With all of the shocking news reports of murder, drug cartels, robbery, and kidnapping coming out of Mexico over the past decade, many travelers have gotten the idea that the country is too dangerous to visit. At the same time, Mexico is consistently ranked as one of the top vacation destinations in the world. You might ask, Is Mexico safe to visit? The answer is yes. Mexico is safe for travelers if you take some basic precautions.
In this guide, I will discuss the risks and dangers of travel in Mexico in a neutral and rational way. I’ll cover violent crime, theft, food and drink safety, transportation safety, and more. I’ll also list some cities that are generally safe to visit and some spots to avoid. Safety varies by region in Mexico. I’ll also share some safety tips to help you avoid common crimes and scams that you may encounter in your travels in Mexico. Hopefully, this will help you make an educated decision for yourself about whether or not Mexico is a safe enough travel destination for you.
After living in Mexico for the past three years, I have gotten to know the country pretty well. I’ve traveled extensively around the country, made friends, and experienced the culture. I was also inside a bar during an armed robbery and was pickpocketed on the street. Needless to say, there are risks to visiting Mexico. The risks are manageable if you take some simple precautions.
Is Mexico Safe to Visit?
Yes. Mexico is safe for tourists to visit. As long as you take some basic precautions and avoid certain areas, you can travel to Mexico safely. There is a heavy police presence in all of the touristy areas. During the day, most Mexican cities are perfectly safe to walk around.
You do have to take some precautions when visiting. Mexico isn’t as safe as some other popular tourist destinations. It’s also not as safe as the U.S. or Canada.
In fact, Mexico is often considered to be one of the more dangerous countries due to its high crime rate. Homicides, drug trafficking, human trafficking, armed robbery, and pickpocketing are all examples of crimes that exist here. If you take the proper precautions, you can stay safe.
Mexico is a large country with a population of over 125 million. The country offers amazing history, food, beaches, and nightlife. There are lots of good reasons to visit, even though security can be an issue.
Around 40 million people travel to Mexico each year. Most don’t experience any issues with safety. Mexico is one of the most visited countries in the world.
Table of Contents
- 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?
Drug Cartel Violence in Mexico
Most travelers’ biggest concern when they visit Mexico is violent crime. You have probably seen shocking stories in the news about shootings, beheadings, and other grizzly scenes in various cities throughout the country.
For example, this article reports about a bar shooting in Playa del Carmen where 7 people were murdered. This article reports about two Canadian tourists who were killed at a hotel in Playa del Carmen. In Cancun, a gunman killed two travelers on the beach.
Statistically, Mexico has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. According to this article, there were 15,400 homicides in Mexico in the first half of 2022. That’s 29.07 homicides per 100k people.
With murder rates this high, is Mexico safe for travelers to visit?
Why You Should Not Worry About Violent Crime as a Tourist in Mexico
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. This simply isn’t true.
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. Those are cartel members who are involved in organized crime.
Tourists aren’t involved. The vast majority of the violence you read about in the news happens in poor or working-class neighborhoods and rural regions, well outside the tourist zones and city centers. These aren’t areas that tourists go to.
For example, in the article linked above, the headline leads you to believe that the cartels murdered 7 tourists in a resort. 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.
The headline of the second article reports on two tourists who were killed. Of the two Canadians who died in a shootout, one was involved in drug trafficking. The other had a criminal past. They weren’t your average tourists on vacation.
While this doesn’t excuse the act, it should calm the nerves of the potential tourist. Most people who experience violence in Mexico are involved in some sort of criminal activity.
Of course, sometimes tourists do get caught in the crossfire. The third article linked above details an instance where an innocent man was killed because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
How to Avoid Violent Crime In Mexico
To reduce the risk of being involved in violent crime while traveling in Mexico, the best thing you can do is keep your nose clean. Most crime in Mexico involves the drug trade. If you stay away from drugs and those who are involved in the drug trade, you’re unlikely to encounter violence. Don’t buy or use drugs in Mexico. It’s illegal in risky.
You should also try to stick to tourist areas. These include downtown areas, beaches, business districts, and tourist attractions. Pretty much anywhere you’d want to go as a tourist. Tourist areas in Mexico are all well-policed and safe for travel. Avoid wandering too far into working-class neighborhoods and any unfamiliar areas. Particularly after dark. Most crime happens at night.
You can also reduce your risk by staying informed. Read travel advisories for Mexico and stay up to date with travel warnings. You can read the U.S. Department of State travel advisory here. You can read the Government of Canada’s travel advisory here. The UK’s travel advisory is found here. These countries all keep up-to-date information on the security situation around Mexico. Be sure to research the specific city and state you plan to visit. Security varies greatly across the country.
If you’re from the U.S, sign up for STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program). When you enroll, the U.S. government knows you’re in the country. They will keep you up to date with security notifications. If you run into an issue, it will be easier to work things out because the embassy already knows about your trip. Other countries offer similar programs.
It’s also a good idea to ask trustworthy locals about safety and security in their city. Before you leave your hotel, ask the concierge or receptionist if there is anywhere you should avoid. Tell them where you’re planning to go. If you’re on a tour, ask the guide about security. Foll the advice of locals.
