In 1961, the infamous Hurricane Hattie swept over Belize City, destroying what was then the capital of the country. Soon after, the government decided to move most of its offices and administrative buildings, including the National Assembly to a safer, more sheltered environment ~ Belmopan fit these criteria and was shortly established as the new capital of the nation. Based on the Mayan language spoken in Cayo, the name, ‘Belmopan’ was developed by joining the words, ‘Belize’ and ‘Mopan’. Belmopan is located approximately 48 miles from Belize City, 57 miles from Dangriga Town and 22 miles from San Ignacio. It is often thought of as the center of the country ~ a midpoint to get where you want to go.
Holding a population of only 9,000 people, Belmopan can quite easily be considered the smallest capital in the entire world. Recording the highest temperatures in the country during the summer months (sometimes up to 105° Fahrenheit) and providing very little entertainment for local society, Belmopan is often considered ‘boring’ by most Belizeans, which contribute to the slow population growth. A large population of the workers and students of Belmopan commute to nearby Belize City or Cayo every day.
In contrast to the congestion of Belize City, Belmopan, being a premeditated government community from its establishment in the 60′s, is often termed the ‘Garden City’ because of its well-manicured landscapes and many flowering trees. The ‘Independence Plaza’ in the center of town is a hubbub of administrative buildings and offices including the Prime Minister’s Office and the post office that is completely surrounded by pedestrian walkways linking all the buildings with the community outside.
The ‘Market Square’ located near the Plaza is also home to a continuous clamor of activity where buyers can find anything from tamales and fry chicken, to a wide variety of local fruits, seaweed juice and ‘shave ice’ (snow cones). Across the street from the Market Square is the Novelos Bus Terminal, where passengers can embark on journeys further west to San Ignacio and Mountain Pine Ridge, further south to Stann Creek and Toledo and up North to Belize City, Orange Walk and Corozal.
The Belize Archives holds the nation’s historical records and has attracted students and researchers worldwide. The Archaeology Department maintains the archeological vault that protects many of the Mayan artifacts. Guanacaste National Park is only a few minutes away from Belmopan and the Belize Zoo is about half hour away. South of Belmopan is the scenic Hummingbird Highway, which leads to attractions such as Blue Hole National Park, St. Herman’s Cave, Five Blues Lake National Park, the Stann Creek district, and the Southern Highway.