Is Jalisco safe to travel to? Safety is often a major concern for people planning a trip to Mexico.
The country doesn’t necessarily have the best reputation when it comes to safety and sometimes it can feel as though Mexico is frequently in the media for all of the wrong reasons. As someone who has lived in Mexico for the past couple of years, I can say that for the most part, the country’s “dangerous” reputation is undeserved and overplayed.
Sure, Mexico has its fair share of sketchy or dangerous areas but so too does virtually every country in the world. The reality of safety in Mexico is much more nuanced than people realize and the situation can vary significantly from state to state, city to city.
Even within specific cities, the situation can change dramatically from one barrio to another.
You might be concerned about your safety when traveling to Jalisco for the first time (whether you are traveling to tourist favorites like Puerto Vallarta, Guadalajara, and Lake Chapala, or more off-the-beaten-path cultural areas such as the villages in the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains). This article, written by a local expat aims to use data and experiences to address any concerns that you may have.
Is Jalisco Safe to Travel to in 2023?
The Mexican state of Jalisco in west-central Mexico is one of the most culturally rich and geographically diverse parts of the country. We can credit Jalisco for several notable contributions to Mexico’s culture, gastronomy, and music scenes.
Tequila hails from here (It is essentially a product of designated origin that is mostly produced around its namesake town of Tequila, Jalisco), as do mariachi and the charreria – Mexico‘s national sport which is comparable to the American rodeo.
The southern part of the state plays host to some of the most popular coastal destinations in the entire country. The ultra-popular beach town and expat hub of Puerto Vallarta awaits here, along with the more upscale coastal zones of Mismaloya and Costa Careyes, while the wider region makes an excellent jump-off point for Mezcales and Sayulita in neighboring Nayarit.
Though Guadalajara is not without its problems, Mexico’s second-largest city is rapidly emerging as one of the hottest alternative weekend break destinations in Latin America, and its Colonia Americana district was recently voted as the “best neighborhood in the world”.
One of the main deterrents for traveling here is perhaps the travel warnings that the US government has in place for Jalisco and the fact that it is currently outlined as a place that you should “reconsider travel to due to crime and kidnapping”.
You definitely need more assertiveness and awareness of your surroundings in Jalisco compared to when traveling in other countries. (And even when traveling in other parts of Mexico such as the safest states of Campeche and the Yucatan).
But it certainly isnt a case that you have to write the state off either. It is mostly a matter of knowing which areas are safe to venture to and which are not, which I appreciate is trickier than that sounds.
Read your government travel advice before traveling to Jalisco
It is always a good idea to check your country’s government travel advice before traveling anywhere for the first time and the same rings true of visiting Jalisco. The US government travel advisory awards a rating for each of Mexico’s 31 states based on one of four categories depending on the perceived safety of the area.
Campeche and the Yucatan are considered the safest states in Mexico. Several states are recognized as places where you should “exercise increased caution”, several (including Jalisco) are flagged as places where you should reconsider travel to, and a handful are on the “do not travel” list.
The travel warnings for Jalisco are alarming but you cannot provide a sweeping generalisation of the safety situation for the whole state. Tourist areas like Puerto Vallarta tend to have heightened security and are kept safe
Kidnapping and violence are cited as the main reasons that you should reconsider traveling to Jalisco and while violent crime across the state is on the rise, it is mostly restricted to incidents between criminal groups. As a tourist, your main concerns are things like petty theft and tourist scams.
Kidnappings and disappearances in Jalisco
It can be extremely alarming to read about kidnappings and disappearances in Jalisco and you could easily half terrify yourself to death prior to your trip by reading articles about “the disappeared”. (I know I did that before my first trip to Guadalajara).
Unfortunately, Jalisco is the Mexican state with the highest number of missing persons as well as, more disturbingly, the highest number of clandestine grave sites in the country.
At present, there are close to 15,000 people reported missing in Jalisco, although the real numbers could be much higher.
Unfortunately, because the Mexican government is not well equipped to investigate disappearances and does not proactively search for people reported missing nor investigate leads about potential criminals, most reports go unsolved. More than 100,000 families across Mexico have had a loved one disappear and many take it upon themselves to form search parties and dig in rural areas to search for their remains.