Mugging and Robbery in Mexico
Robbery is a relatively common form of violent crime in Mexico. Even in tourist areas, unfortunately. During the day, the risk is generally low. It’s safe enough to go out and about and walk around the city. Tourist areas are heavily policed and are safe to wander around. At night, the risk increases substantially.
To reduce the risk of getting robbed in Mexico:
- Don’t walk around in unfamiliar areas- Safety can vary from one neighborhood to the next in Mexico. You can wander a few blocks and find yourself outside of the safe, tourist area and end up in a dangerous neighborhood. If you don’t know where you’re going, it’s better not to walk around.
- Avoid walking around at night in Mexico- The risk of getting mugged increases after dark. Criminals can more easily hide and escape. While walking around at night, avoid dark or deserted areas. Stick to well-lit areas with lots of people around. If you need to travel from one part of the city to another, take a taxi, Uber, or public transport.
- Don’t wander around when you are intoxicated- This makes you an easy target for criminals. Muggers sometimes wait outside bars and rob people who look tipsy. If you’ve been out drinking, take a taxi or Uber back to your accommodation.
- Avoid flashing expensive electronics or jewelry when walking around- This includes phones, laptops, cameras, watches, rings, etc. These items make you a target. While you’re out and about, keep all of your valuables hidden away in your pockets or backpack. Only take them out when you’re indoors someplace safe.
- 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 instead.
- Don’t carry large sums of cash- Only carry the cash that you need for the day. Leave the rest locked up in your hotel room safe or hostel locker. Only carrying a small amount of cash limits your losses if you do get robbed.
- Don’t carry your important documents while out walking around- Leave your passport and FMM visitor’s permit locked away in your hotel room. Don’t walk around with your important documents. You’re more likely to lose these documents on the street than your hotel room. You should carry some form of ID on your person. Your driver’s license or a copy of your passport will work fine.
- Don’t dress or act too flashy- Try to dress down. If you walk around looking like you have money, you’re more likely to be robbed. Try your best to blend in with everyone else.
- 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.
What to do if you get robbed in Mexico
If you get robbed in Mexico, give the criminal what they ask for. They will most likely demand your wallet, cash, and phone. Hand them over. If you comply, the criminal will take it and leave you alone. They won’t injure you in most cases. The interaction will only last a few seconds.
All bets are off if you refuse to hand over your belongings or try to fight. The criminal could badly injure or kill you. They could have a weapon such as a knife or gun. The criminal could also have an accomplice waiting nearby if they need help.
Mexico is a violent country where many crimes go unpunished. The likelihood of a criminal being caught after a robbery, even if they injure or kill someone, is slim. If you get robbed, just comply. You might lose some money but you probably won’t lose your life.
For more tips, check out my guide: How To Avoid Getting Robbed While Traveling.
Kidnapping in Mexico
The risk of kidnapping varies greatly by region but is generally pretty low these days. Traditional kidnapping has been on the decline. Tourists aren’t usually targeted in kidnappings in Mexico.
Express Kidnapping does happen on occasion. In this variation of the crime, the kidnappers abduct middle-class people and demand a smaller ransom. The kidnappers usually collects their ransom money directly from the victim.
They do this by holding the victim for 48-72 hours. During that time, the kidnappers will force the victim to empty their bank account. They force the victim to withdraw as much cash as possible from ATMs. They also charge their credit cards. The victim is held for a few days after so that there is time for the money to clear and to get around daily maximum withdrawals.
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. Currently, kidnapping is a risk in a number of states including Colima, Chihuahua, Michoacan, Sinaloa, and Zacatecas.
To reduce the risk of kidnapping in Mexico
- Try to only use ATMs in secure places such as supermarkets and banks.
- Only use licensed taxis.
- If you’re taking an Uber, verify the driver’s identity and the car’s license plate.
- Keep an eye on your drink to make sure it doesn’t get spiked.
- Avoid walking or driving through deserted or rural areas at night.
Transportation Safety 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. In this section, we’ll talk about how to stay safe while getting around in Mexico.
Long-Distance Bus Travel in Mexico
The best way for budget travelers to get around Mexico is by bus. A number of first and second class bus companies operate in Mexico. A couple of the larger companies include ADO and ETN. Both offer a safe, professional, and reliable service all over the country. They keep their buses in clean and good working condition. The drivers are well-trained and drive safely. Mexican highways are in good condition. It is perfectly safe to travel by bus in Mexico. It’s how most locals get around.
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 of the bus on the aisle which is opposite oncoming traffic. Again, the likelihood of being involved in a bus accident is incredibly slim.
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 will 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 strange. 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
Taxi scams are common in Mexico. To stay safe and avoid scams when taking a cab in Mexico:
- Only take licensed taxis- That way, you know that they were trained and probably are insured. Sometimes ordinary people will 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, kidnap you, or they could simply be an unsafe driver.
- Before accepting a ride, negotiate the fare- Cab drivers often overcharge tourists. They know that you don’t know the going rate. They drive you to your destination and then demand a ridiculous amount of money 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. Prices are lower as well.
