With all of the shocking news reports of violent crimes coming out of Mexico over the past decade, many people have gotten the idea that the country is just too dangerous to travel. After spending about a year living and traveling in Mexico, I’ve gotten to know the country pretty well. In this guide, I answer the question, ‘Is Mexico Safe?’ I discuss the risks and dangers of travel in Mexico in a neutral and rational way to help you make an educated decision for yourself whether or not Mexico is a safe enough destination for you. I’ll also share some safety tips to help you avoid common crimes and scams that you may encounter in your travels in Mexico.
I will start off by saying that I have absolutely fallen in love with Mexico. During my time living here, I have made friends, enjoyed world-class food, and seen some fascinating culture and historic sites. I have also experienced two crimes. I was inside a Tijuana bar during an armed robbery and my phone was pickpocketed.
What are the Dangers of Travel in Mexico
As a travel destination, Mexico is actually fairly safe. The country does have a few dangers to take into consideration that you may not have to worry about in other travel destinations. Dangers also vary by region and city. After all, Mexico is a large country with a population of over 130 million. This guide is divided into the following categories:
Table of Contents- Is Mexico Safe?
- Violent Crime in Mexico
- Transportation Safety in Mexico
- Petty Theft and Pickpocketing in Mexico
- Scams in Mexico
- Food and Drink Safety in Mexico
- Mexican Police
- Final Thoughts: Is Mexico Safe?
Violent Crime in Mexico
I will start off by talking about many people’s biggest concern when traveling to Mexico, violent crime. You have probably seen shocking stories in the news about beheadings, murders, and kidnappings in various cities throughout the country. For example, check out this article from USA Today about a recent bar shooting in Playa del Carmen where 7 people were murdered.
According to the article, there were almost 700 killings in the state of Quintana Roo in 2018. This is over double the number from 2017. The murder rate in this part of Mexico is approaching that of El Salvador which is, statistically, one of the world’s most violent countries. Quintana Roo also happens to be the most popular Mexican state for tourists. The stunning beaches and fascinating Mayan ruins draw millions of tourists to this region every year. This is also where you will find the beautiful beach towns of Cancun, Tulum, and Playa del Carmen along the Mayan Riviera.
So far, 2019 is looking even worse. According to this article from Reuters, over 14,600 people have been murdered in the first half of 2019. With murder statistics this high, is Mexico safe enough for travelers to visit?
As I mentioned earlier, the media loves to sensationalize and exaggerate these crimes because it makes for exciting news. Exciting news leads to higher viewership and more ad revenue. They make Mexico sound like it’s an active war zone which simply isn’t true. The official travel advisory from the US Department of State tells a similar story. While there is some good information here, remember that they also have their own political motives. Unfortunately, it is difficult to get an honest report. While violent crimes in Mexico should be reported, the stories should be told in a more accurate and honest manner.
Why You Should Not Worry about Violent Crime as a Tourist in Mexico
While violent crimes happen every day, the reality is that tourists are rarely targeted. These crimes happen almost exclusively among one particular group of people. These people are those involved with the cartels who are dealing in drugs and trafficking. Tourists generally aren’t involved. The vast majority of the homicides that you read about in the news happen in poor or working-class neighborhoods, well outside of the tourist zones and city centers.
The article I linked above is a good example. The headline leads you to believe that the cartels murdered 7 tourists in a bar. We assume this because Playa del Carmen is known as a popular tourist destination. In reality, no tourists were involved in this act of violence. The crime took place in a poor area far from the tourist center of the city. While this doesn’t excuse the act, of course, it should calm the nerves of the nervous potential tourist.
I, myself, haven’t witnessed any violent crime during the year that I have spent in Mexico. I have been inside a bar while it was robbed.
How to Avoid Violent Crime In Mexico
To reduce any risk of being involved in violent crime while traveling in Mexico, the best thing you can do is to stick to touristy areas. These include downtown areas, beaches, business districts, and tourist sites. Pretty much anywhere you’d want to go as a tourist. They are all generally well-policed and safe for travel. Avoid wandering too far into working-class neighborhoods. Particularly after dark.
Muggings in Mexico
One violent crime that a tourist should be aware of is mugging. This is a common crime in big cities all over the world. Mexico is no different. Muggings are rare but do happen, even in touristy areas occasionally.
