Is Oaxaca Safe? A Solo Female Perspective

Oaxaca is home to 30-ingredient mole, Day of the Dead festivities, and the Monte Álban ruins. While these attractions might be calling your attention, given Mexico’s poor safety reputation, you’re understandably wondering—Is Oaxaca safe?

Statistically, Oaxaca is one of the safest destinations in Mexico. 

I felt safe day and night exploring Oaxaca City as a solo female traveler. But, of course, there are certain safety measures you should take to increase your chances of a safe Oaxaca experience.

I’ll share a combination of facts and personal experience to help you understand the nuances of safety in Oaxaca.  

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 Oaxaca.

There’s nothing like recent firsthand experience to paint a more realistic picture of Oaxaca’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 Oaxaca is for travel right now.

First Things First: A Disclaimer

I spent two weeks in Oaxaca and had a 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 that a destination is safe.

Trusting your gut and following basic safety practices are vital to improving your security in any destination.

Oaxaca vs. Oaxaca City

Colorful streets in downtown Oaxaca.

The word “Oaxaca” can be confusing for first-time visitors to Mexico. That’s because locals say “Oaxaca” when referring to:

  • Oaxaca state
  • Oaxaca City

It just so happens that Oaxaca City, which officially goes by the name Oaxaca de Juárez, is the capital of Oaxaca state. 

You’ll need to determine the context of a conversation to know if someone is talking about the state or city. But most of the time, people mean Oaxaca City when they say “Oaxaca.”

To avoid confusion, I’ll focus on Oaxaca City in this article, although Oaxaca state will come up in statistics.  

Should you be interested in learning about safety elsewhere in Oaxaca state, you can check out my article on Is Puerto Escondido safe?

An Overview of Mexico’s Safety

Before we talk about safety in Oaxaca, the chart below offers insight into the health and safety of Mexico as a whole.

OrganizationIndex scoreCountry ranking
Global Health Security Index57.025 of 195 (good)
Global Peace Index2.61137 of 163 (bad)

Safety in Oaxaca: What the U.S. Department of State Says

When asking "Is Oaxaca safe?" the answer is that the downtown tourist area is very safe.

The U.S. Department of State (DOS) is my go-to resource when determining a destination’s safety. They rank Oaxaca state as a 2 out of 4 on their safety scale, which is as follows.

1Exercise normal precautions
2Exercise increased caution
3Reconsider travel
4Do not travel

So, the DOS gives the A-okay for people to travel to Oaxaca. But they encourage people to exercise increased caution because of crime.

Specifically, crimes involving violence and criminal activity.

Before you get too worried about needing to “exercise increased caution” in Oaxaca, keep in mind that these statistics refer to the entire state. 

There are two areas within Oaxaca state where the DOS bans U.S. government employees from visiting altogether. They include:

  • The Isthmus region
  • Federal Highway 200 northwest of Pinotepa 

In contrast, U.S. government employees have no travel restrictions when visiting four key tourist areas in Oaxaca, including:

  • Oaxaca City
  • Monte Alban (a great half-day trip from Oaxaca City)
  • Puerto Escondido
  • Huatulco

The bottom line is that if the DOS didn’t include the Isthmus region and area northwest of Pinotepa in their statistics, there’s a good chance Oaxaca could drop to a Level 1.

In fact, the DOS categorizes most areas in Mexico as Level 2. 

The only regions claiming the coveted Level 1 status are Yucatan state and Campeche state. And rightly so, from my experience.

Safety in Oaxaca: What the Statistics Say

A mural with two country men in Oaxaca.

According to Numbeo, Oaxaca City has a crime index of 39.2 and a safety index of 60.8. 

These numbers are on a scale of 100, with a lower crime index and a higher safety index being the ideal balance.

For reference, Baltimore’s crime index ranks at 76.01, and its safety index sits at 23.99. So, Oaxaca City is nearly twice as safe as Baltimore.

But let’s get more specific.

Oaxaca City ranks as “very high” under the category for “safety walking alone during the daylight” and “moderate” for “safety walking alone during the night.” 

In contrast, Baltimore ranks as “moderate” for daylight solo walking and “very low” for nighttime meandering.

Making a Baltimore and Oaxaca crime rate comparison might seem extreme, given Baltimore’s bad reputation for crime. 

