A lesser-known stop on the backpacker circuit, the Central American country of Belize is a tropical paradise steeped in history rivaling the best in South America, hands down. Don’t worry about brushing up on your Spanish before visiting since it’s the only country in Central America where English is the official language.
Sandwiched between Mexico and Guatemala, Belize is pretty small. Its population is only 420,000: a major contrast to when it was the center of the Mayan world and home to over two million Mayas.
Nowadays, Belize has a fairly basic infrastructure. You won’t find your typical chain restaurants and hotels here, but you will encounter warm, friendly people and stunning ecosystems in both the jungles and the sea. We’d pass up a stay at The Hilton for that any day.
Why Visit Belize
If you’re an explorer at heart, you’ll love Belize.
For a country so small, Belize packs in its fair share of must-see sites. Thick jungles meet crystal-clear coastlines, with Mayan Ruins scattered throughout. If you order a Belikin, the local beer, you’ll see on its label an image of the most famous ruins in the country: Altun Ha.
It’s even better in person.
If you’re a foodie, you’ll have no cause for complaint in Belize. Prepare to be wowed by traditional Mestizo-Belizean dishes born from Spanish, Maya, and Mexican roots. Food is very affordable, and most places in Belize accept US dollars.
For thrill-seekers, Belize boasts an array of activities. Try scuba diving the UNESCO-protected Great Blue Hole or exploring the jungle at Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary.
Failing that, you can relax on white sandy beaches facing the Caribbean Sea. Bring some beers (and some bug spray), and you’re all set to soak up some sun.
Is Belize Dangerous
Yes and no. A browse on the internet might fill you with fears about visiting Belize.
And that worry wouldn’t be entirely misplaced.
The country has one of the highest murder rates in the world, as well as its fair share of gang crime. It’s enough to put off even the most daring traveler.
But the reality is most of Belize’s crime is centered in Belize City and the border areas. So as a tourist sticking to resorts and tourist sites on the Caribbean coast, you’re unlikely to feel unsafe during your trip.
You will, however, have to keep your guard up about petty crime. The disparity between the rich and poor in Belize has become more apparent in recent years, and foreigners might seem like easy targets for pickpockets. On the bright side, political tensions aren’t much of an issue in Belize but make sure to read up on current events before visiting.
Dangerous Areas in Belize
Belize City is a hub for most of the violent crime in Belize. In the Southside, gang crime is a real concern. Although tourists aren’t usually the targets, anyone nearby can be caught in the crossfire. So don’t venture further than south of Haulover Creek Canal to avoid getting into any trouble.
Another good way to stay safe in the city is to dress to blend in. Leave expensive jewelry and bags at home. Also, don’t risk getting mugged by wandering the streets late at night or exploring outside of friendly areas. Your best bet for a city wander is to get a guide and travel with a group.
The Countryside, Jungles, and Forests
As a tourist, we strongly advise that you don’t jet off all Dora the Explorer style into the forest. There’s a history of armed gangs operating from Belize’s less touristy jungles and forests (specifically near the unsafe border of Mexico), and you never know who you’ll run into.
Plus, law enforcement isn’t very reliable in rural areas, so you can’t count on help from the police. As if this wasn’t enough of a deterrent, solo explorations of thick jungles or forests might land you face-to-face with a jaguar. Or, at the very least, a pack of hungry mosquitoes.
Is it Safe To Live in Belize?
Some places in Belize are safe, others… not so much. Incidents of armed robberies, rape, burglaries, and theft are on the rise, but touristy areas are usually less dangerous.
Also, while Belize’s weather is beautiful for much of the year, the country is prone to flooding, storms, droughts, and strong winds. Outside of hurricane season, the safest part of Belize is along The Caribbean coast.
Even in the most tourist-friendly areas, you’ll have to maintain a good level of safety precautions. Bear in mind that the police presence isn’t as strong as you may be used to, too.
Safe Areas/Cities in Belize
A beautiful village in Belize sat right next to the ocean, Placencia is a hit with travelers. It has a much lower crime rate than the rest of the country, so you’ll be able to relax in the company of the warm and friendly locals. Check out the snorkeling scene at the Southern Reef, or hop on a sailing boat to catch your own dinner.
Good news for tourists: the crime rate in San Pedro, on the island of Ambergris Caye, is very low. Expect your typical beach town vibe; there’s chilled-out bars and seafood restaurants galore.
Enjoy the Caribbean Sea to the fullest by snorkeling its barrier reef before kicking back on the white beaches. Pretty as a postcard and safer than most of Belize’s tourist destinations? San Pedro is an obvious choice for any traveller.
Attracting tourists like bees to honey, Caye Caulker is a little island on Belizes’ coast. It was once a quiet fishing community but has since developed a thriving nightlife scene. Scuba divers, snorkelers, and beach bums will have a whale of a time too.
The island is split into two by a channel called, you guessed it, the Split. The north side is carpeted by mangrove trees and home to a colorful array of wildlife. Caye Caulker village is on the south side, and you’d be staying there. Violent crime is rare, but there are some incidences of theft, so lock up when you leave your accommodation.
Warnings & Dangers in Belize
When traveling in Belize, you should be mindful of the areas that are safe to visit and which ones you can skip. As a rule of thumb, the border areas, non-touristy jungles, and Belize city are no-gos.