While this is upsetting, it is important to note that kidnappings mostly only affect Mexicans who are involved with the cartel. Reports found that 80% of victims were male and 20% were female.
Are tourists at risk of kidnappings in Jalisco?
When you see posts about someone’s friend or relative never making it home from work/school, etc., as upsetting as it is, most of them had connections with organized crime groups, worked as a teen hitman or sicario, went to meet someone about a potential job offer, etc.
Cases of mistaken identity can happen but are not common. As a tourist, you are not going to be scooped up out of your hotel bed in the middle of the night and kidnapped.
There was recently a high-profile case in Jalisco in which 5 men were kidnapped on their way to a concert and brutally killed. Even worse, their violent murder was documented in a video that went viral on social media with one of the men being forced to torture and kill his friends.
However, they had been offered a job in the cartel and were on their way to meet with them. They were kidnapped in an area that was rife with cartel activity.
Obviously, they didn’t deserve what happened to them, and the fact that many people in Mexico are drawn to the glamorized narco lifestyle because the opportunities provided to them are limited is a different discussion for another day.
However, it is important to provide context because as long as you don’t go looking for trouble in Mexico and getting involved with cartels or unscrupulous individuals, trouble will not go looking for you.
Safe Destinations in Jalisco
In the last few years of living in Mexico, I have traveled extensively across the state of Jalisco. I have done this both independently as a solo female traveler in Mexico and with my partner who is Mexican.
In 2022, I took a solo trip to Guadalajara, Lake Chapala, Ajijic, and Puerto Vallarta, before returning to the area for several months in 2023 while looking to buy a house in Mexico. Using Puerto Vallarta as a base, I also traveled to several of the villages along the Ruta Peregrino. (San Sebastian del Oeste, Mascota, Yerbabuena, Santa Rosa and Navidad).
You will find some brief overviews on some of the safest places in Jalisco below, as well as some practical tips for keeping safe in each area and making the most of your trip. I will add more to this as I continue to explore more of the state.
- Puerto Vallarta
- San Sebastian del Oeste
- Guadalajara (some areas are safe)
- Lake Chapala
- Talpa de Allende
The coastal city of Puerto Vallarta is a popular beach destination of choice for many international travelers. Puerto Vallarta, on the whole, is a safe city, and the local authorities tend to go above and beyond to make tourists feel safe and secure in popular travel destinations like this.
There are some gorgeous upscale hotels and resorts in the upscale district of Conchas Chinas (the “Beverly Hills” of Puerto Vallarta), and many excellent beachfront hotels in Versailles, Playa Gloria, and downtown Vallarta.
Zona Romantica is Vallartas LGBTQI+ district known for its open-minded atmosphere and fun nightlife and there are bars and clubs to suit every taste here and along the beachfront Malecon. Puerto Vallarta is safe as long as you use the same common sense precautions that you would elsewhere.
Even more “local” ungentrified districts like El Pitillal are safe, and you can also feel comfortable in nearby Nuevo Vallarta, Mezcales, and Bahia de Banderas in Nayarit. Many areas in Puerto Vallarta are quite gentrified and their restaurants and businesses specifically cater to tourists.
English is widely spoken and you will always see plenty of other English-speaking tourists around.
San Sebastian del Oeste
San Sebastian del Oeste is a charming little village and “pueblo magico” in the Sierra Madre mountains about an hour and a half’s drive from Puerto Vallarta. The houses and buildings in this cute little town are typically made of stone and adorned with burgundy tile roofs.
Like many Mexican towns and villages, everything is centered around a main plaza (zocalo) which often hosts events and performances. The little cobblestone streets that veer off from it are a photographer’s dream and twist and turn to reveal gorgeous mountain views and quaint artisanal stores, coffee shops, and eateries.
The mountainous, high-altitude location means that the town enjoys cooler, more temperate climates than coastal Jalisco. When it is a hot humid 98°F day in Puerto Vallarta, it is often a temperate 77°F in San Sebastian and significantly cooler at night.
