Is Mexico safe to travel to? Mexico is a vast and beautiful country home to fascinating archaeological sites and Mayan ruins, gorgeous tropical beaches, dense jungles, and charming settlements.
However, it is also somewhere that even experienced travelers are sometimes wary of visiting. Is Mexico safe?
Honestly, it’s complicated. Yes, traveling to Mexico can be a safe and enjoyable experience provided you take precautions and follow common-sense measures.
But traveling to Mexico definitely does require more caution than a lot of other travel destinations. Plan your trip carefully and be informed of the risks and realities of traveling here.
It would be wrong to give you the indication that Mexico is a 100% safe place to travel to. After all, is any place in the world 100% safe, 100% of the time?
Mexico often gets an unfair representation in the media and on television. But at the same time, you absolutely do need to take more precautions when traveling here than you would to other countries.
Is Mexico Safe? Government Travel Advice
It is always prudent to check your government travel advice in advance of traveling to a new country. This is true wherever in the world you go.
It is not something that is strictly limited to traveling to Mexico. At the same time, keep in mind that some government travel advice (particularly the USA’s CDC) often uses very stern wording that can often feel like a deterrent.
For instance, when it comes to the question of is Mexico safe, the CDC states:
¨Violent crime – such as homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery – is widespread and common in Mexico. The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in many areas of Mexico.¨
Similarly, the UK foreign travel advisory states:
¨Crime and violence are serious problems in Mexico and the security situation can pose a risk for foreigners. Many Mexican and foreign businesses choose to hire private security. You should research your destination thoroughly and only travel during daylight hours when possible. Monitor local media and inform trusted contacts of your travel plans.¨
This can sound alarming if you haven’t spent any amount of time on government travel websites previously. The wording needs to be stern so that the governments cover their own backs if you decide to travel somewhere and have any negative experiences.
Always keep in mind what is written here but to an extent, take it with a pinch of salt. Violence, kidnapping, gangs, and crimes do happen in Mexico but most travelers enjoy trouble-free visits.
Is Mexico Safe? Everything in Perspective
For a lot of people, the mention of Mexico is synonymous with danger. The country has always had a reputation for being dangerous and there have been several violent developments in recent years.
Unfortunately, there have been a few instances where tourists have been caught in the crossfire of gunfights between cartels. This has even happened in tourist areas like Cancun.
Sadly, violence has been on the rise but for the most part, the Mexican authorities do what they can to try and keep Mexico safe for tourists. After all, tourism is incredibly important for the Mexican economy.
A lot of these instances were sadly, cases of people being in the wrong place at the wrong time. While the chances of being caught up in violence in Mexico may be higher than that happening in other countries, this is still rare and unlikely.
Remember that tens of millions of tourists travel to Mexico every year. Prior to the pandemic, 41 million tourists traveled to Mexico in a year, most of whom were Americans.
Most trips to Mexico are trouble-free and there are a ton of travelers that visit Mexico year after year. If Mexico was that dangerous for travelers, we would hear about a lot more crime and violence toward tourists.
How to Stay Safe in Mexico
A lot of staying safe in Mexico simply relies on your own common sense, being aware of your surroundings, and being cautious. Some pointers are outlined below for your consideration.
Pay attention to state warnings
While the CDC and UK FTO advice can often seem stern, it is a valuable resource for planning your trip to Mexico and should be checked. In particular, heed the warnings of the CDC in relation to which states are safe for travel to and which are not.
Several states come with a strict do-not travel warning. These states are as follows:
These areas are generally best avoided and for the most part, they do not offer anything tourists would want to see anyway. Some parts of Sinaloa like Mazatlán and Los Mochis see occasional off-the-beaten-path tourists.
Traveling to these regions requires extreme caution and due diligence. You should also keep in mind that overland travel here between cities is considered dangerous, even for Mexicans.
The CDC also provides lists of suggestions for Mexican states that travelers should reconsider visiting, exercise increased caution, or practice normal caution. Keep these suggestions in mind but do not cancel your dream trip to a certain area because of this.
Generally, the situation regarding safety can be vastly different from one part of a state to another. So, for instance, the CDC may suggest that you reconsider travel to Nayarit but that doesn’t take into account the pleasant, laidback hippy vibes of Sayulita.
