Belize, previously known as British Honduras, lies on the east coast of Central America in the heart of the Caribbean Basin. The country borders Mexico to the north, Guatemala to the west and south, and is flanked by the Caribbean Sea to the east.
The cayes (pronounced keys), the offshore atolls and the barrier reef are the main tourist attractions in Belize. The 185-mile long barrier reef is the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere.
The cayes are islands and mangroves located between the mainland and the barrier reef, on the barrier reef, and on or within the barrier reef perimeters of the offshore atolls.
Although the mangrove cayes are normally uninhabitable by humans, they do provide a superior habitat for birds and marine life. Many birds, fish, shellfish and marine organisms begin their lives within the protection of the mangrove.
The island cayes, which are distinguishable by their palm trees, have provided the foundation for the development of many fine resorts serving water sports enthusiasts and marine naturalists. The cayes and atolls are excellent for SCUBA diving, snorkeling, fishing, boating, sailing, sail boarding, sea kayaking, and provide a habitat for both nesting birds and turtles.
The northern half of the mainland of Belize is a plain that was once a seabed. The land is covered with a thin layer of soil supporting scrub vegetation and dense hardwood tropical forests. The coastal area is neither land nor sea, but a sodden combination of the two. It consists of mangrove and grasses, and is bordered by tussock grasses, cypress, and sycamore trees where the land separates from the water.
The central part of Belize consists of sandy soil supporting large savannas. Approximately thirty miles southwest of Belize City, in the enchanting Mountain Pine Ridge District and the Maya Mountains, the land begins to rise dramatically from between 1,500 and 3,680 feet above sea level. Abundant rainfall runs off to the northwest from the highlands, through number of streams, flowing into the Macal River. Ultimately, the Macal River and the Mopan River converge to provide the headwaters of the Belize River.
The southern part of Belize, with the Maya Mountains watershed to the southeast, consists of short rivers rushing through slopes combed with caves and overhanging ledges. The rivers, carrying sand, clay and silt, have enriched the coastal belt over the years, allowing Belize to develop significant agricultural products such as citrus and bananas. Along with an annual rainfall of 170 inches, southern Belize has a true tropical rain forest that is rich with ferns, palms, lianas and tropical hardwoods.
The climate is subtropical, with a brisk prevailing wind from the Caribbean Sea. The country has an annual mean temperature of 79 F, and the humidity is nicely tempered by sea breezes.
Weather varies depending on elevation, which highlights the variety of types of geology, plant and animal life. Summer temperature never exceeds 96 F and seldom dips below 60 F in the winter, even at night. The saltwater temperature varies between 75 and 84 F.
The Belize Dollar (BZ$) has a fixed rate of exchange of BZ $2 to US $l.
Time observed in Belize year round is the same as United States central standard time. Daylight savings time is not observed in Belize.
What to Wear
Belize is a very informal country with a very casual life-style. Unless you are invited to a government function, please leave your formal attire at home. If you are visiting the Cayes or the Barrier Reef, bring your shorts, T-shirts, bathing suits and some comfortable tennis or deck shoes. The sun is probably more intense than what you are used to at home so bring a cap to protect your head when you are boating or fishing.
U.S. citizens and citizens of other countries living in or visiting Belize are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Belize City or their respective consulates and obtain updated information on travel and security in Belize. The U.S. Embassy is located at the intersection of Gabourel Lane and Hutson Street in Belize City; telephone 011 (501) 2-77161/62/63. The list of all the consulates in Belize can be obtained from the Dean's Office.
The Central America Health Sciences University is the regional office for International Student Travel Confederation (ISTC) in Belize. As the local ISTC office, Belize Medical College has created discounts for its own students as well as international students traveling to Belize. For more information contact ISTC at www.istc.org.