These conditions are a large part of the appeal. Part of the joy of visiting San Sebastian del Oeste is simply found in taking the time to get lost and enjoy the slower pace of life in rural Mexico.
Visit the 17th-century Church of San Sebastian Martyr and its adjacent museum, shop for cocoa and cinnamon-infused artisanal coffee at Cafatalera La Quinta Mary, and if you are searching for a little more adrenaline, rent an ATV and whizz up the side of the nearby mountain of La Bufa.
It can be quite intimidating when events are hosted here as there is often a large, armed police presence. However, this is for everyone’s security and is fairly normal in Mexico. It is not because this little village is especially dangerous.
Guadalajara is Mexico’s second-largest city and it’s a magical one. The modern city dates back to 1542 when it was founded by Spanish Conquistadors who declared it as the capital of the “Nuevo Galicia” region of the country.
Many of the city’s main attractions and highlights center around the Zona Centro and the Catedral de Guadalajara. However what also makes Guadalajara special are the city’s various different neighborhoods, each of which have their own distinct personalities and are like little villages in themselves.
Mercado San Juan de Dios is the largest covered marketplace in Latin America and is worth a browse through. However, it is a prime spot for pickpockets so if you decide to visit, be sure to keep an eye on your personal belongings and ideally keep your bag in front of you, rather than slung over one shoulder.
It is better not to wear expensive sunglasses, jewelry, or anything valuable inside that could potentially be snatched off you or make you a target. You need to be careful where you walk in Guadalajara as “safe” areas border less than safe or downright dangerous ones so you cannot just wander randomly as you could in Europe for instance.
The center of town essentially runs from Avenue Juarez to Parque Alcade/Museo Panteon de Belen and it is safe during the day but you should use Uber and avoid walking at night, especially if you are traveling alone.
The Chapalita and Americana districts are relatively safe, although phone snatchings are a problem on Avenida Chapultepec so you need to constantly be aware of your surroundings. Exercise caution around the Centro Viaje station.
Colonia del Fresno is not safe and should be avoided completely.
Tlaquepaque is a pueblo magico located just east of Guadalajara. It is best known for its El Parian Square where live mariachi perform in front of delighted crowds every day.
Mariachi bands have been performing here for centuries and the area is credited with being one of the pioneers in helping the music grow in popularity during its early days. There are some gorgeous, centuries-old catholic churches here that are worth visiting to admire their vibrant frescoes and ornate decor within, and the main promenade (Calle Independencia) is lined with artisanal stores that showcase the works of local artists and independent clothing designers.
El Parian and Calle Independencia are relatively safe. However, you should beware of some of the bars and restaurants that circle the mariachi bandstand as there are countless reports of people short-changing tourists, charging exorbitant prices (like $80 USD for a tequila cantarito), or charging a different price to that which was listed on the menu).
Southern Tlaquepaque and the El Cerro del Cuatro area are not safe and should be avoided, especially at night.
Mascota is a beautiful pueblo magico that sits in the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountains. It is approximately 2.5 hours away from Puerto Vallarta and an hour from San Sebastian del Oeste, respectfully.
The US government previously issued travel warnings for the stretch of road between San Sebastian del Oeste and Mascota after an incident involving the cartels that happened many years ago. Fortunately as of 2023, they have removed this warning.
My partner and I recently did a road trip around the rural villages around Mascota and this drive (and the town itself) felt completely safe. It is a beautiful route along stretches of winding roads that hug narrow mountain passes, with rolling hills as far as the eye can see.
Mascota was founded by the Spanish in 1790 and its historic center contains many colorful colonial-era structures and cobbled streets that are reminiscent of Campeche City or Merida in the Yucatan. If you are renting a car in Mexico, you can also use Mascota as a base to visit other smaller nearby villages such as Yerbabuena, Santa Rosa, and Navidad.
Lake Chapala is Mexico’s largest freshwater lake and it sits approximately an hour away from Guadalajara. The area has established itself as one of the most popular places in Mexico for retired expats from the United States and Canada, and there is an interesting culture here as many of the cafes and restaurants that encircle the lake serve Western food, rather than Mexican cuisine.