During the day, the risk is low. It’s safe enough to walk around pretty much anywhere. Touristy areas are heavily policed and are safe to wander around at all hours. At night, you’ll want to be a bit more cautious where you walk. Chances are, if you take the following precautions, you’ll have no problems when traveling in Mexico.
How to Reduce the Risk of Mugging While Traveling in Mexico
- Don’t walk around in unfamiliar areas after dark- This is important. Mexico is a place where you can wander a few blocks and find yourself outside of the safe, touristy area and end up in a dangerous neighborhood. If you don’t know where you’re going and the sun is down, it’s better not to walk around.
- Don’t wander around when you are drunk or intoxicated- I did this and got pickpocketed. I learned my lesson.
- Avoid flashing expensive electronics or jewelry when walking around- This includes phones, cameras, watches, rings, etc. These items make you a target.
- If possible, walk with a friend or group- There is safety in numbers. A criminal is much less likely to attempt to rob a group of people. They will go for the easiest target.
- Don’t carry large sums of cash- This limits your losses if somebody robs you.
- Don’t carry all of your important documents and cards when out walking around- If you are robbed, you want to be able to prove your identity and have access to your money afterward. Leave your ID and a card in your hotel or hostel as a backup. Lock them up if possible. Try not to walk around with your passport.
- Don’t dress or act too flashy- If you walk around looking like a rich person, you’re more likely to be robbed. Try your best to blend in with everyone else.
If you are mugged or robbed while traveling in Mexico
The best thing you can do is to just give the criminal what they want. Most likely, they will demand money or your phone. If you comply, chances are they’ll just take it and leave you alone.
If you try to start a fight, all bets are off. The criminal could badly injure or kill you. Mexico is a violent country where many crimes go unpunished. The likelihood of a criminal being caught after a mugging, even if they injure or kill someone, is slim.
For more tips, check out my guide: How To Avoid Getting Robbed While Traveling.
Kidnappings in Mexico
The risk of kidnapping varies greatly by region but is generally pretty low these days. Traditional kidnapping has been on the decline but a couple of variations have popped up over the past few years.
In this variation of the crime, the kidnappers abduct poor or middle-class people and demand a smaller ransom.
This new method benefits them in two ways. First, families can pay the smaller ransom easily and quickly. For example, even poor families can scrape together a few hundred dollars to pay off a ransom. A well off family would have trouble coming up with hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars that kidnappers asked for in the past.
Second, by abducting lower class people, the crime doesn’t show up in the news like it would with a high profile kidnapping of a tourist or politician. This way, the kidnappers can run their business with a higher volume of victims. They also stay under the radar.
Another Variation of Kidnapping
The kidnappers don’t ask for a ransom but collect money from the victim themselves. They do this by holding the victim for 48-72 hours. During that time, they force the victim to withdraw cash from an ATM and charge their credit cards. They are held for a few days after so that there is time for the money to clear and to get around daily maximum withdraws.
Because of these changes in the methods used in the crime, kidnappings are pretty uncommon for tourists in Mexico these days.
Some precautions that you can take to lower the risk of kidnapping include:
- Avoid walking or driving at night in areas where you are alone- Risk is greater if you are by yourself.
- Keep an eye on your drink- Make sure that nobody spikes it with drugs. Both men and women have to be careful about this.
- Be cautious when going to the ATM- Use ATMs in crowded areas and only during the day. ATMs in supermarkets are good because there is usually security around.
- Don’t flash expensive jewelry or electronics- These items make you a target.
- Avoid passing through rural or not well-traveled areas alone at night- Criminals have been known to set up roadblocks, though this is rare.
For an example of a news story of a kidnapping of a tourist in Mexico, check out this article from Market Watch which describes the kidnapping of an American couple while vacationing near Mexico City.
Is Public Transportation Safe in Mexico?
Overall, transportation in Mexico is pretty safe. There are a few scams and dangers associated with each of the different forms of transportation. I will outline each below.
Long-Distance Bus Travel
The best way for budget travelers to get around Mexico is by bus. The main bus company operating in Mexico is called ADO. They offer a safe, professional, and reliable service all over the country. They keep their buses in clean and good working condition. I haven’t heard of any safety problems from people traveling with them. Of course, bus accidents do happen on occasion. That, however, is not a risk exclusive to travel in Mexico.
If an accident is a concern of yours, I recommend you book a safe seat when making your reservation. The safest seats on the bus will be in the center on the aisle which is opposite of oncoming traffic. Again, the likelihood of being involved in a bus accident is incredibly slim.
