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Map courtesy Caribbean Property Consultants

Belize Geography

Belize is a small Central American nation, located at 17°15' north of the equator and 88°45' west of the Prime Meridian on the Yucatán Peninsula. It borders the Caribbean Sea to the east, with 386 km of coastline. It has a total of 516 km of land borders—Mexico to the north-northwest (250km) and Guatemala to the south-southwest (266 km). Belize's total size is 22,960 km², of which 22,800 km² is land and 160 km² is water; this makes the country ten times larger than the Australian Capital Territory, about half the size of Nova Scotia, slightly larger than Wales, and slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Massachusetts. Belize is the only English-speaking country in Central America and the only one without a Pacific coastline. Many coral reefs, cays, and islands to the east—such as Ambergris Caye, Lighthouse Reef, Glover Reef, and the Turneffe Islands—are part of Belize's territory, forming the Belize Barrier Reef, the longest in the western hemisphere stemming approximately 322 km (200 miles) and the second longest in the world after the Great Barrier Reef. The country's largest river is the eponymous Belize River.

Geology

Belizean geology consists largely of varieties of limestone, with the notable exception of the Maya Mountains, a large intrusive block of granite and other Paleozoic sediments running northeast to southwest across the south-central part of the country. Several major faults rive these highlands, but much of Belize lies outside the tectonically active zone that underlies most of Central America. During the Cretaceous period, what is now the western part of the Maya Mountains stood above sea level, creating the oldest land surface in Central America, the Mountain Pine Ridge plateau.

The hilly regions surrounding the Maya Mountains are formed from Cretaceous limestone. These areas are characterized by a karst topography that is typified by numerous sinkholes, caverns, and underground streams. In contrast to the Mountain Pine Ridge, some of the soils in these regions are quite fertile and have been cultivated during at least the past 4,000 years.

Much of the northern half of Belize lies on the Yucatán Platform, a tectonically stable region. Although mostly level, this part of the country also has occasional areas of hilly, karst terrain, such as the Yalbac Hills along the western border with Guatemala and the Manatee Hills between Belize City and Dangriga. Alluvial deposits of varying fertility cover the relatively flat landscapes of the coastal plains.

Physical Features

Topographical feature divide the Belizean landscape into two main physiographic regions. The most visually striking of these regions is distinguished by the Maya Mountains and the associated basins and plateaus that dominate all but the narrow coastal plain in the southern half of the country. The mountains rise to heights of about 1,100 metres, with the highest point being Doyle's Delight (1,124 metres) in the Cockscomb Mountains. Covered with shallow, highly erodible soils of low fertility, these heavily forested highlands are very sparsely inhabited.

The second region comprises the northern lowlands, along with the southern coastal plain. Eighteen major rivers and many perennial streams drain these low-lying areas. The coastline is flat and swampy, with many lagoons, especially in the northern and central parts of the country. Westward from the northern coastal areas, the terrain changes from mangrove swamp to tropical pine savanna and hardwood forest.

The interlocking networks of rivers, creeks, and lagoons have played a key role in the historical geography of Belize. The largest and most historically important river is the Belize River, which drains more than one-quarter of the country as it winds along the northern edge of the Maya Mountains across the center of the country to the sea near Belize City. Also known as the Old River, the Belize River is navigable up to the Guatemalan border and served as the main artery of commerce and communication between the interior and the coast until well into the twentieth century. Other historically important rivers include the Sibun River, which drains the northeastern edge of the Maya Mountains, and the New River, which flows through the northern sugar-growing areas before emptying into Chetumal Bay. Both of these river valleys possess fertile alluvial soils and have supported considerable cultivation and human settlement.

Climate

Belize has a tropical climate with pronounced wet and dry seasons, although there are significant variations in weather patterns by region. Temperatures vary according to elevation, proximity to the coast, and the moderating effects of the northeast trade winds off the Caribbean. Average temperatures in the coastal regions range from 24 °C in January to 27 °C in July. Temperatures are slightly higher inland, except for the southern highland plateaus, such as the Mountain Pine Ridge, where it is noticeably cooler year round. Overall, the seasons are marked more by differences in humidity and rainfall than in temperature.

Average rainfall varies considerably, ranging from 1,350 millimeters in the north and west to over 4,500 millimeters in the extreme south. Seasonal differences in rainfall are greatest in the northern and central regions of the country where, between January and April or May, fewer than 100 millimeters of rain fall per month. The dry season is shorter in the south, normally only lasting from February to April. A shorter, less rainy period, known locally as the "little dry," usually occurs in late July or August, after the initial onset of the rainy season.

Hurricanes have played key--and devastating--roles in Belizean history. In 1931 an unnamed hurricane destroyed over two-thirds of the buildings in Belize City and killed more than 1,000 people. In 1955 Hurricane Janet leveled the northern town of Corozal. Only six years later, Hurricane Hattie struck the central coastal area of the country, with winds in excess of 300 kilometers per hour and four-meter storm tides. The devastation of Belize City for the second time in thirty years prompted the relocation of the capital some eighty kilometers inland to the planned city of Belmopan. A hurricane that devastated Belize was Hurricane Greta, which caused more than US$25 million in damages along the southern coast in 1978.

