When talking about Belmopán, the capital of Belize, you can say without a doubt that it is a small and young Central American and Caribbean city that owes its existence to a hurricane.
Belize City, the largest urban centre, has the most important port in the nation, which was almost entirely destroyed by Hurricane Hattie in 1961. However, the Government decided to build a new capital somewhere higher, where the onslaught of tropical cyclones would not have such a large impact.
The chosen site was Belmopán, located 82 kilometres west of the old capital city and the Caribbean Sea, and 76 meters above sea level, near the Belize River Valley, with breath-taking views of the majestic hills of the Mountain Pine Ridge.
Work began in 1967 and the first phase of the rising city was concluded in 1970, at a cost of US$ 12 million. The name chosen happens to be derived from the name of the Belize River – the largest in the country – and its tributary, the Mopan River.
Belmopán began to move forward as a capital city of Belize, whose nation’s geographical position places it in Central America and the Caribbean Sea, whose waters touch the coasts and some 450 small islands and has the longest barrier reef to be found in the western hemisphere.
With an estimated population of 13,351 inhabitants (Census 2009), it is also known as the Garden City for the extensive vegetation that surrounds it and is one of the smallest capitals in the world.
There are five suburbs inside Belmopán: Salvapán and Las Flores, primarily of Central American origin; San Martín (Creole and Central American Mayans); Mopan Maya (Mayan from Ketchi / Mopan); and Riviera, a mixture of local and Central American immigrants.
The culinary culture of Belmopán’s residents is spiced with elements from other countries, such as the UK, USA, Mexico and the Caribbean.
Traditional staple foods are rice and beans, often accompanied by chicken, pork, beef, fish or vegetables, to which coconut milk and fried plantains add a tropical flavour.
Streets and places
Existing for around four decades, the capital was born in the central region of the Mayans, the first inhabitants of the country. Archaeological remains reveal the history and culture of this ancient and great civilization, of which only travellers can truly appreciate.
By walking through the streets of the capital you can take in the sights of Walker Parliament House, a modern building where the architecture resembles a Mayan temple, you can also take a break in Plaza de la Independencia or acquire tropical produce in the Market Square.
Nature lovers can enjoy places like Belize Zoo, an area of 12 hectares, home to over 125 animals of around 48 species, all native to the region – including Baird’s tapir, which is considered a native animal.
The Guanacaste is one of the largest trees in Central America, prized for its timber, with broad branches that shelter a variety of orchids, bromelias, ferns, cacti, vines and creepers.
Located south-west of the capital is the Blue Hole National Park, a popular place to visit, where water from an underground tributary that flows into the Sibun River, emerges from the depths of a cave where its limestone roof collapsed.
Within the limits of the reserve that spans some 232 acres, is the cave of San Germán, where archaeologists have found pottery, spears, torches and other Mayan household utilities from the classic period.
Belmopán shares history and modernity all within a small geographic space which its people hope is never destroyed by a hurricane, so that over time, they too will become centennial legends.
(Translated by Amanda Flanaghan)