Belize is a small country with very low population density—about 380,000 people living in a country about the size of New Jersey. Like everywhere in the world, there are places in Belize that are comfortable and feel safe for the vast majority of people, and other places that are better for more experienced travelers and people that have spent a considerable amount of time in the country.
You may see news about Belize having a “high crime rate” or being placed on lists of country’s with high murder rates. The reason for this is the relatively small pocket of high crime in Belize City, which accounts for the vast majority of crimes in the country. Safety is a big factor in deciding where to visit or live, and we will break down some of the information to help you make decisions about whether Belize is right for you by highlighting the following factors:
- Petty Crime
- Areas to Avoid
- Nightlife Safety
- Transport Crime
- Women’s Safety
- LGBTQ+ Safety
- General Tips
Petty Crime in Belize
In almost all areas that attract tourists, there can be elements of risk, due to many factors. Many of the universal, common-sense behaviors you would follow anywhere you are visiting, are true in Belize. Belize is known as a very non-materialistic, nature-based place. “Fancy” items, from cars to personal items, are not the norm here and it is encouraged to leave your expensive items at home. They aren’t necessary here—most people enjoy the come-as-you-are culture and find it to be refreshing.
In Belize, everyone hangs out together. There aren’t many all-inclusive areas, as the experience is hanging out in the villages and towns. By avoiding flashing cash, you fit in better and make yourself less noticeable, and you avoid attracting unwanted attention. Most people actually need a reminder about watching their things and locking their doors, because Belize is so warm and friendly, it can be easy to let your guard down and forget to keep up vigilance to watch your personal items, as you would anywhere new you are traveling. By avoiding being out late at night, alone, drug use, or public drunkenness, you can avoid unnecessary risks. If you don’t know the country well, we don’t recommend staying in isolated areas or traveling alone late at night. The statistical chance of being involved in a serious crime is low, but can be reduced further by taking these steps to reduce any chances.
Areas to Avoid in Belize
I do not recommend traveling around Belize alone for your first visit—many isolated, dirt roads are not always marked well, and areas like Cayo, Corozal, or Belize City, have areas that are higher risk. I recommend visiting these places with someone who knows the area before navigating it by yourself.
Most people avoid southern Belize City, which has a rough neighborhood where gang activities do occur. Most tourists and expats never go to the dangerous areas and there is no reason to go there.
The vast majority of tourists and expats live near or in a village or town, where there is a police presence, lighted roads, other people, and avoid the need to travel alone late at night.
Nightlife Safety in Belize
You’ll find tourists, locals, and expats out at night in the areas of Caye Caulker, Ambergris Caye, and Placencia. You’ll be able to get home from your night activity safely, but note that there are common incidences of people drinking and driving (even on a golf cart) and I always take caution when driving or walking at night. Like everywhere in the world, the later into the evening you go, the more drinking and risk increases, and it can be tempting to drive because of the perceived lessening of regulations in Belize for that kind of behavior. There are always ample cabs to take, and the risk can increase if you walk around at night in an inebriated state, so it is cautioned to remember to be on guard after hours.
Transport Crime in Belize
Thankfully, this is not reported to be a big issue in Belize. There is not tremendous road traffic outside of towns, but I don’t recommend driving on isolated roads at night because of poor lighting and “speed humps” which can be difficult to see. There are rarely incidences of carjacking, and rare incidents of problems using shuttles or cabs. The regional jet systems are safe and reliable.
One thing to note is that Belize does not have a driving school. Driving accidents do happen frequently throughout the country, almost always a result of speeding or improper passing. Most people are cautious and use very defensive driving skills in Belize. The vast majority of the country feels like two-lane country roads. I would also be careful walking at night in areas with no sidewalks as drinking and driving are common.
Women’s Safety in Belize
Belize has many single women and there is a vast network of great events for women in the expat areas. Most women report they feel safe in Belize, but there is a difference in the male-female culture as compared to the U.S. You may sense a culture that is somewhat male-dominated, although the vast majority of women feel they are treated well and warmly by Belizeans. You will find domestic violence in Belize like everywhere in the world, and the culture does require a bit of adjustment when coming from the U.S.
LGBTQ+ Safety in Belize
Belize is said to be more progressive in the area of LGBTQ+ equality than some other Central American countries—especially Ambergris Caye. On the island of Ambergris Caye, the LGBTQ+ culture is open and accepted. Placencia is probably the next most progressive area, but in the less touristy areas, the LGBTQ+ lifestyle is less accepted or understood. There are gay pride events frequently on the island and this is a place growing in popularity with LGBTQ+ travelers and expats.
Is Drug Use Allowed in Belize?
As I mentioned drug use earlier, marijuana is now legal in Belize. It’s a little bit subjective because you’re allowed to have a very small amount on you and you’re allowed to smoke marijuana on a private property. They still don’t really want you doing it in public, so I would not recommend doing it anywhere except for private property.
Is Prostitution Legal in Belize?
Sometimes people will ask about prostitution in Belize. It is illegal but, like a lot of places in Central America, you are going to find it in certain bars and there’s a kind of an understanding in each town where that occurs. It’s really not something in the news or something that you’re going to hear too much about.
What Areas Would You Avoid in Belize?
