Belize is a Caribbean country located on the northeastern coast of Central America. Belize is bordered to the north by Mexico, to the east by the Caribbean Sea, and to the south and west by Guatemala. It has an area of 22,970 square kilometres and a population of 419,199. Its mainland is about 290 km long and 110 km wide. It has the lowest population and population density in Central America. The country's population growth rate of 1.87% per year is the second highest in the region and one of the highest in the Western Hemisphere. Its capital is Belmopan, and its largest city is Belize City.
The Maya civilization spread into the area of Belize between 1500 BC and AD 300 and flourished until about 1200. European contact began in 1492 when Christopher Columbus sailed along the Gulf of Honduras. European exploration was begun by English settlers in 1638. This period was also marked by Spain and Britain both laying claim to the land until Britain defeated the Spanish in the Battle of St. George's Caye. It became a British colony in 1840, known as British Honduras, and a Crown colony in 1862. Independence was achieved from the United Kingdom on 21 September 1981.