Belize is a country mindful of its natural beauty. More than 20 percent of its landmass and offshore water is protected, whether it be by the status of national park, forest reserve, marine reserve, natural monument, wildlife sanctuary, archaeological reserve or private reserve.
Much of the legislation that put aside these preserved areas, some accessible and some not, occurred immediately after Belize as a nation was born, in 1981, and later in 1992 with the Environmental Protection Act. In 1996 the entire Mesoamerican Barrier Reef offshore of Belize was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
One can arguably say that preserving what makes Belize beautiful was one of the founding tenets of becoming a country. As with all nations, however, the balance between preservation and economic development teeters back and forth. In Belize, however, the balance has so far never teetered so dramatically to the commercial side that its natural bounty has suffered irretrievably. The fact that roughly 70 percent of the country’s economy is generated directly or indirectly from tourism weighs greatly in the decision-making process when it comes to major development in Belize and its impact on the environment.
The commitment to keeping particularly bountiful marine and inland areas pristine and free from development or other encroachments to a particular ecosystem’s integrity gives the visiting tourist a chance to snorkel among spotted eagle rays in a marine reserve and only a day or two later walk beneath the chatter of spider and howler monkeys cavorting mischievously overhead in one of the forest reserves.
The rare scarlet macaw, playful manatees and red-eyed tree frogs are other marvels that await a patient tourist. From butterfly preserves to bird sanctuaries, there is a vibrant subtropic ecosystem that pulsates with life, big and small, around almost every corner on the Belizean map.
Even if just in a car, the visitor can get an idea of the natural abundance when cruising along the Hummingbird Highway or looking westward toward to the Mayan Mountains from the Southern Highway.
By foot on a tour, by fins and snorkel underwater or by vehicle, the natural luster of Belize surrounds anyone who ventures to step outside of one of the many accommodating yet low-impact resorts to explore Belize’s many nooks and crannies.