When people start planning or considering their first trip to Mexico, one of the first things that they stop to think about is whether or not they will be safe. Unfortunately, Mexico hasn’t historically been associated with safety, and the country is not always portrayed in the best light in international media.
As someone who has spent the last few years living in Mexico and has just bought a house here, I often feel that the “dangerous” stereotype of the country is unfair and often massively overplayed. Mexico is one of the most popular international travel destinations in the world and millions of people enjoy relaxing, trouble-free trips here every year.
The reality is that while travelling to Mexico does sometimes require a little more common sense than travelling to places like the Greek islands, or mainland Europe, it really isn’t the terrifying place that the US media makes it out to be.
I am a British Travel Writer living in Mexico. I moved to Merida, Yucatan in January 2022 and I have travelled to 13 Mexican states over the last two years, including a number of non-conventional destinations, mostly as a solo female traveller.
In this post, we will take a look at everything you need to know about the situation in Mexico and some practical tips on how you can stay safe. If at the end you still have any questions or concerns, you are welcome to connect with me on social media or drop me a comment.
Is Mexico Safe to Travel to in 2024?
Mexico can be a safe place to travel to provided that you take precautions and use your head.
It is important to note that Mexico is a very vast country made up of 32 different states. The safety situation can vary substantially from state to state, and city to city.
When you read about violent things happening in Mexico, they usually happen in parts of the country that you would never visit as a tourist anyway. Tourist destinations like Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta and the Yucatan peninsula are kept safe and have an extra security presence because the Mexican government wants to ensure the safety of visitors to Mexico (and tourism is big business here).
Crime in Mexico
People will anecdotally tell you that crime has been on the rise in Mexico in recent years but the reality is that this once again varies from city to city. It is important not to allow yourself to be terrified by isolated instances in Mexico as violent, one-off occurrences happen everywhere in the world from time to time.
(For instance, how many random shootings have there been in the United States over the last 10-15 years?)
This report compares crime statistics in the US versus Mexico. The results of this study might surprise you.
The US has higher rates of numerous types of crimes compared to Mexico, including drug use, use of firearms, and sexual assaults. Unfortunately, Mexico sees a higher rate of homicides and violent crime when compared to the US, but this is largely skewed by clashes between criminal organisations, rather than indicating any random acts of violence.
There have been isolated terrorist instances in London and Paris, and isolated shootings in Las Vegas, but people still travel to these destinations and they are not as demonized by the US media as Mexico is.
In 2022, 34.7 million international travellers visited Mexico, an estimated 25 million of whom were Americans. Mexico was recently in the news when in March 2023, four US citizens were kidnapped, two of whom were killed, when crossing the border from Texas into Tamaulipas.
This event triggered the United States to update its travel warnings for Mexico. Yet as tragic and shocking as that event was, when you look at things as a numbers game, and consider that over 34.7 million people travelled to Mexico in twelve months and there was just one isolated incident of violence, it puts things into perspective.
Safe destinations in Mexico
Staying safe in Mexico definitely doesn’t mean being confined to your resort or only sticking to ultra-popular, gentrified tourist areas. There is a great deal of safe and culturally rich destinations to choose from in this vibrant country.
If your trip to Mexico is your first foray into Latin America travel, you might prefer to choose somewhere that is firmly on the tourist trail such as the Costa Maya, the Riviera Maya, or the Pacific Coast. In these places, you can feel assured that you will encounter people who speak English, you can easily meet other travellers, and there is an excellent tourism infrastructure in place.
It may come as a surprise to hear that many Mexican cities feel as safe as, if not safer than, many US and European cities.
The city of Merida, where I live in the Yucatan is not only the safest city in Mexico, but one of the top three safest cities in the Americas, period. I feel very safe walking around here as a solo woman, even at night, and several other Mexican cities, including Campeche City, see lower crime rates than the US.
Safe places to travel to in Mexico
A handful of suggestions for some wonderfully safe and culturally rich destinations that you may want to consider for your first trip to Mexico are detailed below. These can be great places to consider if you are nervous about travelling here for the first time.
