Archaeologists have found evidence that the Maya Indians were one of the first groups to inhabit Belize. The Mayas reached the height of their civilization between 250 A.D. and 900 A.D. These indigenous people left various artifacts behind that still influence the culture of the people of Belize, as well as people around the world. Long after the fall of the Mayan civilization, European explorers began discovering the Caribbean and Central American region, and claiming the land in the name of their countries.
Surrounded by Mexico, Guatemala, and the Caribbean Sea, Belize is a small country in Central America. It has a total area of 8,867.2 square miles; a size that is comparable to the state of Massachusetts. Cays, coral reefs, and islands form the Belize Barrier Reef to the east of the country, the second longest barrier reef in the world.
The diversity of this little Central American country is the product of a history of migration, colonization, and the drive for riches, which led to brutal wars and the enslavement of Africans and other people of color. Through colonization, the British gained control over Belize, which remained a colony of Britain until September 21, 1981. The country has also been highly influenced by U.S. culture, due to its close proximity to the States.
Due to the immigration and colonization of various groups of travelers, Belize's culture is a melting pot of heritages from places such as Africa, Spain, Britain, China, East India, and many other areas. Today, Belize is the only country in Central America that primarily speaks the English language, and has a government system that is formed after England's.
When early settlers began developing the Belize countryside, logging became the primary money-making industry. The export economy of logwood, mahogany, and other kinds of cut wood was very different than that of islands in the Caribbean, which made their money from the export and trade of cash crops, including the extremely profitable sugarcane crops. Although the logging of valuable woods like mahogany was profitable, the logging market was an unstable industry and underwent many fluctuations because of the costs incurred in maintaining the slaves and other expenditures. Eventually, Belize followed in the footsteps of rest of the region and began growing crops such as tropical fruits and sugarcane, but many of those cash crops failed, causing the country to turn back to logging to make money.
Now, Belize's economy relies on the agriculture and tourism industries. During the country's peak tourist season, Belize can expect upwards of 200 thousand visitors who come in and inhabit the over 5 thousand hotel rooms, fill seats at restaurants, and purchase local wares. Caribbean cruise lines that dock in Belize have become especially popular in recent years. In 1994, only 13 thousand guests visited the island off a cruise ship, a number that jumped dramatically to over 850 thousand by 2004. These cruise vacationers are especially important because many will take a liking to the country and plan their next full vacation in Belize.
Belize has overcome the atrocity of slavery and foreign rule to become a country rich in heritage and ethnic backgrounds.
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