Is Quintana Roo safe to travel to in 2023? You might be concerned about traveling to the Yucatan peninsula state if this is your first trip to Mexico.
After all, the country doesn’t always have the best reputation for safety, and it often seems as though Mexico is in the media for all the wrong reasons. The reality is that millions of tourists travel to Quintana Roo every year and popular cities like Tulum and Cancun are global favorites for US travelers.
Most visits to the area are trouble-free and memorable for all the right reasons and since tourism plays such an important role in the local economy, the Mexican authorities are constantly making improvements to local safety measures.
Quintana Roo is safe for the most part, but you should still take the same common sense precautions here that you would at home, or when traveling anywhere else in the world. This guide has been written by a British Travel Writer that has been based in the Yucatan city of Merida for the last two years.
It aims to give a realistic look at safety and security in Quintana Roo, and everything you ought to know before you go.
Is Quintana Roo Safe to Travel to in 2023?
Located on the gorgeous Yucatan Peninsula, Quintana Roo offers both ancient and modern experiences with the ruins of Tulum, underwater exploration adventures, and gorgeous resort areas right on the glittering white sand beaches.
Cancun is voted time and again as one of the best travel destinations in the world, and the Riviera Maya is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in all of Mexico. As you head further south to the Costa Maya, you reach lesser-known beach towns like Akumal and Mahahul where you can easily have stretches of pristine coastline all to yourself, even during the high season.
A few incidents and fights between criminal organizations in Cancun in late 2022 and early 2023, caused an increased level of concern about safety in Quintana Roo. However, the local authorities were quick to respond, increasing the police presence in certain areas, and amending the local travel advisories, warning tourists to exercise caution when traveling in the area, especially after dark.
Both during the heavy tourist season and during less visited Hurricane season, the tourist enclaves, or hotel zones of QR cities are considered safe due to their heavily guarded presence. If you are a traveler who plans to visit spots outside of the resort zone, you should exercise greater caution and situational awareness during your time in Quintana Roo.
Check your government travel advice for Mexico and QR
Check your local government travel restrictions for Mexico. Each country has specific travel advice for both government employees and the general population when traveling outside of your home country.
Many countries right now include travel warnings for Mexico due to increasing crime rates and kidnappings. General warnings to take additional safety precautions in the area are pretty normal and not something to be alarmed about.
While most travelers are safe when visiting Mexico, it is always advised to take extra precautions, especially when traveling to a new area for the first time.
Warnings and travel advisories can change frequently due to newly forming circumstances so keep apprised of circumstances by checking travel advisories frequently leading up to your booked travel plans.
Crime rating in Quintana Roo
It is worth keeping in mind that Quintana Roo is a relatively large state and the crime and safety situation can vary significantly from one area to another. The smaller beach towns and villages are generally considered safer than larger cities like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum.
It is an unfortunate reality that over-tourism in some areas has led to an increased level of crime. Criminal organizations compete to take control over the territory in Quintana Roo because the presence of Western tourists in the area drives up the demand for drugs and they want to establish themselves as the main supplier.
It is for this reason that you should not take drugs in Mexico. Aside from the known dangers, health risks, etc, you are directly contributing to the problem of increased cartel activity.
The statistics website Numbeo is a good source of information when we want to establish how safe a city is, its crime level, etc. It rates crime and safety in different cities across the globe on a scale from 0-100 with 0 being no risk of crime/safe and 100 being dangerous.
The city is ranked by both residents and travelers who contribute to the site. Cancun is currently rated at 56.33 for crime and 43.67 for safety.
If we compare that to US cities, we can see that Los Angeles is currently ranked at 52.65 for crime and 47.35 for safety, while Atlanta sits at 63.91 for crime and 36.09 for safety. This helps us gain a little perspective when we worry about safety in Mexico.
Tips for Staying Safe in Quintana Roo in 2023 and Beyond
Some practical tips for staying safe in Quintana Roo are detailed below. A lot of this is common sense and good practice wherever you travel, but it is worth reiterating here.
Essentially, as was mentioned above, situational awareness and general safety precautions with your personal belongings are the most necessary precautions to take.