Another crime that exists is that criminal groups will steal or buy a taxi and rob unsuspecting passengers. This crime is rare. 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 guide to 25 common travel scams.
Uber Safety in Mexico
Uber in Mexico is safe and reliable. You don’t have to worry about scams because the fare is set. Drivers are generally friendly and professional. They keep their vehicles clean. Uber is also cheaper than taking a taxi.
In the past, Uber was not safe in Mexico. Taxi drivers would harass or even attack Uber drivers and their passengers. Several people were killed in the attacks. Luckily, this has calmed down over the past few years. These days, it is safe to use Uber in Mexico.
Public Transport Safety in Mexico: Metro, Busses, and Colectivos
The best way to get around Mexican cities on a budget is to take public transportation. Large cities including Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Monterrey have metro systems. In smaller cities, buses, shared taxis, and minibusses are used for public transport. Generally, these public transportation systems are safe to use. There are a few safety issues to take into consideration.
Metro Systems Safety in Mexico
The best way to get around Mexico City on a budget is the Mexico City 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. Guadalajara and Monterrey also have metro systems that are also safe to ride.
Bus, Minibus, and Shard Taxi Safety
One of the most cost-effective ways to get around many Mexican cities is by bus or shared taxi. These buses run along a set route picking up and dropping off passengers along the way. Usually, there is a taxi park where minibusses wait until they are full to leave. These vehicles do not run on a set schedule, rather just leave when they are full.
The one-way fare usually costs around 10-20 pesos (50 cents-$1) depending on the distance of the trip and the time of day. The price is marked on the window so you won’t be overcharged. You pay the same rate regardless of the distance you travel.
Overall, the bus is a perfectly safe way to get around many Mexican cities. They are often owned and operated by the city. Scams are rare.
Tips for Staying Safe While Riding Public Transport in Mexico
There are a couple of precautions you’ll want to take while using the metro or riding a public bus or shared taxi in Mexico. Watch your pockets and belongings. Pickpocketing and petty theft are pretty common. When the train or bus 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.
Occasionally, a minibus gets held up. I heard of this happening while I was living 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. If you are on a bus when it’s robbed, hand over your belongings and the robbers won’t harm you.
Staying Safe While Walking in Mexico
My favorite way to get around when I travel is on foot. Walking is free, healthy, and allows you to explore parts of a city that you otherwise wouldn’t get to see. You can safely walk around and explore Mexican cities on foot. You should take a few extra precautions when walking around in Mexico to stay safe. There is a risk of mugging in large cities.
- 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. Consider mapping out your route before you walk somewhere unfamiliar.
- Don’t walk around isolated areas- While walking around in Mexico, try to stick to crowded areas such as downtown, beaches, and tourist neighborhoods.
- Don’t walk around at night- Walking around during the day is fairly safe. After sundown, you shouldn’t stray outside of downtown and touristy parts of the city unless you are familiar with the area.
- Hide your valuables- Keep your camera in your bag. Don’t show off large sums of cash. Avoid taking out your phone too much if you can help it.
- 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.
Staying Safe While Driving in Mexico
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. 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.
Temporary Auto Insurance in Mexico
When driving in Mexico, you need to have auto insurance. Insurance will cover you in the event of an accident, whether it’s your fault or someone else’s. Most likely, regular auto insurance from 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 temporary Mexican auto insurance before you cross. You can buy insurance form a kiosk in most border towns in the US or online before your trip.
A decent Mexico insurance policy costs $20-$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. Many people drive uninsured in Mexico.
You should also know that, in Mexico, many minor accidents and fender benders are handled on the spot in cash. If you accidentally hit someone and cause some minor damage, you may be expected to pay to fix it rather than involve the insurance company.
Is it Safe to Rent a Car in Mexico?
For many travelers, renting a car is the best way to explore Mexico. It provides the freedom to go where you want, when you want, without having to rely on public transportation. However, when renting a car in Mexico, it’s important to be aware of the risks.
There have been reports of scams in which drivers are presented with an unexpectedly high bill after returning their car. Rental agencies advertise an extremely low rate and then surprise you with a big bill when you return the car. In some cases, rental companies have been known to hold customers’ passports as collateral in case they refuse to pay. This is a common scam all over Mexico.
To avoid problems, it’s best to rent from a reputable company and pay with a credit card so that you can dispute any unauthorized charges. You should also verify the total rental cost before signing the rental contract. With a little careful planning, renting a car in Mexico can be a safe and enjoyable experience.
For more info, check out my guide to renting a car in Mexico.
Carjacking in Mexico
Carjacking isn’t a common crime in Mexico but it does happen. Cartels sometimes carjack people driving through their turf. Tourists have fallen victim to this while inadvertently driving on cartel-controlled land. Criminals can also set up roadblocks and ambush drivers. A group of criminals could stop you and demand money while threatening you with violence.
To avoid these crimes, try to stick to the main roads when driving between cities. Take the main highways or toll roads if they’re available. These are generally well-policed. Avoid driving on rural roads and secondary roads unless you know where you’re going. Only drive during daylight hours if possible.
