The Belize District is the largest, with a population of over seventy-four thousand. Belize City itself is no longer the nation's capital, but it is still the largest city in Belize, with a population of just under fifty thousand. It offers the visitor an unusual combination of rustic, old-fashioned Caribbean charm or historic British Colonial buildings.
Additionally, the steady rise of cruise tourism has changed the face of the waterfront in downtown Belize City in recent years. The country's largest tourist town, San Pedro Ambergris Caye, is located in the Belize District (see separate entry), as well as the famous Mayan ruin of Altun Ha, the Belize Zoo and well-known wildlife sanctuaries.
The Belize District is the heart of Kriol (Creole) culture and some of its villages are as typically Kriol as one can get: Burrell Boom, Isabella Bank, Rancho Dolores and Lemonal are some of the distinctive Kriol communities that exist in the heart of the Belize River Valley.
Gales Point Manatee, the district's southernmost village, still retains some of the typical Kriol cultural practices like Sambai dancing, Anancy story telling under huge mahogany trees, and bramming.
Belize City itself originated as a logging camp and export center for mahogany in the 1600's. Naturally, because it is the country's largest urban area, one finds all cultural types and mixtures in the city - Kriol, Garifuna, Mestizo, (a mix of Maya and Spanish) commonly referred to as Spanish, Chinese, Lebanese, Hindu and the original East Indian descendants and Maya.
The Belize River meanders through the middle of the city; and twice a day, the city's swing bridge closes for about 20 minutes to allow sail boats to pass. There are many traditional street vendors selling fruits, vegetables, arts and crafts in the city's public squares. In recent years, the cruise tourism industry has changed the face of the downtown Fort George area on the north side of the river, particularly on weekdays when at times up to three or four ships dock.
Already distinctive for its colonial architecture, this area is now the bustling center for dozens of tour guides, craft persons and other vendors who have set up in the area around a picturesque tourism village which sits on the site of the former Customs Wharf area.
This area has high security and is well-maintained with good food, trained souvenir vendors, duty free shops and the like. Tour operators whisk away interested tourists to day trips at surrounding sanctuaries, Mayan ruin sites and snorkeling sites.