Belize, formerly known as British Honduras, is a small country tucked in between Mexico and Guatemala and bathed by the Caribbean Sea. Belize was a British colony until 1981, when it got its final independence. Its main attractions are the offshore cayes (pronounced keys) and the barrier reef, the longest in the Western Hemisphere. The cayes are islands that are located between the mainland and the barrier reef. Although the mangrove cayes are normally uninhabitable, they do provide a superior habitat for birds and marine life. On the other hand, the island cayes such as Ambergris Caye or Caye Caulker, which are distinguishable by their palm trees, have provided the foundation for the development of many fine resorts to serve the water sports enthusiasts and the marine naturalists. The cayes and atolls provide superior opportunity for scuba diving, snorkeling, boating, sailing, sail boarding and sea kayaking.
The central part of Belize consists of sandy soil that supports large savannas. Approximately thirty miles southwest of Belize City, the land begins to rise dramatically to between 1,500 and 3,680 feet above sea level into the enchanting Mountain Pine Ridge Area and the Maya Mountains. Mountain Pine and the Cayo District are ideal areas for vacationing. They provide excellent conditions for outdoor activities such as horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking, cave tubing and kayaking, and are the ideal base for excursions to Maya ruins such as Caracol, Tikal and Xunantunich.
The southern part of Belize consists of short rivers that rush through slopes combed with overhanging ledges and caves. The most important tourist areas are the beachfront towns of Dangriga, Hopkins and Placencia. In addition to nearby wildlife sanctuaries, Mayan sites and excellent conditions for water sports, the area is well known for being the center of the Afro-Carib Garifuna culture.