How to Stay Safe While Driving in Mexico
- Avoid driving at night- Many highways are not well-lit. This makes navigation difficult if you aren’t familiar with the area. You’re also more likely to encounter crime. 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 and then overpower you. This crime isn’t common but has been reported in some parts of Mexico.
- Keep an eye out for speedbumps (topes)- Across Mexico, there are random speedbumps. In many cases, they 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.
- Keep an eye out for livestock or people on the road- In agricultural areas, livestock can wander onto the road. People can also walk on the shoulder. You need to keep an eye out for cows, goats, and people on the road.
- Have a plan if you break down- If you break down, you could be stranded in a dangerous area. When you’re driving in Mexico, make sure you have a working phone with you so you can call for help. Mexico’s emergency phone number is 911.
- Follow the rules of the road- Don’t speed. Wear your seatbelt. Use your turn signals. Don’t talk on the phone while driving. If you follow the rules, you’re less likely to get pulled over by a corrupt police officer or get involved in an accident.
Petty Theft and Pickpocketing in Mexico
These are probably the most common crimes for tourists to encounter in Mexico. Tourists are often targeted by pickpockets and thieves. Because they are often distracted from being in an unfamiliar place, tourists make for easy victims. Petty theft is a crime of opportunity. To avoid pickpockets and thieves in Mexico:
- Carry your cash, cards, and passport in a money belt- A money belt is a hidden pocket that you wear around your waist or neck. Money belts make it extremely difficult for a thief to access your documents and valuable items because they are hidden under your clothes. They are basically pickpocket-proof. 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 crowded areas- When your backpack is on your back, thieves can easily unzip it and steal from you. Thieves can’t easily unzip your backpack when it’s right in front of your face.
- Don’t leave any of your belongings unattended- A thief could snatch your bag and run off with it. This is known as snatch-and-grab theft. To avoid this, keep an eye on your stuff at all times. Hold all of your belongings close.
- Be extra cautious when riding public transport- Metros, buses, and shared taxis are high-risk areas when it comes to theft and pickpocketing. Because everyone is crammed so close together, you can’t really tell if someone is reaching into your pocket or just brushing up against you accidentally. To reduce the likelihood of theft, store your valuables in pockets that zip or snap closed.
- Consider using an anti-theft backpack or purse- These are special bags are designed to be difficult for thieves to open. They feature zippers that clip or lock closed. Most are lined with a metal mesh which makes slashing the bag difficult. Many models also feature a cable that allows you to lock the bag to an immovable object. You could lock the bag to a handrail on a bus or a table in a restaurant.
- Store your phone and wallet in a pocket that secures closed- If your valuables are zipped or snapped in a pocket, thieves will have a harder time accessing them.
- Only carry enough cash 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. This limits your losses if you are robbed.
- Stay alert- Pay attention to your surroundings at all times when you’re out and about. Try not to get distracted. Don’t listen to music or play with your phone while you’re walking around. Pay attention to the people around you. Scan the area as you walk to look for suspicious people.
- 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. When you’re going out drinking, leave your phone and wallet at your hotel. Just bring enough cash for a night out and a taxi ride home.
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. 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 and How to Avoid Them
Scams aren’t too common in Mexico but there are a few areas where you have to be cautious. People may try to rip you off, shortchange you, or overcharge you. A few scams to look out for in Mexico include:
To read my extensive list of scams, check out my article: 27 Common Travel Scams and How to Avoid Them.
- Fake Police Scam- This scam starts when a person approaches you claiming to be a police officer. They inform you that you broke the law and that you’re being fined. They may threaten you with jail time. The fake police officer will offer to settle the matter right there and then. The best thing to do if you suspect someone is pretending to be a police officer is to insist that you settle the matter in the police station. If the criminal becomes aggressive, you might have to pay.
- ATM skimmer- Scammers can install a device on ATMs that steals your credit card or debit card information when you insert your card. The scammer can then use your card to make purchases. To avoid this scam, inspect the card slot on the ATM to make sure it hasn’t been tempered with.
- Taxi Scams- 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. Sometimes, the driver will take you to your destination and then charge you an exorbitant price. To avoid these scams, find another cab if the driver refuses to use the meter. Alternatively, always negotiate the rate before accepting a ride. Another option is to use Uber.
- General Overcharging in Mexico- In Mexico, vendors sometimes try to overcharge tourists. They also know that you aren’t familiar with local pricing so they can get away with it. They may also try to trick you by shortchanging you. You can get overcharged pretty much anywhere including restaurants, hotels, markets, and taxis. The best way to avoid this problem is to be careful with your money. Inspect your bill to make sure that all charges are correct. Count your change. Negotiate when making a purchase if the price isn’t marked. Know how much things should cost. If someone is clearly trying to rip you off, walk away.
- Fast talkers, hustlers, and con men- These are usually guys who have been deported from the U.S. They speak excellent English. These scammers will approach you acting like your best friend. These guys run a number of scams. They may invite you to a local bar or restaurant to have a drink or something to eat. They collect a commission from the restaurant. In a variation of this, you may also end up with a large bill for a few drinks. Sometimes these guys will tell a sob story and ask for money. Some of these guys have deals with the police. They may sell you drugs then turn you in to the police to collect a reward. Another variation is when they discreetly steal something from you and 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.