Quintana Roo safety tips
- Keep your family and friends apprised of your travel plans for the day, even if they are not traveling with you
- Keep expensive items out of sight. I.e. don’t walk around with a DSLR camera hanging around your neck, expensive jewelry, or designer sunglasses on display
- Don’t carry lots of cash with you. 4000 pesos (circa $239 USD) is about the maximum that you should carry with you
- Keep a spare $50 USD or so and an emergency backup card hidden deep in your luggage or your hotel safe just in case you should lose your wallet
- Be careful when withdrawing cash from ATMs, especially at night. Opt to use ATMs in banks or shopping malls as they are less likely to have been tampered with and always be aware of who is around you.
- Take Uber in Cancun rather than street taxis or have your hotel call a trusted driver for you
- Book organized tours and excursions to Mayan ruins, beaches, and popular tourist destinations if you are nervous
- When driving, stick to toll roads rather than the free roads
- Downtown Cancun is considered less safe than the hotel zone, especially at night. Keep this in mind when considering where to go for drinks or dinner in the evenings
Keep an eye on your personal belongings at all times
Keep your personal belongings on you at all times and never leave a drink unattended. This makes it more difficult for people to take advantage of you.
If you are always aware of the things going on around you and stay alert, you will be assuredly more safe. In crowded marketplaces, consider walking with your backpack in front of you rather than hanging over one shoulder, and never keep anything valuable in your back pocket.
If you decide to go swimming or snorkeling at the beach, always leave your belongings with a trusted friend or travel companion. Never leave them unattended as opportunists may run off with your things while you are in the water.
As a tourist, one of the main things that you need to be careful of in Quintana Roo is petty crimes like pickpocketing. Carry your items in either a cross-body bag, backpack, or fanny pack.
Theft-proof backpacks like those offered by Pacsafe are great because they offer additional security features. For example, they are slash-proof, waterproof, and have a TSA-approved mesh locking system inside.
Use Uber instead of street taxis where possible
One of the best suggestions we can make to stay safe in Quintana Roo is to use Ubers instead of street taxis where possible. (At the time of writing, Uber is only available in Cancun.)
There is more accountability via the app as you can see your Uber driver’s past reviews, license plates, identity information, etc. You simply don’t have that when you get into a random car on the street.
Because there are so many tourists in the Riviera Maya, many of the cabbies here will try and charge tourists massively inflated prices and assume that they do not know the correct going rates. If you question them, they can become aggressive.
In Cancun, there have also been instances of express kidnappings. In other parts of Quintana Roo, you should have your hotel/Airbnb host call a trusted driver for you.
Although Uber is legal in Cancun, taxi drivers do not appreciate their business being taken, so you will want to order Uber away from Taxi stations. Many times Uber will not pick you up from locations near a taxi stop due to the ongoing wars between the Taxi unions and Uber.
Recent reports show that Cabify is more tolerated with the Taxi union and this may be an additional option in the resort and downtown area of Cancun.
How to get from Cancun International Airport (CUN) safely
Uber and Cabify are currently only permitted to operate within downtown Cancun and the hotel zone. They can take you to the airport but it is illegal for them to pick tourists up from the airport.
(If you try and use the app at the airport, you will just get a message saying that Uber is not available in your area). To avoid ridiculous charges from sketchy airport taxi drivers, it is a good idea to organize a private airport transfer from the airport.
That way, you know that someone will be waiting for you in arrivals when you land. Some Cancun airport hotels and city hotels also offer free airport transfers for their guests or they have a fleet of vehicles available to help you get from A to B.
You can also use the ADO bus system if you are feeling confident about using public transportation in a foreign country. Rates are affordable, but you may want to purchase tickets ahead of time as buses can get very full in the peak season.
US travelers should register with the S.T.E.P. program
For American tourists, it is suggested that you enroll in the S.T.E.P. program. This allows you to register your trip with the nearest US Embassy, which gives you up-to-date travel advisories and keeps you in contact with family and friends should an emergency arise.
Natural disasters in Quintana Roo
We all love the idea of taking a vacation in the Mexican Caribbean, however, natural disasters are an ongoing deterrent to summer and early autumn travelers. While the Quintana Roo hurricane season actually starts in June, the heaviest threat comes in September and October.
This time of the year is “off-season” in Cancun and other high-population tourist zones. However, if you are willing to risk the weather you can enjoy some semi-private beach time, as the number of visitors to the area is highly reduced.
Hurricanes that affect Quintana Roo and the wider Yucatan region are rarely fatal. The last two major hurricanes to hit the area were Hurricane Gilbert in September 1988, and Hurricane Wilma in 2005 – aka, quite a while ago!
