When people first ask me exactly where Belize is located, I joke and say, “Well, I guess it depends… are you by land or by sea?”
You might be surprised to find out that Belize is not an island — despite its beautiful, tropical scenery. There are groups of islands belonging to the country that sprinkle the coastline and sit on the West of the Caribbean Sea, including Ambergris Caye and its main town, San Pedro.
The land that is considered to be the “mainland” of Belize shares its borders with Mexico and Guatemala and is surrounded by Spanish-speaking countries.
Take a look at this map for reference. If you weren’t familiar with the history and culture of Belize, you’d assume that it shared more commonalities with its neighbors. But that isn’t quite the case.
Why is Belize part of the Caribbean and not Latin America?
Belize is often considered a Caribbean country in Central America because it has a history similar to that of other English-speaking Caribbean countries. One could say that history, location, economy, and culture are closely intertwined and can affect each other.
Let’s get into what factors make Belize “Caribbean”…
Belize is a former British colony
As I mentioned in my last newsletter, Belize is part of the Commonwealth Realms. The 14 countries outside of the United Kingdom were formerly part of the British Empire.
Many of these countries that remain in the Commonwealth — if not the majority — are located in the Caribbean including: Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
As former colonies, these countries have a shared history and similar struggles like the Atlantic slave trade. They also experienced emancipation from their British colonizers and even gained independence around the same time and much later than many Latin American countries.
Aside from this shared history, Belize is part of the social and economic Caribbean Community. As a member of CARICOM, the Caribbean’s equivalent of the European Union, Belize has closer ties to other Caribbean nations than it does to neighboring nations. CARICOM aims to provide economic integration, foreign policy coordination, human and social development and security for its members.
All members of CARICOM are free to trade with each other with few to no taxes. They can also travel freely to any country in this association without a visa. This connection alone makes Belize more closely tied to the Caribbean than to their geographically closer neighbors.
Belize’s Latin-Caribbean Culture
The last factor that ties Belize in as a Caribbean country is its culture. In just one visit, you’d be able to see the similarities to countries that lie on the other side of the Caribbean Sea. Belize’s culture is a mixture of laid-back Caribbean style and British formalness.
English is the official language of Belize while Spanish is the first language of the majority. Most Spanish speakers in Belize are also fluent in English, making Belize a bilingual country. If you count the third, informal language, Belizean Kriol, it’s a trilingual country.
I’ve talked about this in a previous newsletter. Another thing that makes Belize very Caribbean is its food — but who doesn’t love talking about food? The national dish of Belize consists of boiled rice, vegetables, egg, fish, and bread dumplings (boiled dough). These are food staples that almost all the Caribbean countries share.
Visit Belize and see for yourself what makes this country truly Caribbean!