Is Oaxaca safe? This question is likely to be at the forefront of your mind if you are planning a trip to the western Mexico state of Oaxaca.
Mexico, in general, does not have the best reputation as far as safety is concerned. Add to that the fact that Oaxaca is not the most common place to travel to, and it is understandable that you may be a little worried.
But is Oaxaca safe? The short answer is yes.
However, that comes with some caveats. Traveling in Oaxaca and Mexico generally requires a little extra common sense and awareness of your surroundings than when traveling to other parts of the world.
Exploring Oaxaca Mexico
Oaxaca (pronounced ¨Wah-hah-ka¨) is fast emerging as one of the best new Mexico travel destinations. It is a great choice for those who enjoy immersing themselves in local cultures and discovering new gastronomy.
It is important to note that Oaxaca is both the name of the state and its capital city. This guide refers to safety in both the wider Oaxaca state and Oaxaca city (also known as Oaxaca de Juarez).
You can easily dedicate an entire week to exploring Oaxaca state and barely feel like you have scratched the surface. As a first-timer, consider spending 4-5 days in Oaxaca city.
You can also use it as a base to explore many places nearby. Be sure to take a day trip out to the spectacular petrified waterfall of Hierve el Agua and the various indigenous villages scattered throughout the state.
48% of the state’s population is indigenous. There are 16 registered indigenous communities here, many of which are culturally diverse in themselves.
The small town of Cuilapan de Guerrero is home to a fortress-like Santiago Apóstol church. The church is unlike anything you will have encountered elsewhere in Mexico and looks almost like something straight out of a movie set.
Vicente Guerrero, a hero of the Mexican independence movement was imprisoned and executed here in 1831. Similarly, the small town of Teotitlan del Valle is worth a quick visit for the opportunity to check out its weaving workshops.
History buffs should be sure to visit the Mitla archeological site. These are the second most important ruins in Oaxaca state after the ancient city of Monte Alban within Oaxaca City’s city limits.
Is Oaxaca Safe to Travel to?
Crime has increased across Mexico in recent years. However, Oaxaca has managed to remain largely exempt from that.
As a matter of fact, this is one of the safest states in Mexico. Many potential visitors to the country are concerned about whether Mexico is safe.
However, it is important to note that this is the 13th largest country in the world. The safety situation varies significantly from one part of Mexico to another and you cannot generalize the entire country in one brush sweep.
Netflix dramas and narco documentaries have not done Mexico any favors and often paint an unrealistic, unfair portrayal. Generally speaking, the dangerous parts of the country are places that tourists would have absolutely no interest in traveling to anyway.
Oaxaca Safety Tips
Take Oaxaca tours with reputable local companies
Public transport in Mexico is pretty good and it is easy to explore the wider state of Oaxaca using Oaxaca city or Puerto Escondido as a base. Buses, in particular, run frequently to most major towns, beaches, and tourist attractions.
However, if you prefer to take some of the stress out of planning the logistics of how to get from A to B, an Oaxaca tour is a good way to go. Most tours include pick up and drop off at your hotel.
Better yet, exploring with a local means that you have an Oaxaca expert on hand to ask for recommendations on the best places to eat, drink and hang out in Oaxaca state. If you opt to do a walking tour of Oaxaca City or Puerto Escondido, it is a good idea to do so early on in your trip so that you get your bearings.
There are plenty of reputable local tour companies in Oaxaca. Is a good idea to reserve your place on tours in advance.
This is particularly the case if you are traveling to Mezcal distilleries, or the Hierve el Agua waterfalls, and especially during the peak season. A selection of reputable Oaxaca tours is detailed below for your consideration.
Recommended Oaxaca Tours
- Hierve el Agua waterfalls
- Monte Alban and art craft towns day trip from Oaxaca
- Traditional Oaxacan cooking class with a market visit
- Full day tour of Oaxaca
- Puerto Escondido: baby sea turtle release
- Puerto Escondido: sunrise dolphin and whale-watching
- La Crucecita: private yacht cruise in Huatulco with drinks
- Puerto Escondido: bioluminescence night spectacle
Don’t dress flashy
Oaxaca is the second poorest state in Mexico, second only to Chiapas. In 2020, 39.6% of the population were living in poverty and 24.3% were living in extreme poverty.
Sadly, a lot of Oaxaca residents live without adequate housing or education, and many people are illiterate. Considering this, it is better to leave your designer labels and expensive jewelry at home when you are traveling to Oaxaca.
Not only does this make you stand out and become a target, but it also demonstrates little awareness of the struggles of the people around you. Similarly, avoid walking around with expensive cameras around your neck and your expensive gadgets and electronics on display.
Purchase a theft-proof backpack
If you are a victim of a crime in Oaxaca, it is likely to be a petty or opportunistic crime. For instance, perhaps someone tries to snatch your backpack or purse in a crowded marketplace, or slashes it open from behind when you are not looking.
