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Belize: Useful information about country.

Update: Belize Telecommunications Limited (BTL) has a new Numbering Plan for Belize, effective from May 1, 2002. With this numbering plan, a new 7-digit number will be applied countrywide, replacing the existing 4 or 5-digit telephone number, plus area code. The new system has no area codes (similar to the system introduced in Guatemala several years ago). You'll now need dial the entire 7 digits for all calls whether within the same area or district or to another area or district. I wish I could tell you about a simple way to convert the old numbers into the new, but in many cases the conversion code depends on whether the number is a landline and on the current area code, or a fixed or mobile cellular phone. However, here are two ways to find out: You can visit one of two websites set up for the conversion: and , then click on the New Numbering Plan icon and type in the old number in the box. If you're already in Belize you can pick up a booklet listing conversion codes from any BTL office (locations of the main ones are covered in the Rough Guide ). BTL introduced this change with very little warning. Certainly they made no mention of it when I interviewed a member of their customer service team last year, while researching the current (2nd) edition of The Rough Guide to Belize . Many businesses had no idea of the forthcoming change until I told them, sometimes only weeks before May 1st. I've tried using the conversion box on the website and I've found it (generally) works for landline phones (most numbers in Belize) but didn't do too well on cell phones. I hope this helps. If you continue to have problems, contact me at and I'll try to find out the correct number for you. Please note that most of the numbers listed on this website have been updated.

-Peter Eltringham

Wedged into the northeastern corner of Central America between Mexico's YucatA?n peninsula and the PetAŠn forests of Guatemala, Belize offers some of the most breathtaking scenery anywhere in the Caribbean. The country actually consists of marginally more sea than land, with the dazzling turquoise shallows and cobalt depths of the longest barrier reef in the Americas just offshore. Here, beneath the surface, a brilliant, technicolour world of fish and corals awaits divers and snorkellers. Scattered along the reef, a chain of islands - known as cayes - protect the mainland from the ocean swell and offer more than a hint of tropical paradise. Beyond the reef lie the real jewels in Belize's natural crown - three of only four coral atolls in the Caribbean.

Belizeans recognize the importance of conservation and their country boasts a higher proportion of protected land (over 40 percent) than any other. This has allowed the densely forested interior to remain relatively untouched, boasting abundant natural attractions, including the highest waterfall in Central America and the world's only jaguar reserve. Rich tropical forests support a tremendous range of wildlife , including howler and spider monkeys, tapirs and pumas, jabiru storks and scarlet macaws; spend any time inland and you're sure to see the national bird, the very visible keel-billed toucan.

Despite being the only Central American country without a volcano, Belize does have some rugged uplands in the south-central region, where the Maya Mountains rise to over 1100m. The country's main rivers rise here, flowing north or east to the Caribbean, forming along the way some of the largest cave systems in the Americas, few of which have been fully explored. These caves often bear traces of the Maya civilization that dominated the area from around 2000 BC until the arrival of the Spanish. The most obvious remains of this fascinating culture are the ruins of dozens of ancient cities rising out of the rainforest.

Officially English-speaking , and only gaining full independence from Britain in 1981, Belize is as much a Caribbean nation as a Latin one, but one with plenty of distinctively Central American features, above all a blend of cultures and races that includes Maya, mestizo, African and European. Spanish is at least as widely spoken as English, but the rich, lilting Creole is the spoken language understood and used by almost every Belizean, whatever their first tongue. You'll hear this everywhere - and though based on English, it's less comprehensible to outsiders than you might expect.

With far less of a language barrier to overcome than elsewhere in the region, uncrowded Belize is the ideal first stop on a tour of the isthmus. And, although it's the second-smallest country in Central America (slightly larger than El Salvador), the wealth of national parks and reserves, the numerous small hotels and restaurants, together with plenty of reliable public transport make Belize an ideal place to travel independently, giving visitors plenty of scope to explore little-visited Caribbean islands as well as the heartland of the ancient Maya

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