Most people who travel to Mexico have a wonderful time and don't encounter any problems. However, crime is a fact of life and as a tourist anywhere in the world, there's always the possibility that you may become a target. The best prevention is awareness of the situation and the risks you may face. Here's what you need to know to plan a safe trip to Mexico and how to increase your chances of having a safe and pleasant vacation while decreasing the risk of becoming a victim of crime.
- Due to COVID-19, the U.S. State Department is discouraging all international travel indefinitely.
- Before COVID-19, the State Department issued advisories to exercise increased caution in Mexico due to high rates of crime and kidnapping.
- The State Department also advises against travel to the states of Colima, Guerrero, Michoacán, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas and asks citizens to reconsider traveling to the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, Jalisco, México, Morelos, Nayarit, Nuevo Leon, San Luis Potosi, Sonora, and Zacatecas.
- The Canadian government also advises its citizens to "exercise a high degree of caution" and avoid non-essential travel in the states of Chihuahua, Colima, Coahuila, Guerrero, Michoacán, Morelos, Nayarit, Nueva León, Sinaloa, Sonora, and Tamaulipas. Many tourist centers like Zihuatanejo, Mazatlán, Manzanillo, and others are noted as exceptions.
Is Mexico Dangerous?
Generally, it's uncommon for travelers in busy tourist destinations like Cancun and Acapulco to experience violent crime, but petty theft is a possibility no matter where you go. Always take precautionary measures and keep your eyes on your belongings at all times. Some areas of Mexico experience much higher crime rates due to the activities of criminal organizations and drug cartels and travelers are advised to avoid the areas that have been flagged by the U.S. State Department. The Canadian government makes a few exceptions for large cities and resort towns within these areas, but as a general rule, you should avoid traveling to regions that have little to no tourist infrastructure and avoid taking public transportation whenever you can.
Is Kidnapping an Issue in Mexico?
Many of the horror stories that get passed through the travelers' grapevine about Mexico tend to be tales of kidnapping. While kidnapping is a legitimate problem in Mexico and reports even say that 99 percent of kidnappings go unreported, tourists are less frequently the targeted victims of kidnapping.
Many of the kidnappings that do occur are “express kidnappings,” in which a person is captured and held for 24 to 48 hours so that the criminals may withdraw cash from their debit or credit cards, maximizing the withdrawal limits imposed by banking institutions. There has also been an uptick in virtual kidnappings which is when a criminal places a call to a friend or family member claiming to have a loved one in their custody. To play it safe, be sure to research and vet any tour operator you might patronize, only take authorized taxis, and never give away personal information over the phone.
Is Mexico Safe for Solo Travelers?
Many people travel solo in Mexico without incident and it's a perfectly safe destination for those who stick to the main tourist thoroughfares. If you plan on traveling to multiple destinations in Mexico during your trip, it would be wise to fly rather than drive to avoid traveling through regions with markedly higher crime rates or which may be considered cartel territory.
When walking around alone, try to blend in as much as possible. You can avoid looking like a clueless tourist by keeping your camera tucked away and looking up your route beforehand, so you know where you're going. Make sure you know where your phone, wallet, and any other valuables are at all times and never leave them unattended. Try not to walk alone at night and find an alternative to using public transportation when you can.
Is Mexico Safe for Female Travelers?
Mexico is mostly safe for female travelers, however, women in Mexico often have to deal with catcalling and street harassment. Public transportation can also be a hazardous place for women and in Mexico City, there are women-only taxis, buses, and train carriages, which you can make use of to feel safer. To avoid unwanted male attention, some female travelers suggest wearing a ring on your wedding finger and sunglasses, which will make it easier to avoid eye contact.
Safety Tips for LGBTQ+ Travelers
Views on gay rights vary widely across Mexico and while some parts of the country are less tolerant, there are some states, including Mexico City, where same-sex marriage has been legalized. In 2020, the country was ranked at 49 on the Spartacus Gay Travel Index, which judges safety from the perspective of the local LGBTQ+ community and foreign travelers. However, there are also many destinations in Mexico that have excellent reputations for not just being gay-friendly but also have their own thriving and proud LGBTQ+ communities, such as Puerto Vallarta, Mexico City, and Playa Del Carmen. In areas like these, LGBTQ+ travelers are generally left alone and can feel free to show affection in public. However, in other parts of Mexico handholding and kissing might result in unwanted attention or homophobic comments from passersby.
Safety Tips for BIPOC Travelers
After the Caribbean, Mexico is the second most popular international destination among African American travelers. However, that doesn't mean the country isn't still struggling with issues surrounding colorism and racism and lighter-skinned Mexicans often enjoy more privileges than Mexicans with closer ties to their indigenous ancestors. Foreign BIPOC travelers are less likely to experience issues, but it can still happen.
Safety Tips for Travelers
While traveling in Mexico, travelers should take the following precautions to ensure that they do not become victims of violence or petty crime:
- While packing leave valuable items like expensive jewelry at home. If they're not essential, it's not worth taking the risk. Carry your passport, credit card, and extra cash inside your clothes in a money-belt, or leave them in your hotel's safe.
- Leave a copy of your itinerary with someone at home, but don't share details of your travel plans with other people you meet while traveling.
- At the airport and bus stations in Mexico City and other major cities, only use the services of authorized taxis.
- Ask your hotel manager or another knowledgeable person if there are some areas of the city you should avoid.
- Be cautious about drinking too much alcohol, and avoid recreational drugs, which, despite what you may have heard, are illegal in Mexico
- Police and military have legitimate checkpoints set up on roads and highways, in many cases to combat organized crime, however, there have been cases of criminal groups setting up false checkpoints. Regardless of whether you suspect the checkpoint is official or not, you should cooperate and avoid any actions that may be perceived to be suspicious or aggressive.
U.S. State Department. "COVID-19 Traveler Information."
U.S. Department of State. "Mexico Travel Advisory."
Government of Canada. "Mexico." August 19, 2020.
Quartz. "99% of kidnappings in Mexico went unreported last year." October 3, 2013.
World Nomads. "Kidnapping in Mexico: What's the Real Risk to Travelers?" February 6, 2019.
FBI. "Virtual Kidnapping." October 16, 2017.
Spartacus. "Gay Travel Index." March 3, 2020.
Globe News Wire. "African American Travel Represents a $63 Billion Opportunity." December 20, 2018.