Cancun is the most popular beach destination in Mexico, with millions of people arriving at its shores each year. But if you’ve read one too many articles on crime in Mexico or can’t get Netflix’s Narcos series out of your head, it might get you wondering—is Cancun safe?
Here’s the bottom line: Cancun is safe if you stay within the tourist district and use basic street smarts.
Before we get too far into this article, though, I’ll admit my bias: I’m not a fan of Cancun.
One of the reasons I don’t love it is that I feel safer in other parts of Mexico. But there are ways to visit Cancun safely, and I’ll walk you through them here.
First Things First: A Disclaimer
I’ve spent over a year as a solo female traveler exploring the Yucatan, traveling to Cancun more than a dozen times.
I know what you’re thinking—didn’t this girl just say she doesn’t like Cancun?
But since Cancun is the gateway to the Yucatan, I’ve been there too many times to count.
Overall, I’ve had a fine experience safety-wise in Cancun. But it’s not among the places I’ve felt the safest in Mexico.
Keep in mind that 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 that a destination is relatively safe.
Trusting your gut and following basic safety practices are vital to improving your security in any destination.
May I Ask a Favor?
Bad press about safety in Mexico ebbs and flows; I know when it’s flowing based on an uptick in readers looking through our Mexico safety articles. I do 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 Cancun.
There’s nothing like recent firsthand experience to paint a more realistic picture of Cancun’s current safety situation for fellow readers.
An Overview of Mexico’s Safety
Before we talk about safety in Cancun, the chart below offers insight into the health and safety of Mexico as a whole.
|Global Health Security Index
|25 of 195 (good)
|Global Peace Index
|137 of 163 (bad)
Safety in Cancun: What the U.S. Department of State Says
Cancun sits within Mexico’s Quintana Roo state. At the moment, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) lists Quintana Roo as a place to “Exercise increased caution.”
Before you cancel your ticket to Cancun, let me put that phrase into perspective.
The DOS ranks destinations on the following four-step scale.
|Exercise normal precautions
|Exercise increased caution
|Do not travel
Cancun currently sits at Level 2. It’s been at this level for at least the past few years since I’ve been traveling there.
So, Cancun remains at a stable safety level and one that several cities in the U.S. would likely fall under if the DOS had such a ranking system for domestic destinations (looking at you, Chicago).
But I encourage you to take the DOS’ recommendations seriously. They state that the reasons they urge people to exercise increased caution in Cancun are the following:
- Gang-related crossfire
The DOS doesn’t have restrictions for U.S. government employees traveling around Cancun. But they mention that such people must increase their “situational awareness” in downtown Cancun at night.
I couldn’t agree more.
The bottom line is this: Before traveling to Cancun, I recommend checking the DOS’ Mexico Travel Advisory page to read about their most up-to-date recommendations.
Don’t Forget: Cancun is part of Quintana Roo state when you look at the DOS’ travel advisory.
Safety in Cancun: What the Data Says
When exploring the question, “Is Cancun, Mexico safe?” I find it helpful to compare the data with other destinations.
According to Numbeo, Cancun has a crime index of 55.73 out of 100, with higher numbers indicating more crime.
That’s far from great.
Cancun ranks in either the “moderate” or “high” category for all crime descriptions on Numbeo except for “physical attacks due to skin color, gender, ethnic origin, and religion.” Cancun ranks on the “low” crime level for that category.
In contrast, Merida, the capital of the Yucatan, has a crime index of 25.24.
Merida also ranks “low” or “very low” in all crime categories except for two, where it ranks as “moderate.”
Let’s circle back to Chicago.
I’m not about to advocate Cancun as being an ultra-safe destination. But this data offers a reality check on the biases that so many of us carry about safety in the U.S. versus Mexico.
What Parts of Cancun Are the Safest?
The safest parts of Cancun are the Hotel Zone and Isla Mujeres.
Isla Mujeres isn’t part of mainland Cancun—it’s an island that sits approximately 20 minutes away by ferry.
But having spent two weeks in Isla Mujeres, I can confidently say I felt safer there than in Cancun’s Hotel Zone. I believe the biggest reason for this is that everything of touristic interest is within walking distance in Isla Mujeres.
