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, you’re clearly 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 statistic-backed facts and personal experience to help you understand the nuances of safety in Oaxaca.
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
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.
|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 Oaxaca: What the U.S. Department of State Says
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.
|1||Exercise normal precautions|
|2||Exercise increased caution|
|4||Do 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
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
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
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?
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.
Safety in Oaxaca 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.
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.
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?
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 with the bus company ADO 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.
Is the Cartel in Oaxaca?
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.
Is the Water Safe to Drink in Oaxaca?
The 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.
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?
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?
Laura has been wandering the globe for over a decade. She’s an early bird and backpacker at heart and can often be spotted with a dog or ten that she’s befriended along the way. Much of the content Laura writes on A Piece of Travel includes details on wheelchair accessibility, with the support of her brother-in-law and sister. You can learn about their accessibility endeavors here.