The major sectors of the economy of northern Belize are livestock,
sugar cane, fisheries, logging and forestry, tourism and the
Corozal Free Zone.
Sugar cane was introduced to northern Belize in the late 1840’s
from the Yucatan and continued to be produced through the construction
of the sugar factory at Libertad in 1935. The industry experienced
slow growth until the 1950’s when the lands used to grow
cane expanded from 2,000 acres to nearly 40,000 acres utilized
for cane production today. Sugar production occurs at one factory
operated by Belize Sugar Industries, Ltd. The facility processes
the cane production supplied by more than 4,000 farmers.
The Mennonites of Belize are certainly the largest and most
efficient farmers in Belize. They supply the country with 90%
of its poultry and eggs. In recent years Belize has become totally
self-sufficient in pork, beef, poultry and eggs mainly due to
the entrepreneurial efforts of the Mennonite community, which
also produces a wide variety of dairy products as well as producing
ample stocks of corn, rice, beans and animal feed.
There are many small farms that grown rice, corn, beans, plantains,
bananas, vegetables, citrus, sugar cane and a variety of other
fruits. The smaller farms are usually family owned and operated,
taking care of all aspects of farm business from seeding the
crop to selling the crop at local markets.
Forestry, once the foundation of Belize’s economy no
longer has the importance it used to have. Over half of Belize
is still covered with forest, however, most of Belize has been
logged. Today, northern Belize protects and manages some of
the remaining productive forests. A great deal of the lumber
harvested today is used in the local markets. The types of lumber
include mahogany, sapodilla, buttonwood, cedar, santa maria
and soft pine. The Mennonite communities log their own trees
for construction as well as to make furniture.
Fishing is a very important part of the Belize economy. In
2001 the fishing industry accounted for 7.2% of the gross domestic
product. This industry has grown from a subsistence activity
to a strong commercial industry in recent years. Belize exports
to the Caribbean, the U.S. and Europe. Export opened in the
1920’s with lobster and conch being the top export products.
The fishing industry thrives in many towns along the coast of
Belize. In northern Belize the towns of Sarteneja and Corozal
are known to have experienced fisherman who rely on lobster,
conch and fin fish to earn their livings. The fishing seasons
for lobster and conch are:
The tourism industry today is unquestionably the fastest growing
industry in Belize. It accounts for over 18% of the country’s
gross domestic product, 25% of total foreign exchange earnings
and represents one in four out of every job in the country.
Northern Belize has a great
deal to offer in tourism. There are numerous nature
reserves, Mayan sites, jungle lodges and many outdoor
activities such as canoeing, kayaking, bird watching,
trailblazing, fishing and horseback riding.
costs are generally lower in northern Belize and often less
crowded with more pristine environments to enjoy. Tourism
has also just impacted northern Belize. The growth of
tourism has made fishing less important to the local economy
where many of the locals who used to fish for a living are
now using their boats for tourist-based activities.
Altun Ha Mayan
The Commercial Free Zone Act of 1994 established a CFZ, Commercial
Free Zone, at Corozal to attract foreign investment. The Commercial
Free Zone Act is one of the most advanced and modern laws governing
Free Zones. It allows business entrepreneurs tremendous tax
free business opportunities. It is important to note in a CFZ
all goods warehoused may be sold either retail or wholesale:
The CFZ is directly at the northern border with Mexico.
The climate of northern Belize in general is
vastly different from southern Belize. From January through May
you can expect less than two inches of rain to fall each month.
This time period is usually referred to by the locals of Belize
as the “Dry Season.” From June through December, the
“Rainy Season,” one can expect approximately six inches
of rain to fall per month. The 80 inches of rain falling in northern
Belize is quite a contrast to the 160 inches of rain falling in
the southern extremities of the country. The climate of Belize
is considered sub-tropical. Humidity is rarely oppressive for
long and even less significant in the northern portions of the
country where the humidity is significantly lower than found in
southern Belize. The mean humidity of the country is 83% and with
the prevailing trade winds high, humid days are not uncomfortable.
The temperature in Belize ranges from 50°F
in the mountains to 95°F in the western districts with a mean
annual temperature of 79°F. Traditionally, November and January
are the coolest months having an average temperature of 75°F.
May to September are the warmest months averaging 81°F.
