From Guanacaste National Park the Western Highway pushes on towards San Ignacio and the Guatemalan border, while a paved branch road leads 2km south towards Belize's capital, BELMOPAN. Beyond here, the road becomes the Hummingbird Highway, continuing all the way to the coast at Dangriga. For most people, the capital is no more than a pause in the bus ride to or from San Ignacio, though if you're heading to Dangriga or Placencia you may have to change buses here.
Belmopan was founded in 1970, nearly a decade after Hurricane Hattie swept much of Belize City into the sea. The government had decided to move to higher ground and, in a Brasília-style bid to focus development on the interior, chose a site in the geographical heart of the country. The name of the city combines the words "Belize" and "Mopan", the language spoken by the Maya of Cayo. The layout of the main government buildings is loosely modelled on a Maya city, with structures grouped around a central plaza; the National Assembly building even incorporates a version of the traditional roof comb, a decorative stonework and stucco crest.
Though some of its elements have not aged well, Belmopan was originally meant to symbolize the dawn of a new era, with tree-lined avenues, banks, a couple of embassies and communications worthy of the capital of a freshly independent country. The population was planned at 5000 for the first few years, with an expected increase to 30,000, but few Belizeans other than government officials (who had no option) have moved here. Although the population has doubled from 7000 to over 14,000 (and still growing) in the past few years, Belmopan is still the smallest capital city in the world.
Unless you've come here to visit a government department, there's no particular reason to stay any longer than it takes your bus to move on. If you find some time on your hands, however, visit the George Price Centre (Mon– Fri 9am–6pm; free; Tel:822-1054, Web: www.gpcbelize.com ), on the east side of the city. Here you will find the first flag that flew over the country, as well as an excellent display of documents, pictures and memorabilia in tribute to the first Prime Minister of Belize and the architect of the country's independence.
Hotels in Belmopan tend to cater to the needs and expense accounts of diplomats and aid officials; San Ignacio, less than an hour away, has much more interesting and affordable accommodation. If you do have to stay here, the El Rey Inn, 23 Moho St (Tel:822-3438, firstname.lastname@example.org; Price: Bz$40-60), is a pleasant and reasonably inexpensive option, with clean rooms, bedside lights and private bath. The best place in town is Bull Frog Inn, 25 Half Moon Ave (Tel:822-2111, email@example.com; Price: $150-200); its comfortable, air-conditioned rooms have cable TV, wireless Internet, telephone and balcony, and there's a very good restaurant and bar frequented by the political elite of Belize.
Buses from Belize City to San Ignacio, Benque Viejo, Dangriga and Punta Gorda all pass through Belmopan, so there's at least one service every thirty minutes in either direction – the last bus from Belmopan to Belize City leaves at 7pm, to San Ignacio at 10pm. All buses currently stop in the main bus terminal.