For just a few hundred pesos, you can have one of the local fishermen take you out onto the lake for a boat tour. This experience is especially magical at night time.
This area is very safe and if you are nervous about traveling in Mexico for the first time, it can feel reassuring to see other westerners around. Various sources claim that the water here is safe for swimming in, but you should stick to designated beach areas as much of the water is contaminated.
Neighboring Ajijic is also very safe and is renowned for boasting some of the best street art in Jalisco. For just a few pesos, you can take a bus here and visit both places in a day.
One of the best day trips you can take from Puerto Vallarta or Guadalajara is an excursion to the town of Tequila, known for being the home of Mexico’s national alcoholic beverage. Once here, you can organize a tasting and a tour of both famous and lesser-known distilleries and watch street performers in the Plaza Principal de Tequila.
From Guadalajara, you can opt to take the Jose Cuervo train – a 2.5-hour old-fashioned train ride that rolls along through rolling hills of bright blue agave plants. The Jose Cuervo distillery, known as “La Rojena” is both the largest distillery in the world, as well as the world’s largest producer of tequila.
The Casa Suaza distillery is another more budget-friendly and lesser-known option. Tequila is very safe and the town is visited by dozens of domestic and international tourists every day.
Just be mindful of your alcohol intake and be careful not to drink to excess.
Areas to exercise extra caution in Jalisco
While there are lots of wonderful areas in Jalisco, there are also plenty of places where you need to be a little more careful too. Zapopan is an interesting city just northwest of Guadalajara, and if you are trying to find places to stay in Guadalajara on a budget, you will often find that the hotels here are better value. Unfortunately, the crime rates here are high.
Back in summer 2022, there was a short wave of violence when the Jalisco New Generation cartel was putting roadblocks on the street and setting cars on fire. This sort of thing is not common, but it is worth checking what the situation is before you decide to travel here.
Mazamitla is a beautiful spot 80 miles south of Guadalajara that is often known as the “Switzerland of Mexico” on account of its pristine natural beauty, rolling hills, and cooler climates. However, in 2022, there were several shootouts in tourist areas that led to foreign travelers being required to flee.
For a period, more security personnel and police were sent to the area and although this resulted in an initial decrease in crime, violence has started to creep up again with the personnel being reassigned elsewhere.
Areas to avoid in Jalisco
You should avoid areas that run close to the Zacatecas border in Northern Jalisco, and close to the borders with Colima and Michoacan. The US government travel advice advises against US government employees traveling along Federal Highway 110 between Tuxpan, Jalisco, and the Michoacan border and Federal Highway 80 south of Cocula.
In reality, this advice is best heeded by anyone traveling to Jalisco. These areas do not offer any points of tourist interest.
The UK government has travel warnings in place for some of the northern areas of Colotlán, Hostotipaquillo, Villa Guerrero, Santa María de los Ángeles, San Martin de Bolaños, Bolaños, Chimaltitán, Huejuquilla el Alto, Huejúcar, Totatiche and Mezquitic. Lagos de Moreno is the place where five young men got kidnapped recently and as a place with a lot of cartel activity, it is also best avoided.
Tips for Keeping Safe in Jalisco
Traveling in Mexico is not necessarily as daunting as it may sound but you do need to be more assertive and aware of your surroundings here than you do in other parts of the world. Outside of Puerto Vallarta and touristic parts of central Guadalajara, Chapala, and Tequila, English is not widely spoken so a little Spanish goes a long way.
Some useful tips to help you stay safe during your time here are detailed below.
Be careful when taking taxis
“Express kidnappings” are a concern in Mexico, even if they are not ultra-common. This happens when an unsuspecting tourist gets into a street cab, and the cab driver calls their friends and has them enter the vehicle.
The tourist is held at gun/knife point and forced to hand over their valuables and the assailants will usually drive around forcing the person to withdraw the maximum amount of cash from their ATMs until they are rinsed dry. For this reason, most Mexicans prefer to use apps like Uber, Didi, and Indrive – as there is more accountability than when getting into a random street taxi.
After all, with ridesharing apps, you can see the driver’s rating, past reviews, name, and license plate numbers. You simply don’t have that with a street taxi.
