Safety in Mexico has been a long-standing concern with prospective travelers. But given that Mexico has been making the news due to kidnappings and cartel activity, it understandably has vacationers-to-be wondering—How safe is the Riviera Maya?
The Riviera Maya is safe if you practice basic safety precautions.
Like most destinations, if your goal is to party it up into the wee hours of the morning, the risk of something bad happening is higher than if you’re planning a family beach trip to an all-inclusive resort.
I spent over one year crisscrossing the Riviera Maya alone as a female traveler. I’ll share a combination of statistics and my opinion to help you understand the current safety situation there.
Where Is the Riviera Maya?
The Riviera Maya starts just south of Cancun and stretches to either the Hotel Zone of Tulum or Punta Allen in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, depending on who you ask.
That means the Riviera Maya is about 75 to 100 miles long.
Popular tourist towns that call the Riviera Maya home include:
- Puerto Morelos
- Playa del Carmen
If you’re curious about how this region differs from Cancun, check out my guide on Cancun vs the Riviera Maya. Although Cozumel sits off the Riviera Maya and is easy to access from there, it isn’t technically within it.
May I Ask A Favor?
Since the recent bad press about safety in Mexico, we’ve seen an uptick in readers looking through our Mexico safety articles. I’m doing my best to answer the questions I receive. However, the safety situation in any destination can change fast, and I’m not currently on the ground in Mexico.
So, I’d appreciate you returning to this article after your trip and leaving a comment about your experience in the Riviera Maya.
There’s nothing like recent firsthand experience to paint a more realistic picture of the Riviera Maya’s current safety situation.
And, as you’ll soon learn, the U.S. Department of State’s Mexico Travel Advisory is among the best resources to help you determine how safe the Riviera Maya is for travel right now.
First Things First: A Disclaimer
During my 1+ year exploring the Riviera Maya as a solo female traveler, I had a mostly positive experience safety-wise.
But the information I share here, with the exception of statistics from linked sources, is my personal opinion based on my encounters.
Everyone has unique experiences that shape their perception of any given destination.
So, take what you want from this article and leave the rest. And above all, never let your guard down just because I or anyone else tells you a destination is safe.
Trusting your gut and following basic safety practices are vital to improving your security in any destination.
An Overview of Safety in Mexico
Before I dive into exploring safety in the Riviera Maya, below is a chart highlighting some of Mexico’s general health and well-being statistics.
|Organization||Index score||Country ranking|
|Global Health Security Index||57.0||25 of 195 (good)|
|Global Peace Index||2.61||137 of 163 (bad)|
Safety in the Riviera Maya: What the U.S. DOS Says
Despite what the news may lead you to believe, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) hasn’t changed its safety ranking for Quintana Roo state, which the Riviera Maya sits within.
The DOS lists the Riviera Maya as a Level 2, meaning you should exercise increased caution when traveling there. While that might sound alarming, the chart below helps put it into perspective.
|1||Exercise normal precautions|
|2||Exercise increased caution|
|4||Do not travel|
Always check the DOS’ Mexico Travel Advisory when determining whether it’s safe to travel to Mexico and in the days leading up to your trip.
The good news?
Based on history, there’s a low chance that the Riviera Maya will change from its Level 2 ranking; it’s been a level 2 since I started traveling to Mexico in 2019.
When you hear the news warning travelers against vacationing in Mexico, the reporters are often referring to the extra bad offenders in certain parts of Mexico in the Level 4 category. These Level 4 states include:
But just because U.S. officials haven’t slapped the “do not travel” label on the Riviera Maya doesn’t mean you should let your guard down. The DOS states that it gave the Riviera Maya a Level 2 rating due to “crime and kidnapping.”
In contrast, several other states under the Level 2 category are there because of crime, not kidnapping issues.
Nevertheless, at this time, the DOS doesn’t impose any restrictions for U.S. government employees wanting to travel around Quintana Roo state.
They do, however, urge travelers to increase their “situational awareness” in the evenings, even in areas with booming tourism, such as Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum.
Safety in the Riviera Maya: What the Statistics Say
Numbeo is a good source to get a picture of the Riviera Maya’s current safety status, though the DOS’ recommendation should always carry more weight when you’re trying to decide whether to take your trip.
That’s because Numbeo crowdsources its information, compiling it from the opinions of people who’ve traveled to a destination coupled with facts online that Numebo encounters.
Since the Riviera Maya covers such a large area, I’ll use Numebo’s comparison of Playa del Carmen and Cancun to give you a feel for safety within the Riviera Maya (Playa del Carmen) and outside of—but near—the Riviera Maya (Cancun).