In contrast, the Hotel Zone in Cancun is spread out, scattered across miles of beautiful beaches.
So, unless you’re staying at an all-inclusive resort in Cancun and stick to your hotel premises (in which case your trip to Cancun will be infinitely safer), you’ll need to rely on taxis to get around.
The issue I’ve seen with the Hotel Zone of Cancun is that people with one too many drinks in their system suddenly think it’s okay to walk back to their hotel without a ride. You’ll probably be okay if you don’t have to leave the well-lit tourist strip and you’re wandering around when businesses are still open.
But you’re asking for trouble if you have to pass through one of the many less commercialized gaps along the Hotel Zone.
Psst! Check out my article on Is La Mujeres Safe? if you’re considering a visit to the island.
A Note on Downtown Cancun
Downtown Cancun is notoriously dangerous. It’s also where I usually stay when I’m in Cancun.
Why, you ask?
Because that’s the location of the ADO bus station, which allows me to travel from the Cancun airport to downtown, where I can get some rest before hopping on a bus to another part of the Yucatan the following day.
I have a routine there, staying at Selina Downtown Cancun. Selina is only a block from the bus station, with many businesses and vendors along the way. I’ve never had an issue doing this walk alone with all my luggage, though I’d take a taxi for even that short distance if I ever arrived after dark.
From Selina, I enjoy venturing out to Parque de las Palapas to gorge on delicious (and cheap) Mexican street food.
But for the most part, I’m not comfortable straying too far from Selina in downtown Cancun. I always carry a small amount of money, leaving all valuables and credit cards in my room.
Although downtown Cancun offers a refreshingly local vibe compared to the Hotel Zone, it’s about a 15-minute bus ride from the beach. So, safety aside, it’s not the best fit for the average tourist wanting a classic Cancun beach vacation.
Visiting Cancun as a Solo Female Traveler
Although I don’t love Cancun, being a solo female traveler hasn’t stopped me from traveling there.
I’ve experienced a handful of catcalls and unwanted comments. But for me, the street harassment in Cancun hasn’t ever been invasive or threatening.
Interestingly, I’ve found harassment worse in the Hotel Zone than in downtown Cancun.
Whereas I tend to draw more stares in downtown (given how few foreigners go there), vendors in the Hotel Zone are used to chatting it up with tourists and “swooning” them into buying their items.
My recommendation to solo female travelers in Cancun is to look like you know where you’re going. A firm “no” with eye contact usually does the trick when you want someone to leave you alone.
Is It Safe to Fly to Cancun?
Flying into Cancun is very safe. The Cancun International Airport is Latin America’s third busiest airport, with Mexico City taking the first spot.
Cancun’s airport is modern and has safety features that you’d expect from airports in the U.S. That said, it’s a prime place for pirate taxis to linger, along with registered taxi drivers who want to overcharge tourists.
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.
Is Cancun Safe at Night?
Cancun is safe at night if you stay within the well-lit portion of the Hotel Zone when businesses and clubs are open.
Otherwise, call a taxi to travel to and from your accommodation. Walking in poorly lit areas of Cancun at night isn’t worth the pesos you’d save on a ride.
Transportation in Cancun
Exploring Cancun well requires transportation. So, read on to learn about safety with different transportation methods.
Is it safe to take an Uber in Cancun?
In January 2023, the U.S. Department of State advised tourists to avoid the use of taxi apps in Cancun and the Quintana Roo region as a whole due to violent conflict over Uber legislation. Local taxi unions in Cancun have a notorious rocky history with Uber since they don’t want the competition; they’ve been known to take out their frustration on Uber drivers and passengers.
As far as I’m aware, Uber is now legal in Cancun. I haven’t been back to Cancun since this happened, so I’m not comfortable saying whether or not I recommend using Uber there.
It would mean a lot to me if you left a comment after your trip to update our readers on any information you may gather about using Uber in Cancun.
Is it safe to take a street taxi in Cancun?
In my opinion, it’s not safe to take a street taxi in Cancun. The chances of crime increase when people flag taxis off the street, as pirate taxis are relatively common.
