Official name: Belize
Area: 22,806 square kilometers (8,803 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Victoria Peak (1,122 meters / 3,680 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Northern and Western
Time zone: 6 A.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 109 kilometers (68 miles) from east to west; 280 kilometers (174 miles) from north to south.
Land boundaries: 995 kilometers (618 miles) total boundary length; Guatemala, 269 kilometers (167 miles); Mexico, 251 kilometers (156 miles)
Coastline: 475 kilometers (295 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
Belize is in Central America. Belize is located on the coast of the Caribbean Sea at the southeastern edge of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. Known as British Honduras until 1973, Belize has a land area of 22,806 square kilometers (8,803 square miles), which makes it slightly larger than the state of Massachusetts.
Belize has no outside territories or dependencies.
Belize's climate is subtropical and humid, but it is modified by the northeast trade winds that consistently blow toward the equator. Temperatures range between 16°C and 32°C (61°F and 90°F) along the coast and are slightly higher inland. Changes in humidity, rather than temperature fluctuations, mark the changes in seasons. The mean annual humidity is 83 percent, but many days the humidity is masked by cooling sea breezes. November to January are traditionally the coolest months, and there are dry seasons from February to May and again in August. Some days and nights in the mountains can be very cold, but the mean annual temperature there is a comfortable 22°C (72°F). Annual rainfall averages from 127 centimeters (50 inches) in the northern portion of the country to more than 380 centimeters (150 inches) in the south. The number of rainy days varies considerably from place to place. The hurricane season lasts from July to October. Hurricanes can cause serious damage and flooding along the coast. Belize City, once the capital, has suffered severe damage from hurricanes since the 1930s. After hurricanes destroyed over half the buildings in Belize City in 1931 and again in 1961, the capital was relocated further inland, to Belmopan.
The country is divided into two main topo-graphic regions. The Maya and Cockscomb Mountains and their associated basins and plateaus dominate the southern half of the country. The northern lowlands, drained by numerous rivers and streams, make up the second region. Belize is located on the Caribbean Tectonic Plate.
In the far south lies the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, where jaguars, pumas, oce-lots, margays, agoutis, anteaters, armadillos, boa constrictors, and dozens of bird species thrive.
Belize's eastern border lies on the Caribbean Sea. The central coast is on the open sea, but the northern shoreline forms one side of Chetumal Bay, while the southern coast borders the Gulf of Honduras and Amatique Bay.
The coastline of Belize, on the eastern coast of Central America, is full of indented areas, providing for many beaches as well as swamp-lands and lagoons. Belize's shore is sheltered by the second-longest barrier reef in the world, dotted with a large number of smaller coral reefs and cays. A barrier reef is an underwater formation of coral that lies parallel to the coast. The Lighthouse Reef contains an underwater cavern, known as Blue Hole Cave. Explored by Jacques Cousteau, the famous oceanographer, Blue Hole Cave measures 300 meters (1,000 feet) in diameter and 120 meters (400 feet) in depth.
Chetumal Bay lies between the northernmost points of Belize and its neighbor to the west, Mexico.
To the north of the barrier reef, numerous islands and cays—including Ambergris Cay, the Turneffe Islands, Columbus Reef, and Glover's Reef—lie off the coast of Belize. More than one thousand small islands dot the coastline of Belize.
The Belize coastline is flat and swampy and marked by many swamps and lagoons.
There are several small lakes in the northern half of the country. Two of the major inland bodies of water are the Northern and Southern Lagoons, which lie south of Belize City and near the coast.
Seventeen rivers, among them the Belize River, crisscross the countryside. The Belize River runs across the center of the country, draining into the Caribbean Sea near Belize City. About 30 kilometers (19 miles) west of Belize City, an area along the Belize River features a nature preserve to provide a protected habitat for the black howler monkey. Dozens of other native bird and animal species thrive there as well.
Just south of the Belize River, the shorter Sibun River flows northeastward from the highlands in the center of the country to empty into the Caribbean Sea south of Belize City. Monkey River is located in the south of the country, emptying into the Caribbean near the Gulf of Honduras. In the north, the Hondo River marks the border with Mexico.
Hidden Valley Falls, aptly known as the Thousand Foot Falls for their 323-meter (1,000-foot) drop, are located near the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Preserve in the mountains south of Belmopan. These scenic falls are the highest in Central America.
There are no notable desert regions in Belize.
The country north of Belize City is mostly level, interrupted only by the Manatee Hills.
The Maya and Cockscomb mountain ranges form the backbone of the country. The Maya Mountains rise to a height of 1,100 meters (3,400 feet), extending northeast to southwest across the central and southern parts of the country. The country's highest elevation, Victoria Peak, is located in the Cockscomb Mountains.
Because most caves in Belize contain artifacts from the ancient Mayans, the government requires all explorers to obtain a permit to explore them. There are numerous caverns in the limestone foothills of the Maya range. A region near the Southern Lagoon features limestone cones that rise above the citrus trees that grow in the area. Blue Creek Cave lies just north of Punta Gorda.
In western Belize, southwest of Belmopan, lie Chechem Ha and Barton Creek Caves, where archaeologists have unearthed ceremonial pots and human skulls and bones from the ancient Mayans.
There are no notable plateaus or monoliths in Belize.
Belize's Mayan ruins include the residential compounds and ritual sites found at El Pilar on the border with Guatemala.
Crandell, Rachel. Hands of the Maya: Villagers at Work and Play. New York: Henry Holt, 2002.
Hoffman, Eric. Adventuring in Belize: The Sierra Club Travel Guide to the Islands, Waters, and Inland Parks of Central America's Tropical Paradise . San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1994.
Jermyn, Leslie. Belize. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2001.
Norton, Natasha. Belize . Old Saybrook, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 1997.
Wright, Peggy, and Brian E. Coutts, eds. Belize . Oxford: Clio Press, 1993.