Guanaja was discovered in 1502 by Columbus, but the islands were not colonized until the 17th century, when they were occupied by British logwood cutters from Belize, and pearlers from the Mosquito Coast.
Among the more important and conspicuous trees of these tropical forests are mahogany, rosewood, Spanish cedar (Cedrela), cassias, ceibas (Bombax), rubber (Castilloa), palms of many species including the oil-producing Attalea of Manzanillo and Acrocomia of Acapulco, guayacan (Guaiacum), logwood (Haematoxylon campechianum), brazilwood (H.
Districts, as well as the greater part of the Sierra Alta, are destitute of large trees; but the coast-lands on both sides towards Tabasco and British Honduras enjoy a sufficient rainfall to support forests containing the mahogany tree, several valuable cabinet woods, vanilla, logwood and other dye-woods.
The soil is generally dry and stony, and the greater part of the surface is covered with forests, in which the logwood tree especially abounds.
It was formerly the principal port for the state and for a part of Yucatan, but the port of Carmen at the entrance to Laguna de Terminos is now the chief shipping port for logwood and other forest products, and a considerable part of the trade of Campeche has been transferred to Progreso, the port of Merida.
Then, too, there are various dyewoods; rosewood, logwood (or campeachy wood), indigo, manaju (Garcinia Morella), Brazil-wood and saffron.
It had a monopoly of the Yucatan trade and enjoyed large profits from its logwood exports, both of which have been largely lost.
The exports are mahogany, rosewood, cedar, logwood and other cabinet-woods and dye-woods, with cocoanuts, sugar, sarsaparilla, tortoiseshell, deerskins, turtles and fruit, especially bananas.
Local tradition connects the name with that of Wallis or Wallace, a Scottish buccaneer, who, in 1638, settled, with a party of logwood cutters, on St George's Cay, a small island off the town.