As one of the smallest capitals in the world, Belmopan is the country’s only intentionally planned city, giving it a unique look and feel. The name is a portmanteau of Belize and Mopan, one of the largest rivers in the country.
Belmopan is located in almost the exact geographical center of the country in the heart of Belize’s Cayo District. Throughout the centuries of British colonial rule, Belize City served as the capital, but a strong storm in 1961 convinced the authorities that a better location for parliament and other government buildings was further inland.
Work on Belmopan began in 1962 and the mantle of national capital was officially transferred in 1970. Many foreign governments initially resisted relocating their embassies to Belmopan, with the United States taking until 2006 to christen its new embassy, now the largest American embassy compound in all of Central America. A total of 33 countries now have their diplomatic missions located in Belmopan.
Well-organized streets, beautiful public structures, and large urban parks characterize Belmopan. But plenty of traditional Belizean spirit can be found in the open-air market where traders, artists, and farmers from all across Cayo District assemble to sell fresh produce, handmade items, and swap gossip. The focal point of the city is the National Assembly Building (parliament) that includes broad steps built to the same design as an ancient Maya temple, perfectly representing the country’s cultural history.
Belmopan is located approximately 50 miles (82 km) west of Belize City and is easily accessible via the George Price Highway that continues onto the town of San Ignacio/Santa Elena and then Benque Viejo on the Guatemalan border. A ring road encircles the city, and the nearby fairgrounds host the annual Belize Agriculture and Trade Show, a popular event that draws more than 15,000 visitors eager to see prize-winning livestock, a rodeo, games, live music, and cultural presentations.
Belmopan is home to the Belmopan Bandits, the local soccer (football) team that plays at the FIFA-certified Isidoro Beaton Stadium. As of 2017, the Belmopan Bandits have won the national championship for three years running.Belmopan is also home to an assortment of popular cafes, restaurants, and bistros, including some of the best Chinese food found anywhere in the country.
Many visitors stay in Belmopan in order to enjoy outings to nearby popular nature destinations such as the vast Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve that is home to the tallest waterfalls in all of Central America. Other nearby attractions include the enormous ancient Maya ruins of Caracol and Xunantunich that once vied for control of the region with the city of Tikal, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site located just over the border in Guatemala.
Belmopan is also home to the central campus of the University of Belize where thousands of students from neighboring countries come to study advanced subjects in English. The university’s Black Jaguars team have won two national championships.
Located just 20 minutes from Belmopan, Caves Branch Jungle Lodge is the perfect place to stay for travelers interested in exploring the city and greater Cayo District in western Belize.