Tucked between the Caribbean Sea and the rainforest on the eastern coast of Central America, Belize is the home of a small and diverse nation.
The country, formerly known as British Honduras, was the United Kingdom's last colony on the American mainland and still maintains strong ties with Britain.
Today Belize, which considers itself part of both the Caribbean and Central America, is cultivating relations with Latin America and the United States, although there is a lingering conflict with neighbouring Guatemala, which has made claim to part of Belize's territory in the past.
Tourism is a major source of foreign currency. Belize's attractions include wildlife, Mayan ruins and one of the longest barrier reefs in the world.
Belize has a problem with violent crime, largely drug-related, and the trafficking of narcotics to the US, however. In 2011 Belize was added to a US blacklist of countries considered to be major producers or transit routes for illegal drugs.
Area 22,965 sq km (8,867 sq miles)
Major languages English (official), Spanish, Belizean Creole, Mayan, Garifuna (Carib)
Major religions Christianity
Life expectancy 75 years (men), 78 years (women)
Currency Belizean dollar
Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state, represented by a governor general
Prime minister: Dean Barrow
Dean Barrow was re-elected for an unprecedented third, five-year term in office in November 2015.
He was elected to parliament in 1984 and served in senior positions in United Democratic Party (UDP) governments. He led the party in opposition until its victory at the polls in 2008, unseating the People's United Party (PUP) government of Said Musa, which had been in power for 10 years.
Mr Barrow, a lawyer, has invested much of the aid money Belize received from Venezuela in an ambitious infrastructure programme. Belize is heavily dependent on aid from Venezuela, which also offers it oil at discounted prices.
One of Mr Barrow's challenges has been grappling with the country's much larger neighbour, Guatemala, whose president, Jimmy Morales, said he would pursue with renewed vigour his country's claims over more than half of Belize.
Belize compares favourably for media freedom with neighbouring countries.
There are no daily newspapers. Radio and TV outlets are privately-owned.
Internet use is limited by a lack of infrastructure and high prices.
Some key dates in the history of Belize:
16th-19th centuries - The Spanish arrive; Spanish rule ends in 1862 when Belize is formally declared a British crown colony and named British Honduras.
1954 - Constitutional reforms give Belize limited autonomy; general elections won by People's United Party (PUP), led by George Price.
1964 - New constitution gives Belize full autonomy and introduces universal adult suffrage and a two-chamber parliament. In 1973, the country changes its name from British Honduras to Belize.
1981 - Belize becomes independent with George Price as prime minister, but Guatemala refuses to recognise it. About 1,500 British troops remain to defend the country against Guatemalan territorial claims. Guatemala recognises Belize's independence in 1992 although the territorial conflict remains.
2002 - Belize, Guatemala agree on a draft settlement to their long-standing border dispute at talks brokered by the Organisation of American States (OAS). The deal, which proposed referendums in both countries, is rejected by Guatemala in 2003.
2005 - Rioting breaks out in the capital during a wave of anti-government protests.
2011 - Belize is added to US blacklist of countries considered to be major producers or transit routes for illegal drugs.
2015 - Prime Minister Barrow leads his ruling United Democratic Party to a record third consecutive five-year term in a snap election. Territorial conflict with Guatemala continues; Guatemala has made claims to all or part of Belize since 1940.