Note: Video on the Bus in Mexico
At some point, before the bus leaves the station, someone may walk through with a video camera and briefly record everyone on the bus. This could happen while you board or while you are sitting on the bus. They won’t ask you anything, just ask that you look at the camera for a moment.
This is done so the company has a physical record of every person on the bus. If something were to happen, like an accident or hijacking, for example, video evidence exists which proves who was on the bus.
The first time you see this, it feels kind of intimidating and weird but I have seen it done all over Latin America. In my opinion, they would be better off just mounting a camera that records your face as you enter the bus. It would feel less intrusive.
Taxi Safety in Mexico
I’ll start off by saying that I hate taking taxis. They are overpriced and are usually run by crooks and scammers. With that being said, sometimes it’s the only transportation option. Here are a few tips for staying safe and avoiding scams when taking a cab in Mexico.
- Only take official taxis- Sometimes normal people will just wait by a bus station with their car offering rides. While the fare will be cheaper, there is a risk. You have no way of knowing who these people are. They could rob you or they could simply be an unsafe driver. If you have to take a cab, it’s best to take one from an actual taxi company. That way, you know that they were trained and probably are insured.
- Before getting in the cab, negotiate the fare- Cab drivers often overcharge tourists. They know that you don’t know the going rate. They drive you to your destination then demand a ridiculous amount for the ride. Sometimes up to 10X the market rate. This is predatory and is a scam.
- If you have the choice, ride in city-run taxis- Some cities have both official taxis operated by the city and taxis operated by private companies. The city-run taxis are more heavily regulated and will be safer and less likely to try to rip you off.
There is also a scam where criminals will steal or buy a taxi and rob unsuspecting passengers. This crime is rare but you should know that it exists. It would be very difficult to avoid. By taking the above precautions, you will reduce the risk.
For a more extensive list of taxi scams, check out my article: 19 Common Travel Scams, How they Work, and How to Avoid Them.
Uber Safety in Mexico
If Uber is an option in the city where you are traveling, I recommend it over a taxi. Uber in Mexico is safe, reliable, and you don’t have to haggle over the fare. Drivers are generally professional and they keep their vehicles clean. Uber is cheaper than taking a taxi as well. Having said that, there have been some safety issues with Uber in Mexico in the past.
Taxi drivers hate Uber for taking a chunk of their business. A war between taxis companies and rideshare companies has been fought all over the world. In Mexico, taxi drivers have attacked or harassed Uber drivers and their passengers. I have mainly heard of this problem happening in Tijuana but it is possible in other parts of Mexico as well. For example, check out this story from NBC San Diego.
I have ridden in dozens of Ubers both in Tijuana and other parts of Mexico and have never seen or experienced this type of behavior. Just to be safe, it is a good idea to be a bit discreet when taking an Uber. For example, if a taxi driver stops to offer you a ride, don’t tell him that you’re waiting for an Uber. Just say no thanks and he’ll move along. When your driver arrives, pretend it’s just a friend picking you up.
Update: This problem seems to have calmed down over the past couple of years. These days, it’s safe to use Uber in Mexico.
Mexico City Metro Safety
The best way to get around Mexico City is the metro. It’s cheap at only 5 pesos per ride (about 25 cents). The system is also extensive. Overall, the metro is very safe. Every station has security guards and there are cameras everywhere. People from all walks of life enjoy the excellent underground system that Mexico City has built. There are a few safety issues to take into consideration when riding the metro.
- Watch your pockets and belongings- Pickpocketing and petty theft are pretty common on the metro. When the train car is packed, it is easy for a thief to take your wallet or watch without you even noticing. Try to keep all of your valuables in pockets that zip or button if possible. You should also secure your backpack or purse so that someone can’t swipe it and run away.
- If you are a female, ride in the women-only cars- Groping and sexual assault became a real problem in the Mexico City metro. Particularly during rush hour. To solve this problem, the city decided to designate some cars as female only. If you feel unsafe, make your way to one of these cars. The female-only cars are clearly marked with a sign on the platform.
- If you can, avoid the metro during rush hour- During the day, pickpocketing and sexual crimes are reduced to almost nothing. It is much easier for criminals to act in crowded train cars.
Don’t be afraid of riding in the metro when visiting Mexico City. It is the most efficient way to get around. You can travel to almost anywhere in the city for just 5 pesos.