But Mexico has a bad crime rep too.

So, I hope these numbers help challenge the “all of Mexico is dangerous” reaction that so many of us subconsciously (and sometimes not-so-subconsciously) have.

I’m not saying you should let your guard down while you’re in Oaxaca. But based on statistics, you’ll be safer there than in some cities in the U.S.

A Note on the News

Google Translate can be a blessing and a curse. 

If you type “Is Oaxaca safe?” in the search bar, local news articles will likely appear, translated into English, ready to get your heart pumping.

Yes, crime happens in Oaxaca, including Oaxaca City. 

But I’d be cautious about basing your opinion of Oaxaca’s safety on the news articles you read.

There’s likely a handful of crime happening daily in the nearest city where you live, but I bet it doesn’t stop you from visiting that city altogether.

Visiting Oaxaca as a Solo Female Traveler

A view of the ruins in Oaxaca.

If you’re a solo female traveler asking yourself, “How safe is Oaxaca?” My response, from personal experience, is that it’s very safe.

I spent two wonderful weeks as a solo traveler in Oaxaca City. 

Yes, I experienced the occasional catcall. And, yes, I had a few unwanted stares from men.

But I never felt threatened, endangered, or—most shockingly—restricted.

I rarely go out at night when I’m traveling alone. Yet, in Oaxaca, I wandered the streets nearly every night by myself.

I’m sure many solo traveling women can relate to the underlying anxiety that comes with not knowing if you’ll be able to get a safe taxi home and other dangers that are always present but feel all-too-heightened after sunset.

But I felt completely safe exploring Oaxaca alone after dark. 

Part of this is because I stayed in the heart of Oaxaca’s tourist center (at the boutique hostel and cowork Selina Oaxaca). 

I was thrilled to discover that I could step out of my hostel to find Oaxaca’s streets well-lit, restaurants and shops open, and people around both day and night.

That said, use common sense; I wouldn’t stroll around Oaxaca City by myself at 2:00 am. 

But if you’re taking a solo female trip and want to see downtown Oaxaca in the evening, I wouldn’t hesitate to explore the historic tourist area alone.    

Is Oaxaca Safe at Night?

Day of the Dead festival at night in Oaxaca.

Oaxaca City is very safe at night. The historic tourist center has many shops and restaurants that remain open well into the evening. 

That said, it’s always best to take a taxi at night if you’re staying in an area with dark streets and without many people around.

But if you’re staying in the heart of the tourist area and practicing basic safety precautions, you should be just fine wandering around town on foot in the evening as long as you keep your belongings close.

Petty theft is among the most common crime travelers face in Oaxaca, if a crime happens to them. So, it’s best to leave your valuables locked in a safe at your accommodation.

I’ll share some other safety tips at the end of this article to help you stay as safe as possible during your Oaxaca trip.

Safety in Oaxaca During Day of the Dead

A parade during Day of the Dead.

My stay in Oaxaca City fell during the Day of the Dead—an experience that will overwhelm your senses in the best ways possible if you’re lucky enough to be in Oaxaca during this Mexican holiday.

I felt 100% safe in Oaxaca City during the Day of the Dead.

The only recommendation I have is to be mindful of your belongings. The streets become packed with people day and night, enabling pickpockets to make a (physically harmless) killing.

If you’re interested in learning more about this holiday, check out my article on the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

And if you’re already planning on attending Day of the Dead but haven’t booked your accommodation yet, let me save you from the headache I experienced: Book your place now.

Like, right now

You’re welcome. 

Travel Tip: Oaxacans officially celebrate the Day of the Dead on November 1st and 2nd. However, the festivities often start at the end of October.

Earthquake Safety

Yes, you read that right—Oaxaca gets earthquakes.

Lots of them.

Most of the time, you won’t even know that an earthquake hit Oaxaca. But you can check this earthquake tracker to see the most recent seismic activity.

You might hear the city’s alarms go off should an earthquake strike. In that case, do your best to go outside, standing in a clear area away from buildings and power lines.

Earthquakes can also bring tsunamis. While you won’t have to worry about tsunamis in landlocked Oaxaca City, if you’re on the coast in Oaxaca state, it’s best to move to higher ground after an earthquake hits that’s large enough to feel.