Beggars, Addicts, and Homeless People in Mexico
Poverty, addiction, 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 simply down on their luck. Sometimes these people are mentally unstable. Sometimes they are trying to run scams. For this reason, they should be avoided if possible.
Occasionally, you will encounter people begging for money on the streets. For the most part, they are just suffering from poverty and are harmless. Once in a while, you may someone who is clearly mentally ill. It’s best to stay far away from these people. They can get violent or aggressive.
In Tijuana, a homeless woman once punched me 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 crossed the street instead of walking past her.
Police Corruption in Mexico
Corruption is a major problem in police forces across Mexico. It’s not uncommon for a police officer to stop tourists and solicit a bribe or ‘mordida’ in Spanish. You could be stopped while driving or while on foot. This can happen anywhere at any time of day.
After stopping you, the police will claim that you committed a crime. If you’re driving, they may claim that you were using your phone, that you weren’t wearing a seatbelt, that you didn’t stop at a stop sign, etc. They could also accuse you of a more serious crime like driving while intoxicated. If you’re walking, you could be accused of public intoxication, possessing a controlled substance, or being in the country illegally. The officer may threaten you with a big fine or jail time.
The officer will ask to see your identification and FMM visitor’s permit. If you’re driving, they’ll ask to see your registration and proof of insurance. They may search your person or your vehicle.
At this point, the officer may imply that you can settle the problem right there and then by paying a ‘fine’ in cash. They are asking for a bribe. Sometimes they will ask for $100. Sometimes, they will demand you to hand over your wallet. In this case, they will probably take most of your cash. If you don’t have any cash on you, the officer could take you to an ATM to withdraw the maximum.
What to Do if You Get Stopped by the Police In Mexico
When interacting with the police, try to speak respectfully, stay calm, and be patient. It can also help to play dumb and act confused. Never show any signs of frustration, anger, or aggression while speaking with the police in Mexico.
If the officer is insisting that you pay them, there are a few ways to handle the situation:
- Insist that the officer writes you a paper ticket- If the officer issues you a written ticket, you know that the money won’t go into their pocket. It’s legitimate.
- Ask to go to the police station- If you pay your fine at the station, you will receive a receipt. You may also have the opportunity to speak to a judge, who can reduce or eliminate the fine.
- Negotiate and pay- This is the fastest and easiest solution. Corrupt officers commonly ask for $100. You can often negotiate down to 500-1000 pesos ($25-$50). After paying, you’re free to carry on. You should pay only as a last resort.
How to Avoid Getting Stopped by the Police in Mexico
The best way to avoid getting stopped by a corrupt officer is to obey all laws. You are less likely to get pulled over if you follow the rules. You’re also less likely to get stopped if you’re driving a vehicle with Mexican license plates. Consider renting a vehicle rather than driving your own.
If you’re on foot, never walk around intoxicated. Police sometimes stop drunk tourists and shake them down for bribes. Also, avoid making eye contact with the police when you walk by. Don’t give the police any reason to stop you.
Other Forms of Police Corruption
Sometimes the police make a deal with a drug dealer. The dealer sells drugs to a tourist, then turns the tourist in to the police. The police stop the tourist and collect a bribe. 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 spend time in jail.
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 in Mexico.
What if I Need Help from the Police in Mexico?
Mexican police are not known for being too helpful to tourists. They do their best to keep the peace and will protect you from crime but, in the case of minor crimes, you’re pretty much on your own. They have more important things to deal with than searching for a stolen phone or wallet.
Having said that, if you do get robbed, go ahead and file a report with the police. It can’t hurt. You may need a police report to file a claim with your travel insurance company anyway.
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 eat. To avoid getting traveler’s diarrhea in Mexico, you should:
- Make sure that your food is hot and cooked all the way through- Undercooked meats can make you very sick.
- Avoid foods that have been sitting out– These foods may not have been kept at the proper temperature, allowing bacteria to grow.
- Avoid foods that have been left uncovered- They are exposed to flies and other disease-carrying insects. Only buy foods that have been covered.
- Don’t eat unwashed produce- E. coli is a concern. Wash your fruits and veggies before you eat them.
Mexico has one of the world’s greatest cuisines. Don’t be afraid to taste new dishes and enjoy street food. You may suffer a mild case of traveler’s diarrhea sometime during your trip. That’s not the end of the world. Don’t miss out on the excellent food out of fear. Use your best judgment.
Water Safety in Mexico
It is not safe to drink tap water in Mexico. Instead, you should drink bottled water or purified water. Bottled water is widely available. You can buy it at every grocery store, convenience store, and roadside stand. Many hotels offer free purified water. For more info, check out my guide to drinking water in Mexico.
Consider traveling with a portable water filter. You can filter tap water and make it safe to drink. I use the Sawyer Mini. This saves money on buying bottled water. It’s also more environmentally friendly because you’re not going through so many plastic bottles. For more info, you can check out my full review of the Sawyer Mini.
It is safe to use tap water to brush your teeth, wash fruits and vegetables, and make tea and coffee. Some travelers avoid drinks with ice and juice out of fear that they were made with tap water. You don’t really have to worry about this. Ice and juice are made with purified water. They are safe to drink. You can also eat salads. They are washed with water that has been sanitized.