Colectivos (shared buses or taxis) Safety
One of the most cost-effective ways to get around many Mexican cities is the Colectivo. This is basically a shared taxi or bus that runs a route picking up and dropping off passengers along the way. Usually, there is a taxi park where colectivos wait until they are full to leave on their route.
These vehicles do not run on a set schedule, rather just leave when they are full. One way fare usually costs around 10-20 pesos (50 cents-$1) depending on the distance of the trip and the time of day.
Overall, colectivos are a perfectly safe way to get around Mexican cities. They are often owned and operated by the city. Prices are clearly marked on the window so you know exactly how much to pay. Scams on colectivos are rare.
One thing you should look out for when riding in a colectivo is pickpocketing or petty theft. Sometimes they get packed pretty full which gives thieves an opportunity to get their hands into your pockets.
A reader of this blog explained an instance of a colectivo being held up in Tijuana. The passengers were robbed of their wallets and phones. The criminals were armed but didn’t injure anyone. This crime is rare but it does happen, unfortunately.
Also, be aware that the fare is sometimes a couple of pesos higher at night. This isn’t a scam.
Staying Safe While Walking in Mexico
My favorite way to get around when I travel is on foot. I have been known to walk up to 20 miles in a day. Walking is free, healthy, and allows you to explore parts of a city that you otherwise wouldn’t get to see. When walking around Mexico, you should take a few extra precautions to stay safe.
- Don’t walk around unfamiliar areas at night- For the most part, walking around during the day is safe. After sundown, you shouldn’t stray outside of downtown and touristy parts of the city unless you are familiar with the area. The risk just isn’t worth it.
- Hide your valuables- Keep your camera in your bag. Don’t show off expensive jewelry or large sums of cash. Avoid taking out your phone too much if you can help it.
- Consider carrying your backpack on the front- I know it looks silly but is a good way to deter thieves from trying to snatch or cut your bag from you.
- Don’t walk around when you are drunk or intoxicated- I was walking home after having some drinks and was pickpocketed. I learned my lesson.
- Know where you are going- Mexico is one of those places where danger can vary greatly by neighborhood. You could wander a few blocks outside of a tourist zone and find yourself somewhere dangerous. Again, during the day, the risk is low. Wandering around ifs safe, for the most part. At night, you don’t want to find yourself in the wrong neighborhood or worse yet, lost. Map out your route on your phone first.
Driving Safety in Mexico
In some parts of the country, having your own transportation is the best way to get around. Driving in Mexico is pretty safe. For the most part, people follow the rules of the road and are courteous. With this being said, traffic can get hectic at times and road conditions may not be as good as you are used to. Potholes and bumps in the road are common. You can drive your own car across the border into Mexico or easily rent a car while you’re there.
Auto Insurance in Mexico
When driving in Mexico, you want to be sure to have auto insurance. It will offer you some protection in the event of an accident whether it’s your fault or someone else. Most likely, your insurance from back home won’t cover you in Mexico. You can purchase insurance from the rental agency if you rent a car. If you are driving across the border in your own car, you can purchase insurance before you cross in most border towns in the US.
A decent Mexico insurance policy costs $15-$25 per day. When deciding on a policy, make sure that it covers you if you are involved in an accident with an uninsured driver.
You should also know that, in Mexico, many minor accidents and fender benders are handled on the spot in cash. If you run into someone’s car and cause a small dent, you may be expected to pay to fix it rather than involve the insurance company.
I don’t know how useful insurance really is. My main worry would be that the company would find a way to get out of paying and leave me with the bill. For this reason, I don’t drive in Mexico. I really don’t want the hassle of dealing with an insurance company in a foreign country where I have no rights.
Another problem you may run into when driving in Mexico is corrupt police. I have two friends who were pulled over for minor traffic infractions and solicited for bribes on two separate instances.
This scam is less common than it was in the past but police corruption still exists. If you are pulled over and asked for a bribe, you can play dumb and try to talk your way out of it. Depending on the officer, you may get lucky and they let you go. Usually, you just have to pay the fine to get on with your day.
Staying Safe While Driving at Night in Mexico
You should avoid driving at night if possible for a number of reasons:
- Many highways are not well lit- This makes navigation difficult if you aren’t familiar with the area.
- Some areas have random speed bumps installed that are not well marked- If you hit one at speed, it could damage your car. In Spanish, these are called ‘topes.’ If you see a yellow sign with the word TOPE, you know what to expect.