Belize is a paradise having prevailing easterly
winds averaging 10 mph. These “trade winds” blow intermittently
between February and September reaching their greatest constancy
in July. From October to January northeasterly winds predominate.
These winds are a result of the southward extension of the North
America cold fronts bringing overcast skies, strong northerly
winds and cold damp air.
Tropical storms and hurricanes are not known
to be frequent occurrences in Belize, however, the southeast coast
of the United States has significantly more hurricane activity
than Belize. The heart of the hurricane season in Belize is thought
to be from late September to the end of October.
Northern Belize supports a wide and diverse variety
of ecosystems. Lowland broadleaf forests blanket the escarpments
of western Orange Walk and good portions of the Freshwater Creek
Forest Reserve where rich, lime soils have built up over centuries.
The nutrient poor soils have given rise to what is known as “pine
ridge” where pine trees and savanna grasses thrive. Along
many of the river ways and low depressions of northern Belize
one can find freshwater wetlands and swamps often called “bajos.”
And along the coast and the northeast region of the Corozal District
lie extensive salt water swamps also known as “mangrove
The lowland broadleaf forests of northern Belize
can be described as semi-deciduous rainforest. These forests are
diverse in nature without having any one plant species dominating.
Mahogany, cedar, sapodilla, ramon, cohume and figs are among the
most common species characteristic of these lowland broadleaf
forests. Often within these forests you will find immense trees
forming a canopy so thick and dense that only occasional rays
of sunlight filter down to the forest floor. The floor is generally
a thick layer of decomposing flora. Heliconias, ferns, vines,
orchids and bromeliads are all commonly found.
Right of entry to these lowland broadleaf forests
is readily available at Chan Chich Lodge, the Rio Bravo Conservation
Area and at the Freshwater Creek Forest Reserve where in most
cases one can find well maintained trails winding through pristine
The pine ridge they are often referred to are
tropical savanna ecosystems having sedges, bunch grasses, shrubs,
trees and palms that do not form a canopy. This ecosystem is usually
water-logged during rainy season and completely dried-out during
dry season. Most tree species found in these tropical savannas
are somewhat fire resistant. They include Caribbean pine, oak,
calabash, craboo and palmetto. The savanna does support a variety
of birds, mammals and reptiles.
Freshwater lagoons, rivers, wetlands and swamps
of northern Belize are truly the lifelines of the northern districts.
They provide nutrients, wildlife and drainage from the occasional
rains from the interior of the country to the Caribbean Sea. Exploring
these waterways is best done by kayak or canoe either early in
the morning or late in the afternoon. Riparian forests are the
forests along the rivers. They provide densely rooted systems
that hold soil together and prevent quick water flow from carrying
away the river banks. The vegetation often forms a canopy rich
in habitats for small mammals and birds. The freshwater lagoons
are marvelous places to explore since they are stocked with an
abundance of invertebrates, fish and wildlife.
The Shipstern Wildlife Sanctuary located at the
northeast corner of northern Belize has one of the largest mangrove
lagoon systems in the country. These mangroves and coastal lagoons
have proven to be some of the most productive and important ecosystems
for the continuing health of the marine coastal zone. Essentially
biological debris is carried from the interior forests by the
fast flowing rivers and waterways to the river deltas and shorelines
where the flow of water slows and spreads nutrients on the bacteria
rich bottom. The bacteria serve as food for microscopic invertebrates,
which are in turn ingested by macro invertebrates like crabs,
larvae, fish and shrimp. The feeding process continues up the
food chain to the larger predators such as reptiles, small mammals,
manatee, tarpon, snook and egrets.
Northern Belize’s diverse ecosystems provide
for a wide variety of wildlife primarily due to the fact that
there are expansive areas of undisturbed land virtually intact
and relatively low levels of human contact. Below are descriptions
of the more common species one may encounter when touring each
of the various ecosystems of northern Belize.
The lowland broadleaf forests of northern Belize
support two species of monkey. The Howler Monkey, known in Belize
as the “baboon” live in the tree tops and feed on
fruit and leaves. They can be heard howling early mornings and
evenings. The Spider Monkey also lives in the tree tops, however,
is known to be more agile than the howlers.