One way to remove that risk is to invest in a theft-proof backpack or money belt. These are a little pricier than your average travel daypack, sure.
But they come with a plethora of additional safety features. Theft-proof backpacks, like those offered by Pacsafe, are waterproof, slash-proof, and come with a TSA-approved locking system.
They can be purchased in stylish designs so you would not suspect that they were any different from a regular backpack. Many come with multi-year warranties.
Be informed about the hurricane season
Hurricane season in Mexico officially lasts from the beginning of June through the end of November. Typically, you’re at the greatest risk of encountering a hurricane between the months of August and October.
However, thanks to the delights of global warming (!), meteorologists predict that hurricane season will hit Mexico a little earlier in summer 2022. Oaxaca city is inland and shielded by mountains so hurricanes are not really any cause for concern here, though they can have a knock-on effect on the weather conditions across the state.
Most hurricanes develop over the pacific and affect Oaxaca state coastal settlements like Puerto Escondido. Severe hurricanes here are rare.
At worst, you typically only have to worry about strong winds, heavy rains, and potential cyclones during the rainy season. However, it is still a good idea to check the weather forecast before and during your trip.
Oaxaca City safety tips
Oaxaca City is a very safe place. Just keep your wits about you and keep an eye on your personal belongings at all times.
By all means, wander around and explore but do be mindful of where you are going. It is best not to venture into random residential areas as there will be fewer people around.
Be careful in crowded marketplaces and in the zocalo as this is where a lot of pick-pocketers operate. Do not walk alone at night and don’t take shortcuts down quiet, sketchy-looking side streets.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with street food
Many people associate traveling in Mexico with the idea of getting sick. However, for every person that gets sick during their trip, there are plenty of people that spend weeks/months traveling in Mexico and are completely fine.
Oaxaca is widely regarded as being the foodie capital of Mexico. So, if you don’t experiment with Oaxaca classic dishes and the local street food, quite frankly you have not traveled to Oaxaca.
Dont miss the mole tamales at Tamales de San Agustín Yatareni (corner of Armenta y López & Colón) or the pork tacos at Lechoncito de Oro (C. de Los Libres s/n, Ruta Independencia, Centro, 68000.)
How to avoid getting sick
There are several precautions that you can take to avoid getting sick in Oaxaca. Always wash your hands before eating and carry antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer for when this isn’t possible.
Use common sense when it comes to choosing where to eat. If there is a line of people waiting to be served at a street food truck, that is usually a pretty good indicator that the place serves quality food.
Never eat meat, fruit or veg that looks like it has been sitting out for a long time. You probably want to avoid stalls where the vendor keeps squatting flies away too. These spots probably don’t look appealing anyway.
Carry some rehydration sachets and Immodium for the emergency event that you get sick. There is also a great Mexican stomach bug medicine called Treda that you can buy in any pharmacy.
Puerto Escondido safety tips
Don’t walk on the beach alone at night in Puerto Escondido. Even if there are 2-3 of you, this is best avoided.
Some parts of the beach are very isolated and you simply don’t know who is lurking in the darkness. Violent incidents against tourists, though rare, have happened on Puerto Escondido beach in the past.
Bring plenty of cash for your trip. There is only one ATM in Puerto Escondido.
It can be found at Zicatela beach. However, it is not uncommon for it to run out of cash and be out of order.
Mexico is still very much a cash-based society. Don’t put yourself in a position where you don’t have enough cash and then you have to trek back to Oaxaca city simply to use an ATM.
Be careful about managing your money
When using ATMs in Mexico, always opt to use one in a crowded area (e.g. a mall). Try to use bank ATMs where you can as opposed to standalone machines. They are less likely to have been tampered with.
It makes sense that you may need to withdraw several thousand pesos at once. But be careful about carrying a lot of money.
The minimum wage in Mexico is just 172 pesos per day ($8.66 USD). Many people in Oaxaca have to survive off less than that.
So, for safety and sensitivity reasons too, don’t carry a wallet that is bulging at the seams with dinero. Consider having a little coin purse at the top of your backpack that contains a little cash for what you will need for that day.
Keep the rest of your money secured separately at the bottom of your bag. Always have a little money in your hotel room for emergencies.
Carry one debit/credit card with you and hide another, deep in your luggage, along with a spare $50-100 or so. It is useful to travel with multiple debit cards so if you lose one, you are not left without access to your money.
Download your bank’s mobile apps to your cellphone before your trip. That way, you will be able to spot suspicious transactions immediately. If you need to freeze or cancel your card, you can do so at the push of a button.
Book accommodation in advance
Oaxaca boasts a range of hotels, hostels, and Airbnbs for every budget and travel style. It is a good idea to book your Oaxaca accommodation in advance to avoid disappointment.
This is particularly the case if you are visiting Oaxaca City for Dia de Los Muertos (one of the most important Mexican traditions) or the Guelaguetza fest in July. Don’t book accommodation that is way out in the sticks and will require you to trek back across town to reach your hotel at night.