- There can be livestock or people on the road that you can’t see- This could cause a serious accident or injury. You need to keep an eye out for cows, goats, and people on the road when driving at night.
- If you break down, you may be stranded in a dangerous area- Most crime happens at night. You don’t want to break down in the wrong place at the wrong time.
- Robberies happen at night- If you are driving through a rural or not well-traveled area at night, you could risk being held up by bandidos or road pirates and robbed. They may make a fake police checkpoint to get you to stop then overpower you. This crime isn’t common but has been reported in some parts of Mexico.
Is Air Travel Safe in Mexico?
Because Mexico is such a large country, sometimes the most convenient way to get from one city to another is by air. Mexico has some excellent budget airlines which are all perfectly safe. They include:
Tip: Before making a long-distance bus reservation, check flight costs on the above-listed budget airlines. For example, I flew from Tijuana to Mexico City for about $70 on a last-minute ticket. The same trip takes 36 hours and costs about $100 to travel by bus.
Petty Theft and Pickpocketing in Mexico
Tourists are often targeted by pickpockets and petty thieves. Because they are often distracted from being in an unfamiliar place, tourists make for easy victims. These crimes aren’t particularly common in Mexico as they are in other parts of the world but they do happen. Petty theft is usually a crime of opportunity.
To avoid pickpockets and thieves in Mexico:
- Carry your cash, cards, and passport in a money belt- I like the Eagle Creek Silk Undercover Money Belt. I have carried it to over 50 countries for the past 8 years and it is still holding up well. It’s made of a very soft fabric which makes it pretty comfortable to wear. I hardly notice when I have it on. I find myself constantly checking that it’s still there. Check out my full review here.
- Wear your backpack on your front when walking through a particularly crowded area- Thieves can’t unzip it when it’s right in front of your face.
- Don’t leave any of your belongings unattended- Snatch and grab crimes are rare but why risk it? Keep an eye on your stuff at all times.
- Be extra cautious when riding public transport- Metros, buses, and colectivos are high-risk areas for being pickpocketed. Because you can be crammed so close to other people, you can’t really tell if someone is reaching into your pocket or just brushing up against you accidentally.
- Consider using an anti-theft backpack or purse- These bags are designed to be difficult for thieves to open. They are also lined with a metal mesh which makes slashing the bag impossible.
- Store important items in a pocket that zips or buttons closed- If your phone and wallet are difficult for the criminal to get to, they’ll find an easier target.
- Only carry enough money for the day- Leave the rest of your cash in your hotel or hostel locked away or hidden. This reduces your loss if you are robbed.
- Don’t carry anything that is unnecessary- Your passport and credit cards will be safer locked away in your hotel or hostel. If you don’t need your camera, don’t bring it out with you. Limit your loses if you are robbed.
- Try to stay alert- Pay attention to your surroundings and try not to get too distracted.
- Don’t walk around with valuables when drunk- You become an easier target when you’re intoxicated. Criminals can sense it and they will take advantage.
- Carry a decoy wallet- Many travelers like to carry a second wallet stocked with a few dollars and some old credit cards. This way, if you get mugged or robbed, you can hand over the fake one and only be out a couple of bucks. I’ve never done this but it sounds like a pretty good idea.
For more tips, check out my extensive guide: How to Avoid Pickpockets While Traveling.
My Experience with Pickpockets While Traveling
I have been pickpocketed twice in my travels. Once in Tanzania and once in Tijuana. Both times, the pickpocket got my phone. Miraculously I got it back both times and still use the same phone to this day. Check out the stories below.
- My Phone was Pickpocketed in Tanzania but I got it Back!
- My Phone was Pickpocketed in Tijuana but I got it Back!
Common Scams in Mexico
To read my extensive list of scams, check out my article: 19 Common Travel Scams, How they Work, and How to Avoid Them.
I haven’t encountered any really elaborate scams in Mexico but there are a few areas where you have to be cautious. Many times, people will try to rip you off, overcharge, or run simple scams to separate you with your money. Some Mexican scams to look out for include:
Fake Police Scam in Mexico
Someone approaches you claiming to be a police officer. They inform you that you broke the law and offer to settle the fine right there and then. If you try to walk away or ask questions, they may get aggressive and threaten to arrest you. This is a scam. I have heard reports of this one happening in Mexico City most commonly.
The best thing to do if you suspect someone is pretending to be a police officer is to just play dumb and walk away. You could also insist that you settle the matter in the police station.