There was a period of 20 years that Belize was considered as a hurricane-free zone by many until Hurricane Mitch (October 1998) caused quite a stir and gave rise to hurricane awareness and the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO). Two years later Tropical Storm Chantal and Hurricane Keith did much to put the country on the hurricane map. In 2001, Hurricane Iris swept through the southern part of Belize causing damage that ranged in the hundreds of millions due largely to wiping away the banana industry, crippling the citrus and tourism in the area. Six years later, the fury of Category Five Dean landed on the Yucatan coast at Mahahual but Corozal, on northern Belize, was not spared the brunt of reportedly Category 3 to 4 winds. The latter, did tens of millions in damages, especially to the infantile papaya industry and to a lesser extent to the endemic sugar cane industry.



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Belize Districts

Belize

Most of the Belize District is in the east central mainland of Belize; the Belize District also includes various offshore islands, including Ambergris Caye,Caye Caulker, St. George's Caye, Caye Chapel, English Caye and Goff's Caye. Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker are considered two of the country's primary tourism areas. The longest river in the country, the Belize River, passes through the district and joins the Caribbean Sea along its coast. The Northern River, Sibun River, and Manatee River are also in this District.

Cayo

The Cayo District is the largest district in Belize. Within the Cayo District are the national capital of Belmopan, the district capital of San Ignacio, the town of Benque Viejo del Carmen, and the villages of San Antonio Cayo, Valley of Peace, St. Margaret's, Roaring Creek, Armenia, San Jose Succotz, Arenal, Buena Vista, Calla Creek, Esperanza, Cristo Rey, Georgeville, Unitedville, Blackman Eddy, Ontario, Camalote, Los Tambos, More Tomorrow and Spanish Lookout. Cayo District also contains the Pre-Columbian Maya ruins of Xunantunich, Cahal Pech, Chaa Creek, and Caracol. Major rivers in the Cayo District include the Macal River and the Mopan River.

Corozal

Also in Corozal District are the villages of Calcutta, Chan Chen, Chunox, Cocos, Consejo, Copper Bank, Corozalito, Libertad, Little Belize, Louisville, Paraiso, Patchacan, Progresso, Pueblo Nuevo, Ranchito, San Joaquin, Sarteneja, Shipstern, and Xaibe.

While the island of Ambergris Caye may geographically be closest to Corozal District, it is actually a part of Belize District.

Pre-Columbian Maya ruins are found in Corozal at Santa Rita near Corozal Town, at Louisville, and at Cerros.

Orange Walk

The Orange Walk District, with an area of 1790 square miles (4,636 square km), is located north-northeast of the Belize District. This is the second largest district in terms of total area and lies between the Belize and Corozal districts to the east, Mexico to the north and Guatemala to the west. Significant villages in Orange Walk District include August Pine Ridge, Carmelita, Douglas, Indian Church, Guinea Grass, San Antonio, San Carlos, San Estevan, San Felipe, San José, Nuevo San Juan, San Lazaro, San Luis, San Pablo, San Roman, Santa Cruz, Santa Martha, Shipyard, Trial Farm, Trinidad and Yo Creek. Other settlements with smaller numbers of inhabitants may also be found, as well as ancient Mayan sites such as Cuello, Lamanai, Noh Mul and Chan Chich. The Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area, a large private nature reserve in the Yalbac Hills, is also located in this district. The land is highly cultivated with sugar cane, sorghum, rice, corn and vegetables by Mennonite farmers.

At the 2007 mid-year census,[1] the Orange Walk District had an estimated population of 47,145 people.

Stann Creek

Located within the district are the port of Big Creek (the main port of Belize's banana industry), the peninsula and village of Placencia (a popular tourist resort), the villages of Alta Vista, Commerce Bight, Dancing Pool, Georgetown, Guana Church Bank, High Sand, Independence and Mango Creek, Kendal, Lagarto Bank, Maya Mopan, Middle Bank, Middlesex, Mullins River, New Home, Pomona, Quarry Hill, Rancho Grande, Red Bank, Regalia, Sarawina, Silver Creek Camp, Sittee and the Garifuna village of Hopkins on the Sittee River.

Toledo

Toledo District is the southernmost district in the nation of Belize, with the district capital in the town of Punta Gorda, Belize. Also in Toledo District are the towns of Monkey River Town and Toledo Settlement, the villages of San Pedro Columbia and Silver Creek, Blue Creek, Dolores, Belize, Graham Creek, Joventud, Otoxha Village, San Benito Poite, Xpicilha Village and the ancient Maya ruins of Nim Li Punit, Lubaantun, and Uxbenka. According to the 2000 census, Toledo District had a population of 23,815 persons.

Blue Creek village is home to Tumulkin Center of Learning.



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