Or for instance, the CDC suggests that you rethink travel to the state of Jalisco. But Puerto Vallarta, Guadalajara, and Tequila are highlights of any trip to Mexico.
Pay attention to developments and warnings
It is a good idea to always check the news when traveling in Mexico to follow any recent developments that may affect your trip. Similarly, if you are traveling across the country from one state to another, it is valuable to speak to fellow travelers.
You can do this either in person or via Mexico Facebook groups. Fellow travelers can advise you what the situation was like in states/cities that they just passed through, what to expect, how best to prepare, etc.
Things can change rapidly from one part of the country to another. For instance, the road between Palenque and San Cristobal de las Casas is notorious for robberies.
There have been many instances where tourist buses have been targeted. For a period this issue cleared up but in early 2022, numerous tourists have been victims of crime here.
You can gain some valuable insight and information just by speaking to other travelers.
Consider purchasing theft-proof bags and luggage
If you are unlucky enough to be a victim of a crime in Mexico, it is likely to be a petty crime like pickpocketing or theft. But that is still annoying and no one wants to lose their valuables while traveling overseas, particularly not their important travel documents or their cameras/phones with all their photo memories.
Theft-proof backpacks are a good idea. They are a little more expensive than a regular backpack, yes.
But they are a good investment, particularly if you like to travel a lot. Even if you are careful with your belongings, it is hard to see what is happening with your bag/backpack in crowded markets, etc.
Theft-proof backpacks like those offered by Pacsafe come with a TSA-approved locking system and are slash-proof. This means that someone couldn’t just come up behind you in a market or similar and try and cut your bag open with a knife.
Theft-proof backpacks are often relatively stylish/aesthetic and don’t look like some clunky, unsightly safety item. Most are also waterproof and come with good, long-term warranties.
Take care of your money and bank cards
Mexico is very much a cash-based society and you will find that cards are not always accepted, even in tourist areas. As such, carrying an amount of cash is inevitable.
But try not to carry huge wads of cash around with you when you go out and don’t flash your money. If you can, consider carrying most of your money in a money belt or leaving it locked up in your hotel.
Carry a little with what you need in your purse. That way, when you have to take your purse out of your bag, you don’t have hundreds of dollars in there for someone to see.
It is a good idea to have multiple bank accounts and cards. Carry one with you and leave the other(s) deep in your luggage.
That way, if you lose one, you can cancel that card and transfer funds online as needed. You don’t have to stress about how to get your money/replacement card to Mexico or have your loved ones use Western Union!
If you can, make sure that at least one account is a borderless account (eg. Revolut or Wise). Fees for international transactions and ATM withdrawals in Mexico can be hefty!
Always travel with comprehensive insurance
You should always travel with comprehensive insurance wherever in the world you travel and Mexico is no different. Even when you practice absolute caution, you never know what is around the corner so it is best to always be prepared for any eventuality.
Purchase travel insurance for the duration of your trip and ensure that your plan has a comprehensive medical cover. The best policies offer medical cover for as much as $1million US dollars.
You should also look for policies that offer additional extras. For instance, repatriation if something happens to you and cover for loss of luggage or theft of electronics.
Always read the small print when purchasing travel insurance. A lot of standard policies do not cover sports or even simple activities like hiking.
If you plan on doing a lot of hiking or outdoorsy stuff during your trip, you may need to purchase an add-on. Once you have your policy in hand, print or screenshot the confirmation, ensuring that you have your confirmation number.
This will be the first thing that you are asked for should you need to visit a hospital, get medical assistance, or claim against your policy. World Nomads offer excellent, comprehensive cover for adventurous travelers.
Share your itinerary with your loved ones, but keep it off social media
Always let your friends and family back at home know what your plan is, particularly if you are traveling alone. At the same time, keep your itinerary off social media.
It can be exciting to share what you are up to on the likes of Instagram, TikTok, et al but you should avoid posting in real-time. You should especially avoid posting anything that reveals your location, places you visit regularly, or where you are staying.
You never know who is watching you on social media and people can easily find you through hashtags and location tags. If you find it tiring/annoying to share your trip plans with multiple people, you can consider creating a shareable Google doc.
You can type up your itinerary on the document and then share it with your friends and family. You can then update it as you go if you happen to make any changes to your schedule.
If you are concerned about your family members accidentally editing or removing something, just set it to read-only.