The Taxi Scam
This is a pretty common scam that comes in a couple of flavors.
- Broken meter- Often times taxi drivers in Mexico will refuse to use the meter. They will just tell you that it’s broken or that they will give you a better rate than the meter. This is a lie and a scam. They are just making up a story so they can overcharge you.
- Overcharging- The driver will take you to your destination then charge you an exorbitant price. I have heard of people being charged up to 10 times the going rate.
How to Avoid the Taxi Scam in Mexico
- Always negotiate the price before getting in the cab and accepting a ride.
- Insist that the driver use the meter.
- Find another cab if the driver won’t use the meter and you can’t negotiate a reasonable price.
- Use Uber or a local equivalent if it’s available.
General Overcharging in Mexico
In Mexico, as with any tourist destination, sellers like to overcharge tourists whenever they can. They know that you aren’t familiar with the currency and will make mistakes. They also know that you aren’t familiar with local pricing. With this knowledge, they will try to rip you off.
This scam can happen pretty much anywhere. You have to watch out for this in restaurants, hotels, markets, taxis, and anywhere you make a purchase where the price isn’t clearly marked. The best way to avoid this problem is to simply be careful with your money. You should:
- Inspect your bill to make sure that all charges are correct- Sometimes restaurants, for example, like to charge more than the price listed on the menu because they think you won’t notice. Call them out on this practice.
- Negotiate hard to get a reasonable rate when making a purchase- Some people, like myself, hate bargaining. Unfortunately, it’s a requirement in many situations.
- Know how much things should cost- Ask friends, other travelers, or hotel reception how much you should be paying. Shop around a bit so you know how much things are supposed to cost.
- If someone is clearly trying to rip you off, walk away- I was trying to buy a cheap pair of flip flops and the seller had the nerve to ask 500 pesos (about $25). I laughed my way out of his shop, not even bothering to negotiate. He was clearly a scammer. I bought the same pair in another shop nearby for 50 pesos (about $2.50). I probably still overpaid.
Beggars and Homeless in Mexico
Poverty and homelessness exist in Mexico. Occasionally, someone will approach you to ask for money or try to sell you something. Some of these people are mentally unstable. Some are simply trying to run scams. For this reason, they should be avoided if possible. Three types of scams you will encounter on the street are:
These are usually guys who have been deported from the US who speak excellent English. These are mostly criminals or people who entered the US illegally then were forced to leave. They will approach you acting like your best friend. They may ask about your trip, where you’re from, and where you’re going all while offering to help you out or show you around. These guys run a number of scams including:
- Bar or restaurant deal- They may invite you to a bar or restaurant to have a drink or something to eat. After the meal, you are expected to pay for everything. They collect a commission from the restaurant. Their job was to bring in business. They also get a free drink or meal out of it. In a variation of this, you may also end up with a ridiculous bill. Like hundreds of dollars for a few drinks, for example.
- Sob story- After chatting and walking with you for a while, they may tell you a sad story about how their kid needs medicine that they can’t afford or something similar. This is an attempt at getting your sympathy. The story is a lie. They will then ask for money to help them out.
- Some of these guys have deals with the police- This scam has a couple of variations. One deal begins when they sell you drugs then turn you in to the police to collect a reward. Another variation is when they discreetly steal something from you then offer to take you to the police to help you get it back. In this case, the police will retrieve your item for a fee. You essentially buy your item back.
Mexican Street Children
In Mexico, you may encounter small children walking around selling gum or other small items. They are harmless, for the most part. If you are in the mood, you can buy something from them but I recommend against it. These kids are put up to this by their parents or some other adult. They are just small children who don’t want to be out on the street doing business. By giving them money, you support this behavior.
Occasionally, you will encounter people begging for money on the streets. For the most part, they are just suffering from poverty and are harmless. I, personally, never give money to beggars. It’s just a policy of mine. In the long run, it does more harm than good.
Occasionally, you’ll encounter someone who is clearly mentally ill. While this is terribly sad, its best to stay far away from these people. They can get violent or aggressive.
For example, once while wandering down the street in Tijuana minding my own business, a woman jumped in front of me and punched me right in the stomach, completely unprovoked. I noticed that she was acting strangely before the encounter but didn’t think anything of it. I should have been more cautious and walked further away from her.
