Located on the eastern coast of Central America, Belize is bordered by the Caribbean Sea, Mexico, and Guatemala. A diverse area, offering a variety of languages and ethnicities, Belize culture has been shaped by thousands of years of unique history. The laid-back ambience of the country has also been continuously shaped by its nearby Caribbean neighbors.
An Introduction to Belize Culture
Originally developed by the Maya, several Mayan settlements were established in the area, including Lamanai, Lubaantun, and Caracol. Once the area was visited by Christopher Columbus, on his fourth voyage to the Americas in 1502, it saw an influx of English settlements. Eventually gaining an independent government from England, a full self-government was set up in 1973. The region’s name was then changed from British Honduras to Belize.
Only 9087 square miles in size, the small country is known for its distinctive, untouched ecosystems. With only a handful of asphalt-paved roads, the country boasts a swampy coastal plain, hills and low mountains in the south, and a variety of jungles, wildlife, flora and fauna, and the largest cave system in Central America. The region also has the lowest population density in Central America, with only 35 people per square mile.
Language, Religion, and Food
The only English-speaking country in Central America, current Belize culture still retains much of its British roots. While English is the official language of the country, many native residents also speak Kriol. Kriol is an English-based version of popular Caribbean languages, including Miskito Coastal Creole, Bocas del Toro Creole, and Jamaican Patois. Spanish, Mandarin, and German are a few additional languages that can be heard throughout the country.
The country’s culture continues to be heavily influenced by its British history. Its British-based cultural heritage explains why the area has the largest Protestant population in all of Central America. Despite the large Protestant population, most Belizeans are Roman Catholic. In contrast to the British, the Maya practiced a unique blend of shamanism and Christianity. This mixture is still practiced today by some locals.
Borrowing much of its food and recipes from neighboring Caribbean countries and Mexico, rice and beans reigns as the most popular dish in Belize. Most local dishes have a distinct Caribbean flavor. Coconut milk, hot peppers, and plantains are a few favorite local ingredients. A traditional Mayan meal is also a popular activity for locals and visitors alike. Often including fried paca (a small jungle rodent), the meal accurately depicts the cuisine of the country’s original Mayan residents.
Finally, you can’t talk about Belize without including information about the Garifuna people. They “are recent arrivals to Belize, settling the southern coast of Belize in the early 19th century.” They have a smaller presence in Belize than in some other areas, and certainly less than in the past, but they carry with them a number of cultural aspects today that keep them tied to their roots. They also offer a rich contribution to Belize at large with their spiritualism, arts, and cuisine.
Directly influenced by its Mayan and British history, Belize culture has evolved continuously over the centuries. Noticeably shaped by its Caribbean and Mexican neighbors, the harmonious blending of cultures has resulted in one of the most peaceful countries in the region. Well-known as one of the world’s friendliest tourist destinations, the cultural melting pot present in Belize is a one-of-a-kind experience.
If you want to experience Belize for yourself, then get in touch with Travel Belize now, the authority on travel, tourism, excursions, real estate, and more in Belize. Belize is the destination of endless possibilities, and we will be your guides on this tropical journey.