Why Even Ask Is Belize Safe? Traveling is Reward vs Risk
Since I write about Belize, I do get questions: IS BELIZE SAFE? Is Belize safe for single travelers? Is Belize safe for women? For older travelers? Is it safe to ride the bus in Belize?
Let’s start off by saying that Belize is magic. A virtually untapped wonderland with the 2nd largest barrier reef in the world, white sand cayes, and crystal turquoise waters…unexplored cave systems, dense jungle, Maya cities, unbelievably good food and some of the friendliest people in the world. And as odds have it (since 89% of people that read my blog are from the US, Belize or Canada) that the people in Belize also speak your language. Belize is the only English speaking country in Central America.
Is Belize Safe?
My immediate answer is YES. Belize is safe to visit. I have been safe and felt safe here for 12 years living full time on Ambergris Caye. But like almost everywhere else on earth, there is crime in Belize. And like the Caribbean and Central America (and most of the world), a lot of it is related to the drug trade. If you use your common sense, follow a few basic guidelines and tips, your trip should be fun and safe.
I’ve listed some of the rewards (read my post – Eight Great Reasons to Visit Belize). Traveling anywhere outside of your living room is a risk so…
Perhaps you have seen a headline in the local news when googling. Or have been sub-consciously swayed by a president who seems to demonize any place south of the US border. Or you just like to know about a spot when you are considering spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on vacation. I get it. It’s a very valid question. So let me do my best to answer it. And give a few tips that I’ve gathered during my time in Belize.
Belize, like all of Central America and the Caribbean, lies along the drug trafficking corridor between South America and the US and there are drug-trade related crimes that occur. This crime is mainly concentrated in the city – Belize City – but can occur throughout the country.
Belize City is the one real urban center in the entire country and some neighborhoods experience more crime. AT NIGHT especially and even during the day, if you are not VERY familiar with Belize City, I recommend taking a taxi rather than trying to walk. Don’t try to walk the 3/4 mile to the bus station that seems so easy on a map. I almost always take a taxi everywhere in Belize City.
It may seem silly and eye-rollingly obvious but if you use common sense and adhere to a few simple tips, your trip to Belize will be safe. And a TON of fun.
Where I’m Coming From
My perspective is this: I moved to Ambergris Caye, Belize 12 years ago, as a 33-year-old female who had visited the country three times. I thought I knew pretty much exactly how life would be in Belize from my three relatively short visits. I’d lived in NYC for a few years…Ambergris Caye would be SO easy. VACATION every day! Paradise! Where I could walk back to my hotel at 2 am alone…after a few too many drinks…
12 years here and I’ve learned a lot. Like NOT to walk home on the beach alone at night. But I have never been the victim of a crime and I have honestly never felt directly threatened by crime.
So let’s get to it. From the perspective of someone that lives here.
Tips for Staying Safe in Belize
Many of these seem obvious as you sit at home and read them. DUH. I would NEVER carry a wad of cash with me late at night. But I look back on my own behavior when I first visited Belize – sure I’d traveled all over the world – from Istanbul to Vietnam – but I felt so extra comfortable in Belize. For some reason, my common sense flew out the window.
Again, I get it. But getting your phone taken or…losing a wallet can ruin a vacation so just read these basic safety precautions and stick to them. Trust me on this.
- Don’t walk alone on the beach at night or on a dark road – take a taxi
- Don’t get silly drunk – it’s hard to predict what will happen when you are in a blackout. (If you must get silly drunk, think about your hotel bar – the commute is very short)
- Take a photo of your passport and ID and save them and don’t carry your passport around with you – your mom/know-it-all friend always tells you this before you go on vacation but it’s all fun and games until you lose your passport and have to cancel your flight/go to the US embassy in Belmopan
- Leave Most of your wallet at Home – you don’t need your checkbook or your Bloomingdales’ credit card. You DO need your driver’s license if you plan to rent a golf cart
- Call your credit card company and tell them you are traveling to Belize – if you are not out of the country often, it’s just a good idea so you don’t get shut off on day one
- Keep an eye on your purse or bag – don’t leave it under a coconut tree when you go swimming or on the back of a restaurant chair that’s facing the beach
- Don’t leave phones or anything valuable out the deck or balcony – if someone is riding by on a bike, it’s just easy to snatch. It can happen.