What to do if you get traveler’s diarrhea in Mexico
If you get travelers’ diarrhea from eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water, there are a few things you can do to help your body recover faster.
- Drink a lot of clean water- Diarrhea dehydrates your body quickly which can be dangerous if it is too severe. Buy some bottled water and hydrated.
- Take some anti-diarrhea medication- You can purchase Imodium or Pepto Bismol at any pharmacy in Mexico. This will help relieve symptoms so you can get on with your day.
- Eat a bland diet- Try the BRAT diet. It consists of bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. These items are easy on the stomach and are available pretty much everywhere. For more info on the BRAT diet, check out this article from Medical News Today.
- If you’re not improving after a few days, go to the doctor- You can visit a clinic and get a prescription for some antibiotics for around $10. Many large pharmacies have an attached clinic where you can see a doctor in around 15 minutes. Check out my article for a step-by-step guide to visiting a clinic in Mexico.
Beach Safety in Mexico
Before going swimming at the beach, check the conditions. On some beaches, there is a strong rip current. If you see a black flag warning, avoid swimming.
It’s also important to wear sunblock while you’re at the beach. The sun can be extremely intense in Mexico. I got a terrible sunburn on my nose while fishing in Mexico when I was a kid.
It’s not a good idea to leave your belongings unaccompanied on the beach. Theft is a concern. Take turns swimming so someone is there to keep an eye on your stuff. If you’re alone, ask someone around you to keep an eye on your belongings.
Is it Safe to Travel to Mexico Alone?
Yes. It is safe to travel to Mexico alone. I have spent over a year traveling around Mexico by myself, and I have never felt unsafe. Mexico is a beautiful country with a lot to offer solo travelers. It’s easy to get around, people are friendly, and there are plenty of beautiful cities, beaches, and historic sights to visit. I have never had any problems with crime other than being pickpocketed. I have never felt like I was in danger.
Of course, you should always be aware of your surroundings and take precautions when traveling alone. A few solo travel tips include:
- Never leave your belongings unattended
- Don’t leave your drink unattended
- Don’t trust strangers
- Avoid drinking excessively
- Avoid walking around deserted or dark areas.
Is Mexico Safe for Female Travelers?
I’m not a female so I can’t speak to this too much but I can say that I have met plenty of female travelers in Mexico including many solo female travelers. Everyone I’ve met seemed to be enjoying their time in the country.
One concern for female travelers that males don’t have to worry about quite as much is sexual assault. To reduce the risk:
- Never leave your drink unattended
- Don’t drink too excess
- Don’t be too trusting of strangers
For more info, check out this great guide to solo female travel to Mexico.
Is Mexico Safe for LGBT Travelers?
The safe parts of Mexico are safe for all types of travelers. Mexico is generally a safe destination for LGBT travelers. While Puerto Vallarta, in particular, is considered to be the most LGBT-friendly destination in Mexico.
Safety in Major Cities Across Mexico
Some Mexican cities are safer to visit than others. In this section, I’ll outline the security situation in Mexico’s most popular destinations.
Is Mexico City Safe?
Mexico City is a large metropolis with a population of over 21 million people. It is one of the most populous cities in the world, and it is also one of the most popular tourist destinations in Mexico. Mexico City is renowned for its vibrant culture, rich history, and beautiful architecture. It’s one of the great world cities.
For such a large city, Mexico City is surprisingly safe. Particularly if you stick to the neighborhoods of Roma, Polanco, Condesa, San Rafael, Juarez, and Centro Historic. These are the safest parts of the city.
There are certain neighborhoods in Mexico City that are particularly dangerous, and it is important to be aware of these areas. For example, visitors should avoid the neighborhoods of Tepito and Doctores.
You do need to keep your wits about you while exploring Mexico City. Petty theft and violent crime are both problems. Tourists are occasionally targeted. If you take the basic precautions outlined in this guide, you shouldn’t encounter any issues while visiting Mexico City.
The Mexico City police force is large and well-trained. They do a good job of keeping the peace. In addition, the Mexican army also has a presence in Mexico City. There are special units that have been deployed to combat crime.
Overall, Mexico City is a safe place to visit, but visitors should exercise increased caution and be aware of their surroundings.
Is Puerto Vallarta Safe?
Puerto Vallarta is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Mexico, and for good reason. The city is located on the beautiful Pacific Coast. It features a wide array of activities and attractions for visitors.
Puerto Vallarta is generally considered to be a safe place to visit. While there is crime in Puerto Vallarta, as in any large city, it tends to be petty theft rather than violence.
Hurricanes are an occasional threat to the area. The Puerto Vallarta government has put in place an extensive evacuation and warning system. Consider checking the forecast before your trip and avoiding hurricane season.
In short, Puerto Vallarta is a great place to visit, and with some common sense precautions, you can enjoy a safe and fun vacation.
Is Playa del Carmen Safe?
Playa del Carmen is a popular tourist destination in Mexico, and it is known for its beautiful beaches and clear waters. The town is located on the Riviera Maya, and it is a popular spot for scuba diving and snorkeling.
