In recent years, Central America has had a less-than-stellar track record in the department of travel safety, and Belize is no exception. On paper, it’s one of the most dangerous countries in the Western Hemisphere, and the rates of violent crime, armed robbery, and petty opportunistic theft are exceptionally high. Rather than blaming anything on cultural delinquency or negligence, this is likely the cause of crippling inequality and severely underfunded social services, including the police force.
This is not to say you should lock yourself in your room. In general, if you stick to the better parts of town and stay actively aware of potential dangers, your vacation will most likely not be jeopardized. Scroll down to check out our rundown on the current safety situation in Belize and how to best avoid potential danger.
Crime and Homicide
Without beating around the bush, when it comes to homicides, Belize ranks as the third-most dangerous country in the world with 44.7 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants per year. Because the vast majority of these deaths occur between locals, however, the U.S. State Department has categorized the country in the “exercise increased caution” category (check out the official travel advisory map for more regional information). In certain areas, violent crime, sexual assault, and armed robbery are not uncommon.
In order to avoid any confrontation in Belize, you should maintain the same degree of awareness you would in any other country. Avoid walking or driving at night, if you’re unlucky enough to be robbed always hand over your stuff, be extra vigilant when visiting banks and ATMs, and try to dress as inconspicuous as possible.
Health Safety Tips
Belize hosts a fair amount of danger in the form of endemic diseases, so it’s important to be up-to-date on all your necessary vaccinations. Hepatitis A and Typhoid are strongly recommended, and some travelers (depending on where you’re going) will want to consider Hepatitis B, Rabies, Yellow Fever, and Malaria. Currently the Zika virus is a risk in Belize, and with no known vaccine available, pregnant women should reconsider travel. As a general rule, try to be extra vigilant in your defense against mosquito bites with bug spray and nets in certain areas. For a more thorough run-down on all the important information, visit the Center for Disease Control’s page on Belize.
Generally speaking, the tap water is not safe to drink in Belize. Be sure you are buying bottled water or the country’s reverse osmosis water rather than drinking straight from the tap.
Although Belize lies in the Caribbean region and has seen its fair share of hurricanes, storms are not incredibly common here. The hurricane season between July and November is fairly mild, but stay aware of your surroundings as there is a lot of vulnerable infrastructure. Keep your eyes peeled for storm warnings and follow advice from local authorities.
Before traveling to Belize, it’s best to familiarize yourself with the country’s laws and general etiquette. First, whereas drinking publicly used to be condoned in plastic containers, it’s now entirely illegal after the government decided that most petty conflict was the result of debaucherous loitering. Secondly, the Belizean government has taken a zero-tolerance approach towards the cultivation, sale, possession, and consumption of drugs. Although there’s an effort to decriminalize certain drugs, as of now, offenses relating to opium, cocaine, or marijuana can be punishable by up to two years in prison or a $36,000 USD fine. And while we’re on the topic of vices, the hiring of escorts and sexual services is illegal.
Road and Transportation Safety
Travel advisories from Belize consistently state road conditions as something that tends to throw a wrench in vacation plans. Major and local roads are often extremely hazardous and poorly lit with limited remote services available. If you plan on renting a car, make sure you’re equipped with a cell phone, a spare tire, some emergency equipment, non-perishable food, and an additional spare tank of gas. Be aware that stopping to ask for assistance is not advised. Also, vehicles do not yield to pedestrians in Belize, so walking is a bit of a skilled sport here. Some reports advise against using public transportation and instead to use only taxis with official green license plates.
Safest Places in Belize
Aside from the danger areas of Belmopan and Belize City, Belize has plenty going for it. For a low-cost option near the Mexican border on the Bay of Chetumal, Corozal is a great place to visit. If you’re a diver or an avid snorkeler, Ambergris Caye is a beautiful Caribbean island with warm waters and a friendly expat community. If safety is your priority, other great options include Caye Caulker, Placencia, and the Cayo District.