According to Numbeo, Playa del Carmen ranks as good or better than Cancun in all of its safety categories except for the category of problems with corruption and bribery.
Playa has a “High” rating for categories like people worrying about their homes getting broken into and their valuables being stolen. It also shares Cancun’s “High” rating for the category of people using or dealing drugs.
On the brighter side, Numebo states that there’s a “Low” risk of car jackings and people having to worry about being insulted in Playa del Carmen.
But if you’re wondering, “Is the Riviera Maya safe from violent crimes?” the answer, unfortunately, is no.
Assault, armed robberies, and theft happen on dark streets and in popular tourist areas alike. But statistically according to Numbeo, your chances of such violent crimes happening are higher in Cancun than in most parts of the Riviera Maya.
Although this section addresses crime in the Riviera Maya with Playa del Carmen as an example, you can read my articles on the following Riviera Maya destinations for an in-depth look at the safety of each of them:
Visiting the Riviera Maya as a Solo Female Traveler
Thankfully, I never encountered safety issues during my 1+ year of wandering around the Riviera Maya as a solo female traveler.
But that doesn’t mean it was a walk in the parque.
Catcalls are common, as are people (mostly men) walking up to you trying to sell you drugs in tourist hot spots like downtown Playa del Carmen and the Hotel Zone in Tulum.
Women may need to have thick skin at times to ignore the comments thrown their way.
The bottom line?
I wouldn’t recommend the Riviera Maya for first-time solo female travelers who are nervous about traveling. Solo travel should be a fun and enriching experience. And while these were my takeaway feelings in the Riviera Maya, I had experience building up confidence globetrotting as a solo female traveler before arriving in Mexico.
As infuriating as it can feel, the reality is that women traveling alone in the Riviera Maya need to plan their outings more carefully, especially if they want to explore at night.
Taking taxis instead of walking at night is vital in almost all areas. Unfortunately, rideshare apps don’t currently operate in the Riviera Maya. That means you’ll need to rely on calling a cab company or have a restaurant or hotel call one for you when you want to move around at night.
As with anywhere in the world, you also need to take care of your drinks to ensure no one slips anything in them.
Personally, I enjoy staying at hostels as it gives me an opportunity to meet people and have companions if I want to go out in the evening.
My purpose in sharing this information isn’t to scare solo female travelers away from visiting the Riviera Maya; I’d return there in a heartbeat myself.
Nevertheless, it’s vital to not sugarcoat the reality that traveling around the Riviera Maya requires increased caution and for solo females even more so.
Safest Areas in the Riviera Maya
Although the media doesn’t always shed Mexico in the best light, it’s undeniable that there are certain Mexican tourist destinations that are safer than others.
Your best bet for a safe trip is to stay within the tourist center of a touristy area. So, some of the safest areas in the Riviera Maya include:
- The beaches and portion of 5th Avenue closest to Parque Fundadores in Playa del Carmen
- The beachfront area of Akumal
- The Hotel Zone of Tulum
Furthermore, all-inclusive resorts often offer safe experiences in the Riviera Maya.
Many of these resorts sit outside the main touristy areas. However, your resort will be able to arrange transfers or tours so that you can see all that the beautiful Riviera Maya has to offer.
Is the Riviera Maya Safe at Night?
Saying that the Riviera Maya is safe or dangerous at night is a blank statement; there are too many nuances to different destinations—and certain districts within those destinations—to do this question justice.
But to give you a general idea, the Riviera Maya is generally safe at night for driving on main roads, such as Highway 307. It’s also typically safe to wander around well-lit tourist areas where there are lots of people around and shops and restaurants are open.
Areas with nightclubs also aren’t inherently unsafe. For example, the nightclubs in Playa del Carmen are rather upscale and are often wedged between touristy restaurants and shops. So, it isn’t uncommon to see families walking among those who are ready to party the night away.
Of course, safety at night in the Riviera Maya depends on just how late at night we’re talking about.
Is it safe to wander around the touristy areas of Playa del Carmen or Tulum at 10:00 pm?
Generally speaking, yes.
Is it safe to wander around those same places at 3:00 am?
I wouldn’t touch them with a 100-foot pole.
How Safe Is the Riviera Maya for Families?
Assuming you follow the DOS’ guidelines on travel to Quintana Roo state, it’s quite safe for families to visit the Riviera Maya.
Xcaret and Xel-Ha are both excellent options for families, as these are Caribbean-themed amusement parks with all-inclusive hotels on their properties.
There are several other (and relatively cheaper) all-inclusive hotels along the Riviera Maya as well. The all-inclusive hotels are often set away from bustling tourist centers, creating a quieter, more family-friendly atmosphere.
