The word “Mexico” often conjures up many images for people depending on what they’ve heard in the news or experienced as a traveler. White sand beaches, drug cartels, and metropolises like Mexico City might come to mind.
But it can sometimes be hard to cut through all the noise.
So, is Mexico safe?
Many areas in Mexico are safe enough if you take proper precautions. But it’s far from a truly safe country; according to the 2021 Global Organized Crime Index Report, Mexico is the fourth country in the world most affected by organized crime.
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I’ve spent over one year in Mexico, nearly all of it as a solo female traveler. The Yucatan Peninsula was my base, but I’ve traveled to the west coast and central Mexico a few times each.
There are undoubtedly certain towns and cities where I’ve felt safer in Mexico than in others. I’ll share those with you shortly.
I’ll also leave links to specific safety-related posts I’ve written for many of the destinations I’ll be covering.
Please keep in mind that, like anywhere in the world, the safety of any given destination in Mexico is subject to change.
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 Mexico.
There’s nothing like recent firsthand experience to paint a more realistic picture of Mexico’s current safety situation.
Listening to the DOS
I’ll be addressing the question, “Is Mexico safe?” largely from my personal experience. But since personal experience is subjective, please take my opinions and experiences with a grain of salt.
The U.S. Department of State (DOS) should be your go-to resource for determining the current safety of the destinations in Mexico you want to visit. You can view the DOS’ Mexico Travel Advisory page here.
Below is an overview of the four levels the DOS uses to classify a Mexican state’s safety:
|1||Exercise normal precautions|
|2||Exercise increased caution|
|4||Do not travel|
You’ll encounter up-to-date information on safety in Mexico on the DOS’ website. I encourage you to keep an eye on it as your departure date to Mexico approaches so you’re aware of any potential changes.
The Statistically Safest Areas in Mexico
Let’s start with the positive. When asking, “Is Mexico safe?” the answer might surprise you: One destination in Mexico even ranks as safer than cities in the United States—that’s Merida, Mexico.
According to the DOS, these are the safest states in Mexico:
- Yucatan state
- Campeche state
Both Yucatan and Campeche states rank as Level 1 with the DOS. So, you just need to exercise normal precautions when traveling to them.
Some popular towns and cities within these two states include:
- Campeche City
Many people confuse Yucatan state for the Yucatan Peninsula. However, the Yucatan Peninsula comprises three states—Yucatan, Campeche, and Quintana Roo.
Yucatan and Campeche states fall under Level 1 for safety; the DOS classifies Quintana Roo as a Level 2.
A Subjective View of the Safest Cities in Mexico
I wholeheartedly agree with the DOS’ assessment of Yucatan and Campeche being very safe Mexican states. In particular, I felt extremely safe walking around Merida and Valladolid day and night.
However, I’ve felt safe in several destinations that the DOS classifies as a Level 2 (exercise increased caution).
They are as follows:
- Oaxaca City
- Puerto Vallarta
I’ll talk in more detail about all of these destinations shortly.
The Most Dangerous Areas in Mexico
When fearful loved ones ask you, “Is Mexico safe?” it’s likely because of stories they’ve heard of drug cartels. The cartels have a stronghold on several states in Mexico, placing those states on the DOS’ “Do Not Travel” list.
The most dangerous states in Mexico include:
- Colima state
- Guerrero state
- Michoacan state
- Sinaloa state
- Tamaulipas state
- Zacatecas state
The DOS states that they’ve put these states at a Level 4 for safety because of crime and kidnapping. Guerrero state is the exception, where they only list crime as a reason to avoid traveling there.
Some Silver Linings for Tourists
I know it can be scary to see some of the DOS’ recommendations. You may have thought that spending a week at a resort in Cancun sipping on margaritas would be a harmless vacation until you hear the words “exercise increased caution.”
The reality is that visiting tourist areas in Mexico is generally very safe.
The Mexican government strives to make their country welcoming and safe for tourists, given that tourism is how many locals make a living.
So, you can expect an increase in police presence in popular tourist areas. You may also see the national guard, particularly in Quintana Roo.
Though members of the national guard can look intimidating since they bear rifles and drive massive trucks down city streets, their job is to protect the people and keep outbreaks between rival cartels at bay.
A Breakdown of Safety in Mexico by City
As long as you don’t visit the most dangerous areas in Mexico, the question “Is Mexico safe?” often comes down to this answer: Mexico is as safe as you make it.
