Is Mazatlan safe to travel to in 2023 and beyond? The matter of safety is likely to be high on your list of concerns if you are planning a trip to the coastal city of Mazatlan.
After all, the city sits in Sinaloa state which has been issued with a “do not travel” warning by various global governments for years now. The sheer mention of traveling to Sinaloa makes a lot of people anxious, and many more people are worried about whether Mexico is safe to visit on the whole.
Safety in this part of the world is complex. The situation varies from state to state and city to city and you cannot generalize the whole of Mexico with one brush sweep.
The beautiful city of Mazatlan is safe to visit provided that you take precautions. It is similar to many other parts of the world in this regard.
Mazatlan is a popular tourist destination. So, like in other popular areas like Cancun and Puerto Vallarta, the government and tourism board have gone to great lengths to ensure the comfort, safety, and security of those that visit.
Mazatlan, along with the northern Sinaloa city of Los Mochis, the pueblo magic of El Fuerte, the coastal town of Topolobampo, and several other Sinaloa settlements along the El Chepe route, is one of the safest parts of the state.
Is Mazatlan safe to visit in 2023? Things to Consider
Mazatlan can be a safe place to visit. But traveling in Mexico and Latin America generally requires more assertiveness and awareness of your surroundings than traveling around Greek islands, for example.
A few things that you need to consider before traveling to Mazatlan are detailed below.
Read your government travel advice before traveling
It is a good idea to read your country’s government travel advice before traveling to Mazatlan and wider Mexico. The same is true when you travel anywhere.
Government travel pages can provide you with some insight into the safety situation in certain countries, their entry requirements, any recent conflicts or events, and any health/weather issues to note. The US government travel advisory for Sinaloa (and Mexico generally) is quite intimidating.
It states that Sinaloa has a level four travel warning. It then goes on to warn:
“Do not travel to Sinaloa due to crime and kidnapping. Violent crime is widespread. Criminal organizations are based in and operating in Sinaloa. U.S. citizens and LPRs have been victims of kidnapping”.
This is terrifying. However, the US travel advice for Mexico on the whole sounds strict and is almost a deterrent.
Keep the warnings in mind, but don’t let them deter you from traveling somewhere that you really want to visit. The U.K. government travel advice for Sinaloa is more liberal.
It advises against travel to Sinaloa outside of “safe” tourist zones of which Mazatlan and Los Mochis are included.
Do thorough research on where to stay and explore
Before traveling to Mazatlan, it pays to do a little research on the best areas to stay and the hotels within them. Mazatlan is a historic port city whose colonial old town has been lovingly and beautifully restored to its former glory.
Centro Historico Mazatlan
The “Centro Historico” is filled with colorful buildings that have been painted in virtually every color of the rainbow. Many of these old buildings have been converted into quirky coffee shops, traditional Mexican restaurants, artisanal shops, clothing stores showcasing the works of local designers, and boutique hotels.
If you like history and culture and you are looking to stay in an independent hotel that is full of personality, away from your typical cookie-cutter hotel room, you will love the selection of properties available in old Mazatlan. The Malecon and the seafront promenade of Mazatlan extend across several neighborhoods.
Safe coastal areas to consider in Mazatlan
Loma Linda, Los Pinos, and Olas Altas all offer gorgeous waterfront properties overlooking the glittering waters of the pacific. There is something here to suit every budget.
The coastal communities of Playa Sur and Playa Norte are often overlooked by tourists but are also safe places to base yourself if you want to escape the crowds. (There is a more limited selection of options here.)
If you want to be in the heart of the action, Zona Dorada (“the golden zone” is a popular choice. However, do keep in mind that most of the restaurants and businesses here cater to American tourists, rather than offering an insight into Mexican culture and traditions.
But that may suit you if you are looking for a beach getaway with home comforts. It all depends on what you are looking for!
The golden sandy beach at Zona Dorada is a wonderful place to swim, snorkel, or laze on the shore with a good book. The vast and diverse selection of restaurants here serves everything from international cuisine to traditional Mexican dishes.
Zona Dorada’s nightlife is also second to none.
Always read past reviews of hotels you are considering
When you have chosen a hotel that you like the look of, it is always a good idea to check past reviews. This is particularly important if you are on a tight budget and you are looking at hotels with a low nightly cost.
It is also important if you are a solo female traveler that is concerned about their safety. Check the reviews listed on Google, as well as on booking platforms such as TripAdvisor and Booking.com.
Follow any recent local developments
Keep an eye on any local developments and events that unfold in the area. Aside from crime involving local groups that are ongoing, things are fine here most of the time.