Hurricane Season

Even though we’re exploring the question, “Is Oaxaca safe?” from the perspective of Oaxaca state’s capital city, Oaxaca City is close enough to the Pacific Ocean where hurricanes can affect its weather.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the hurricane season on Mexico’s Pacific coast lasts from May 15th to November 30th.

Personally, I wouldn’t change my Oaxaca plans because of the possibility of heavy rain or natural disasters like mudslides happening because of the potential for a hurricane to pass through.

As an article in Scientific American explains, although many storms form in the Pacific Ocean, they’re less likely to hit land because they tend follow a northwest track that moves them away from Mexico’s shoreline.

Furthermore, the water temperatures on Mexico’s Pacific coast are rarely warm enough to sustain a hurricane.

Nevertheless, I’d be remiss not to point out that hurricanes can and have damaged the Oaxaca region. For example, Hurricane Agatha caused serious damage across Oaxaca state at the end of May 2022, causing 11 casualties.

Are Protests Common in Oaxaca?

Protests aren’t common in the state of Oaxaca, but they do happen. Mexicans protest for similar reasons that people likely protest in your home country, such as wanting increased wages and raising awareness about inequality.

While protesters often have good intentions, such events can sometimes turn dangerous in Oaxaca.

If that happens, petty crimes like pickpocketing some pesos often go out the window in favor of more serious crimes like burning tires in the road, breaking into cars, etc.

For this reason, you should avoid any areas or neighborhoods where you see people protesting in Oaxaca. Even if the protest seems peaceful, it could become a safety risk.

Transportation in Oaxaca

Is Oaxaca safe transportation-wise? It absolutely is. Below are details on Oaxaca’s transportation safety.

Is it safe to take an Uber in Oaxaca?

Uber doesn’t operate in Oaxaca. However, you can use a local rideshare app like DiDi for Apple or Android, which has a good reputation for safety.

Note: If you’re planning on visiting the Yucatan while in Mexico, don’t take an Uber. Read my guide on Is Quintana Roo safe? for more details.

Is it safe to take a street taxi in Oaxaca?

It’s safest to call a taxi company rather than flag a taxi off the street in Oaxaca. That said, if you’re in a bind, I’d be more comfortable taking a street taxi in Oaxaca than, say, in Cancun or Mexico City.

Is it safe to drive in Oaxaca?

Yes, it’s safe to drive in Oaxaca. You’ll encounter potholes and drivers who believe they own the road, but there’s little risk of cartel-related road issues (excluding, of course, the areas where the DOS doesn’t permit government employees to travel).

Is it safe to take a bus in Oaxaca?

Taking the bus in Oaxaca is generally safe. In Oaxaca City, you’ll encounter colectivos (shared vans). If you’re staying in the tourist center, you might not need to use local transportation, though.

Longer-distance buses travel throughout Oaxaca and are generally well-maintained. However, Oaxaca is mountainous, so switchbacks and steep drop-offs abound.

I recommend booking an ADO bus if they operate the route you need. ADO’s buses are new, clean, and well-maintained. 

If you need to get anywhere that requires crossing through the Isthmus region or Federal Highway 200 northwest of Pinotepa, I recommend heeding the DOS’ warning and taking a flight instead of going at it by road.

A Note on Airport Transfers

The Oaxaca airport is a prime place for pirate taxis to linger, along with genuine taxi drivers who want to overcharge tourists.

For this reason, if you fly into Oaxaca 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 Oaxaca Safe From Cartel Crime?

The cartel operates in Oaxaca. But the chances are low of having a run-in with them as long as you’re not buying or selling drugs.

If you follow the law, mind your own business, and use common sense, you’ll be just fine.

Personally, I never felt the presence of the cartel during my time in Oaxaca.

And if you’ve been to popular tourist party destinations like Cancun and Playa del Carmen, you can likely relate to what I mean when I say “feel” the cartel. It’s hard not to feel the cartel’s presence when people are selling drugs in broad daylight.

Travel Tip: If you’re traveling to the Yucatan, don’t miss my articles on safety in Cancun, safety in Playa del Carmen, and safety in Quintana Roo. The bottom line if you don’t have time? Don’t take an Uber, and use common safety sense.

Is Oaxaca Safe for Independent Touring?

Oaxaca is very safe for touring independently.