- Merida, Yucatan – The safest city in Mexico and a great base for exploring Mayan ruins in the Yucatan
- Mahahual, Lake Bacalar and the Costa Maya – Stunning, lesser-known destinations in southern Quintana Roo
- Sayulita, Nayarit – Beautiful beach town in west-central Mexico known for its surfing
- Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco – Popular beach town known for its gorgeous Pacific Coast beaches
- San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato – One of the most beautiful colonial cities in Mexico known for its colourful mansions that have been converted into cafes, galleries and independent boutiques
- Santiago de Queretaro – Fun, youthful student city in a beautiful colonial setting
- San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas – A quiet town in the Sierra Madre range known for its cooler climate, indigenous Zoque and Tzotzil cultures and hippy community
- Los Cabos, Baja California Sur – Pacific Coast resort town known for its beaches, whale watching, watersports and nightlife
- Valladolid, El Cuyo and the Yucatan state – Charming Yucatan pueblo magicos and beach towns in Mexico’s safest state
- Mexico City – The CDMX neighbourhoods of Roma, Condesa and Coyoacan are very safe and popular amongst a Digital Nomad crowd
Check your government travel advice before you travel
It is a good idea to check your government’s travel advisory before travelling to Mexico. Government websites are updated regularly to reflect the latest events, entry requirements and incidents in a country.
The US Department of State provides a state-by-state breakdown of the safety situation in each of Mexico’s 32 states.
These are broken down into four different categories as per the below:
- Exercise normal precautions
- Exercise increased precautions
- Reconsider travel
- Do not travel to
The Yucatan state and the state of Campeche are the two safest states in Mexico and the only two states on the “exercise normal precautions” list. Quintana Roo (home to Cancun, Tulum and the Riviera Maya), and Baja California Sur (home to Los Cabos) are on the “exercise increased precautions” list due to a heightened risk of crime.
These ratings are a good starting point but to an extent, you should take them with a pinch of salt; They still only analyse safety by state when the reality is that one city in a state can be very safe and another not so safe.
(Take Jalisco for instance which is on the “reconsider travel” list when the reality is that many parts of Jalisco state are safe, and the seaside town of Puerto Vallarta is one of the most popular destinations in the country). The UK government travel advice page is a bit more liberal and only highlights the areas of concern within each state.
Places to avoid in Mexico
It is generally a good idea to avoid the destinations on the “do not travel” list for Mexico and where possible, steer clear of border towns (“fronteras”) with the US, as these are often key locations for drug smuggling routes from Latin America into the United States.
Sinaloa, Michoacan, Colima, Zacatecas, Tamaulipas and Guerrero are considered among the most dangerous parts of Mexico and are the six states on the official “do not travel” list.
Still, there are some exceptions to the rule. For instance, while Sinaloa can generally be considered a no-go state, the beach town of Mazatlan is a gorgeous destination on the Pacific coast that is becoming increasingly popular among western tourists and expats.
Similarly, the El Chepe train route that runs through the Copper Canyon from Los Mochis, Sinaloa to Chihuahua is considered one of the greatest railroad journeys in the world. The towns and villages along the train route, such as El Fuerte in Sinaloa and Creel Chihuahua are safe and rewarding to travel to.
Generally speaking, these types of destinations are perhaps best reserved for more seasoned travellers who already have some experience travelling in Latin America. However, this is just to say, that in Mexico, it is impossible to provide one sweeping generalisation about the safety situation across an entire state.
Kidnappings in Mexico
Kidnappings do happen in Mexico and while that can sound absolutely terrifying, it is not the case that people are getting snatched out of their hotel rooms or disappearing off the streets every day. Most kidnapping victims are people involved with the cartel or unfortunately, female trafficking victims in Northern Mexico, close to the fronteras.
Rarely, Mexicans with financial means find themselves a victim of kidnapping for ransom. However, such instances take months and months of planning, watching a potential victim and monitoring their schedule.
It is extremely rare/virtually unheard of for a tourist to be a victim of a kidnapping.
Is the cartel in Mexico?