Also, if you’re entering Belize from Guatemala, you should be very careful when crossing the border. Do some research before your journey and only choose officially recognized crossings.
Muggings, pickpocketing, and theft are common too. Always have your valuables safely stowed in your cross-body bag, and safely lock up before leaving your accommodation. Lastly, the roads in Belize aren’t the safest, even for experienced drivers.
Overall Travel Risk (5 out of 10)
As you now know, Belize is not the safest destination for tourists visiting Central America. But should that stop you from visiting? No, not in our opinion.
Yes, you’ll find violent crime in some areas, but if you steer well clear of those, you’ll only have to watch out for petty crime. And if you’ve ever visited big cities before, you’ll be familiar with how to safeguard against low-level crimes. Read up on the weather
For the smart, conscientious traveler, Belize is an incredible emerging tourist destination that needn’t be unsafe to visit.
Bird Poop Scams
Getting pooped on by a bird is already bad enough. Getting fake pooped on and then robbed is even worse.
A typical scam in Belize City is for someone to throw white liquid on you, causing you to look up for the winged culprit. Then the person appears to help you clean up, patting you down and pickpocketing you in the process.
So no matter how splattered you are, and even if you get pooped on by a real bird, just clean it up yourself. Keep your valuables in a money pouch too, so you’re less easily robbed.
Taking a taxi in Belize can be a pain, as taxi drivers are only too happy to rip off unsuspecting tourists. Make sure to only take a legitimate taxi, recognizable by its green number plate. Before you start your trip, ask the driver how much it’ll cost.
The meter should also be on, so you can make sure you aren’t met with an inflated fare by the end of your journey. Don’t be surprised if the driver tells you it’s broken, though. Lastly, try to pay your fare in exact money.
We’ve all been asked to take someone’s holiday photo before. A tourist wearing an ‘I love [insert country]’ T-shirt hands you their disposable camera and gives a cheesy thumbs up in front of whatever landmark you happen to be nearby.
Well, in Belize, a common scam is for a local to ask for a photo. You go to take their camera, and they manage to drop it during the handover- and blame you for it, demanding you to pay for the damage. Avoid the hole in your wallet and politely refuse to take photos on your trip.
Guessing Game Scams
In Belize City (again, but are you surprised?), a man shuffles three boxes. A crowd around him is attempting to guess which box contains a ball, and one man guesses correctly. He wins a cash price- nice.
Round two, and another bystander guesses correctly. That could be you! You move forward and are asked to guess which box contains the ball. While you’re distracted, you’re pickpocketed. Not so nice.
Try and stay out of crowds in public places in general since these are easy pickpocketing spots. The hustle and bustle mean that someone could ‘accidentally’ bump into you, and boom, your wallet is gone.
Tips for Staying Safe in Belize
Staying safe in Belize takes the golden combo of common sense and a fair bit of research. Tourists are most likely to face petty crimes like mugging, pickpocketing, or having their accommodation broken into. Gang crime doesn’t usually target foreigners, but it’s best not to be in the vicinity.
Here are our top 5 tips for a safe visit:
- Stay out of Belize City. Most of the crime in Belize happens here, and there are so many beautiful places to visit you needn’t stay longer than necessary.
- Don’t drive at night. Carjacking is rare but much more likely to happen after dark. Also, save the scenic route for another country. Driving down isolated roads is asking for trouble.
- Be careful at ATMs. Unlike in other countries, you won’t find an ATM on every street corner. Your safest bet is going to the bank to take out money if you plan on carrying it around. If any friendly local offers to help you with your transaction, politely refuse.
- Enroll in the Smart Traveller Enrollment Program, or ‘STEP’, to get up-to-date safety alerts during your trip.
- Leave your fancy jewelry at home. If you do get mugged, don’t try to fight your assailant. Muggings can easily turn violent, so comply and hand over your belongings quietly. Your safety is more important than your stuff.
Is Belize Safe | Frequently Asked Questions
Is It Safe for Female Solo Travellers in Belize?
No, unfortunately not. Don’t go anywhere alone, and be sure to travel with a group. Stay away from dodgy alleyways, quiet areas, and poorly lit streets in the evening. If you see someone who looks a bit suspicious or really drunk, give them a wide berth. In tourist areas, you might feel a little safer, but you should still stay alert when out and about.
Should I Worry About Gang Violence When Travelling in Belize?
Not really. Most of Belize’s violent gang crime is between rival gangs. Turf wars and such.
As a foreigner, you’re not likely to be a target. That’s a relief, but you should steer well clear of any areas with known gang crimes nonetheless. Visiting border areas is always a bad idea. If you do witness any street fights (or worse) during your trip, don’t try and intervene. Get out of there, fast.
Can I Take Drugs in Belize?
We wouldn’t advise it. Possession is a serious crime in Belize, and getting caught will get you sent to jail. Also, the cartels make life pretty hard for the residents, so it’s not nice to support them.
Should I Get Travel Insurance for Belize?
Yes, 1000 times yes. Whether you get robbed, your flights are canceled, or you get hurt during your trip, travel insurance can save you a lot of money. It’s a very worthwhile investment for any holiday, but especially one with a few more risks like Belize.