Even if you aren’t being hit by a big, destructive hurricane, the seasonal storms can be quite intense with high winds and heavy rain. Sometimes, in August/September, ferocious storms can knock the power out in certain areas for a day or two but most hotels and resorts have backup generators to mitigate this risk.
No matter when you visit you should always quickly familiarize yourself with hotel evacuation procedures. Many hotels also allow cancellation up to 72 hrs in advance if hurricanes are advancing and you decide to cancel your stay.
If an evacuation does occur, get somewhere you can charge your devices if possible, and keep them on battery-saving mode for at least a day in case power is lost for a period of time.
The authorities will usually have methods in place to get tourists out of the area and even the country if necessary. If traveling during this time of year, it is highly suggested to purchase travel insurance as well so that even if the unthinkable happens, you are protected.
Safe and rewarding places to visit in Quintana Roo
There are so many fun things to see that you won’t have a second to worry during your time in Quintana Roo. Even if you still have hesitations now, you might be surprised by how comfortable you feel when you land and forget what you were so concerned about.
Playa Del Carmen, Cozumel, Isla Mujeres, and Bacalar are just a few of the beautiful destinations here that you absolutely won’t want to miss.
Start with the white sandy beaches and turquoise waters of Isla Mujeres, just across the bay from Cancun. Opt to stay in an all-inclusive resort or rent an Airbnb.
Painted sea murals, dolphin sightings, and lighthouses are scattered along the island’s impressive shoreline. A colorful Mexican cemetery and Mayan temple are highlights of the historic center.
You can also swim with sharks or dive in the impressive Mesoamerican Reef to spot colorful fish, rays, turtles, and dolphins.
Cozumel is another beautiful island in Quintana Roo that is considered very, very safe. Visit the turtle sanctuary or take a submarine to deeper waters to see why so many make Cozumel their vacation destination of choice.
If you’re looking for a more secluded spot with less crowds and hype, check out Lake Bacalar.
The lake is known as the ¨seven color lagoon¨ because its waters shimmer in different shades of blue, green, and turquoise. You can opt to stay in a beautiful floating thatched getaway hut with cerulean water in every direction, swim in the cenotes, snorkel, and enjoy delicious fresh seafood in the many exquisite specialty restaurants.
Regardless of whether you choose one of the high-profile destinations or one of the more secluded areas, there are plenty of places in Quintana Roo that are safe for travel beyond the mega resorts of Cancun.
Is Quintana Roo safe for solo travelers?
Quintana Roo is safe for individuals traveling on their own as long as they follow the same general safety precautions previously mentioned. You are arguably more of a target for tricksters and opportunists when you travel solo, but this area sees so many backpackers and independent travelers of all ages, backgrounds, and genders that you won’t stick out or draw attention to yourself for being alone here.
It is usually pretty easy to make friends both with other vacationers and the locals. In many Quintana Roo towns and cities, there are social hostels and hotels geared towards independent travelers so you may find that you meet other people effortlessly.
(If finding people to share your trip with is important to you. If you are a fellow introvert, you will be in your element with some of the luxury resorts, quiet beaches, and nature reserves) You can also use Couchsurfing hangouts, Meetup.com, and local expat/Digital Nomad Facebook groups to find people to hang out with.
Playa Del Carmen, Tulum, and Cancun in particular have huge international communities.
Can you drink the water in Quintana Roo?
We’re sure you’ve heard about the water in Mexico and Quintana Roo is no different. It is recommended you drink bottled or purified water when in the area.
Even locals do not drink the water due to contamination. It is a good idea to purchase a water bottle with a built-in purifier to ensure your safety during your stay.
Lifestraw bottles are great as they are also designed in a way that keeps your water ice cold throughout the day.
Brushing your teeth using tap water is considered safe, as long as you don’t swallow large amounts of water. Boiling water to cook pasta and vegetables is safe, but if you are cleaning foods, it is recommended to use purified or bottled water as well as an anti-microbial solution like Micro-dyn.
Is it safe to drive in Quintana Roo?
Due to heightened police presence and a number of traffic stops, it is quite safe to drive in Quintana Roo. A driver’s license, valid registration, and no illegal goods in your vehicle are all you need to drive safely in Quintana Roo.