As far as where to avoid going in Belize. If you are not a very seasoned Belize traveler, I really recommend starting out in Placencia, Hopkins, and Ambergris Caye. You’re going to feel comfortable in those places. You’re going to find a lot of expats. You feel pretty safe in those areas. And after you get a little bit of a comfort level with the culture in Belize, I recommend trying Cayo and Corazol. Corazol’s close to the Mexican border and Cayo is close to the Guatemalan border, so you’re going to find a little bit of a different culture there. It’s a little bit less tourism driven, which makes it feel a little bit more, exotic, a little bit different. And with that goes wanting to understand a little bit more Spanish and a little bit more integration with the local culture and probably areas that I suggest you know what you’re doing a little bit more in Belize before you visit. Hopefully that helps, and we hope to see you in Belize soon.
What is the Crime Rate in Belize?
About 140 murders a year in the country. In the last decade there have been 20 murders of Americans. If you look at the total statistics of number of American visitors and the murder rate, this would be over the last 10 years, about 20 chances in 10 million.
One of the very best resources for safety is the U.S. Department of State as they actively work with embassies and are useful for making sense of statistics and understanding actual risk. They have Belize at a Level 2—this means exercise caution—but note, this is the same level as the U.K., France, Italy, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Spain, Netherlands, and many others. Why do they say this when Belize has a much higher murder rate than those other countries? Because Belize does not have the suburban population to absorb the small number of very high crime areas in the country.
Belize is a developing country and there is a lot of poverty here. If you do not use your common sense, keep things secured and locked— just like anywhere you are increasing your chances of having a problem.
15 Top Safety Tips for Traveling to Belize
- If it is your first time, focus on the areas that are popular with tourists and not so much off the beaten path. Placencia, San Pedro, and Caye Caulker are all considered safer areas for tourists.
- Don’t carry much cash when you go out.
- Do not flash wealth or carry fancy bags, wear fancy clothes shoes etc.—this is a developing country and you will stand out. One of the great things here is the lack of materialism and lack of show of wealth even by those that have it.
- Until you are more seasoned, take shuttles instead of driving in the country.
- Wear DEET in the jungle, after a rain, at dusk, or by the leeward sides of islands.
- Don’t drink the water except in the village of Placencia.
- If you have a food allergy, please note that this is not fully understood here and you cannot guarantee there will be no cross contamination.
- Do not go off by yourself at night.
- Note that although you will see people driving and drinking, even on golf carts, this is not technically legal and can make travel on roads at night something you want to be careful of.
- Wear SPF when snorkeling or even when it is cloudy outside, the sun is definitely different here.
- Do not get complacent about locking doors and windows. Stay at established hotels and not an Airbnb which may not have safety devices like burglar bars, night security etc.
- Although you will see that it is both a drinking and drug friendly culture here, drugs are illegal and buying them is high risk, especially at night.
- Be aware of any overly friendly individuals who may be running a “hustle.” Do not be shy about setting boundaries and walking away.
- Don’t pick up hitchhikers, even though this is normal here.
- Purchase a data plan for when you are here so you are connected as much as possible instead of only relying on Wi-Fi, this is cheaper and easier than ever to do.
Keeping Your Money Safe in Belize
Don’t carry too much cash with you, it is unnecessary as credit cards are much safer and accepted almost everywhere. Use the safe in your hotel room, and you can go to the ATM here as needed as opposed to bringing a lot of cash with you. It is a very non-materialistic country, and there is no flashing of wealth of any kind here—that looks very strange and out of place and would definitely be a higher risk behavior. Most expats don’t carry jewelry or cash because it looks and feels out of place, and it lowers the chance of being targeted.
Is it Safe to Drive in Belize?
Driving here has some differences from the U.S. It is recommended that unless you are seasoned in Belize or driving in other countries, you take a shuttle your first time here. Renting a golf cart in San Pedro and Placencia is pretty popular and a common way to get around. This addresses driving on the mainland roads.
Is Public Transportation in Belize Safe?
The cabs in the tourist areas are not fancy for the most part, but they are generally recognized as safe. There is no Uber in Belize. Most hotels or local residents can always recommend a cabbie they know, and the cabbies often ride around with their wives and kids in the car.
Hitchhiking, especially expat to expat on golf carts on Ambergris Caye, is generally recognized as safe and you will see people constantly hitching rides with one another here. The bus system is relatively rustic—I do not highly recommend this, and driving in general in the country is not the safest thing in the world. There is no driving school here, and while you aren’t going to be carjacked or anything—you have to defensively drive on the mainland and watch how others pass you etc. If you drive defensively this can greatly reduce your chances of problems, as it is usually reckless decisions that lead to crashes here. You will rarely see too many other cars most places on the mainland, so most crashes are drivers going off the road or passing unsafely. The puddle jumper regional flights and the shuttles throughout the country have good reputations and are recommended.
Can You Drink the Water in Belize?
As far as food and water safety in Belize—you can drink the water in Placencia, but everywhere else, it is recommended that you drink bottled water. Most places make it easy to do so. While you are in a developing country, problems with food are not common, and if you do have any problems, generally it is an upset stomach for a few days. You should check for expiration dates if you buy things at the store, but you rarely hear about any serious food problems. I have yet to hear of one in my six years here.
How is Healthcare in Belize?
There is a great emergency service on Ambergris Caye, and there is a helipad and a clinic coming to Placencia. This is big news and certainly will make a world of difference in the level of risk should you encounter a problem. There is a major hospital in Belize City, and since Belize is relatively close to the U.S. (two-hour flight) you can get to U.S. medical care quickly if needed.
If you have a need for medical care, the polycare clinics are available almost everywhere 24/7 and you can get most prescription medicine by walking into a pharmacy, there aren’t a requirement for most medications to have an actual doctor prescription.