Or at least, they are until they are not and political events or other situations can cause violence to unfold rapidly. In January 2023, Ovidio Guzman, son of Sinaloa cartel crime boss “El Chapo” was captured by the authorities.
This resulted in an outbreak of violence across the state. People were setting cars on fire, looting homes etc.
A shelter-in-place warning was issued for tourists in Mazatlan and flights were even grounded for several days after people in Culiacan started firing guns at Mexican airlines as flights took off.
If you had traveled to Mazatlan in the months preceding this rare occurrence, everything would have been calm and fine. Follow the local news and government travel advice before and during your trip.
If something should happen, stay calm and follow the instructions provided by your country’s embassy.
Be mindful of your personal belongings
Realistically speaking, if you are a victim of a crime in Mazatlan, it is likely to be a petty crime such as pickpocketing or bag snatching. Always keep an eye on your personal belongings, particularly in crowded areas and marketplaces.
In bustling local markets it is a good idea to hold your backpack securely in front of you. Never leave your bag, luggage, laptop, etc unattended in a restaurant, bar, or coffee shop, even momentarily.
You may want to consider buying a theft-proof backpack such as those offered by Pacsafe. (If you travel frequently, this is a worthwhile investment).
These backpacks come in different designs and colors and can be as stylish and functional as any other backpack. They are a little more expensive, sure.
But they come with additional safety features. For instance, they are slash-proof, and water-proof, come with additional waterproof covers, and have an inbuilt TSA-approved mesh locking system.
They also come with a lifetime warranty so you definitely get your money’s worth out of your investment.
Purchase comprehensive travel insurance
It is a good idea to purchase comprehensive travel insurance wherever you travel and the same rings true of traveling to Mazatlan. iI is important to note that due to the fact that the state of Sinaloa is on the do not travel list for the United States and several other countries, not every travel insurance provider will cover you for travel to the region.
If you already have Global coverage, do check the small print to make sure that your insurance provider covers you for traveling to Mazatlan.
Look for travel insurance policies that have comprehensive medical coverage. Unfortunately in life, we can never really know what is around the corner and today’s health is not promised tomorrow.
A good policy will have at least a million dollars worth of medical coverage. There are some excellent public and private hospitals in Sinaloa and in wider Mexico should you be unlucky enough to need assistance.
However, despite the fact that medical care is cheaper in Mexico than it is in the United States, medical bills here can soon add up so it’s important to make sure that you are covered. A good insurance plan will also cover additional extras such as potential loss or theft of baggage and electronics, repatriation, etc.
You should also double-check to see exactly what kind of activities your insurance policy covers. For example, things such as diving or even hiking, are often classified by insurers as adventure sports and may not be covered in a standard plan.
When you purchase your travel insurance for Sinaloa, make sure that you print out the first page of your policy or write down your reference number. This will be the first thing that you are asked for should you need assistance overseas.
Use the same common sense you would anywhere else
One of the main ways to stay safe in Mazatlan is to simply follow the same common sense precautions that you would anywhere else in the world. If you have traveled to any other parts of Latin America or any other large cities in the US/the world, these may be things that come naturally to you.
For example, don’t walk alone at night, watch your alcohol intake (particularly if traveling alone), be mindful of your surroundings, and make sure that you know which neighborhoods you are wandering into. As a rule of thumb, it is generally a good idea to dress modestly in Mexico and avoid flashing the cash and wearing expensive clothing, jewelry, or designer accessories.
Similarly, It is best not to walk around with an expensive camera hanging around your neck. Taking these small steps is the best way to avoid being the victim of criminal activity.
Using ATMs and keeping your money safe
If you need to withdraw money in Mexico, be mindful about which ATMs you use. Generally speaking, it is safer for you to use ATMs that are inside banks or shopping malls.
Standalone machines are more likely to have been tampered with. Try to avoid using ATMs at night and always be aware of who is around you. Try not to withdraw too much cash.
Approximately 4,000 pesos is the maximum that you want to be carrying around with you. It is a good idea to store most of your cash in one specific wallet, and then have a little money that you need for each day stored in a little coin purse.
That way, when you go to pay for something, people won’t see that you have wads of notes in your purse or wallet. When renting a car, booking local excursions, paying for your hotel, or shopping locally for souvenirs, etc. credit cards are the best type of cards to use.
They offer an additional level of protection and insurance compared to debit cards. It is a good idea to travel with multiple bank cards.
Keep one, along with $50 USD or so in emergency cash hidden deep in the bottom of your suitcase. That way, if you should be so unlucky as to lose your other cards or have them stolen, you know that you have a way to access your money.
Is Mazatlan safe for solo travelers?
Mazatlan can be safe for solo travelers including solo females. However, you need to take additional precautions and be alert to your surroundings as you will likely attract more attention as a solo traveler.