Check past reviews before you make a booking. If you are traveling solo, some aggregator booking sites like Booking.com allow you to filter results to see properties where solo travelers felt safe and comfortable.
Remember that you cannot put a price on your safety. While Oaxaca is a safe place, sometimes it is worth paying extra to stay in a mid-range hotel. Never book anywhere that looks sketchy, particularly if traveling solo.
Purchase an alarmed doorstop for hotels
An alarmed door stop is a handy thing to include in your Mexico packing list. These can be purchased for just a few dollars and act as a wedge to stop anyone from entering or forcing their way into your room.
Should someone force entry, an alarm will sound that can be heard up to several thousand feet away. This may be enough to scare the person away.
Alternatively, it will wake you up and give you time to move to another room if someone is trying to break in. Obviously, that sounds unnerving but hotel break-ins in Oaxaca state are not common. This is just one more safety item that is useful to carry when you travel.
Don’t drink the water
You cannot drink the water in Oaxaca. Or anywhere in Mexico for that matter.
While the water in Mexico is purified at the source, it often gets contaminated en route to the tap. Even Mexicans do not drink it – it is not simply the case that your stomach isn’t used to the local water like in some countries.
Some luxe hotels have clean, potable water you can drink. If they offer this, they will let you know at check-in.
Otherwise, most hotels and Airbnbs leave a couple of bottles of water in your room when you check-in. Then, you can buy larger bottles either from reception or from Oxxo/7/11 convenience stores.
Consider purchasing a reusable water bottle. They minimize your plastic waste and keep your water cool throughout the day.
Lifestraws are great. With every purchase made, they provide a year’s supply of clean water to a child in a developing country.
Be careful on the roads around Oaxaca state
Road rules are enforced and, particularly in touristic areas like Quintana Roo and around the places to visit in the Yucatan, roads are very good. However, start venturing more off the beaten path and the situation changes somewhat.
The roads between Oaxaca city and Puerto Escondido or many of the smaller towns and settlements in the state are fine. Traffic, congestion, and parking in Oaxaca city can be bad.
So, if you are only visiting for a week or a few days, weigh up whether you would prefer to just stay in the city and then take excursions. Never drive at night in Oaxaca state.
Crimes against tourists do happen on Oaxaca roads occasionally. At night, you are vulnerable and it is harder to get your bearings.
Many roads are dimly lit and it is hard to see oncoming hazards like stray dogs, cats, random wild animals, and people wandering aimlessly in the middle of the road. Topes (Mexican speed bumps) can be very steep and sometimes there is zero warning that you are approaching one.
Is Oaxaca Safe for Solo Travelers?
Is Oaxaca safe for solo travelers? Absolutely, provided that you follow the same common-sense practices as outlined above.
Until recently, Oaxaca was considered fairly off the beaten path as far as Mexico travel goes. However, its emergence as a major foodie and cultural travel destination has seen an influx of international travelers in the last few years.
It is relatively easy to meet fellow travelers and expats here. This is particularly true if you are traveling during the peak season or for the Dia de Los Muertos festivities. (Oaxaca is one of the best places to see the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico!)
Meeting Other Travelers
Couchsurfing and Meetup are two apps worth using in Oaxaca. You will often find meetups, language exchanges, and events advertised on them.
Oaxaca Facebook groups are another great way to meet people. You can simply create a post to say that you are in town and want to meet people for brunch/lunch/dinner, etc.
- Expats Oaxaca
- Oaxaca Conscious Community (Wellness, Yoga, Mindfulness events)
- Locals and Foreigners in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca
- Foreigners in Oaxaca, MX
- Expats in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico
- Oaxaca Expats, Locals, Digital Nomads & Entrepreneurs
- Taste Of Oaxaca!
- Mujeres de Oaxaca – Women of Oaxaca
- Vegan Oaxaca
Don’t be naive
Meeting new people can be a highlight of solo travel. However, keep in mind that these people are still strangers and you can never be entirely sure of their intentions so don’t be naive.
Always meet people in public places and be mindful of your alcohol intake when at social events. Trust your gut instinct if someone seems overly friendly or they make you feel uncomfortable.
Never tell someone where you are staying. You don’t have to tell them that you are traveling alone if you don’t want.
Keep your location and itinerary off social media
It can be fun to share photos and updates from your travels to show your friends and family at home what you are up to. However, if you have any public social media profiles, you can never really know who is watching.
There are plenty of odd people who find people through their hashtags and geotags. Never post in real-time, share your itinerary or share your accommodation.
Don’t post updates from places that you hang out regularly. Save all of those wonderful pictures and reels until you get to your next destination and share them then.
If you want to keep your family and friends updated with what you are up to, consider creating a shareable Google Doc with your itinerary. You can set it to ¨read only¨ so your family won’t accidentally delete bits of it. If you make any changes to your plan, edit the doc accordingly so that they can see where you are and when.
Have you traveled to Oaxaca? Is Oaxaca safe from your perspective?