Many would-be tourists considering Ambergris Caye as their next destination want to know how safe it is; especially when you consider the country of Belize has a bad reputation when it comes to safety. Amergris Caye is certainly one of the safest areas to travel around in Belize, but one should still use common sense and know what the most common crimes are in the area, as well as road and activity safety standards.
Our purpose is not to scare you into considering a different destination, as every visit to a foreign country has certain amount of criminal activity against tourists, but rather, we want you to know the truth so you are better prepared.
Ambergris Caye is an island located off Belize's shore, and should not be grouped in the same context as Belize City, where most criminal activity occur.
The country of Belize actually has one of the highest murder rates per capita, but 95% of all murders in Belize City are gang-related. Most of the violent crimes also occur on the south side of Belize City. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families, but its important to note that thankfully the majority of extreme violence seems to be constrained to one area.
In regards to Ambergris Caye (like most places that are populated heavily by tourists) the most common issues are burglaries and thefts. However, sexual harassment against lone females has been reported. One murder was reported a few years back against a tourist.
Tourist attractions, including the cayes, remain some of the safest destinations. While crime against tourists exists on the cayes, it is less frequent and generally non-violent.
The main safety concerns tourists face in Ambergris Caye are;
Theft: Either you leave something on your beach chair for just a minute, you leave something in the rental car, or in a few cases a face-to-face mugging. Remember, it is just stuff, so if you someone should mug you, hand over what they want, and report it to the police or hotel security after. Don't leave anything valuable in open sight, don't wear fancy jewellery or bring expensive handbags.
Passports: Passports have been known to 'disappear', either from a bag or hotel room. Be sure you hide your passport. I always tell people to have a photocopy in your carry-on. Better to be prepared, then not.
Credit Card Fraud: Try not to use your credit card, except at the hotel. And, before you leave, buy one of those wallets that prevent people from cloning your card.
Purchase Illegal Drugs: A dealer sets up a tourist by selling them illegal drugs, and then the 'police' (we aren't sure if its the actual police, or someone pretending to be an officer) shows up to arrest you, and you need to pay a hefty fine to prevent action.
Sexual Harassment: Never, under any circumstances, wander around alone, especially the ladies. This is true no matter where you travel. The power of groups is that you are much less likely to have any issues.
Belize in general does not have the standards of road safety that countries like Canada and the United States have. They simply don't have the volume to necessarily warrant close inspection of the roads. You can be on a brand new paved highway and all of a sudden (with no signs warning you) it becomes a crumbling mess.
Drive cautious and don't speed too much; not just because of the road conditions, but because speed bumps are used in lieu of stoplights (which are rare). A cheap alternative to preventing motorists from speeding off into the sunset.
Don't be surprised if you come across a police checkpoint. Mainly you would see this if you are around Belize City, but they happen elsewhere too. This is standard in Belize, and there haven't been any reported 'fake' checkpoints. You may be asked to show ID, which you should. most often they are in search of uninsured vehicles, and small infractions like windows being too tinted or a light burnt out.
It's also important to note that unlike in North America, vehicles do not yield to pedestrians, pedestrians yield to vehicles.
Generally, the main safety concern outside of your hands, is the risk of petty crime. Meaning your camera gets taken when visiting a Mayan Ruin because you set it down somewhere.
But, alternatively, people have drowned, broken bones after a fall, and hurt themselves in a multitude of ways. These accidents aren't a result of anyone else's doings, but rather a bad decision. If you can't swim, don't go on a tubing ride; if you forgot your running shoes at home, don't hike in flipflops, buy new shoes or pick another tour.
The question, is Ambergris Caye safe, is a subjective one. However, if you use reasonable precautions, stay in a group, and keep your valuables at home, you have the same amount of risk as most other Caribbean destination.