Playa del Carmen is generally safe for tourists, but there has been an increase in crime in recent years. The city has grown rapidly. Petty crime, such as pickpocketing and theft, is the most common type of crime. However, these crimes are relatively rare, and Playa del Carmen remains a safe place to visit.
Is Cabo San Lucas Safe?
Los Cabos is located on the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula and is made up of two main towns: Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo. Both are popular tourist destinations for their sunny weather, beautiful beaches, and luxurious resorts. Cabo San Lucas is also a spring break destination.
Cabo San Lucas is a safe place for tourists to visit. The most common crimes you’re likely to encounter are petty theft or pickpocketing. In recent years, there has been an increase in petty crime in Cabo San Lucas, with businesses and homes being targeted by thieves.
Is Tijuana Safe?
Tijuana is the largest city in Baja California and one of the busiest crossings on the US-Mexico border. It’s also been one of the most dangerous cities in Mexico for many years, due to high levels of violence.
In recent years, Tijuana has been plagued by drug cartel violence due to a turf war between two competing criminal groups. The city has an extremely high murder rate. Tourists aren’t targeted. Violence usually doesn’t take place in touristy zones. If you stick to downtown, Zona Rio, or Playas de Tijuana, you can have a safe visit to Tijuana.
Tijuana is a large and vibrant city, with a lot to offer tourists and residents alike. It’s one of the most visited cities in Mexico due to its convenient location, right across the border from San Diego. Tens of millions of people cross the border here every year. The city offers excellent nightlife, fantastic cuisine, beaches, history, and more.
While it’s important to be aware of the risks associated with travel to Tijuana, it’s also important to remember that the city is home to millions of people who live and work there safely every day. With proper precautions, travelers can enjoy all that Tijuana has to offer without fear of becoming victims of crime or violence.
For more in-depth info, check out my guide: Is Tijuana Safe? Avoiding Crime and Scams.
Is Tulum Safe?
Tulum is a town in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. It is located on the Yucatán Peninsula, in the east of the country. Tulum is known for its beaches and nearby archaeological site.
Some people have raised concerns about safety in Tulum, particularly in light of the crime rates in Mexico. It is important to remember that Tulum is not representative of Mexico as a whole. The town has a lower crime rate than most major cities, and most visitors report having a safe and enjoyable trip.
That said, there are still some risks to be aware of. Robbery is relatively rare, but petty crime such as pickpocketing is more common. It is advisable to take precautions such as keeping valuables secure and being vigilant in crowded areas. Overall, Tulum is a safe place to visit, but it is important to be aware of the potential risks.
Is Cancun Safe?
Cancun is a popular tourist destination in Mexico, known for its sandy beaches and clear blue waters. In recent years, however, Cancun has also gained a reputation as a crime-ridden city. Although the overall crime rate in Cancun is relatively low, there has been an uptick in crime in recent years.
Pickpocketing and robbery are common, and tourists have been victims of both crimes. In addition, there have been several high-profile murders in Cancun in recent years. As a result, many tourists are wondering if Cancun is safe.
While it is true that crime is on the rise in Cancun, the city is still relatively safe. The vast majority of crimes are petty crimes that can be easily avoided by being aware of your surroundings. In addition, the Mexican government has taken steps to increase security in Cancun, making it one of the safest tourist destinations in Mexico.
Is Oaxaca Safe?
Oaxaca is a beautiful city in southern Mexico that is rich in culture and history. However, like many tourist destinations, it has its share of crime. Petty crime and pickpocketing are common, and visitors should take precautions to protect themselves from theft.
Oaxaca is generally a safe place to visit. The crime rate is low, and the police are quick to respond to any incidents. With a little common sense, travelers can easily enjoy all that Oaxaca has to offer without fear for their safety.
Is San Miguel de Allende Safe?
San Miguel de Allende is a beautiful colonial city in central Mexico that is increasingly popular with tourists. While generally considered safe, there have been some reports of petty crime, such as pickpocketing. Additionally, as with any city, it is always advisable to exercise extreme caution when walking around at night or in unfamiliar areas.
Overall, however, San Miguel de Allende is a relatively safe place to visit, and most visitors enjoy their time without incident. If you take basic precautions and use common sense, you should have no problem staying safe during your stay in this lovely Mexican city.
Is Mérida Safe?
Merida is considered to be the safest large city in Mexico and the second safest city in North America. And with good reason. Merida has a very low crime rate, and is largely free of the violence and organized crime that plagues other parts of Mexico. Visitors to Merida can feel confident exploring the city’s many attractions, from its colonial-era architecture to its vibrant art scene.
Of course, no city is completely free of risk, and it’s always advisable to take precautions when traveling in unfamiliar territory. But overall, Merida is a safe and welcoming destination for travelers from all over the world.
Is Guadalajara Safe?
Guadalajara is the second largest city in Mexico, and it is known for its rich culture and vibrant atmosphere. The city is also home to a number of world-class museums and galleries, as well as a thriving food scene.
