A Geography of Belize
For a tiny nation, Belize shows the world just how much geographic diversity can be found within the nation’s borders.
Belize’s geological makeup is divided into 4 main regions: Low-lying Maya Mountains in the south that sprawl across a coastal plain, northern lowlands where rivers and streams dominate the landscape, swampy areas and hundreds of offshore islands. For a country the size of Massachusetts, this nation’s geological history is impressive.
Sharing a northern border with Quintana Roo, Mexico, a western border with Petén, Guatemala and a southern border with Izabal, Guatemala, Belize has the distinction of being the second smallest Central American nation. It’s only a little bigger than El Salvador, yet the nation is filled with natural treasures that belie its size.
Temperature and weather factors
Temperature changes throughout the year consist of a rainy season (May to November) and a dry season (February to May). Hurricanes have played a big role in Belize’s climatic vulnerability. From the unnamed hurricane of 1931 to Hurricanes Janet and Hattie in 1955 and 1961, the destruction of Belize City for the third time proved more than the government could tolerate. Belize moved its capital to the planned city of Belmopan.
Lush tropical rainforests and jungles cover more than half of Belize and according to the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) World Fact Book, the lowest point in the nation is found offshore in the Caribbean Sea while Doyle’s Delight is the highest at 1,124 meters. Though other resources insist that Victoria Peak, at 1,120 meters within the Cockscomb Mountains is the tallest, Doyle’s has been determined to be the winner of this contest.
Agriculturally, Belize is a powerhouse
Farmers grow wheat, maize, rice, fruit, coffee, nuts and flowering shrubs within the fertile plains of Belize. Timber has been the leading economic factor over time, say historians who point to the fact that harvested hardwoods literally supported the Belize economy for decades during the British occupation.
As the only Central American country without a North Pacific Ocean coastline, exposure to the Caribbean Sea, inlets, lagoons and other bodies of water contribute to the nation’s welfare, tourism and fishing industries. Although important minerals like dolomite, barite, bauxite, cassite and gold have been found to exist beneath the soil, quantities aren’t deemed large enough to warrant mining.
Belize’s topography hides secrets
Composed of varying types of limestone and Paleozoic sediments, Belize manages to escape the “tectonically active zone that underlies most of Central America,” notes WorldFacts.com, so earthquakes tend to be rare. But the nation’s bedrock exposes fascinating remnants of prehistoric Earth: ice caves formed as the planet’s crust hardened and those were repurposed as ancient Maya ceremonial chambers over time.
Above ground, Belize’s island chains tend to get the most attention from geologists and tourists. The Belize Barrier Reef, a 175-mile-long wonder that hugs the Belize coastline, is geologically similar to hundreds of islands, cayes and atolls found in close proximity.
Alternately, major rivers throughout the nation serve as both boundaries and agricultural necessities. The Old, Sibun and New Rivers help keep river valleys vibrant thanks to alluvial soils and the Hondo and Sarstoon Rivers mark distinct north and south national boundaries. In sum, terrain changes from “mangrove swamp to tropical pine savanna and hardwood forest” shows why Belize’s geography is so rich and complex.
Belize’s geological future
Although precious metals and minerals are insufficient to mine in Belize, limestone has proven to be a good source of revenue for both domestic use and exportation. U.S. oil companies infrequently explore the idea of off-shore and on-land drilling sites but, in concert with Belize’s serious conservation and ecology laws and practices, oil drilling remains a moot subject, which is why the nation must import petroleum for energy needs.
Happily, the nation’s vast waterways could be developed for hydroelectric projects down the road, but for the moment, Belize’s diverse geography attracts retirees, investors, athletes, bird watchers and trekkers to one-of-a-kind sites like The Blue Hole. This attraction, located 58 miles off the Belize coast, remains a premier dive destination and those underground Maya caves continue to thrill and delight. Should the nation pursue the topic of hydroelectric power, Belize may eventually use its geological wonders to become more self-sufficient, too.