In light of the history of drug-related crimes in Mexico's big border cities, safety is a valid concern when planning a trip. While foreign tourists are not typically targeted on purpose, they occasionally find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Visitors may become accidentally involved in carjackings, robbery, or—in rarer cases—fall victim to more violent crimes like kidnapping. Complicating the issue is the lack of news reports coming from the affected areas. The information that does trickle back indicates that crime is on the rise in border areas like Tijuana, Nogales, and Ciudad Juarez.
Despite the uptick in crime, though, Mexico remains a major tourist destination. Its proximity to the U.S. inspires about eight million Americans to flock to its beaches and cities every year. And most of them come back unscathed—likely, even, to book another trip. Your Mexican vacation is liable to be incident-free, too, but there are a few things to note before you go.
- An updated travel warning issued by the U.S. State Department in September 2020 cautioned of crime and kidnapping in certain parts of the country. "Violent crime—such as homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery—is widespread," the advisory says, but it's more dangerous in some places than others. The State Department recommends exercising "increased caution" in Baja California, Baja California Sur, and Mexico City, and asks tourists to "reconsider travel" to places like Chihuahua, Durango, Jalisco, and Coahuila. A "do not travel" order has been issued for Michoacán, Guerrero, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, and Colima.
- Although Mexico has lifted stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19, the CDC continues to issue a Level 4 Travel Health Notice for Mexico as of January 2021. Check the Department of State's COVID-19 page for more information.
On occasion, foreign tourists and workers have been deliberately targeted in armed robberies and exchanges of gunfire. The State Department has prohibited its own employees from entering casinos and adult entertainment establishments in some Mexican states due to heightened safety concerns. In addition, they must use apps like Lyft or Uber or order taxis at government-regulated taxi stands to obtain on-demand transportation services, and they are forbidden to travel from one city to another by road at night. The State Department strongly encourages U.S. citizens to "be alert to safety and security concerns when visiting the border region."
Is Mexico Dangerous?
Certain parts of Mexico are dangerous, yes, but the tourist-centric destinations—mostly the ones along the coast including Cancun, Tulum, and Cabo San Lucas—are generally safe to visit. The primary risk in these highly trafficked areas is petty crime like pickpocketing and tainted alcohol being served to tourists. Follow the State Department's recommendations on not drinking alone.
According to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, "express kidnapping" is also a concern. This constitutes short-term abductions in which the victims are either forced to withdraw money from an ATM to give to kidnappers or the victims' families are ordered to pay a ransom for their release.
Lastly, although cases of Zika virus in Mexico have been on the decline over the past few years, it still may be a worry for anyone who is pregnant or considering pregnancy as it has been strongly linked to birth defects.
Is Mexico Safe for Solo Travelers?
The idea of solo traveling in Mexico might make some people uncomfortable, but in reality, countless unaccompanied tourists have explored the country without any run-ins to report. That being said, it's important to take special precautions if you plan to go on the journey alone. Firstly, stick to tourist-popular destinations where other tourists and hospitality workers will have your back (Tulum, Puerto Escondido, Sayulita). Stay in hostels to meet fellow travelers and journey out in numbers whenever possible.
If you do visit some of the more dangerous areas (Mexico City, for instance), keep your possessions close—preferably in a money belt or a crossbody bag, not your back pocket—and stay in populated, well-lit areas.
Is Mexico Safe for Female Travelers?
In general, it's safe for women to travel to Mexico, but one can never be too cautious—travel in groups, if possible, and only during the day. Stick to populous, tourist-frequented areas and keep your possessions close. Travel blogger Adventurous Kate recommends dressing to "blend in" with the locals—"not to pass as Mexican," she points out, but to pass, rather, as a "longtime resident rather, not a tourist."
Safety Tips for LGBTQ+ Travelers
In May 2020, Reuters reported that Mexico had seen its deadliest year for LGBTQ+ people in half a decade. In 2019, a reported 117 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans people were murdered throughout the country, but none of them were identified as tourists. While there is some hostility toward the LGBTQ+ community, travelers remain relatively safe among other travelers. In fact, Puerto Vallarta has become somewhat of a gay mecca. With Mexico being a primarily Catholic country, many of its citizens are conservative when it comes to public displays of affection regardless of sexual orientation. To avoid any potential scrutiny, limit your PDA to LGBTQ+-friendly zones like gay bars, gay beaches, and Mexico City's gay-popular Zona Rosa neighborhood.
Safety Tips for BIPOC Travelers
Racism is an issue in Mexico, but not any more of an issue than it is in the U.S. In 2020, Condé Nast Traveler reported that many Black Americans were actually interested in moving to Tulum based on their experiences with racism in their home country. Attracting visitors from all over the world, Mexico's major resorts are something of a melting pot of ethnicities and cultures. BIPOC travelers need not worry too much about taking special safety precautions because of their race.
Safety Tips for Travelers
Mexico has much to offer as a vacation destination, including good value, a rich cultural heritage, and stunning scenery. If you're concerned about your safety, then exercise the normal caution required of any other vacation spot: Pay attention to your surroundings, wear a money belt, and avoid dark and deserted areas.
- One of the primary safety concerns in Mexico is actually a health concern: the water. Tap water in Mexico is not safe to drink (or brush your teeth in, or wash your produce in) because it can be contaminated by potentially deadly bacteria.
- Speaking of food and water contamination, the Centers for Disease Control recommends most travelers get a typhoid vaccination. All travelers should be vaccinated for measles and most travelers may also require the hepatitis A vaccine.
- The State Department says to "use toll roads when possible and avoid driving alone or at night," stating that "in many states, police presence and emergency services are extremely limited outside the state capital or major cities ."
- Avoid showing signs of wealth, such as wearing expensive clothes and jewelry.
- Consider enrolling in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which can help to locate you in an emergency.
OSAC. "Mexico 2020 Crime & Safety Report: Ciudad Juarez." Retrieved Jan 6, 2021.
U.S. State Department. "Mexico Travel Advisory." August 6, 2020.
The Washington Post. "State Dept. report on allegedly tainted alcohol in Mexico highlights red tape tourists face in emergencies." July 3, 2019.
UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. "Mexico."
Reuters. "Mexico sees deadliest year for LGBT+ people in five years." May 15, 2020.
Condé Nast Traveler. "For Black Americans, Moving Abroad Has a Different Appeal." August 17, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control. "Mexico Traveler View."