The Central American country of Belize is a popular destination on the backpacker circuit and for people who love exploring beautiful nature.
About 370,000 people visited Belize for overnight visits in 2022, not as many as in neighboring countries, but showing that this country is increasingly on the radar of travelers.
Belize is located on the Caribbean Sea, and visitors can enjoy water activities such as swimming near the beautiful island of Ambergris Caye or scuba diving in the Great Blue Hole, a UNESCO-protected site.
Head inland and you can explore the lush tropical jungle and catch glimpses of jaguars at Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. The country also has a storied history, and you can see some pristine Mayan ruins at sites such as Altun Ha.
There are so many things to do, it’s no wonder that it is becoming more and more popular among travelers. However, many people hesitate before traveling to a place they don’t know well since they don’t know the potential risks of a visit.
But don’t worry — this travel guide will help you put your mind at ease. Keep reading for detailed information about any challenges you might encounter to your safety in Belize. Let us be your guide!
Is Belize Safe to Visit in 2023?
Belize is a destination where you need to exercise some precautions to stay safe, as the crime rate is very high. Tourists have been affected by violent crime in the past.
However, most incidents of crime occur in gang-ridden areas, so as long as you know which parts of the country to avoid, you should be able to stay safe.
Most governments are cautious about allowing their citizens to travel to Belize. That is because governments bear some responsibility if their citizens are injured or otherwise harmed while they are abroad.
To help with this, many governments provide detailed travel information about traveling to new places, and those advisories are a good place to start researching the safety of your vacation.
For Belize, most governments advise exercising increased caution.
The United States government issued a Level Two travel advisory for the country. In its travel advisory, the U.S. State Department also advises travelers to avoid non-essential travel to certain regions of the country.
This warning is echoed by other countries. The New Zealand government also advises exercising increased caution if you are a New Zealand citizen visiting Belize.
Common problems countries warn about in their travel advisories for Belize include:
- Petty theft
- Gang violence
Although most violent crimes primarily affect locals, tourists have been caught in the crossfire before, so it is a good idea to be cautious. Besides crime, you should stay alert to the risk of natural disasters when visiting.
As with many other countries on the Caribbean Sea, Belize has an elevated risk of hurricanes.
According to a U.S. Embassy alert, Belize experiences frequent hurricanes that often cause extensive damage. Hurricanes often hit popular tourist destinations such as Ambergris Caye or Caye Caulker.
Hurricane season in Belize runs from June to November, peaking around August and September. Avoid traveling to Belize during this time. If you do travel during hurricane season, check local weather alerts and stay in contact with your embassy.
When the government or embassy issues a hurricane alert, leave coastal areas immediately and don’t wait for a storm to develop.
Crime in Belize
Belize has an elevated crime rate, although it is not as bad as in some other Central American countries. The high crime rate is the main reason why many governments advise their citizens to exercise increased caution when visiting the country.
A look at the homicide rate alone gives you a glimpse at how extensive the crime problem is in Belize.
According to World Bank data, the homicide rate is 31 incidents per 100,000 people, which is one of the highest homicide rates in the world. In certain parts of the country, the homicide rate is even worse.
Belize City, the largest city and former capital, has a homicide rate of 105.1 per 100,000 people. That makes it the city with the fourth-highest homicide rate in the world.
Crime statistics for Belize City drive up the crime statistics for the whole country. Although violent crime grabs the headlines, most people that experience a crime in Belize experience a property crime.
According to statistics published by the Belize Crime Observatory, burglaries are the most common crimes in Belize, making up about 54% of crimes committed in the country. The next most common crime is robbery, which makes up 17.7% of total crimes committed.
According to official Belize crime statistics, theft makes up a small fraction of crime. However, the actual rate of petty theft is probably much higher.
According to Numbeo, which collects responses from locals and expats in Belize, people report a moderate concern about theft. The reason is that most people don’t report incidents of petty theft to authorities because they don’t trust the police to solve the crime.
There are a few reasons why the crime rate in Belize is so high. One is the high rate of drug abuse and drug trade.
According to the statistics linked above from the Belize Crime Observatory, authorities make thousands of drug-related arrests each month. Cocaine is the most common drug of abuse and trafficking.
Another factor increasing the crime rate in Belize is the high rate of organized crime. According to the Organized Crime Index, Belize is a transit point for guns, heroin, and cocaine trafficked by international cartels between different Central American countries and the United States.
Local gangs are primary drivers of violent crime. The Organized Crime Index cites research that Belize has at least 40 street gangs, although eight are the most powerful.
Gangs, most of which are concentrated in Belize City, are so powerful they control entire parts of the city that the police are afraid to enter. If Belize has such a high crime rate, then why do people bother visiting anyway?