- Stay away from drugs and drug dealers – again…seems obvious but when you are on vacation and had a rum punch or two… The guys who offer to sell you weed may seem super cool – and he probably is…but let me be a bit judgemental here. Here I go: the guy who is selling you drugs probably doesn’t have your wellbeing as his #1 priority (I’m going to say DITTO for anyone that offers you sex for money or favors – male or female. ) He might not be the person you want to take back to your room for popcorn and a movie.
- When People Ask You Where You are Staying – Be a bit vague – “down south”. There is no reason to tell strangers where you are staying. Especially if you are traveling solo. There just isn’t.
- Be Conscientious About Your Comings and Goings – Especially if you are a large group staying in a rental home. You wouldn’t hang up a sign the says: WE ALL WENT CAVE TUBING FOR THE DAY. BACK AT 5pm! (ELECTRONICS ARE IN THE BEDROOM!) on the front door. There is no reason to announce that to everyone or make it SUPER obvious either.
- Say No Firmly but Politely to Someone Asking You For Money – if you don’t want to give someone a few dollars, you don’t have to. A firm No usually does the trick.
- Do Things During the Day – Like going to the ATM or standing on a dark corner fiddling with your phone or driving in an unknown area.
- Take the Bus During the Day – and keep an eye on your bag. I feel very safe taking the bus on the mainland but keep your bags close. Don’t load it on the back of the bus and then sit up front. You may find that someone went thru your bag. (Here are some other tips about taking The Bus in Belize)
- Never Drink and Drive – But on Ambergris Caye or Placencia…it’s just a golf cart? NO! Golf carts can go 25-30 mph and tip over more easily than you might think. Especially if you are drinking. You are on the road with trucks, speeding taxis, kids and dogs crossing the street. Falling off a golf cart going 25 mph can scrape you up, it can also paralyze you – let’s not even talk about you hitting another person. You also need to remember that you are not insured – THE GOLF CART IS NOT INSURED. Even a fender bender is going to cost you. Don’t drink and drive.
- Now that you have me on Golf Carts – LOCK UP your golf cart. And don’t leave your pricey Yeti tumbler in it or even your beach towel. That stuff will disappear. And since there is one universal key for all golf carts on the island – your cart might get snatched too. It doesn’t happen that often but it DOES happen. And I won’t even tell you how much a new golf cart costs. Okay I will. $30-40K. Belize dollars but STILL!
- Ask Questions – go with your gut. If something seems off…feels off…makes you think twice, don’t do it. Ask your front desk or someone working at the local restaurant or bar or shop owner for advice. There is no reason to be an army of one. You don’t have all the answers – you are not from here! ASK. If it’s late at night and your taxi guy wants to stop to pick up another fare (that’s common practice on Ambergris Caye), tell him you don’t feel comfortable with that. Traveling (solo in particular) is not the time to be timidly polite.
A Few Other General Safety Types
These are more to avoid annoyance/feeling ripped off rather than physical safety but consider these as well.
Get comfortable with the money/currency exchange – US dollar and BZ dollars (1US=2BZD) are used interchangeably. You might get US dollar change when you give BZ dollars in payment or both…take your time to count it out and figure it out. Ask questions nicely. In general, people are incredibly friendly and helpful. (Here are all my tips for Handling Money in Belize)
Ask prices beforehand if they are not listed or marked. Is the price in US or Belize dollars?
Book tours from real tour companies rather than some guy on the beach who says he has a boat. No, you won’t be kidnapped and sold into slavery – you just might find that the guy’s boat breaks down – or he might ask for a bit of extra money for gas and some other unexpected “fees”. I’ve always found it easiest to take recommendations from the hotel/resort. Then, if you need to change the time or date or if you have an issue, you can chat with your hotel.
Stay hydrated (the heat, especially in the summer, is SERIOUS) – bring along your bug repellant (Bugs That Bite in Belize) – especially as you get farther away from more heavily populated areas – and wear sunscreen. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD WEAR SUNSCREEN!
To the Single Female – There will be some whistling or catcalling. It can be silly (“hey lady, do you need an island boyfriend?”)…it can be annoying (through-the-teeth hissing) but please don’t let it ruin your day.
I hope that helps and alleviates some worries. Remember that nothing is guaranteed but that the HUGE rewards of visiting Belize will almost certainly be worth it. Don’t let common sense fly out the window, keep your wits about you and have fun. Be safe and you’ll be telling EVERYONE about your trip to Belize when you return home.