Food and Drink Safety in Mexico
Travelers diarrhea, food poisoning, or, ‘Montezuma’s Revenge,’ as it’s sometimes called in Mexico is another safety concern to take into consideration. Food and drink hygiene standards in Mexico may be lower than you’re used to. You have to be a bit more careful about choosing what you eat and where you get it from. To help avoid getting sick, you should:
- Make sure that your food is hot and was cooked all the way through- Undercooked meats, in particular, can carry some nasty diseases or at the very least make you sick for days.
- Avoid foods that have been sitting out in the air- These foods may not have been kept at the proper temperature, allowing bacteria to grow. They are also exposed to flies and other disease-carrying critters.
- Avoid unwashed leafy greens- E. coli is a concern. Wash your fruits and veggies before you eat them.
- Don’t drink tap water if you can avoid it- It may be contaminated with bacteria.
- Avoid ice in your drinks- It was probably made with tap water which could be contaminated.
- Avoid juices made from concentrate- Again, they probably contain tap water.
- Prepare your own food- You won’t want to do this all the time, but if you prepare it yourself, you know it’s safe to eat.
Mexico has one of the world’s greatest cuisines. Don’t be afraid to taste new dishes and enjoy street food. Most likely, you’ll get a bit of travelers diarrhea sometime during your trip. Don’t miss out on the excellent food out of fear. Use your best judgment.
A note about tap water safety in Mexico
In the past, it was not safe to drink tap water anywhere in Mexico. That’s not really the case anymore. Many cities’ municipal water department treats and chlorinates the water these days so it’s safe to drink when it leaves the facility. With that being said, I recommend you only drink bottled or purified water anyway. You never know the condition of the pipes and water quality varies from city to city. For more info, check out my guide to drinking water in Mexico.
Another option is to travel with a water filter. I have the Sawyer Mini. With it, you can filter tap water and make it safe to drink. This saves you money on buying bottled water. It’s also more environmentally friendly because you’re not going through so many plastic bottles. You can just bring one of your own and refill it. For more info, you can check out my full review of the Sawyer Mini here.
What to do if you get a bad case of travelers diarrhea in Mexico
If and when you get sick, there are a few things you can do to help your body recover faster.
- Drink a lot of water- You need to keep hydrated. Diarrhea dehydrates your body quickly which can be dangerous if it is too severe.
- Take some anti-diarrhea medication- You can purchase Imodium or Pepto Bismol at any pharmacy. This will help relieve symptoms so you can get on with your day.
- Eat a bland diet- I like the BRAT diet. It consists of bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. These items are easy on the stomach and are available pretty much everywhere on earth. For more info on the BRAT diet, check out this article from Medical News Today.
- If you’re not improving after a few days, consider taking some antibiotics- Try going to a pharmacy and asking what they recommend for your condition. Some pharmacies will require a prescription to purchase antibiotics. If this is the case, you may need to go to a clinic. Check out my article for a step-by-step guide to visiting a clinic in Mexico.
Mosquitoes and Disease in Mexico
Mosquito bites transmit a number of nasty tropical diseases which are found in Mexico. Most of these diseases have no vaccine and no treatment. The best prevention is to avoid getting bitten. The following tips will help you stay bite free and healthy.
- Apply bug repellent with DEET- I like Repel 100 Insect Repellent. This stuff contains 98.11% DEET and remains effective for up to 10 hours. It works great and the bottle lasts for months.
- Cover your skin when the mosquitoes are out- Wear long sleeves and long pants at night when the mosquitoes are at their worst.
- Use a mosquito net- Many hotels supply one if they are in a region where mosquitos are bad. It is a good idea to travel with your own. I like the Dimples Excel Mosquito Net. It only needs one mount to hang it so it is easy and quick to put up almost anywhere.
Malaria is a disease which is transmitted through mosquito bites. Cases of malaria have been reported throughout the country but the risk is considered to be very low according to the CDC. For more information, check out my Traveler’s Guide to Malaria Prevention, Treatment, and Tablets.
Dengue Fever is present in Mexico. It is most often transmitted through mosquito bites. There is no known vaccine or treatment for the disease. The best way to prevent dengue fever is to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes. If you do catch it, all you can do is take care of yourself and wait it out. I haven’t had it but have heard from fellow travelers that it is pretty miserable.
Another tropical disease transmitted by mosquitoes which is found in Mexico is Zika. This disease seems to be getting more and more common. For more information, check out this guide from the CDC.