That’s not to say that luck doesn’t play a role.
But generally speaking, if you take basic safety precautions like not flashing expensive jewelry or electronics, not meddling with drugs, and taking taxis at night through a trusted driver or company, you increase your chances of a safe experience.
Below is an overview of what you can expect safety-wise from some of the most popular tourist destinations in Mexico, based on my personal experience.
Quintana Roo State
Quintana Roo is home to some of the most popular destinations in Mexico, including:
- Playa del Carmen
Other slightly lesser-known but still popular tourist destinations include Puerto Morelos, Puerto Aventuras, Akumal, Bacalar, and Chetumal. These cities line the Riviera Maya and the beaches that extend down to the Belize border.
Unfortunately, Quintana Roo has taken a major hit safety-wise in recent years. Although the DOS continues to keep this state at a Level 2, drug cartel violence has been on the rise.
Tulum made the news when two women were accidentally caught in a rival gang crossfire at a beachside resort. About an hour north in Playa del Carmen, a foreigner became the victim of a shooting at a bar on trendy 5th Avenue. Meanwhile, Cancun has been making headlines about local taxi unions lashing out at Uber and other rideshare drivers.
On that note, it’s not safe to take an Uber in Quintana Roo at the moment. I used to take Ubers in Cancun, but it’s not something I’d do anymore, given the current issues.
Despite the negative press, Quintana Roo doesn’t have to be off-limits. Staying in the Hotel Zones of Cancun and Tulum is best, as these areas have the highest number of police officers. As for Playa del Carmen, I recommend staying in the tourist zone by the beach.
Since I’ve spent so much time in Quintana Roo, I could go on all day about safety there. Instead, I’ll point you to my articles that dive deep into safety in the following destinations:
I’ve also written an article on Safety in Quintana Roo, which covers safety in Bacalar and the Riviera Maya.
Yucatan is one of only two states that rank as a Level 1 (exercise normal precautions), according to the DOS. My experience mirrors that; I’ve had extremely positive experiences traveling and staying within it.
Much of the reason that Yucatan state has remained so safe is that there’s little cartel activity.
Aside from the stray non-threatening catcalls I’ve received when walking around alone, there’s really nothing negative I can say about Yucatan state.
You can read my articles on Safety in Merida and Safety in the Yucatan for more details.
Baja California State
Baja California is a term that understandably confuses many travelers to Mexico. Many people say “Baja California” when they refer to the Baja California Peninsula.
But Baja California is also a state. Since Baja California has two states, some people also call Baja California state “Baja California Norte” (North Baja California).
If you cross the border from San Diego into Mexico, you’ll be in Baja California state. The San Diego border crossing is a popular one for people wanting to travel from Tijuana to Ensenada and other northern Mexican beaches.
The DOS currently lists Baja California State as a Level 3 (reconsider travel) due to crime and kidnapping. The Tijuana-San Diego border has also had cartel-related outbreaks in recent months, though I’ve crossed the border there a couple of times by day since then and felt safe enough.
Baja California Sur State
Unlike its northern neighboring state, Baja California Sur has a lower Level 2 rating (exercise increased caution).
Baja California Sur is a popular tourist stop for many, as it’s home to Los Cabos (Psst! Read my article on Cabo San Lucas vs. San Jose del Cabo if you’re confused about the difference between the two).
La Paz is another hopping tourist area in Baja California Sur.
I can’t comment on the safety in La Paz from personal experience, but I have lots to say about Los Cabos. You can read my article on Safety in Los Cabos for details.
But here’s the bottom line: If you’re a solo female traveler, I recommend skipping Los Cabos. Street harassment was relentless from my experience, often causing me to choose to stay in my apartment rather than explore the area.
Mexico City State
Like any big city, you can walk into, out of, and back into bad neighborhoods in Mexico City in the blink of an eye.
Personally, I love Mexico City. Although I explore it with heightened awareness, especially as a woman, I love the food scene, street art, parks, and buildings ranging from quaint to towering modern masterpieces.
Some of the safest districts in Mexico City include:
- Roma (both north and south)
- Benito Juarez
If you’re a woman, you can board a female-only metro car. I have mixed feelings about Mexico’s approach to segregating women and men, which you can read about in my article on Safety in Mexico City.