That said, it’s safe to call a local taxi company and have them send a taxi to pick you up. These taxis are registered, so your chances of getting a pirate driver are low. Alternatively, ask your hotel to arrange a taxi for you.
Is it safe to drive in Cancun?
Personally, I wouldn’t feel comfortable driving in Cancun unless I was with a local who knew the area. It would be too easy to land in a bad section of town.
However, if you arrive at the Cancun airport and rent a car to drive elsewhere in the Yucatan Peninsula, you should be fine; you can hop onto the highway from the airport, avoiding the chaos of downtown Cancun.
Is it safe to take local buses in Cancun?
It’s pretty safe to take local buses in Cancun during the day. I’ve done so when traveling from downtown to the Hotel Zone and have always felt comfortable. However, I wouldn’t travel on the local buses with lots of money or valuables. Nor would I do so at night.
Is it safe to take long-distance buses in Cancun?
Taking long-distance buses in Cancun is very safe. Many long-distance buses operate from the Cancun airport, although you’ll need to arrive at the ADO station in downtown Cancun to get to certain destinations in the Yucatan.
I’ve taken dozens of long-distance ADO buses in Cancun and have always found them to be safe, clean, and (mostly) timely. Unlike local buses, long-distance buses only stop at ADO bus stations, and passengers must purchase a ticket before boarding.
Beach Safety in Cancun
Are you wondering, “Is Cancun, Mexico, safe in terms of its beaches?”
The answer is it depends.
Most of Cancun’s beaches face the open ocean, so they have more waves than many tourists expect. That said, Playa Gaviota Azul is one of the safest beaches for swimming in Cancun because its small curvature offers protection.
Nevertheless, the strength of Cancun’s waves on any given day depends on the weather.
There are often fewer waves in the morning, given there’s usually less of a breeze.
The bottom line is that it’s important to keep an eye on the flag system that Cancun uses. A green flag indicates it’s safe to swim.
Most public beaches in Cancun also have lifeguards on duty.
A Note on Hurricane Season
Hurricane season in Cancun runs from June 1st to November 30th.
During these months, the chance of strong waves and rip currents increases when a hurricane passes through the Caribbean region.
Although hurricanes don’t usually hit Cancun directly, it’s common for the city to receive copious amounts of rain and wind from storms impacting nearby Caribbean islands.
Is the Water Safe to Drink in Cancun?
Cancun wasn’t developed until the 1970s, so it has relatively newer water pipes than other parts of Mexico. Although the city treats its water, it’s still wise to drink bottled or filtered water to prevent “traveler’s stomach.”
Country music singer Bobby Pinson wisely advises, “Don’t drink the water in Mexico” in his song Don’t Ask Me How I Know.
I recommend heeding his advice.
How To Stay Safe in Cancun
Below are some basic safety precautions to take in Cancun. As you’ll see, there’s nothing unique about them—it’s wise to practice these tips regardless of where you travel.
- Call a taxi at night instead of walking
- 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 opened 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.
Mexico’s Safest Destinations
I’ve explored much of Mexico (all as a solo female traveler) and have felt safer in many other destinations than Cancun.
Below are the places in Mexico where I’ve felt the safest:
Should you be considering a trip to Cabo, learn why I don’t recommend it for solo female travelers.
The Bottom Line: Is Cancun Safe Right Now?
Cancun is a safe enough destination to travel to, especially if you stay in the Hotel Zone, use taxis to get around, and apply common sense.
The safest way to visit Cancun is by staying at an all-inclusive resort.
But that’s not an ideal vacation for many of us. So, as long as you’re smart about it, I wouldn’t let the fear of potential crime keep you from seeing all that Cancun and its surrounding area offer.
If you have questions about safety in Cancun, leave a comment and I’ll do my best to help.
I’d also love to hear from you if you’ve already visited Cancun. I’m sure our readers will appreciate reading about other travelers’ experiences and viewpoints.
P.S.—Want to pay $0 in ATM fees and exchange rates during your Cancun trip? Find out how I’ve been doing it for years with the Schwab debit card for travel.