Should I Be Concerned About Health And Safety In Belize?

Whether you’re researching a potential move or planning a vacation, you may have questions about safety in Belize. San Ignacio expat Cathi Bray discusses some of the bigger concerns people have.

I’m naïve. It never occurred to me to ask about vaccinations, diseases, or safety in Belize.

As a member of several Belize expat Facebook groups, though, I see these questions all the time.

They come from people considering either a move or a vacation to Belize. And now I realize that while those things never entered my mind, they concern a lot of folks. People want to know if they need immunizations or what type of diseases they might get. They want to learn about crime and whether it’s safe to even be here.

So I wanted to address some of those concerns.

1. Vaccinations/Diseases

The easy answer is you’re not required to have any vaccinations to enter Belize (apart from yellow fever, that is – more below).

Your pet will need them though, but let’s talk about you first.

While shots are not mandatory, you might desire some, based on your health, or to give you peace of mind.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the US recommends you should be up to date on routine vaccines.

They also recommend Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccines. This is because you can get Hep A and Typhoid through food and water, particularly if you are “an adventurous eater.”

I can tell you with certainty I’m NOT an adventurous eater, nor is my husband.

This wouldn’t be a big concern if staying at a reputable hotel or eating at a decent restaurant. But if you travel out into the jungle and stay in remote areas, you might consider this.

I gave up cooking a while back, except for special occasions, so we eat out a lot in Belize and we’ve never been sick.

The CDC also throws in Hep B, too, you know, in case you plan on having unprotected sex or using contaminated needles. I mean, you know yourself better than I do, so you can decide on that one.

Belize requires a yellow fever vaccine if you’re coming from a country at risk for that disease.

This includes locations in Africa and South America. Also, consider anti-malarial meds if pregnant or at high risk for malaria. What would make you “high risk” for Malaria?

That’s something you’d need an expert to tell you.

Like elsewhere in Central America, there’s dengue fever in Belize.

There is no vaccine for this disease, so prevention is key here. The best way to avoid dengue is to not get bitten by mosquitos. Long sleeves/pants, and repellant are helpful here. So is avoiding or getting rid of standing water around your house.

Chikungunya and Zika are also concerns although the WHO now rates Belize as zika-free.

The CDC rabies vaccine recommendation, for humans, covers a good number of people, including “travelers involved in outdoor and other activities that might bring them into direct contact with dogs, bats, and other mammals (like campers, hikers, and cavers)”. 

People working with animals, long-term travelers and expats, and children are also mentioned by the CDC as candidates for a rabies shot.

I mean, that’s enough to scare even naïve me!

We do “outdoor and other activities” like caving and jungle hiking.

We’ve been around a friend’s animals at their farm and adopted Belizean dogs. And guess what? We received no rabies vaccinations.

I guess I’m not too worried about it, but then I’m not real hip on vaccines, anyway. I’m not the best judge of whether these are important or not and I can’t tell you what you should do either. I’m not a doctor.

I can tell you my husband and I had none of these vaccines mentioned by the CDC. And neither have any of our visitors, including those with young children.

But then we also don’t have unprotected sex with people we don’t know, or use dirty needles, or get up close and personal with cave bats…

2. Vaccinations for your animals

Now, if you bring Fido or Miss Whiskers with you on your trip, you’ll need shots for them. Rabies is the primary vaccination they will need.

They will also need a current/recent medical exam and a clean bill of health from your vet. To pass that exam, they may need the routine immunizations your state requires. Speak to your vet.

3. Crime and safety in Belize

Because I was a firearms and self-defense instructor, I have good situational awareness.

I’m aware of what’s going on around me most of the time. I’m not always on “high alert,” and I’m not paranoid, but I pay attention to my surroundings.

For example, I don’t keep my face in my phone while walking around.

Because of that, I’m comfortable being in Belize. Now, I’m also not stupid. I don’t go downtown late at night by myself and roam the streets.

I’ve driven downtown in San Ignacio to pick up pizza by myself before, and it got dark.

But I parked in a well-lit, well-populated area, and I felt safe. My husband and I will walk to a nearby restaurant at night and have no problems doing that. When my son and his friends were visiting, they were comfortable walking around at early at night, although not late.

A little wisdom goes a long way.

Many safety issues in Belize depend on where you are.

Most visitors to Belize go to the town of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye. I’m comfortable there pretty much anytime by myself, and also on neighboring Caye Caulker.

But I’m sure locals would advise against being alone at night in various areas, though.

We live inland, almost to Guatemala, in a large but quiet town and we haven’t felt unsafe here. I know several single expat ladies who live alone around San Ignacio, and they feel fine. I also stay by myself when my husband goes back to the States for a week or two at a time, and I’m still alive.

Toward the south of Belize, there’s Dangriga, Hopkins, Placencia, and Punta Gorda.

I’m not as familiar with Dangriga, Hopkins, or Punta Gorda, but I’d be fine living in the Placencia area by myself.

To the north is Corozal, and although I’ve heard concerns and read reports of issues there, I know a large community of expats exists in that region. I’m sure that within the right areas it would be safe, again, with wisdom.

And then you have Belize City where the cruise ships dock and where the international airport is.

Personally, I don’t care for Belize City, and only go when I need to.

I wouldn’t stay overnight there unless I had no other choice. I would also NEVER walk around Belize City at night, and only during the day if, again, there was no other option.

Belize City is a large town with many people. The vibe you get there is nowhere near like other towns. Please take heed if your travels take you there, which they will if you arrive by air or on a cruise ship.

Your main concern will be if you are flying into Belize City and then going on to another destination. Make sure you arrive early enough to either take a smaller flight out, make the last water taxi to the islands, or get your rental car.

If you’re renting a car, make sure you get in in time to make it to your destination before dark. It’s not wise to be on the highways between towns after dark in Belize. And if you miss a flight or come in late, there are safe hotels to stay in in the city. Any of the larger, well-known hotels are fine.

So, what are you waiting for? Stop worrying and get yourself down here! Don’t plan on channeling Ozzy Osbourne and biting into a live bat and you should be fine.

Catherine “Cathi” Bray is a travel agent, freelance writer, and firearms instructor who splits her time between Belize and Texas with her husband, Tom and their Great Dane/Mastiff mix, Allen, and Poo-Hua-Hua puppy, Maya.