So you want to go to Central America. I’m sure you also want to be safe and enjoy your travels. In this article, you’ll see what the safest countries are in Central America and the Caribbean, and you’ll learn some interesting things to do and attractions to visit in each country.
Costa Rica and Panama are the safest countries in Central America according to data. The safest countries in the Caribbean are the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, which are tied for first. This is according to the Global Peace Index. It compares three factors, which are explained in this post.
DISCLAIMER: The following information is not my personal opinion, nor are they from personal experience. This comes from the 2022 Global Peace Index Report from Vision of Humanity. (Download PDF report). Travel warnings and advisory levels (Levels 1 to 4) are from travel.state.gov. Travel warnings for crime and safety can also be found on travel.gc.ca.
Central America is a very popular place to travel to, especially for anyone looking to get away from the winter blues in the northern parts of North America. So the following is a handy overview of the safest countries in the region.
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Safest Central American / Caribbean Country Ranking System
How are these countries ranked? The lower the number, the safer the country.
If you’re interested in how the safest Central American countries are scored, be sure to check out Section 6 in the Global Peace Index.
Here’s a quick breakdown. The Global Peace Index score is based on 23 different points, divided into 3 main factors:
- Ongoing Domestic and International Conflict: Such things as the number and duration of conflicts, how many deaths, the intensity of the conflict, and how the country fares with its neighbors impact the score.
- Societal Safety and Security: In this section, things like political instability, refugees, terrorism, violent crimes, murders, jailed populations, and internal security officers and police officers play a role in affecting the score.
- Militarisation: Military expenses, armed services personnel, importing and exporting of conventional weapons, nuclear and heavy weapons capabilities, how much is contributed to UN peacekeeping missions, and how easily accessible small arms and light weapons are all points that impact the peace score.
A note about geography. In this guide, we include Mexico and the Caribbean along with the 7 countries of Central America (Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama). While Mexico isn’t considered to be geographically part of Central America, it is often grouped with that region (including the United Nations Geoscheme for the Americas) and is also included there in the Global Peace Index.
8 Safest Countries in Central America
The following is the list of the 8 safest countries in Central America. If you don’t see a particular country, then it wasn’t included in the GPI report. (Population estimates and advisories as of August 11, 2022; visitor estimates pre-pandemic (2019)).
1. Costa Rica
- Safety Score: 1.732
- Worldwide Rank: 38
- Population: 5.19 million
- Capital City: San José
- Tourists Per Year: 3.37 million
Costa Rica is considered to be the safest country in Central America. And Costa Rica also ranks as one of the safest countries in the world at number 38. I’ve visited Costa Rica several times with my wife, and we’ve enjoyed it every time.
Costa Rica is especially known for its natural beauty, with such areas as the Arenal Volcano, Poás Volcano National Park, Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, and the Monteverde Cloud Forest being prime examples of this.
Costa Rica is on a Level 2 travel advisory, mainly due to crime.
Learn more: 79 Facts about Costa Rica.
- Safety Score: 1.876
- Worldwide Rank: 61
- Population: 4.46 million
- Capital City: Panama City
- Tourists Per Year: 2.49 million
Coming in at number 2 of the safest countries in Central America is Panama. I only had a brief stopover in Panama City in 2013, but it left me wanting to go back.
At the gateway between Central and South America, Panama is known for its biodiversity and the Panama Canal. Other attractions include Volcan Baru and Soberania National Park.
Panama is currently under a Level 3 advisory due to COVID-19 requirements. There are some warnings due to crime, with the Mosquito Gulf and the Darién Region under a “Do not travel to” advisory.
T-3. Dominican Republic
- Safety Score: 1.99
- Worldwide Rank: 81
- Population: 11.08 million
- Capital City: Santo Domingo
- Tourists Per Year: 7.55 million
Historically, the Dominican Republic is known for the first landing point of Christopher Columbus in the “New World” in 1492.
For vacationers today, the Dominican Republic is the third safest country (tied with Jamaica) in Central America. It’s a very popular spot, especially with its resorts and beaches. Such areas as Punta Cana, Playa Dorada, and Puerto Plata are among the top places to go in the country.
The Dominican Republic is under a Level 2 advisory due to crime. Resort areas tend to be better policed than other regions.
- Safety Score: 1.99
- Worldwide Rank: 81
- Population: 2.99 million
- Capital City: Kingston
- Tourists Per Year: 4.23 million
Tied for third for safe countries is Jamaica. A popular vacation spot, there’s quite a bit to do in this English-speaking Caribbean nation. You can visit Negril Beach (also known as Seven Mile Beach) and the Negril Cliffs, enjoy some luxury at Montego Bay, or do some hiking and biking at the Blue Mountains.
