to the north, Guatemala to the south and west and the Caribbean Sea to the east.
Q3: What is the capital city of Belize?
A: The capital city of Belize is Belmopan.
Q4: Is Belize an island nation?
A: No, Belize is primarily a mainland country. However, it has a coastline along the Caribbean Sea and is home to many small islands and cayes.
Q5: Is Belize part of the Caribbean?
A: While geographically in Central America, Belize is often culturally and economically associated with the Caribbean. Its eastern coast is on the Caribbean Sea, and it’s a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
Q6: What language is spoken in Belize?
A: English is the official language of Belize, but many residents also speak Belizean Creole, Spanish, Garifuna and various Mayan languages.
Q7: Was Belize ever known by another name?
A: Yes, before gaining independence in 1981, Belize was known as British Honduras.
Q8: Is Belize a popular tourist destination?
A: Yes, Belize is a renowned tourist destination, particularly for its Mayan archaeological sites, the Belize Barrier Reef and its diverse natural and cultural attractions.
Q9: What is the climate like in Belize?
A: Belize has a tropical climate with distinct wet and dry seasons. Coastal areas tend to be more humid, while the interior can experience more temperature variations.
Q10: How can I get to Belize?
A: Belize is accessible via international flights landing at the Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport near Belize City. Cruise ships also frequently dock at Belize City’s port.