VISITING BELIZE DIVING | Need to Know
Belize is the only country in Central America with English as its official language. It is bordered by Mexico and Guatemala and is about 290km (180 miles) long and 110km (68 miles) wide - about the size of Israel. Belize also includes more than 200 cayes (islands), ranging in size from a few hundred metres to 40km (25 miles) long and 6 km (four miles) wide; most of these cayes are located inside the 320 km-long (200 mile) Belize Reef. The country covers 46,620 sq km (18,000 sq miles), of which only 49 per cent is land.
The entire north and southern coastal areas are lowland plains, with much of the coastline covered with mangrove swamp. In the south, the land rises to over 12,000m (4,000 feet) to the Maya Mountains and Cockscomb Range. The mountains are surrounded by rugged karst limestone hills. Beyond that, most of the north of the country and the entire coastal area consists of low-lying plains. Approximately 93 per cent of the country is still forest.
Belize is Central America's newest independent country. From 1862 to 1981, Belize was a colony of Great Britain known as British Honduras. It is now an independent nation and a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organization of American States and CARICOM. The capital is Belmopan.
The population is approximately 350,000 and the largest city is Belize City, with a population of 80,000. More than 50 per cent of the people in Belize is less than 18 years old. The annual population growth rate is 3.5 per cent. There is a great deal of ethnic diversity among Belizeans. The single largest ethnic group (more than 43 per cent) is the Mestizo (Spanish-Indian). The Creole population (of primarily black African descent) makes up approximately 30 per cent of the population. Other significant ethnic groups include the Mayan Indians (11 per cent), the Garifunas (descendants of Carib Indians and escaped African slaves – 7 per cent), and the Mennonites (3 per cent). Sixty-two per cent of the population is Catholic and 25 per cent are Protestant.
English is the official language. English-based Belizean Creole is also spoken, and many Belizeans speak Spanish too.
Belize is subtropical and warm all year round, with high temperatures rarely much above 30C and lows not much below 20C. It is humid and there’s the chance of rain at any time, but the dry season is from January to April, and the wet season from May to November. The worst rains are in hurricane season (though mostly Belize is not in the path of the storms) in September and October. Water temperatures range from 26C in winter to 30C in summer.
Citizens of EU member states, Switzerland or the USA do not need a visa to visit Belize for up to 30 days. For more detailed information on visas, visit www.belizehighcommission.com/visas. There is a departure tax of departure tax is BZD$111 (US$50) which is usually included in the airfare, however, it's recommended that you carry enough cash with you, as it is not always possible to pay by card.
The currency is the Belize dollar. Credit cards are accepted in many places.
Travel insurance is essential for travelling in Belize. Although there is a modern, private hospital in Belize City, you may need treatment in a US hospital and so your insurance should cover up to £2 million of health care costs and repatriation by air ambulance. Tap water in towns and villages is generally safe to drink, through heavily chlorinated, and as with many destinations, check your tetanus/polio/diphtheria vaccination is up to date. Travellers who are straying outside of the tourist areas and into rural Belize may wish to consider protection against typhoid and hepatitis A, and there is a low risk of malaria in these areas also. There is no risk of Malaria with the central Belize district, which includes Belize City and much of the tourist areas. You can find more detailed information at www.travelhealthpro.org.uk/country/26/belize
Buses are fairly regular, reliable and cheap on the mainland. There are plenty of international hire car companies operating in Belize too. To get out to the cayes, ferries run from Belize City to San Pedro (Ambergris Caye) and Caye Caulker and from there boats to other atolls and Cayes tend to run as tours, such as daily dive boats or liveaboards.
110 volt, 60 cycle – the same as the USA. Plugs sockets are generally two-pronged, flat-pin plugs (Type A, also the same as the USA.)
Central Standard Time, GMT -6 hours