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Belize is a developing nation, limited by a small economy, a tiny industrial base, a huge trade deficit, widespread unemployment, and a historic dependence on foreign aid. These problems have only been compounded since independence. Sugar, bananas, and citrus are the principal cash crops, though seafood exports also help. However, thanks to a modest oil find in 2005, crude oil is currently the country's number one export. Tourism is also a promising and important source of income, and this is sure to continue. Increasingly, Belizeans whose fathers and grandfathers were farmers or fishermen find themselves hotel owners, tour guides, waiters, and cleaning personnel.

Belize has a population of some 297,000, roughly half of whom live in one of the six major towns or cities, with the rest living in rural areas or small villages. About 45% of the population is considered mestizo, descendants of mixed Spanish, Mexican, and/or Mayan blood. Making up 30% of the population are the Creoles, predominantly black descendants of slaves and the early British colonists. Belize's three Mayan tribes -- Yucatec, Mopan, and Kekchi -- make up around 10% of the population. The Garífuna constitute approximately 6.5% of the population, while a mix of whites of British descent, Mennonites, Chinese, and East Indians fill out the rest.

In general, the pace of life and business is slow in Belize. You'll seldom find people rushing down the sidewalks or dirt streets. There are only four major highways in the country, and traffic is never heavy. In fact, all of these highways actually have speed bumps along their length, as they pass through the many roadside towns and villages.

Belize held its first parliamentary elections in 1984. Since then, power has ping-ponged back and forth between the United Democratic Party (UDP) and the People's United Party (PUP). The former is a more conservative, free-market oriented party, while the latter champions a more liberal, social-democratic agenda. In the August 1998 elections, PUP won 26 of the 29 parliamentary seats, while the UDP managed to win just 3. However, by 2005 discontent with the PUP over tax increases and money mismanagement had grown widespread, and there were some public demonstrations and disturbances. The UDP pummeled them in the 2006 municipal elections, and again in the 2008 national elections, electing Dean Barrow as the country's first black prime minister and maintaining a strong majority of parliamentary seats.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.