The reason is that the most violent crime incidents in Belize rarely affect tourists. Since most violent crimes are committed by gangs, as long as you avoid gang territory or any activity that might land you on their radar, you should be fine.
In recent years, the Belize government has also invested plenty of resources into making the country safer.
For example, the Belize Defense Force has increased patrols near the Mayan ruins close to the border of Guatemala, decreasing the rate of robberies happening there.
The crime that is probably most concerning to visitors planning a trip to Belize is armed robbery. Nobody wants to end up facing the wrong end of a gun, especially so far away from home.
The Australian government warns its citizens about the risk of violent crime in Belize, especially armed robberies and muggings.
These incidents can occur anywhere in the country, including popular tourist sites such as Caye Caulker and the Mayan ruins of Caracol. However, they are most common in Belize City and a few other cities.
The best way to protect yourself from armed robbery is to travel with a group whenever possible. Solo travelers are often targeted for crimes since they are easier to isolate.
If you come to Belize alone, try to make friends with people at the hostel you are staying at. To travel to more remote areas, such as the Mayan ruins near the Guatemalan border, book a guided tour with a reputable travel company instead of attempting the trip solo.
The UK government also offers advice on how to prevent armed robberies. Robbery incidents increase at night, so try to do most of your traveling during the day and stay in your accommodation after dark.
Avoid actions that might make you a target, such as carrying around lots of cash or flashing your valuables. If you do get robbed, hand over your valuables and focus on getting away safely.
Try not to put all of your cash in one place so that you have at least enough to get home even if you get robbed. Don’t fight back as that puts you in danger.
Armed robbery may be the scarier crime, but statistically, you are most likely to be the victim of petty theft in Belize. The Canadian government warns about the prevalence of pickpocketing and bag snatching in Belize.
Traveling with a group slightly minimizes your risk of this crime, as pickpockets often target people traveling alone. Basic precautions can help you limit your chances of being pickpocketed.
Make sure that all valuables are secure at all times. Keep them in a front pocket or zipped, cross-body bag instead of a loose bag that is easily accessible. Never leave valuables unattended, especially not at the beach.
Avoid drawing attention to yourself in a way that might attract the attention of pickpockets. Don’t flash your valuables or otherwise make a show of your relative affluence.
Avoiding Bad Areas
In Belize, avoiding dangerous areas is the most important thing you can do to keep yourself safe. If you visit Belize City, avoid the southern part.
The U.S. State Department recommends avoiding non-essential travel to Belize City south of Haulover Creek Canal as those neighborhoods are full of gangs. Be careful around the Guatemala and Honduras borders.
Not only do gangs take advantage of these remote, forested areas, but Belize has ongoing territorial disputes with its neighbors. Only travel with a group, use authorized border crossings, and avoid visiting at night.
Things to Consider
Here are a few additional safety tips for Belize:
- Don’t take any drugs. Drugs are highly illegal in Belize and penalties are severe. Plus, purchasing drugs supports the cartels damaging the country and puts you on their radar.
- Women travelers need to take extra precautions. Sexual harassment and even assault happen in Belize. Don’t walk around at night alone. If you are assaulted, seek medical attention immediately.
- Be careful when taking taxis. Only take authorized taxis, which you can recognize by their green license plates. Tourists have been robbed in taxis before.
- Be careful in nature. When swimming, be careful of coral and stinging marine creatures, and only book marine activities with reputable tours. Never explore the jungle without a guide as getting lost is easy, and only a guide can help you figure out what to do if you encounter dangerous critters.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a few additional questions you may want answered about Belize:
Are tourists safe in Belize?
Tourists in Belize are often safer than locals because they have the choice of avoiding bad areas and there is a designated tourist police to protect foreigners. However, you should still take precautions to prevent crime.
Is Belize safe for female tourists?
Female travelers in Belize have to take extra precautions that their male counterparts don’t. However, if you stick to popular tourist destinations and go with a group or meet up with other travelers while you are there, you should have a good time. Belize is safer for women than many other neighboring countries.
Is Belize too touristy?
Belize is not touristy at all! It is still an up and coming destination, so you can explore the destination authentically.
What is the safest part of Belize for tourists?
The Caribbean coast (outside of hurricane season) is the safest part of Belize for tourists. Stick to places such as Placencia, San Pedro, and Caye Caulker and you will encounter plenty of fellow travelers and not a lot of crime.
Is Belize safe at night?
Unfortunately, Belize is not safe at night. Try to do most of your exploring during the day.
So, Should You Travel to Belize?
Belize is a country that may be challenging for first-time travelers. You have to take some precautions to keep yourself safe.
However, as long as you avoid dangerous areas and use basic street smarts, you should have a great time in the country. So what are you waiting for — book your trip to this tropical paradise today!