Belize: Natural Landscape

Belize: Natural Landscape

Thu, 10/13/2022 - 17:21
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Belize is located along the Caribbean coast of northeastern Central America. Known as British Honduras until 1973, its geography consists of heavily forested plains and the Maya Mountains. The Belize Barrier Reef System flanks the coastline while cays and atolls dot the reef.

The Natural Landscape of Belize

Belize is located along the Caribbean coast of northeastern Central America. The country borders Mexico to the north, Guatemala to the west and south, and the Caribbean Sea to the east.

Known as British Honduras until 1973, it was the last British colony on the American mainland and is often considered a Caribbean country in Central America due to its history.

The Belize Barrier Reef System, the second-longest barrier reef in the world at 300 km (190 mi), flanks much of the predominantly marshy coastline. Small cay islands dot the reef.

The country's north consists mainly of flat, swampy coastal plains, heavily forested in places. The low range of the Maya Mountains is located in the southern section of the country.


According to the Global Biodiversity Index, despite its small size, Belize is the 67th most biodiverse country in the world, with 531 species of birds, 37 amphibian species, 650 species of fish, 148 species of mammals, 140 species of reptiles, and 4,192 species of vascular plants.


A moist tropical climate characterizes Belize. Temperatures vary according to elevation, proximity to the coast, and the moderating effects of the northeast trade winds off the Caribbean Sea.

The first dry season occurs from late February to May. The wet season occurs from June to November, although it is interrupted from August to September by a second dry season.

Map of Central America

Location map of the countries of Central America

Natural Geography of Belize

Geographic Regions

Belize can be divided into four main geographic regions:

  • the northern limestone lowlands

  • the Maya Mountains in the south

  • the narrow coastal plain

  • the offshore atolls and cayes

Northern Lowlands

The country's northern half consists of limestone lowlands and swamps less than 60 m (200 ft) above sea level. Eighteen rivers and many perennial streams drain these low-lying areas.

Flat agricultural fields, small farming towns, and lowland rainforests dominate the area.

Westward from the northern coastal areas, the terrain changes from mangrove swamps to tropical pine savannah and hardwood forest. The flora here is highly diverse.

Maya Mountains

The Maya Mountains of the south dominate all but the narrow coastal plain. A plateau of igneous rock cut by erosion into hills and valleys, the rugged but relatively low mountains stretch in a southwesterly to northeasterly direction. The highest point is Victoria Peak at 1,120 m (3,674 ft).

The Cockscomb Range, a spur of the Maya Mountains, runs toward the sea and rises to its highest point at Doyle's Delight at 1,124 m (3,687 ft). Because Doyle's Delight is just a spur slightly higher than the surrounding mountain range rather than an actual peak, it had no official name for most of Belize's history.

These heavily forested highlands are sparsely inhabited and are covered with shallow, highly erodible soils of low fertility.

Coastal Plain

The coastline is flat and swampy, with many lagoons, especially in the northern and central parts of the country.

Scattered oaks, pines, and palmetto palms on the southern coastal plain and inland from Belize City mark the open savanna (grassland).

Offshore Cayes and Atolls

Almost countless cayes, atolls, and lagoons fringe the Caribbean coastline.

The Belize Barrier Reef System comprises the most significant barrier reef in the northern hemisphere, offshore atolls, several hundred sand cays, mangrove forests, coastal lagoons, and estuaries.

Topographic map of Belize

Topographic map of Belize

Islands of Belize

Belize is home to hundreds of islands called "cayes" (pronounced "keys") and countless coral reefs that stretch for 300 km (190 mi) along the coast of the Caribbean Sea. Many cayes are privately owned.

The Belize Barrier Reef is one interconnected system comprised of seven marine protected areas along the length of the barrier reef, the shelf lagoon, and offshore atolls. The reef complex is comprised of approximately 450 sand and mangrove cayes.

Notable Cayes

  • Ambergris Caye: the largest island in Belize, about 40 km (25 mi) long and 1.6 km (1 mi) wide, located northeast of the Belizean mainland in the Caribbean Sea. Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve are located in the northern part of the caye.

  • Caye Caulker: a long thin limestone coral island off the coast of the Caribbean Sea, approximately 32 km (20 mi) from Belize City, with a town named Caye Caulker Village and roughly 2,000 people.

  • Goff's Caye: a small island off the coast of Belize City and registered as an archaeological site due to its colonial-era settlement.

  • Saint George's Caye: an island in the Caribbean Sea east of Belize City with a permanent population of about 20 people.

  • Harvest Caye: a private island owned by Norwegian Cruise Line, located off the coast of southern Belize.

  • Laughing Bird Caye: an island located in the Caribbean Sea, off the coast of Placencia, which hosts the Laughing Bird Caye National Park.

  • Half Moon Caye: located about 50 miles (80 km) southeast of Belize City, Half Moon Caye Natural Monument was the first nature reserve established under the National Park Systems Act and the first marine protected area in Central America.

  • Long Caye: located 64 km (40 mi) off the coast of Belize and 13 km (8 mi) from the Great Blue Hole, the Caye is part of the Glover's Reef Marine Reserve.

Bodies of Water

Notable Rivers

  • Belize River (Old River)

  • Bladon River

  • Hondo River (Río Hondo)

  • Macal River

  • Manatee River

  • Moho River

  • Monkey River

  • Mopan River

  • Mullin River

  • New River (Rio Nuevo)

  • North Stann Creek River

  • Rio Grande River

  • Sarstoon River

  • Sibun River (Xibun River)

  • Sittee River

  • Temash River

Notable Lakes

  • Aguacate Lagoon

  • Black Creek Lagoon

  • Button Lagoon

  • Cenote Lagoon

  • Chan Lagoon

  • Chiwa Lagoon

  • Cocos Lagoon

  • Cook's Lagoon

  • Cox Lagoon

  • Crabcatcher Lagoon

  • Cudjoe Lagoon

  • Doubloon Bank Lagoon

  • Fabers Lagoon

  • Four Mile Lagoon

  • Northern Lagoon

  • Southern Lagoon

Map depicting the regions of Belize

Map depicting the regions of Belize

Natural Regions

Approximately 60% of Belize is forested, comprising at least 50 tree species. Savanna, scrubland, and wetland constitute the remainder of the landscape. Important mangrove ecosystems are also represented.

The wildlife of Belize is abundant and includes tapir, deer, jaguar, puma, Baird's tapir, American crocodile, manatee, and many species of turtles, tortoises, birds, reptiles, insects, and fish.

Ecological Regions

The following is a list of terrestrial ecoregions in Belize, as defined by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Belize is in the Neotropical realm. Ecoregions are classified by biome type - the major global plant communities determined by rainfall and climate.

Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests

Tropical and subtropical coniferous forests

  • Belizian pine forests


  • Belizean Reef mangroves

  • Belizean Coast mangroves

Belize physiographic map

Belize physiographic map

Administrative Divisions

See: Cultural Landscape of Belize