Oaxaca state covers coastal areas like Puerto Escondido and the charming interior Day of the Dead hub of Oaxaca City. Of these two popular tourist areas, I felt safer in Oaxaca City than in Puerto Escondido.
That’s not to say I felt unsafe in Puerto Escondido. It just took more planning since there are a lot of dark, desolate areas in Puerto Escondido at night.
In contrast, the historic center of Oaxaca City is hopping at night, and I felt safe wandering around the city on my own from my hostel.
You can check out my articles on Safety in Oaxaca City and Safety in Puerto Escondido for more details.
Nayarit is a tiny state framed by the Pacific Ocean to the west and the massive Jalisco state to the east. In terms of tourism, it’s most known for Sayulita, Punta Mita, and other small surf towns.
I felt very safe in Nayarit state during my time in Sayulita. I traveled by public bus to beach hop. And drug vendors, while undoubtedly present, weren’t insistent on me buying drugs, unlike my experience in east coast destinations like Playa del Carmen and Cancun.
Sayulita is also a tiny town that comes alive at night, with businesses staying open until the wee hours of the morning. So, I felt safe wandering around at night from my centrally located hostel.
You can read my guide on Safety in Sayulita for more details.
The DOS labels Jalisco state as a Level 3—reconsider travel. However, the context is important.
Guadalajara is the primary reason that Jalisco gets such a high travel warning. A major cartel operates out of the city, and the DOS advises not to travel on certain highways within Jalisco state because of increased dangers.
I spent one month in Guadalajara and can attest to feeling like I needed to be on heightened alert there compared to certain other destinations I’ve visited in Mexico.
In contrast, popular tourist destinations like Puerto Vallarta, Ajijic, and Chapala all call Jalisco state their home. I’ve always felt safe wandering around these three destinations, and the DOS supports this by stating that they don’t have restrictions for U.S. government employees who want to visit these areas.
You can check out my articles on Safety in Guadalajara and Safety in Puerto Vallarta for more details.
I saved an extra safe Mexican destination for last. Campeche state isn’t on my travelers’ bucket lists, but you might want to be among those changing that.
Campeche is the capital of Campeche state in the Yucatan and where I spent the most time while in that state. I felt safe in Campeche, and the city’s old town has a charm that hasn’t been tainted by excessive tourism.
Since Campeche state is off the beaten tourist path, you can rent a car and drive around the area, beach hopping or exploring the Yucatan’s lush jungle.
You can also take a day trip from Merida to Campeche if you’re short on vacation time.
A Note on Transportation
The airports in Mexico are prime places for pirate taxis to linger, along with genuine taxi drivers who want to overcharge tourists. For this reason, if you plan on using a taxi to get to your accommodation upon your arrival in Mexico, book a taxi at a designated taxi stand inside the airport.
You can also book your airport transfer in advance.
Many legitimate companies operate airport transfers in Mexico. However, my go-to company for transfers and tours is GetYourGuide.
What I like about GetYourGuide is that they’re an international, English-speaking company with 24/7 support. You can read customer reviews before booking your transfer, giving you a better idea of the service and vehicle quality to expect.
You can visit GetYourGuide to see pricing and availability for your travel dates. Simply type in “airport transfer” and the destination in Mexico you’ll be visiting, and you’ll receive a list of options.
General Mexico Safety Tips
Having a safe experience in the Mexican states that the DOS labels as Level 1 or Level 2 usually comes down to practicing common sense. So, below are some tips to help.
- Stick to driving on toll roads when you have the option
- Call a ride rather than flag taxi drivers off the street
- Leave expensive items at home
- Wear a money belt
- Withdraw money from an ATM inside a bank during daylight hours
Related article: How to Never Pay an International ATM Fee Again
As for natural disaster safety, hurricanes can happen on either side of Mexico’s coast, though hurricanes in the Caribbean are more common. Earthquakes can also strike.
Therefore, it’s a good idea to purchase travel insurance, especially if you’ll be traveling during hurricane season.
So, Is Mexico Safe to Travel to?
Tourism plays a major role in Mexico’s economy. There’s been a clear pattern with the Mexican government cracking down extra hard on organized crime culprits when their actions negatively impact tourists.
Answering the question, “Is Mexico safe?” is more nuanced than a simple “yes” or “no.” Instead, it depends on the destination you want to visit, the precautions you take, and, like anywhere in the world, a dose of luck.