Belize lies on the Caribbean coast of Central America, bordered by Mexico to the north and Guatemala to the west. Slightly larger than El Salvador, Belize comprises approximately 22,960 square km (including territorial sea).
The climate is subtropical with a well- marked dry season from February to May. The increase in rainfall from north to south and the presence of the Maya Mountain block south of the Belize River is reflected in a distinctive change in the vegetation. Forests in the north are characterized by many deciduous, limestone-loving species with a canopy under 20 meters. The increase in rainfall and topography south of the Belize River produces forests with a higher canopy (>30 meters), fewer deciduous species and an abundance of epiphytic orchids and bromeliads.
Belize is divided into six political districts, each with one or more population centers. The capital is Belmopan. English is the official language, while many people speak one or more of the following: Spanish, Creole, several dialects of Mayan, Chinese, East Indian and German. With approximately 250,000 inhabitants, Belize has the lowest population density in Central America.Belize has some of the most extensive tracts of primeval rainforest in Central America. These forests are inhabited by healthy populations of some of Tropical America's rarest and most beautiful creatures including the puma, jaguar, ocelot, gray fox, Yucatán black howler monkey, Central American spider monkey, tapir, peccary, red brocket and white-tailed deer, agouti, paca, Mexican porcupine, scarlet macaw, jabiru stork, toucan, ocellated turkey, harpey eagle and many others. Just off shore in the clear waters of the Caribbean is the world's second-longest barrier reef, supporting a rich assemblage of sea creatures including corals, manatees, sharks, rays, and others. Numerous habitats including rainforest, pine forest, savanna, marsh, and mangrove support 3,408 species of vascular plants in 209 families, with new species being discovered nearly every year. (See map at right: Belize Ecosystem Map Meerman, J. and W. Sabido. 2001. Central American Ecosystems: Belize. Programme for Belize, Belize City. 2 volumes 50 + 88 pp., courtesy of Jan Meerman)
Belizeans are understandably proud of their natural heritage and have demonstrated their commitment to preserving it by setting aside over 40 percent of the country as park, reserve or forest. In addition, numerous private reserves support wildlife and provide jobs for local people. Every year, over a quarter-of-a-million tourists visit Belize, mostly to view wildlife, visit archeological sites and snorkel and dive the reef.