Health and Safety in Belize
With a little forethought, traveling in Belize can be a healthy and safe endeavor. The most common issue travelers face here is sickness from food or water. Paying attention to what you eat and drink will go a long way towards ensuring that you spend your days on the beach and not on the toilet.
All travelers should have routine vaccinations, including measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, varicella (chickenpox), and polio. It’s also a good idea to have an annual flu shot.
Travelers coming from a country with risk of yellow fever must provide proof of a yellow fever vaccination. U.S. travelers don’t need to worry about this. You can find a list of countries at risk for yellow fever transmission here.
It’s recommended that most travelers get a hepatitis A vaccine, as hepatitis A can be transmitted through the water or food in Belize. The same goes for typhoid, so plan to get a typhoid vaccine, especially if you’ll be in more rural areas. Malaria medicine isn’t required, but depending on where you want to travel, using it could be smart. Finally, some animals in Belize – including dogs and bats – may have rabies, so getting a rabies vaccine may make sense, especially if you plan on engaging in lots of outdoor activities or will be working with animals.
Remember that many vaccines take at least two weeks to produce immunity, so you should plan to visit your doctor a month or two before traveling.
Food, Water, and Insect-Borne Diseases
Avoid drinking tap water in Belize. Bottled and filtered water is plentiful and cheap, and drinking treated water is one of the best ways to stay healthy. Reuse a water bottle to cut down on waste. If you’re going to be spending a significant amount of time in rural Belize, you might want to bring a water filter or iodine pills.
Drinks that come in cans or bottles (like beer) are usually safe, but anything that’s prepared may be suspect, especially if it has ice, which is usually made with tap water.
If you do come down with a case of traveler’s diarrhea, plan to rest, drink lots of water, and replace lost electrolytes with Gatorade or rehydration salts. If the diarrhea lasts for over two days, see a doctor.
Malaria is technically present in Belize, but it’s uncommon to find anyone who’s encountered it here. That said, taking malaria meds is still good preventative medicine. Dengue rarely occurs in Belize.
Mosquitos are most widespread during the rainy season, which lasts from June till November. To avoid mosquitoes and the diseases they can carry, bring insect repellent and wear long-sleeve shirts, long pants, and shoes. You can also apply permethrin to your clothes. Use mosquito nets over beds if they’re provided, and make sure that windows have screens. You can also purchase mosquito coils, which repel insects with smoke.
Scorpions live in Belize, but their sting is usually fairly mild unless you’re someone who easily goes into anaphylactic shock. Scorpions tend to hang out in dark areas and hide beneath debris. Be careful when hiking or picking things up off the ground. Belize does, however, have at least nine species of venomous snakes, including coral snakes and the fer-de-lance. It’s unlikely that you’ll encounter these snakes, but keep your wits about you when hiking, especially in wooded areas.
Finally, the coastal waters of Belize are home to sea urchins and anemones, which can be dangerous. It’s painful to come into contact with these creatures, so try to give them a wide berth while swimming or snorkeling.
Doctors, Hospitals, and Pharmacies
There are hospitals and clinics in Belize’s towns and cities — the best are in Belize City. The care, however, is much less sophisticated than it probably is in your hometown. If you need serious medical attention, you’ll need to be evacuated to another country. Getting travel insurance is one way to cover expenses in case something happens.
Doctors may require cash payment for services, often before treatment is even provided. Pharmacies are available in Belize and are usually well stocked. Even so, it’s smart to bring along all the prescription medications you’ll need while traveling in Belize. If you do need to get a prescription in Belize, you can have a general practitioner provide you with one for a small fee.
In general, the people in Belize are very friendly to travelers. Petty crime, however, can occur, and men may make “catcalls” at foreign women. The best way to avoid being a victim is to be smart about what you bring out. Don’t wear expensive jewelry or carry large sums of cash around with you. Leave important items in a safety deposit box at your hotel. When taking pictures in public, don’t show off your camera. When you’re traveling by bus keep your luggage with you at all times.
Be cautious in Belize City at night. If you’re going to a bar, go with a group of other travelers and take a taxi.