Guadalajara also has a reputation for crime. While it is true that there is a higher rate of petty crime and violence in Guadalajara than in other parts of Mexico, the city is generally safe for visitors. You will want to take basic steps to minimize your risk, such as avoiding isolated areas and being aware of your surroundings.
Is Zihuatanejo Safe?
Zihuatanejo is a beautiful coastal town in Mexico that is popular with tourists. Zihuatanejo is generally safe, but there is crime, including petty theft and violence.
The state of Guerrero, where Zihuatanejo is located, has a high crime rate. However, Zihuatanejo is not as dangerous as some other parts of Guerrero. Some areas of Zihuatanejo are best avoided, especially at night. Overall, Zihuatanejo is safe, but it’s important to be aware of the risks and take basic safety precautions.
Is Acapulco Safe?
Acapulco has a reputation for being unsafe. In the recent past, Acapulco was known for crime and violence, particularly due to the influence of drug cartels in the state of Guerrero. However, Acapulco has undergone a transformation in recent years, and it is now much safer than it used to be.
Crime rates have decreased significantly, and petty theft and violence are no longer major concerns. Acapulco is on its way to becoming a popular tourist destination once again.
That said, you should still exercise increased caution while visiting Acapulco. Try to stick to the tourist areas and avoid walking around after dark. It’s not the safest city to visit.
Is San Cristobal de las Casas Safe?
San Cristobal de las Casas is a beautiful colonial city in the mountains of southern Mexico in the state of Chiapas. Despite the state’s reputation for being unsafe, San Cristobal is actually quite safe for travelers.
Most of the crime in San Cristobal is petty theft. Violence is rare. Pickpocketing is the most common problem, so it’s important to be careful with your belongings in crowded areas. Particularly downtown. Overall, San Cristobal is a safe place to visit, as long as you take basic precautions.
Some Potentially Dangerous Places to Avoid in Mexico
If you take the proper precautions, it is safe enough to visit pretty much any state in Mexico. There are some high-risk areas that you should avoid, if possible.
At this time, the U.S. government recommends against travel to the following states:
The U.S. government also recommends that you reconsider travel to the following states:
- Baja California
In each of these states, there is a high risk due to crime and kidnapping. There are some safe spots in each of these states.
For example, Sinaloa is one of Mexico’s most dangerous states. One of Mexico’s top beach destinations, Mazatlan, is located in the state of Sinaloa. The city itself is safe but the surrounding area is not particularly safe.
Another example is the Copper Canyon train. This is a popular tourist train that travels through the state of Chihuahua. The train is safe but the state suffers from high crime.
Travel Insurance for Travel to Mexico
Travel insurance is not mandatory to visit Mexico. That said, it is a good idea to have it. Mexico 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 travel insurance quote, check out my travel insurance page.
After spending the past couple of years living and traveling in Mexico, I’ve gotten to know the country pretty well. During that time, I have absolutely fallen in love with Mexico. I have made great friends, enjoyed world-class food, experienced the unique culture, and visited some fascinating historic sites.
I have also experienced two crimes during my time in Mexico. On one occasion, I was inside a Tijuana bar during an armed robbery. On another occasion, my phone was pickpocketed on the street. Luckily, I was able to get it back. I have not witnessed any drug cartel-related crime or seen any violence.
As a travel destination, Mexico is actually fairly safe. The country has a few dangers to consider that you may not have to worry about in other travel destinations in Latin America. Risks vary greatly from region to region. Most cities are just as safe as large American cities.
Yes. It is perfectly safe to travel to Mexico. Don’t miss out on this beautiful country just because of the negative stories that the news media reports. Mexico is a large country with friendly people, world-class food, and some of the most beautiful beaches you’ve ever seen. It’s also full of history and culture.
While all of the dangers and scams explained in this article do exist, the likelihood of running into them is fairly slim if you take some basic precautions. Dangers vary from region to region. Statistically, Mexico is a dangerous country. Tourists generally aren’t the target of most crimes. The risk of falling victim to a crime can be greatly reduced by taking some basic precautions and knowing what to expect.
Before ending this article, I’ll leave you with one final piece of advice: try not to be overly paranoid about safety during your trip to Mexico. If you’re constantly worried about crime, you won’t have any fun. Take all of the necessary safety precautions outlined in this guide and enjoy your trip to Mexico!
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
- The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Tijuana
- How to Visit Hierve el Agua from Oaxaca City, Mexico
- Healthcare in Mexico for Americans
- The Safest Places to Retire in Mexico
- Traveling to Mexico With a Dog
- Living in Mexico as an Expat: Pros and Cons
- How to Fly Out of Tijuana Airport and Use the Cross Border Xpress
- 25 Mexico Travel Tips
Zachary Friedman is an accomplished travel writer and professional blogger. Since 2011, he has traveled to 66 countries and 6 continents. He founded ‘Where The Road Forks’ in 2017 to provide readers with information and incites based on his travel and outdoor recreation experience and expertise. Zachary is also an avid cyclist and hiker. Living as a digital nomad, Zachary balances his professional life with his passions for hiking, camping, cycling, and worldwide exploration. For a deeper dive into his journey and background, visit the About page. For inquiries and collaborations, please reach out through the Contact page. You can also follow him on Facebook.