Numerous cartel groups do exist in Mexico and they are often fighting with each other for control of various territories and supply routes to the United States. But generally speaking, if you do not go looking for trouble in Mexico, trouble will not go looking for you.
The cartel do not bother themselves with tourists and even though there have been a couple of instances where tourists have been caught in the crossfires of attacks in Tulum and Cancun in recent years, this is still exceptionally rare. The chances of being in the wrong place at the wrong time are very slim.
Following on from an upsetting incident where two female tourists were accidentally shot and killed in the crossfire of a clash between drug cartels in Tulum in 2021, Mexican authorities beefed up security and police presence in the state of Quintana Roo to stop it from happening again.
Do not do drugs in Mexico or get involved with anyone who does. An increased demand for drugs in areas like Cancun and the Riviera Maya is what has caused an increase in cartel presence in those areas.
Is Mexico safe for solo travelers?
Mexico can be safe for solo travelers and since most locals here are accustomed to seeing tourists, you won’t attract a ton of attention or get weird looks for being by yourself. It is very easy to meet other travellers in popular destinations like the Yucatan peninsula.
It is better to go out as a group if you want to experience the nightlife in various places. There are tons of active Facebook groups dedicated to helping you meet expats and travellers in various cities, and if you are nervous about going it alone, you can consider booking a guided tour to get your bearings at the start of your trip.
Is Mexico safe for solo female travelers?
Mexico can be safe for solo female travelers, but you need to use the same common sense you would when travelling as a woman elsewhere. (Don’t walk alone at night, ignore catcallers, etc).
This entire website has been written by a solo female traveller in Mexico and I never let my appearance or gender deter me from travelling anywhere I want to go. I have travelled to 13 states in Mexico including non-conventional destinations like Sinaloa, Guanajuato, Puebla and Queretaro.
I even bought a house in Merida in 2023. After travelling to over 57 countries, mostly solo, I fell in love with Mexico and it may surprise you to hear that I feel safer here than I did un the UK or during my five years of living in Greece. I never feel I have to constantly look over my shoulder or remind myself that I am in Mexico.
Do note that while a lot of local, expat and tourist women wear things like shorts and sundresses in coastal areas, women often dress more conservatively in cities like CDMX and Guadalajara. They tend to wear jeans/trousers and avoid showing too much skin to deter harassment from men and I would generally advise you to follow suit.
Is Mexico safe for families?
Mexico is a very family-friendly travel destination and there are tons of beaches and resorts along the Caribbean and Pacific coasts that are dedicated to families travelling with children. Older children with an interest in learning and history will love all of the Mayan ruins in Mexico and the various museums in different cities which often have interactive exhibits to appeal to younger audiences.
Is it safe to drive in Mexico?
Renting a car in Mexico offers you a lot more freedom and flexibility in your schedule. For the most part, driving in Mexico is safe and is not all that different from driving anywhere else in the world.
The roads in tourist areas like Baja California, Quintana Roo, the Yucatan, and Jalisco are very well maintained. It is generally advisable to stick to toll roads (carreteras de cuotas) as they are safer but in southeastern Mexico (Q.R., Yucatan state and Campeche state) all of the roads are pretty safe.
Driving between cities at night is best avoided purely because the roads are not well lit and this makes it difficult to see hazards like stray dogs, animals, etc.
Is Public transport in Mexico safe?
Public transport in Mexico is a convenient and affordable way to get around. ADO, Noreste and OCC buses cover long distances between popular tourist destinations and tickets are very reasonably priced.
Buses are generally safe, assuming that you are not travelling in known dangerous areas on the “do not travel” list. If you have luggage to carry with you, you can check it in for free beneath the bus and you will be given a ticket which you need to present at the end of your journey in order to reclaim your bag.
There have been some reports of petty crimes like pickpocketing and thefts of bags from overhead bins on buses in Quintana Roo in recent years. Never place anything valuable in the overhead bin and have eyes on your bag at all times if possible.