In Puerto Vallarta, you will find trusted taxi ranks around Mezcales, El Pitillal, Versailles, Las Glorias, and the Romantic Zone. Because the city is so popular with tourists, you can often take yellow cabs here with no problem, although they are still often more expensive than Uber.
If you don’t use Uber or don’t feel comfortable using it and you want to order a cab in other parts of Jalisco, it is best to ask your hotel to call a trusted driver for you.
Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta airport cabs
Ubers can collect you from Guadalajara airport, but in Puerto Vallarta, you need to walk a little distance from the airport, down Boulevard Francisco Medina Ascencio as only licensed cabs can pick you up from the airport directly. Unfortunately, a lot of airport tax drivers charge exorbitant prices and make up a price on the spot, often assuming that as a tourist you do not know the correct going rate.
Always insist they turn on their meters and opt for Uber where you can.
Mexico car rental scams
If you are planning on renting a car in Puerto Vallarta or Guadalajara, you need to look out for a popular car insurance scam. This is an issue across Mexico as a whole and not just in Jalisco.
Often, tourists may reserve a rental car and they may either have rental insurance with their credit card already, or they may purchase third-party insurance at the time of booking. Sometimes, they arrive at the rental office to find that the rental company tries to upsell their insurance and often flat out refuses to let them take the rental car unless they purchase their specific insurance – even if their own insurance is perfectly valid!
Always try and opt for well-established car rental providers like Avis and Hertz, rather than unknown local firms, check past reviews, and use a trusted booking platform like Discover Cars Mexico where possible.
Purchase bottled water for drinking
It is not safe to drink tap water in Jalisco (or anywhere in Mexico for that matter). Although it is purified at the source, it often gets contaminated en route to your tap and may contain any manner of parasites, bacteria, and other contaminants.
Even Mexicans don’t drink the water in Mexico. Most hotels will provide you with a couple of complimentary bottles of water for each night of your stay and larger bottles can be purchased from Oxxo and other convenience stores and supermarkets for just a few dollars.
Natural disasters in Jalisco
Hurricane season along Mexico’s Pacific Coast runs from June to mid-October. However, fatal or destructive storms are rare and this usually just means heavy showers throughout the day, particularly at the end of August and in September.
There is a lot of seismic activity in Mexico and earthquakes are a cause for concern in Mexico City in particular. There have been a couple of smaller earthquakes and tremors in Puerto Vallarta in 2022 and 2023 but nothing major.
Is Jalisco Safe? FAQs
Do you have any further questions about the safety of traveling to Jalisco? The answers to some frequently asked questions on the topic are detailed below for your consideration.
Hopefully, you will find the information that you are looking for to assuage any concerns that you may have there. If not, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.
How safe is Jalisco for tourists?
Some parts of Jalisco such as Puerto Vallarta, Mismaloya, and the pueblo magicos of San Sebastian del Oeste and Mascota are very safe for tourists. Places like Guadalajara, Mazamitla, and Tlaquepaque can be enjoyable places to explore if you exert some precautions although they are perhaps best reserved for more seasoned travelers who can speak a little Spanish.
There are definitely areas that you need to avoid although you are unlikely to stumble into them accidentally as a tourist and they don’t offer anything of interest anyway. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as saying yes Jalisco is safe or no it isnt, as the safety situation varies substantially across the state.
Is the cartel in Jalisco Mexico?
Cartels are present in much of Mexico but generally speaking, if you don’t go looking for trouble here, trouble won’t go looking for you. The Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) is the most prominent crime group here and they also operate in neighboring Nayarit.
Is Jalisco safe? Final thoughts
There are a lot of magical places to explore in Jalisco and having personally traveled to 11 states, it remains one of my favorites. It would be a shame to miss out on exploring this region out of fear, but at the same time, you need to do your research before visiting the different parts of the state.
I hope that this article has helped you make an informed decision about your upcoming travels to Mexico. I have been living in Merida since January 2022 and I’m happy to assist if you need anything else.
Have a safe trip and enjoy Jalisco. Buen Viaje! Melissa xo