Five species of wildcats are also found in the
broadleaf forests. The Jaguar, Puma, Ocelot, Margay and Jaquarundi.
Northwest Belize is an area with probably the largest cat population
because the natural prey has not been hunted out.
White-tailed deer sightings are commonplace.
Grey Fox are commonly sighted also. And armadillo and opossums
can be seen at night. One of the most frequently seen night time
mammals is the Kinkajou, which is found high in the canopy and
easily located by their eye shine.
Belize’s national bird, the Keel Billed
Toucan can more easily be heard than seen since the dense flora
of the canopy prevents easy sightings. Other bird species readily
seen and heard are the Blue-Crowned Motmot, the Montezuma Orependola,
the large Occellated Turkey and the Great Tinamou.
While often thought of as having little life,
the pine ridge and savannas of northern Belize often have wonderful
animal sightings. One of the most frequently seen animals is the
Grey Fox. It feeds on insects and small animals. The Nine-Banded
Armadillo can be found searching for ants, termites and insects.
The Puma is certainly the top predator of the lowlands savanna
ecosystem of northern Belize.
Birds are seen throughout the savanna habitat.
The Yellow-Headed Parrot, the King Vulture, the Forked-Tailed
Flycatcher, the White Flycatcher, the Aplomado Falcon and Vermillion
Flycatcher are just some species found to name a few. Reptiles
include the Anole Lizard, the Rainbow Ameiva and the Cane Toad,
which protects itself with its poison glands on its skin causing
headaches and nausea if ingested. The best time to view the savanna
is early morning or late afternoon when its creatures are out
and about. Tread quietly and lightly and bring a pair of binoculars.
The wildlife associated with the freshwater rivers,
lagoons, wetlands and swamps in Belize are closely associated
with the savannas of northern Belize. These areas are loaded with
food sources for plants and invertebrates making up the lower
level of the food chain. As a result of this rich food source
many resident and migrant birds are attracted to this area.
Characteristic birds that can be seen in these
habitats include Woodstorks, Ibis, Herons, Spoonbills, Egrets,
Agami, Rails, Cormorants, Anhingas and Bare-Throated Tiger Herons.
One of the most common birds found here is the black hawk-like
bird known as the Snail Kite, a predator capable of extracting
the body of an Apple Snail from its shell. This bird is primarily
responsible for all the beautiful shell littering the banks of
the lagoons and rivers of northern Belize.
There are two important reptiles found in the
waterways of northern Belize. The Hickatee Turtle, widely hunted
by locals for its meat, feeds on leaves and fruit found at the
deep river and lagoon banks. The Mocelet Crocodile lives in inland
lagoons and rivers feeding primarily on small mammals and birds
along the shoreline. Due to the high quality of its skin, a large
number of Mocelets were severely depleted by hunting and indiscriminate
taking of skins. Increase development of the rainforest areas
has also threatened the survival of the species and caused a dramatic
and steady decline in their numbers.
The animals that inhabit the underwater regions
of the mangrove and coastal lagoons are plentiful, however, these
animal must be able to tolerate the sudden changes in water salinity.
Life flourishes for such invertebrates as Tunicates, Sponges,
Anemones, Barnacles and Oysters which live on the root system
of the Red Mangrove. Grouper, Snapper, Lobster and Crabs begin
their lives in the protection of the mangroves before moving to
The birds, reptiles, mammals and invertebrates
also enjoy the protection the mangroves have to offer. In addition
to the security the mangroves provide rich food sources and a
perfect habitat for reproduction.
The Wood Stork, one of the largest birds in Belize
is found in rookeries within the coastal lagoons. Other species
such as the Heron, Ibis, Egret, Spoonbills and White Crowned Pigeons
also frequent the coastal mangroves. There is no shortage of food.
They feed on crabs, worms, small fish, insects and the abundant
shrimp populations of the habitat.
Characteristic reptiles that frequent the mangrove
and coastal lagoons include the Anole Lizard. Small snakes feed
on the insects and young birds of the mangroves.
The most interesting and impressive mammal found
while exploring the coastal mangrove habitats is the West Indian
Manatee. These endangered species feed on the turtle grasses of
the shallows around the mangrove islands along the northern coast.
Other mammals are less abundant, however coatimundi, raccoons
and squirrels may be seen in the mangroves.