Personally, I’d shy away from booking a hotel in Playa del Carmen’s tourist center with young children; it draws a party backpacker crowd.
Aside from that, most other parts of the Riviera Maya have a calmer atmosphere for families.
Does the Cartel Operate in the Riviera Maya?
The cartel has a stronghold in the Riviera Maya. Assuming you don’t buy or sell drugs, you likely won’t notice these criminal groups around, except the occasional person trying to sell you drugs (just say, “No, thank you,” and they’ll leave you alone).
Nevertheless, drug cartel clashes are on the rise in the Riviera Maya.
New cartels want to move into other cartel territories.
The drug cartels can be ruthless in their defense of their territories and pursuit of new areas, contributing to Mexico’s high homicide rate.
As a silver lining, drug cartels rarely intentionally target tourists in their violent clashes. However, in the rare case that you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, you could get caught in a crossfire.
If this makes you second guess traveling to the Riviera Maya and you’re American, I’d encourage you to consider that walking into a grocery store or any other public place in the U.S. comes with risks too.
Is Bribery a Problem in the Riviera Maya?
Bribery and extortion are big problems in the Riviera Maya. It’s common for police to target tourists demanding a bribe to get them off the hook for something wrong they did.
Sometimes the tourist was legitimately in the wrong. Sometimes they weren’t.
I’ve never experienced bribery in the Riviera Maya, but I’ve talked to many travelers who have. What I’ve gathered is that bribery police stops seem to be more common among tourists who drive and those who are drunk or using drugs.
Are Protests Common in the Riviera Maya?
Protests typically aren’t as common in the Riviera Maya as in major cities like Cancun and Mexico City.
Nevertheless, if you encounter a protest in the Riviera Maya, do your best to avoid walking or driving through it.
Although protesters often have good intentions when voicing their complaints in public, it isn’t uncommon for protests to turn violent.
Transportation Safety in the Riviera Maya
Is the Riviera Maya safe from a transportation perspective?
Assuming you avoid rideshare apps, there’s little you need to worry about safety-wise when traveling around the Riviera Maya. Read on for details.
Is it safe to take an Uber in the Riviera Maya?
It isn’t safe to take an Uber in the Riviera Maya. Due to large taxi companies putting up a legal battle with Uber and other rideshare apps, these apps currently aren’t available in the Riviera Maya region.
But even if you see rideshare apps working during your visit (they sometimes operate in Cancun), I strongly advise against using them.
Traditional taxi drivers have a history of attacking Uber drivers, creating an unsafe situation for the driver and rider.
Is it safe to take a street taxi in the Riviera Maya?
It isn’t safe to take a taxi off the street in the Riviera Maya. Instead, you should call a taxi or ask your hotel to arrange one for you.
It’s a pain, I know. But it’s better to jump through that hoop than risk getting into a pirate taxi that you flag off the street.
Is it safe to drive in the Riviera Maya?
Driving in the Riviera Maya is quite safe. You may come across the occasional routine police checkpoint. But as long as you have your passport, driver’s license, and vehicle registration, there’s little to worry about.
Given that police sometimes target foreign drivers for bribes, do your best to follow Mexico’s driving laws to a T.
Is it safe to take a bus in the Riviera Maya?
Taking the bus in the Riviera Maya is very safe. ADO is the main long-distance transportation company in the Riviera Maya. The ADO buses are clean, comfy, and well-maintained.
You can also take colectivos, which are shared vans that will stop for you at any place along the route they run.
I’ve taken ADO buses and colectivos around the Riviera Maya by myself too many times to count and never felt unsafe.
A Note on Airport Transfers
The Cancun International Airport is the gateway to the Riviera Maya and a prime place for pirate taxis to linger. Genuine taxi drivers who want to overcharge tourists are typically in even higher numbers.
For this reason, if you fly into Cancun and plan on using a taxi to get to your accommodation, book a taxi at a designated taxi stand inside the airport.
You can also book your airport transfer online in advance.
How Safe Is the Riviera Maya for Independent Touring?
The Riviera Maya, and the state of Quintana Roo as a whole, is an excellent base for people who want to tour independently.
You can easily hire a car or book day trips to take you to cenotes (sinkholes), Mayan ruins, jungle adventures, and more.
With a couple of exceptions, I’ve only ever visited the Riviera Maya independently by using ADO buses and colectivos as my transportation methods.
Beach Safety in the Riviera Maya
The Riviera Maya is a popular tourist destination for its white sand beaches. Because of that, many visitors expect to encounter glass-like water with next to no waves.
That’s not always the case. I’d even venture to say that it’s rarely the case.