Fortunately, Mazatlan is increasing in popularity as a travel destination with every passing year, particularly among American travelers. If you are traveling solo, you will find it relatively easy to meet fellow travelers if you hope to be sociable during your trip.
There are several Mazatlan hostels in the city where you can opt to stay in a dorm room or in a low-cost private room. You can also meet fellow Travelers by browsing through Facebook groups catered to travelers and expats in Mexico.
Since tourism is a big part of the industry here, if you are around old Mazatlan, the Zona Dorada, and the Malecon, you won’t really attract concerned looks or prolonged gazes by traveling alone. Locals are used to seeing tourists.
However, if you head out into the towns and Villages surrounding Mazatlan or you venture to rural areas in Sinaloa, you may find that a lot of people look at you with interest. This can be intimidating.
However, it is important to remember that this is generally just curiosity because people are not accustomed to seeing International tourists in Sinaloa outside of the main hubs. Most of the time they do not have any ill feelings or negative intentions.
Is Mazatlan safe for solo female travelers?
Solo female travel in Mexico is generally safe with precautions. You should definitely never let your gender make you feel that something is out of bounds for you.
Although Mazatlan is more accustomed to international tourism than say, Culiacan, a solo female traveler is not the most common sight here. You may find that you attract a lot of looks and attention that may make you feel uncomfortable.
This is often just general curiousness rather than anything sinister. (Ie it’s not usually even men staring in a lecherous way, but abuelitas and people of all ages looking over with curiosity.)
But when you enter a room or a mall and you feel like all eyes are on you, it isn’t the most pleasant, especially when you are trying not to draw attention to yourself.
Sinaloan women tend to dress slightly more conservatively when they are not at the beach. They dress in T-shirts and jeans even when it’s hot, partly so as to avoid male attention and harassment.
This is an unfortunate reality of a place that still has a way to go to eliminate the patriarchy. Of course, as a woman, you should be able to dress however you, please.
However, it is often worth following their example for your own comfort. (This article and entire website have been written by a woman who lives in and has traveled solo across Mexico including Sinaloa.)
Catcalling and silly noises/comments are best ignored. You never really know what someone’s mental state is and so, it is better not to confront them. Ignore it and don’t let it ruin your day.
Kidnapping risk in Mazatlan
The U.S. Department of State warning about being at risk of kidnapping in Sinaloa is terrifying. In reality, the chances of this happening are extremely slim.
If you read up on parts of Mexico like Sinaloa and Guadalajara, you will hear numerous stories of people that have gone missing without a trace. However, most of these people have links to organized crime groups and cartels which are prominent in both areas.
If you don’t go looking for trouble, trouble won’t go looking for you. Kidnapping for ransom affects only wealthy Mexicans and takes a lot of planning and execution.
You are not simply going to be plucked out of your hotel room one night.
Is Mazatlan safe? FAQs
Do you have any further questions or concerns about whether Mazatlan is safe to travel to? The answers to some frequently asked questions are detailed below.
Hopefully, you will find the information you are looking for there. If not, feel free to reach out!
Can you drink the water in Mazatlan?
You cannot drink the water in Mazatlan or anywhere in Mexico for that matter. Although it is purified at the source, tap water often gets contaminated en route and poses a serious risk of making you sick.
You need to purchase bottled water here. Most hotels and Airbnb will provide you with a couple of complimentary bottles of water for each day of your stay.
Some resorts in Mazatlan may have potable water on site but do ask first. (If they do, there will be a sign saying “agua potable”).
It is not just that you cannot drink the water in Mexico because you are not used to it like in other countries. It is not clean or sanitary and even Mexicans do not drink it.
If you are staying in self-catered accommodation in Mazatlan, note that the water is safe to consume once it’s boiled. (I.e. you’re perfectly fine to boil pasta or rice using it). Most people in Mexico purchase large, multi-liter bottles of water known as “garafones”.
To reduce plastic waste during your trip, consider investing in a reusable water bottle such as a Lifestraw. Then, you can purchase a large 1 or 2-liter bottle from the store and fill it up as you go.
These bottles keep your water cold throughout the day. And every single purchase provides a year’s worth of clean water for a child in a developing nation.
Is Mazatlan safe: final thoughts
Is Mazatlan safe to travel to? It can be with precautions.
This website contains some of the most comprehensive travel guides to Sinaloa that exist anywhere. It has been written by a female expat who has traveled extensively across Mexico including Sinaloa.
My partner is Mexican and from Sinaloa. This article tries to provide an objective view of safety in Mazatlan as compared to other popular parts of the country such as the Riviera Maya, Cabo, Mexico City, etc.