Blue Hole © USGS
Located on the Caribbean coast between Mexico and Guatemala, Belize may be small, but this tropical country is an exotic, English-speaking, adventurer's paradise. Almost half the country has been preserved as nature parks and reserves, including tropical forests teeming with unique wildlife and hiding mysterious Mayan ruins, and 174 miles (280km) of coastline featuring the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere.
The reef and the country's numerous offshore cayes have made this one of the world's most desirable destinations for scuba divers and researchers who come to explore the myriad of coral and marine life. Particularly popular with divers is the 'Blue Hole', a famous circular sinkhole on lighthouse reef.
The central lowlands of Belize were once home to the mighty and storied Mayan civilisation from around 1,000 BC until its inexplicable disintegration around 900 AD. There are believed to be thousands of Mayan ruins in Belize, of which about 600 have been discovered and excavated, many now open to tourists.
Belmopan is the modern capital, but it is Belize City where visitors will find attractions such as Belize Zoo, museums and other historic buildings, and the ancient Mayan site of Altun Ha, with its immaculate central plaza. Nightlife, shopping and fancy dining are in short supply. The real fun for tourists lies in the diving, snorkelling, fishing, hiking, birdwatching, kayaking, and exploring.
Like most Caribbean countries Belize was occupied by British and Spanish colonialists over the centuries before gaining independence. Today it is a happy-go-lucky multi-ethnic nation of warm, friendly people, very welcoming of the tourists on whom the country's economy relies so heavily.