Remember you cannot put a price on your safety
Everyone has different budgets when they travel to Mexico. While you absolutely can have a great time in the country on a shoestring budget, know when you need to spend extra.
For instance, rather than putting yourself at risk-taking dangerous roads (e.g. the Palenque to San Cristobal de las Casas road), consider taking a domestic flight. If you feel unsafe somewhere, leave.
Don’t hesitate to spend a little more so that you can pay for a comfortable hotel. Always keep an amount of backup funds available so that you have enough money to cover yourself in an emergency. I.e. you need to book a last-minute flight out of somewhere, you need to check into a better hotel, etc.
Remember that you cannot put a price on your safety and paying extra is always worth it for your peace of mind. After you have spent an amount of time traveling in Mexico, it is easy to feel comfortable and take risks or cut corners. Don’t do that.
Join useful Mexico Facebook groups and travel communities
There are a plethora of excellent resources out there to help travelers have a wonderful and safe time in Mexico. Not only are Mexico travel blogs and guidebooks a good source of information, but Facebook groups are also a good way to ask questions to your fellow travelers.
If you are looking for events and meetups happening in certain areas or you want to meet a travel buddy or two to explore Mexico with, you are sure to find them in these groups. Some suggested Mexico Facebook groups are as per the below.
- Backpacking Mexico
- Female Travelers in Mexico
- Expats in Mexico
- On the Road in Mexico
- Merida Mexico Expat Community
- Cancun, Mexico
- Digital Nomads Mexico
- Mexico Travel Community
- Friends Riviera Nayarit Mexico
- Foreigners in Mexico City
- Expats in Mexico
- Puerto Vallarta: Everything You Need Or Want To Know
Basically, there are a ton of Facebook groups catered to ex-pats and travelers in Mexico and they are all very active. You can join some of those listed above or you can simply search the name of an area in Mexico you plan on visiting and join relevant groups.
Use basic common sense precautions
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.
Don’t flash the cash
Mexico is not an affluent country and some states, like Chiapas, are very poor. Try to dress modestly and don’t flash expensive items, clothing, or jewelry.
Leave the designer gear and expensive watches back at home. It is better to draw as little attention to yourself as possible.
Try to blend in and not stick out as a tourist. If you have an expensive phone or camera, take them out of your bag only as and when they are needed. If you are walking around the city streets with a huge expensive DSLR around your neck, you may as well be wearing a billboard that says ¨tourist¨.
In a similar vein, solo female travelers should be mindful of their clothing choices. While yes, you absolutely should have the freedom to wear whatever you like, when you like, the reality is that some parts of Mexico are still quite conservative.
In popular coastal areas of Quintana Roo, Oaxaca, the Yucatan, and Jalisco, typical summer attire and beachwear is okay. However, in Mexico City and inland areas, you are better to err on the side of modesty.
This is for your own well-being too. It is better not to draw attention to yourself where possible.
Avoid border towns and known dangerous areas
A lot of the violence that you hear about in Mexico is concentrated in certain areas and some of the most dangerous parts of the country are the border towns. Tijuana, in particular, is one of the most dangerous cities in Latin America.
In the past, Tijuana was a popular day-trip destination for people traveling in the United States so that they could cross over the border for the day and say that they have been to Mexico. There really isn’t any outstanding beauty or culture in Tijuana so this area is best avoided.
You can’t gloss over some of the ugly realities of Mexico. The border towns are the crossing points for people from across Latin and South America to try and get into the United States.
It is also here where drugs are transported across the border and occasional clashes between organized crime units and authorities occur. Rest assured, there are far more interesting and beautiful parts of Mexico than Tijuana and the Mexican side of the Texas border.
Purchase a Mexican SIM Card and stay connected
A Mexican SIM card is a good way to stay connected during your trip. Some US phone plans cover Mexico but if yours doesn’t, you can pick up a local sim for cheap.
There are three Mexican sim card providers that sell plans to tourists. Namely, they are Telcel, AT&T, and Movistar.
You can pick up Telcel sim cards in OXXO. Oxxo is the Mexican equivalent of a 7/11 store.
You can get packages with 6GB of data, unlimited social media use, calls, and texts for $10 and below. This works out cheaper than purchasing overseas data from your own cell provider.
Wifi isn’t as widely available in Mexico as it is in other countries. As in, not every coffee shop or restaurant is going to have wifi. Having a local sim is a good way to stay connected at all times.
