Belize Culture and People
Belize boasts a rich mix of ethnicities including Creole, Maya, Mestizo, East Indian, Chinese, Garifuna and Mennonite. Among its other cultural attractions, it has thousands of Mayan archeological temples and in 2001 UNESCO declared the Garifuna language, dance and music a "Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity." Belize is the only country in Central America without a pacific coastline and also the only one with English as its official language.
According to vegetation surveys, about sixty percent (60%) of Belize's land mass is forested, with only about twenty percent (20%) of the country's land subject to human uses (i.e. agricultural land and human settlements). Savannas, scrublands and wetlands constitute extensive parts of the nation's land cover. The country also possesses the largest cave system in Central America.
Belize's biodiversity is rich, both marine and terrestrial, with a host of flora and fauna. About thirty-seven percent (37%) of Belize's land territory falls under some form of official protected status. As such conservation activities remain an important priority in government policy with the notable example of having the only jaguar reserve in the world among its protected areas.
However, Belize is best known for its marine environment, in particular, for having the longest living barrier reef in the western hemisphere and the second longest contiguous reef in the world after Australia. Consequently, divers flock to Belize to enjoy its underwater attractions. Belize, as a consequence of its medley of cultural attractions, unique marine and terrestrial biodiversity, and conservation efforts, is fast becoming a hotspot for travelers seeking eco-tourism and adventure vacation experiences.
Colonization, slavery, and immigration have played major roles in affecting the ethnic composition of the population of Belize, resulting in a blend of various cultures, languages, and ethnic groups. Belize consists of Creole, Garifuna, Mestizo, Spanish, Maya, English, Mennonite, Lebanese, Chinese, and East Indian. Due to racial harmony and the religious tolerance of its various Christian peoples, all of these different elements have mixed and blended successfully, and Belize has gained a widespread reputation for its friendly people.
As a result of the country's long colonization by the British, English is the official language of Belize. Creole dialect frequently can be heard in the major cities and in the northern regions, Spanish is also widely spoken. Garifuna dialects are also heard, but it is not as predominant as the above languages. Food, music, and socialization are as diverse as the people with whom they are associated.