Unless you’re at a beach that’s protected by a bay, such as certain areas at Akumal Beach and certain places in Cancun, the Riviera Maya’s beaches face the open ocean.
Therefore, the waves can sometimes be strong, especially on a windy or stormy day.
Another beach safety item to be aware of is that seaweed season lasts in the Riviera Maya from around May to October. Tourists traveling from November to April are usually in the clear.
Although the seaweed, called sargassum, isn’t harmful to human health, it arrives in droves to the Yucatan’s shoreline.
That makes the water uncomfortable and off-putting to swim in. And the rotten egg-like odor that the seaweed emits as it rots is a stark contrast to the pristine tropical beach vacation you likely pictured.
A Note on Hurricane Season
The hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean runs from June 1st to November 30th.
So, the best time to travel to the Riviera Maya if you want to avoid the possibility of a hurricane thwarting your vacation plans is from December 1st to May 30th.
Luckily, direct hurricane hits in the Riviera Maya are rare, though they happen. I even experienced a hurricane during my stay in Playa del Carmen.
Air Quality in the Riviera Maya
Air quality in the Riviera Maya region of Mexico usually falls within the “Good” category on IQAir.
If you’re concerned about air quality during your trip, I recommend checking IQAir’s website for current air quality stats.
Earthquake Safety in the Riviera Maya
There’s little need to worry about an earthquake in the Riviera Maya, as the Yucatan Peninsula isn’t in a fault zone.
So, unlike the earthquake stories you’ve likely heard about on Mexico’s Pacific coast, you shouldn’t have to worry about experiencing one in the Riviera Maya.
Is the Food Safe in the Riviera Maya?
Generally speaking, the food is safe to eat in the Riviera Maya.
If you want to eat at street food stands, I recommend choosing those with lots of customers, as there’s a higher chance the food will be fresher.
It’s also wise to select food that you watch the vendor cook in front of you, especially if you’ll be consuming meat or seafood.
As far as restaurants go, those that cater to tourists are generally safe, as they usually have more stringent hygiene standards.
Nevertheless, the tourist’s stomach isn’t used to certain bacteria strains in Mexico. So, it’s wise to bring some medicine to settle your stomach, just in case.
Is the Tap Water Safe to Drink in the Riviera Maya?
The tap water isn’t safe to drink in the Riviera Maya. Of the many Mexican states I’ve visited, the only place where water from the faucet was potentially potable was in Puerto Vallarta.
You’ll have plenty of choices for buying cheap bottled water in the Riviera Maya at vendor street stalls, convenience stores, and supermarkets.
When eating at a restaurant, check with the staff to ensure they make their ice with bottled, filtered, or treated water.
How To Stay Safe in the Riviera Maya
Below are some basic safety precautions to take in the Riviera Maya. As you’ll see, there’s nothing unique about them—it’s wise to practice these tips regardless of where you travel.
- Take a taxi at night
- Don’t walk around showcasing expensive electronics
- Only take out money from ATMs inside a bank
- Never carry around all your credit cards and cash
- Use a money belt
- Don’t wear flashy jewelry
- Ask locals for advice
- Don’t leave an unopened drink unattended
- If you’re going to get inebriated, do so with a trustworthy sober companion
Finally, trust your instinct. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
The Safest Destinations in Mexico
I’ve explored much of Mexico as a solo female traveler and have felt safer in several destinations other than the Riviera Maya.
Below are the top places where I felt the safest:
Yucatan state is also one of the safest regions of Mexico, which includes Merida and Campeche. Note that although the Riviera Maya is in the Yucatan Peninsula, it sits within Quintana Roo state, not Yucatan state.
Should you be considering a trip to Cabo San Lucas in Baja California Sur, learn why I don’t recommend it for solo female travelers.
Know the Nearest Consulate
Should you lose your passport or have other issues during your time in the Riviera Maya, it’s important to know the location of the nearest consulate for your country of residence.
Some consulates are located directly in the Riviera Maya, such as for Americans, Canadians, and Italians. In other cases, you may have to travel to Cancun or beyond to arrive at your country’s consulate.
The Bottom Line: Is the Riviera Maya Safe?
The Riviera Maya isn’t the safest part of Mexico (check out Merida for that). But it’s far from the most dangerous area in Mexico; the U.S. DOS doesn’t currently recommend changing travel plans for people who want to travel there.
As long as you practice basic safety precautions, you can expect to have a safe and fun time in the Riviera Maya.
Before your trip, please visit the DOS’ Mexico advisory page to double-check the Riviera Maya’s most up-to-date safety status before traveling.
If you have questions about safety in the Riviera Maya, leave a comment and I’ll do my best to help.