Early symptoms of the above diseases are pretty similar. You should visit a doctor if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms.
- Muscle or joint pain
- Nausea or vomiting
While you could just be experiencing a common cold or the flu, it’s best to play it safe and see a doctor just in case. Particularly because visiting a clinic is so cheap and easy in Mexico. You can get a consultation for around 60 pesos (around $3.15) at many pharmacies.
For more info on receiving healthcare, check out my guide Healthcare in Mexico: How to Visit a Clinic, Go to the Dentist, and Buy Prescriptions.
Police in Mexico: Staying Safe and Avoiding Bribes
The police in Mexico have an incredibly dangerous job. They are essentially fighting in an active war against some of the most violent gangs in the world. These gangs have better gear and more funding than the police. It’s a losing battle that, to many, seems pointless.
Because the Mexican police are so busy fighting a drug war, they are not known for being too helpful to tourists. They do their best to keep the peace and will protect you from violent crime but, in the case of minor crimes, you’re pretty much on your own. They have more important things to deal with than to search for a stolen phone, wallet, or bicycle.
Having said that, if you do get robbed, go ahead and file a report with the police. It can’t hurt. They will do their best to recover your item. Don’t be surprised if you are asked to pay a small bribe for their help.
Corruption in the Mexican Police Force: Avoiding Bribes
Corruption has also been a major problem in police forces across Mexico. It is less common than it was in the past, but it is still something to be aware of. Most police aren’t corrupt but some police scams to look out for include:
- Soliciting for bribes- The police will stop you, claim that you committed some kind of crime, and offer to settle the problem right there. I have friends who have been stopped, both on foot and in their vehicle, and solicited for bribes. Usually, they will do a quick search for drugs or contraband during the stop. If you have nothing, they’ll usually ask for $20 or so to leave you alone. The only thing you can do is to play dumb and try to talk your way out of it or simply pay up. If you’re carrying a lot of cash, you’ll usually end up paying more.
- Recovering stolen item scam- This one almost happened to me. Basically, someone will pickpocket or steal something from you and turn it into the police. When you report the crime, the officer will tell you that they can get it back but you’ll have to pay a fee. You are basically buying back your own item. You get it back and the police split the money with the criminal. In this case, if you want your item back, you’ll have to pay.
- Drug dealer scam- This is a sting scam. Basically, a drug dealer sells drugs to a tourist, then turns them in to the police. The police make an arrest or collect a bribe and the dealer gets paid for the tip. You don’t want to be caught with drugs in Mexico. You will either face a major fine or time in a horrible jail. Never buy drugs in Mexico.
Mexico makes a lot of money from tourism. The last thing they want is to have an injured or murdered tourist. Most tourist areas have a heavy police presence and are very safe. The country already has a bad enough reputation for crime. As long as you are respectful and not breaking any laws, corrupt police have no reason to hassle you.
For more info, check out my guide to police corruption.
Travel Insurance for Travel in Mexico
If, after reading this article, you still feel a bit nervous about traveling in Mexico, you may want to consider purchasing travel insurance to put your mind at ease. Travel insurance can cover you in the event of theft, injury, or medical emergency. When I travel, I have always purchased my travel insurance from World Nomads. For more information and for a free quote, check out my travel insurance page.
Final Thoughts: Is Mexico Safe?
In general, yes, Mexico is a perfectly safe place to travel and vacation. Don’t miss out on this beautiful country just because of the negative stories that the news media reports. Mexico is a big, varied country full of friendly people, world-class food, and some of the most beautiful beaches you’ve ever seen.
While all of the dangers and scams explained in this article do exist, the likelihood of running into them is fairly slim. Dangers vary from region to region. Remember that statistically, Mexico is a dangerous country but the risk can be greatly reduced by taking some basic precautions and knowing what to expect.
Have you encountered any crime or scams while traveling in Mexico? Is Mexico safe for tourists to visit? Share your story in the comments below.
More Mexico Guides from Where The Road Forks
- Is Tijuana Safe? Avoiding Common Scams and Crime
- The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Tijuana
- How to Visit Hierve el Agua from Oaxaca City, Mexico
- Healthcare in Mexico for Americans: Visiting a Clinic, Going to the Dentist, and Buying Prescriptions
- Mexico City Budget Travel on $20 Per Day
- The Mexico FMM Tourist Permit Explained
- Living in Mexico: Pros and Cons After 1 Year as an Expat
- 25 Mexico Travel Tips