Don’t forget the food! Jamaica is famous for its jerk chicken for spice lovers while offering other fares for different tastes.
Despite the safety score and number 3 ranking on this list, Jamaica is under a Level 3 travel advisory, or “Reconsider Travel”, with several areas under the “Do Not Travel” warning.
5. Trinidad and Tobago
- Safety Score: 2.005
- Worldwide Rank: 88
- Population: 1.41 million
- Capital City: Port of Spain
- Tourists Per Year: 480,000
Trinidad and Tobago comes in as the fifth safest country in Central America and the Caribbean. With its blend of African and Indian cultures, it has a lot to offer visitors. Enjoy sunny weather, amazing beaches like Pigeon Point Beach, and cultural offerings like the Tobago Jazz Festival.
Trinidad and Tobago is under a Level 2 advisory due to crime, terrorism, and kidnapping, and some areas are under the warning “Do not travel”.
- Safety Score: 2.083
- Worldwide Rank: 98
- Population: 11.31 million
- Capital City: Havana
- Tourists Per Year: 4.28 million
Coming in at number 6 of the safest countries in Central America is Cuba. Just 449 miles (723 kilometers) from Florida, Cuba is full of things to do if you’re looking to get away from the winter blues.
Enjoy such attractions as beautiful beaches like Varadero and Guardalavaca, the sights, sounds, and flavors of the capital of Havana, or Cuba’s oldest city of Baracoa.
Cuba is under a Level 2 travel warning to Exercise Increased Caution.
- Safety Score: 2.139
- Worldwide Rank: 106
- Population: 18.61 million
- Capital City: Guatemala City
- Tourists Per Year: 2.56 million
Guatemala is the seventh safest country in Central America and the Caribbean. One of the hubs of Mayan Civilisation, you’ll enjoy many wonderful sights in the country.
You can visit ancient Mayan ruins at Tikal National Park, go swimming at Semuc Champey Natural Monument, or visit the country’s volcanos like Pacaya or Acatenango.
Guatemala is under a Level 3 advisory, Reconsider Travel, because of crime. Several areas are under a “Do not travel to” warning.
Learn more with these 24 Facts about Guatemala.
8. El Salvador
- Safety Score: 2.231
- Worldwide Rank: 114
- Population: 6.56 million
- Capital City: San Salvador
- Tourists Per Year: 2.64 million
Rounding out the list of safest countries in Central America is El Salvador. Known as the “Land of Volcanoes”, El Salvador has, at some estimates, up to 23 active volcanoes despite only being 8,124 square miles (21,041 square kilometers). You can hike these volcanoes, like Santa Ana or Izalco.
If you want something else to do, you can also visit the Joya de Cerén Archaeological Site, or relax in the country’s many thermal springs.
El Salvador is under a Level 3 travel advisory due to crime.
Here are some of the best Salvadoran foods to try on your visit.
Many of the countries in this list are Spanish speaking. How many Spanish-speaking countries are there?
Safest Central American Countries: FAQ
What is the safest country in Central America?
The safest country in Central America is Costa Rica. With a GPI score of 1.732, Costa Rica is in the Top 40 safest countries in the world, coming in at 38.
Other safe countries in Central America and the Caribbean are Panama (61st in the world), the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica (both tied at 81st in the world).
What is the most stable country in Central America?
The most stable country in Central America is Costa Rica, according to the GPI report. In fact, Costa Rica has been at the top of the safest countries in Central America since 2017. It’s never got a lower worldwide rank than 40th (2018) and has always gotten a score anywhere around the 1.7 range since that year.
Panama has also been consistently stable, coming in at number 2 in the region for each report since 2017.
What is the most dangerous country in Central America?
The most dangerous country in Central America is Mexico, followed by Nicaragua. While some don’t consider Mexico as geographically part of Central America, it is often grouped with that region and is included there in the Global Peace Index.
With a score of 2.612, Mexico is ranked 137th out of 163 countries in the report. Due to its size, Mexico has a list of varying travel advisories for its different states on travel.state.gov. Because of this, some areas may be safer to travel to, like the Yucatan.
Nicaragua received a score of 2.33, ranking it 124 out of 163 countries.
What country in Central America gets the most tourists?
Mexico has the most tourists of countries in Central America, with 97.41 million tourists in 2019. Despite its safety score, there are quite a few things to do in Mexico if you’re looking to get away.
You can visit Mérida, Yucatan, which is considered the safest city in Mexico. You can also visit such popular areas as Cancún, Cabo San Lucas, or Playa del Carmen.
Here’s hoping our list of safest countries in Central America and the Caribbean can get you started on your research for your next vacation!
What’s your favorite place to visit in Central America? What do you look forward to doing there? What did we miss? Let us know in the comments below!