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The earliest known inhabitants of this region were the Mayans, an advanced Indian population that lived across Mexico and Central America from as early as 2000 B.C. Spanish explorers first encountered this land around 1500, at which time the Mayan civilization had been in a steady decline, although those on Ambergris Caye were operating at the heart of the trade route between the mainland the Yucatan Peninsula. Many Mayan ruins and relics can still be found on the island today.
The Spanish were rather uninterested in occupying the island and after the Mayans, it became nearly abandoned. Around 1600, British pirates started using the area as a hideout. Many wrecks from this era can still be found on the ocean floor. The British officially occupied the mainland that is now known as Belize. They claimed the island and defended it against renewed Spanish interest and attacks.
For the next couple of centuries the island survived on its fishing and agriculture industries. Around 1950, the farms were wrecked by hurricanes, and during the reconstruction, people began to speculate in real estate, when the first seeds of tourism were sown.
In 1981, Belize, formerly known as British Honduras, became an independent nation. Today tourism is a main industry and resorts are rapidly developing along the island.