Safety and Security
Terrorism and Security: The potential for domestic terrorist activity such as bombings, kidnappings, or hijackings is considered low in Belize. However, domestic gang members and other criminals have used fragmentation grenades and firearms to settle disputes. Neither U.S. citizens nor other foreign nationals are known to have been the victims or targets of terrorist activity in Belize. U.S. citizens are not believed to be specifically targeted for robbery or other crimes but are instead targets of opportunity. No areas are closed to travel but visitors should exercise caution, particularly in southern Belize City and remote areas along Belize’s borders.
General Safety: As with any travel, visitors should exercise situational awareness and good judgment while visiting Belize. Crime is a serious and growing problem throughout Belize. Road accidents are common and traffic fatalities have included U.S. citizens. Public buses and taxis are frequently in poor condition and lack basic safety equipment. Many unlicensed taxis are present in Belize and U.S. citizens are encouraged to avoid traveling in them; genuine taxis may be identified by their green-colored license plates. Medical care is limited in many areas, including the larger cities of Belize City and Belmopan, and emergency response services such as ambulances or paramedics may be either unavailable or limited in capability and equipment.
Water Safety: Tourist safety standards and emergency response capabilities in Belize are not equal to those in the United States, and significant injuries and deaths continue to occur while tourists are swimming, snorkeling, and SCUBA diving. Five U.S. citizens died while either diving or snorkeling in Belize in 2012. Inconsistent and overall lax safety standards may have been a factor in some of these deaths, along with poor weather conditions. Boats serving the public, especially water taxis, often do not carry sufficient safety equipment, observe safety regulations, or stay within defined water lanes while operating in the presence of tourists in the water. Many carry an excessive number of passengers and may sail in inclement weather. Tourists should check with their hotel before choosing to snorkel and swim off shore to ensure that they avoid the boat lanes, as tourists have been severely injured by passing boats. Rental diving equipment may not always be properly maintained or inspected, and some local dive masters fail to consider the skill levels of individual tourists when organizing dives. Deaths and serious injuries have occurred as a result of the negligence of dive tour operators, the lack of strict enforcement of tour regulations, water taxis diverging from routes when tourists are in the water, and tourists’ neglect of their own physical limitations. The Embassy strongly recommends that anyone interested in SCUBA diving or snorkeling while in Belize check the references, licenses, and equipment of tour operators before agreeing to or paying for a tour. The Embassy further recommends that U.S. citizens be forthcoming in reporting pre-existing medical conditions to their dive tour operators, and comply when a dive tour operator prohibits participation in such activities due to a U.S. citizen’s health condition. The situation may improve, as all tour guides and boat captains are now required to be licensed by the Government of Belize. The only hyperbaric recompression chamber in Belize is located in San Pedro Town, Ambergris Caye.
Cave Tubing: As a result of a fatal accident at the Cave’s Branch Archeological Park in September 2008, the Belize Tourism Board (BTB) implemented new regulations, effective as of October 15, 2008. Cave tubing policies include an enhanced, mandatory guest-to-guide ratio of eight-to-one for all cave tubing tour companies operating in Belize. Signage is required at each cave tubing excursion site to inform participants of park rules, current water conditions, and/or warnings. Mandatory specialty training for each cave tubing guide continues and includes education on new regulations. Helmets are required for each cave tubing participant. Additionally, the National Institute of Culture and History (NICH), which manages the Cave’s Branch Archeological Park, has installed additional monitoring equipment for cave tubing excursions which measure currents and other factors. The Embassy encourages U.S. citizens participating in cave tubing to do so only with a guide and to only use cave tubing tour companies that adhere to the above requirements and guidelines and operate only when water currents are deemed safe.
Border Areas: A long-standing border dispute between Belize and Guatemala has not been resolved and many areas of the border area are not adequately patrolled. Smugglers, narcotics traffickers, and wildlife poachers enter Belize in the shared border region, and there have been incidents of clashes between some of these individuals and Belize military and law enforcement personnel, some of which included the exchange of gunfire. Visitors should avoid trekking or other activities near the Belize-Guatemala border to ensure that they do not inadvertently cross the border into Guatemala. The Embassy cautions U.S. citizens who choose to travel on cross-border public buses between Guatemala and Belize that there has been a spike in armed bus attacks by bandits since January 2011. Illegal cross-border activities increase after nightfall. Visitors to the border areas should travel only during daylight. For additional information, visitors should consult the CSI for Guatemala for information on incidents directed at tourists in the border area in Guatemala near Belize.
The Guatemalans have increased their police presence in the area leading to the popular Mayan tourist site at Tikal and the surrounding Peten area. However, tourists and other travelers in the area are still urged to be very cautious as the area is the center of illegal smuggling and forest harvesting activities. Tourists traveling to the important Belizean Mayan site of Caracol, deep in a national forest and close to the Guatemala border, must travel in convoys with Belize Defense Force escort, which has effectively ended attacks against tourists in that specific area. As in other tourist areas of Belize, there is no information to suggest that perpetrators in the border regions attempt to target individuals or tourists of any specific nationality, and victims appear to have been targets of opportunity. Take some time before travel to improve your personal security—things are not the same everywhere as they are in the United States.