Belize lies on the northeast coast of Central America, above the corner where the Honduran coast takes off to the east. Belize’s 8,866 square miles of territory are bordered on the north by Mexico, on the west and south by Guatemala, and on the east by the Caribbean Sea and the Belize Barrier Reef.
From the northern Río Hondo border with Mexico to the southern border with Guatemala, Belize’s mainland measures 180 miles long, and it is 68 miles across at its widest point. Offshore, Belize has more than 200 cayes, or islands.
Both the coastal region and the northern half of the mainland are flat, but the land rises in the south and west to over 3,000 feet above sea level. The Maya Mountains and Cockscomb range form the country’s backbone and include Belize’s highest point, Doyle’s Delight (3,688 feet). Mangrove swamps cover much of the humid coastal plain.
In the west, the Cayo District contains the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve. At one time a magnificent Caribbean pine forest, it has, over the decades, been reduced by lumber removal, fires, and the pine bark beetle.
Despite vast beetle damage, the upper regions of Mountain Pine Ridge still provide spectacular scenery, with sections of thick forest surrounding the Macal River as it tumbles over huge granite boulders (except where the river was dammed at Chalillo). Thousand Foot Falls plunges 1,600 feet to the valley below and is the highest waterfall in all of Central America.
The Río Frio cave system offers massive stalactites and stalagmites to the avid spelunker. The diverse landscape includes limestone-fringed granite boulders.
Over thousands of years, what was once a sea in the northern half of Belize has become a combination of scrub vegetation and rich tropical hardwood forest. Near the Mexican border, much of the land has been cleared, and it’s here that the majority of sugar crops are raised, along with family plots of corn and beans. Most of the northern coast is swampy, with a variety of grasses and mangroves that attract waterfowl and wading birds. Rainfall in the north averages 60 inches annually, though it’s generally dry November–May.
© Joshua Berman and Avalon Travel from Moon Belize, 9th Edition