Belize is only 8,867 square miles in size, is situated on the northeast coast of Central America. The Caribbean Sea lies to the east and from the air its turquoise waters are clear, allowing the multicolored coral formation of the Great Barrier Reef to be easily observed. Coral islands called cayes, covered with stands of mangrove trees, dot the coast. Lying in aquamarine and jade-colored bays, these cayes protect the jungled coastline from the ravages of the sea.
North of Belize lies the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. The Rio Hondo, which empties into Chetumal Bay, is the border between the two countries. The eastern border is demarcated by a surveyed line through the jungle separating Belize from the El Peten Department of Guatemala. To the south, the Belize/Guatemalan border is the Rio Sarstoon which flows east to the Caribbean Sea. The country is divided by the eastward flowing Belize River which is a major transportation route for native goods.
The north half of the country is made up of synclinal folds of low lying, parallel limestone ridges running NNE to SSW. These jungle covered ridges are the spines of fossil coral reefs. In the valleys between run the perennial rivers, the Hondo, Nuevo, and Freshwater Creek. The Northern Peten and Campeche Regions of the Yucatan are drained by these river basins. This area, known as the “Maya Heartland,” contains the classic Maya center of Tikal as well as many minor ceremonial centers and hundreds of occupation sites. The lagoons along the Nuevo River and Freshwater Creek are also areas of Maya site concentration.
Southern Belize is the site of large plantations that grow citrus, an important export. Rising out of the palm-covered coastal plain of southern Belize are the Maya Mountains. Mostly unexplored, they are covered by verdant jungle and a canopy of tropical rain clouds. The paleozoic horst is comprised of granite and metamorphosed sandstone which sustains stands of pine in its infertile acidic soil. Unsuitable for agriculture, the ridge (note that in Belize, ridge refers to any change in vegetation) was exploited by Preceramic peoples and Maya hunters. Averaging approximately 1,000 feet, the main divide is relatively dwarfed by Victoria Peak which reaches 3,680 feet. The southern plateau becomes broader and descends westward. The northern part of this region, known as the Mountain Pine Ridge area, lies in the Capo District.