The roads here are also excellent and very well-maintained. (I.e. there are no potholes, cracks in the roads, etc.) Aside from seeing some erratic driving here and there, in many ways, you may find that driving in Mexico is not all that different from driving in the United States and Canada
Keep in mind that if you are breaking speed limits or giving the police a legit reason to pull you over you may be asked for a bribe in order to move along the road, so keep the laws as best you can to avoid any additional stops or hassle.
Also, keep in mind that roads are not always well-lit and may not have posted directions, and many roads are one-way. Many Mexican rental cars do not come with a GPS installed unless you pay an additional fee, so for this reason, it is a good idea to purchase a local sim card and make sure that you have a map app like Maps Me or Google Maps installed on your phone.
Most Mexico travel guides will warn you about driving at night, but this is mostly due to the roads outside of major cities being dimly lit, making it difficult to spot hazards, rather than it being dangerous due to criminals, etc. (There are many stray dogs that may wander onto the roads, as well as other wildlife in the region).
Is Quintana Roo Safe? FAQs
Are you still concerned about safety in Quintana Roo? The answers to some frequently asked questions on the topic are detailed below for your consideration.
Hopefully, you will find the information you are looking for there. If not, please do not hesitate to reach out.
What is the safest area in Quintana Roo?
Cozumel is widely regarded as being the safest spot to visit in Quintana Roo. Both solo travelers and families cite this as the safest spot in the state and according to Numbeo data, they feel safe during both the day and night travels. This is far from the party atmosphere of Cancun.
Cozumel sees a lot of cruise visitors and family travel, which has kept the nightlife to a minimum with very few bars and clubs, and this has played a large part in keeping crime rates low. Visiting more remote locations near Cozumel is also considered very safe.
The best part? Cozumel is still an absolutely bustling beach destination and can still offer you the fun of Cancun but without the additional stress of dangerous situations. Of course, as with all locations, it is always the best safety practice to keep an eye on your belongings at all times, watch your alcohol intake and be aware of your surroundings.
Is Quintana Roo safe for solo female travelers?
Solo female travelers can feel comfortable traveling in Quintana Roo and you should never let your gender deter you from traveling anywhere you want to go. (This entire website has been created by a solo female traveler living in Mexico!)
Walking alone is safe as well, as long as most of your solo walking is during the day. When the night sets in, you may want to exercise extra caution if traveling alone, especially as a female. Make friends with other solo female travelers and travel together or simply follow your gut and order a taxi if you aren’t feeling safe.
If you decide to visit clubs or bars and haven’t made friends yet, find a group of females and see if you can travel, share a cab or sit with them and be sure to always keep your drink in view.
Hold your drink while you are dancing and, if you feel you may be getting overly drunk or starting to lose your wits, you may want to pull back for your own safety.
Is Public transport safe in Quintana Roo?
Public transport, including Uber and local bus networks, are generally believed to be safe in Quintana Roo. Many tourists opt to travel around the state by bus as the local ADO buses are comfortable, air-conditioned, and run frequently between major cities and tourist locations.
Taxis are responsible for 60% of all accidents in the area, according to a report from 2023. However, with millions of travelers, there are bound to be accidents occasionally.
You can purchase tickets online for the bus beforehand using the ADO website (although it is only in Spanish and often glitches and refuses to accept foreign cards) or Busbud. This way, you know that your transportation is handled and safe before you even arrive in the country.
Is the cartel in Quintana Roo?
Rising criminal activity in the state is believed to be a result of increasing cartel activity and warring rival gangs fighting for control of the area. Most tourist resort areas are still considered completely safe as long as you stay away from any illegal drugs yourself.
However, there has been an increase in volatile cartel relationships and “turf wars” taking place in tourist areas in recent years. Although tourists are never the targets of violence, there have been incidents where they have been caught in the crossfire.
In late 2021, two tourists were killed and three more were injured in a cartel shootout in Tulum. In March 2023, an American tourist was shot in the leg near Puerto Morelos.
The chances of being in the wrong place at the wrong time are still slim. Recently, the National Guard was deployed in certain areas of Cancun to protect locals and tourists.
Is Quintana Roo safe to visit in 2023? Final thoughts
With families, college groups, honeymooners, adventure seekers, and even solo travelers loving this part of Mexico, we firmly believe the state of Quintana Roo is safe for everyone as long as you keep aware of your surroundings.
Safe travels and enjoy Mexico! Buen Viaje! Melissa Xo