Practical Tips for Staying Safe in Mexico
A lot of staying safe in Mexico comes down to taking accountability for your own safety and using common sense. If you wouldn’t do something in your own country, you shouldn’t do it in Mexico either.
Don’t walk alone at night, be wary of over-friendly strangers, always watch your personal belongings and trust your intuition. Some practical tips for your trip are detailed below.
- In crowded streets and mercados, walk with your bag in front of you
- Share your travel plans with friends and family but keep your real-time location off social media
- Purchase comprehensive travel insurance before you go – today’s health isnt promised tomorrow
- Consider purchasing a theft-proof backpack or money belt like those offered by Pacsafe
- Do not carry wads of cash. 4,000 MXN (Circa $220 USD) is plenty to last you a few days.
- Be careful when drawing money out of ATMs and opt for ATMs in banks or malls rather than stand-alone ATMs which are more likely to have been tampered with
- Don’t be naive and trust your gut about overly friendly people. Don’t offer information about where you are going and where you are staying, especially if travelling alone
- If your phone plan does not cover Mexico (some US and Canadian ones do), purchase a Mexican SIM card. Telcel offers a generous data, SMS and calling package for just 200 pesos.
- Don’t draw attention to yourself by wearing expensive designer clothing, jewellery or accessories.
- If you are travelling from the US, consider registering in the government’s STEP program
- Use UBER rather than street taxis
- Try an learn a little Spanish before your trip as English is not widely spoken outside of the main tourist areas.
- Download Google Translate to help you communicate with locals if you cannot speak any Spanish
Avoid travelling to coastal areas in hurricane season
Hurricane season runs between June and November each year and affects coastal areas like the Yucatan, Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco, and Nayarit. While hurricanes and heavy storms can occur at any time throughout this season, they are most common at the end of August and early September.
I usually tell people not to worry too much about hurricanes as they are rarely fatal and at worst, there are just heavy rains that knock the power out for a day or two. However, following several severe hurricanes in Mexico in 2023 that caused severe flooding and destruction
Can you drink the tap water in Mexico?
You should stick to bottled water in Mexico as tap water is not safe to drink. Although it is cleaned at the source, it can get contaminated en route to your tap with bacteria, parasites and germs.
Even locals do not drink it.
Remember that you cannot put a price on safety
While you absolutely can have a wonderful time traveling through Mexico on a shoestring budget, know when you need to spend extra. For instance, don’t stay in a cheap hostel or a sketchy-looking hotel at the expense of your safety in an area where you don’t feel all that comfortable.
Always keep an amount of backup funds available so that you have enough money to cover yourself in an emergency. Remember that you cannot put a price on your safety and paying extra is always worth it for your peace of mind.
Be cautious of where you eat
People often consider traveling to Mexico synonymous with getting sick but it doesn’t have to be. An upset stomach overseas isn’t always caused by poor food hygiene and can just as well be the stress/upheavel of travelling and trying unfamiliar foods.
Street food is a huge part of the food scene in Mexico and to skip it would mean to miss out on a huge part of Mexican culture. Instead of writing it off, take some
common-sense food safety measures such as washing your hands or using hand sanitizer before you eat, opting for stalls that are busy with locals (generally a good indicator that the food is good), and avoiding anywhere where it looks like food has been left out for long periods of time.
Final thoughts on safety when travelling to Mexico
Safety is a very personal thing and while the reality is that no-one can unequivocally say anywhere is 100% safe, 100% of the time, I personally feel very comfortable here in Mexico. Don’t let negative stereotypes of Mexico or the US media make you feel as though this is not a safe place to visit. Chances are, when your flight touches down in Mexico and you get out and start exploring, you will wonder what you were so worried about.
Considering over 35 million people travel here each year, if Mexico was that dangerous for travelers, we would hear about a lot more crime and violence toward tourists.
Do you have any further questions or concerns about visiting Mexico? As I mentioned, I have been living in Merida in the Yucatan since early 2022.
I am happy to help with any queries you may have so please don’t hesitate to drop me a comment below or reach out if you need anything. Safe travels and enjoy Mexico.
Buen Viaje! Melissa xo