I was born with a fierce sense of independence, preferring to wander off on my own and join small group day tours instead of having a tour guide hold my hand for the entire duration of my visit.

I felt completely safe doing so in Oaxaca.

My explorations took me meandering down small side streets in search of street art in Oaxaca Centro and visiting the ruins where the Zapotec indigenous people lived.

But I equally appreciate tours here and there to learn about the history of a destination. There’s no shortage of guided tour options in Oaxaca City. You can even book a food tour.

Is the Food in Oaxaca Safe?

Eating street food in Oaxaca is a bit of a gamble. If you’re like me and spend extended amounts of time in each place as you travel, I think trying Oaxaca’s street food scene is very much worth it.

However, it’s best to choose food stalls that people visit frequently. The food is more likely to be fresh that way.

It’s also wise to select street food stands where you watch them cook the food.

Spring days get hot in Oaxaca (from around March to May), so not consuming precooked food that’s been sitting outside for awhile is always a plus. More frequent rain in June keeps Oaxaca’s highs at bay, but you can still expect highs in the low 80s—at the least—year round.

So, what kinds of food can you (hopefully!) safely enjoy in Oaxaca?

Tacos, of course. Choose tacos with mole sauce if you want to eat like a true Oaxacan. Tlayudas, memelas, and enmoladas are other popular dishes.

The zocalo (main plaza) in Oaxaca City is a great place to try some street food, especially in the evenings.

But if you’re hesitant about picking up street food there or at the mercado (market), Oaxaca City offers plenty of amazing tourist-oriented restaurants where you can eat your heart out trying food in a more controlled sanitary environment.

Is the Tap Water Safe to Drink in Oaxaca?

A shelf of Epura water bottles.

The tap water isn’t safe to drink in Oaxaca City or elsewhere in Oaxaca state. In fact, Puerto Vallarta is one of the only cities in Mexico where the water is somewhat potable.

On the bright side, water bottles are cheap and plentiful in Oaxaca.

You can also use portable or larger store-bought water filters to ensure you’re drinking safe water.

Is Oaxaca Worth Visiting?

In my opinion, Oaxaca is very much worth visiting. Many tourists flock to Oaxaca City for the Day of the Dead.

But even if you travel to Oaxaca outside of this popular Mexican holiday, you’ll be able to enjoy beautiful colonial architecture, unique dishes that you can only find in this region of Mexico, and stunning natural scenery.

Oaxaca is also one of the safest states in Mexico. I felt much safer in Oaxaca than in places like Cabo and Guadalajara.

That’s not to say you should let your guard down, of course. But as long as you’re smart about it, you can expect to have a fun and safe time in Oaxaca.

How To Stay Safe in Oaxaca

Below are some basic safety precautions to take in Oaxaca. As you’ll see, there’s nothing unique about them—it’s wise to practice these tips regardless of where you travel in the world.

  • Don’t walk around showcasing expensive items 
  • Withdraw money from ATMs inside a bank, not street ATMs
  • Never carry around all of your credit cards and cash
  • Use a money belt
  • Don’t wear flashy jewelry
  • Ask trustworthy locals for advice
  • Don’t leave an unopened drink unattended
  • Take a taxi at night if you’re staying outside the tourist center
  • If you’re going to get inebriated, do so with a sober companion

Finally, trust your instinct. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

Other Safe Destinations in Mexico

I’ve explored much of Mexico as a solo female traveler and have felt safe in several other destinations in addition to Oaxaca.

Below are the other top places where I’ve felt the safest:

Should you be considering Cabo, learn why I don’t recommend it for solo female travelers.

The Bottom Line: Is Oaxaca Safe?

Is Oaxaca safe? The downtown area of Oaxaca offers excellent safety for tourists.

Oaxaca is one of the safest cities in Mexico. It has friendly locals, well-lit streets, and a vibrant atmosphere that welcomes visitors to enjoy its attractions.

That said, the safety of any city is constantly evolving. So, I encourage you to check the U.S. Department of State’s website prior to making your plans and before you get on that plane.

If you have questions about safety in Oaxaca, leave a comment, and I’ll do my best to help.

I’d love to hear from you after you return from your trip. How safe did you feel in Oaxaca? Do you have any tips or advice you’d like to share?

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