Is Mexico safe for solo travelers?
Mexico can be a safe destination for solo travelers and there is a huge backpacking scene here. If you travel to popular destinations like Mexico City, Cancun, Tulum, Playa Del Carmen, Isla Mujeres, Isla Holbox, Oaxaca, Puerto Vallarta, and Merida, you will find it very easy to meet fellow travelers with very little effort.
That being said, traveling solo to Mexico is perhaps best reserved for travelers that have at least some experience with traveling alone. You need to take additional precautions here compared to when traveling in other countries.
Mexico requires more caution than, say, taking an Italy road trip or going on a hiking adventure on a Greek island. You cannot just wander around with no plan, get lost, and venture far off the beaten path here.
Is Mexico safe for female travelers?
Obviously, being a solo female traveler (or even a group of female travelers) comes with different risks to traveling as a male. Female travelers should not be deterred from traveling here but to reiterate, solo travel in Mexico is perhaps best reserved for more experienced travelers.
All over the country, catcalling and whistling can be an issue. In tourist areas and at beaches, you may hear touts shouting silly comments asking whether you want a Mexican boyfriend.
The best response? Just ignore it and continue on with your day.
While yes, catcalling can be annoying, it rarely turns into anything more than that. It is better to just not acknowledge your harasser and have a great day than confront someone who could have any manner of issues.
Mexico is a patriarchal society and the country does have a problem with femicides. If you stick to tourist areas, you should be fine.
Venturing off the beaten path in Mexico as a woman comes with greater risks than doing so as a male. Be aware of this but don’t let it terrify you or deter you from traveling.
Most Mexicans are friendly, welcoming, and brought up to respect women. You will find that a lot of people here are very chivalrous.
For example, it is considered rude if a man does not pay for a woman on a date. Going ¨Dutch¨ is basically unheard of.
Most people here want you to have a wonderful time and experience the beauty of their country. Most men will open doors, pull out your chair, and generally act respectfully toward women.
Food Safety and Hygiene in Mexico
Don’t drink the water
You cannot drink the water in Mexico. Even locals do not drink it.
The water in Mexico is purified at the source like anywhere else in the world. However, because #Mexico, there is a lot of risk of the water getting contaminated en route to the tap.
The pipes and distribution systems here are often old, faulty, and damaged. You won’t know how bad the water could be without trying it and generally, it just isn’t worth the risk.
Brushing your teeth with the water is generally fine but you shouldn’t drink it. Instead, you should purchase large bottles of water from supermarkets and convenience stores.
Most hotels and Airbnbs provide some complimentary water on arrival. Some luxury hotels may have potable water – check if they do when you check in.
Consider purchasing large, multi-liter bottles of water to keep in your accommodation. Then, buy a reusable water bottle and fill it up before you head out each day.
Having ice in your drinks in Mexico is fine. Since Mexicans do not drink tap water, they buy pre-packed ice and do not make ice cubes using tap water.
A lifestraw water bottle is a great thing to keep in your backpack when you travel to Mexico. One bottle purchase provides clean water to a child in a developing nation for a year.
Be cautious of where you eat
Traveling to Mexico does not have to be synonymous with getting sick. A lot of people joke about experiencing Montezuma’s revenge in Mexico (aka travelers diarrhea) in Mexico but traveling here doesn’t mean you will definitely get sick.
In Mexico, you will likely encounter travelers who are constantly sick and those that spend months in the country and never get sick at all! Unfortunately, you can never really know if a particular dish/restaurant is going to make you ill until after the fact.
Obviously, there are basic precautions that you should take. However, an upset stomach overseas isn’t always caused by poor food hygiene, but often the stress/upheaval of traveling, or being unfamiliar with certain spices/ingredients.
Do not completely write off street food as eating at taco trucks and street food carts is one of the best travel experiences you can have in Mexico. Some common-sense food safety measures are detailed below.
- Be aware of your spice tolerance – food in Mexico is generally very spicy
- Don’t eat at street food stands where meat is hanging out in the open, fruit is left out, or there are a lot of flies
- Drink probiotics, vitamin C tablets, and supplements to boost your immune system
- Always wash your hands thoroughly or use hand sanitizer before eating
- Opt for busy places filled with customers over places that are suspiciously deserted
- Always drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration