Is Riviera Maya safe? Safety is a big concern for a lot of people when they plan their first trips to Mexico.
The Riviera Maya is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. It is home to white sand beaches, beautiful coastal towns, hidden cenotes, and ancient Mayan ruins.
Tulum, Playa del Carmen, Cancun, Isla Holbox, and Isla Mujeres are all found in the Riviera Maya. Every year more than 25 million international travelers visit Mexico and a large portion of those travelers head to the Riviera Maya.
Most visits are trouble-free. However, there are definitely a few things that you need to keep in mind from a safety perspective if you are visiting this area.
This article has been written by a British travel writer based in the Yucatan capital of Merida. I have traveled the Riviera Maya extensively since I live right nearby. I feel well-poised to advise you on planning your trip here.
Where is Riviera Maya?
Riviera Maya is a tourist resort area that straddles the Caribbean coast in the Southern Mexican state of Quintana Roo in the Yucatan peninsula. It essentially covers an area of 75 miles and runs southwards from Cancun to Punta Allen.
When you get south of Punta Allen, you reach the quieter Costa Maya. This region, close to the border with Belize, is best known for the gorgeous seven-color lagoon at Bacalar and the charming fishing village Mahahual.
If you head west from Cancun and the Riviera Maya, you cross into the Yucatan state. This is a great region for exploration if you are looking to immerse yourself in Mexican traditions and culture.
The Yucatan state is home to quieter Yucatan beach towns that see a fraction of the tourists as Riviera Maya beaches. Lesser-known ruins such as Mayapan, Uxmal, Xcambo, and the Ruta Puuc are worth adding to your radar if you are interested in Mayan history.
Is Riviera Maya safe?
The Riviera Maya can be safe. However, you do need to take the same common sense precautions here as you would when traveling anywhere else in the world.
It is important to give you an honest look at things and it would be unethical for me to deny that several violent crimes have happened here in the last few years. Since the area has been a victim of over-tourism in recent years, scams against tourists are becoming more common.
Organized crime groups operate in the Riviera Maya. Although violent crimes tend to be restricted to incidents between crime groups, tourists have sometimes been caught in the crossfire.
The chances of being in the wrong place at the wrong time are slim. But this is why you always need to be aware of your surroundings.
The clashes between criminal organizations have been driven by tourists using drugs, driving up demand, and encouraging a fight for the territory.
The Mexican government prioritizes tourist safety
Tourism makes up a huge part of the Mexican economy, especially in the Riviera Maya. OECD Reports indicate that tourism accounts for more than 8.5% of Mexico’s GDP.
This is expected to grow even further going forward. But why is that important?
Since tourism is such a big part of the local economy, The Mexican government and tourism board go above and beyond to make sure that tourists are safe and comfortable during their time in the country.
You will often find additional security personnel stationed at the beaches in Cancun, Playa del Carmen, etc. Most businesses and hotels also employ their own private security.
While this can be daunting, it exists for your safety.
Check your government travel advice before you go
Is a good idea to check your government’s travel advisory before heading to the Riviera Maya for the first time. While government travel advice can be sternly worded, it is constantly updated to reflect the current situation, entry requirements, any safety concerns, etc.
The U.S. state department awards each of the 32 Mexican states with a different safety rating. Some states are recognized as places where you should exercise normal precautions.
Others are flagged as places where you should exercise increased precautions. Some states fall under a reconsidered travel category while others are on the do not travel list.
The state of Quintana Roo where the Riviera Maya is situated is flagged as a place where you need to exercise increased caution.
There are no restrictions on u.s. government employees or standard American travelers in this area. Similarly, the UK government recognizes Quintana Roo as one of the safest parts of the country where you can travel with no major concerns.
Tips for staying safe in the Riviera Maya
Some useful safety tips for keeping safe in the Riviera Maya are detailed below. If you are still concerned about making a trip here after reading this advice, feel free to reach out to me!
Take organized tours with reputable tour companies
Several gorgeous beaches and incredible archaeological sites are located just an hour or two away from the Mayan Riviera. This includes Chichen Itza, one of the seven wonders of the world.
Public transportation in Quintana Roo state is pretty good. However, opting to participate in a tour takes a lot of the stress out of figuring out how you are going to get from A to B.
A number of reputable tour companies operate in Quintana Roo state. You will find a lot of excellent excursions and day trips on Viator and Get your Guide.
Many include a pick-up and drop-off at your hotel.
Recommended Riviera Maya tours
A selection of some of the best tours of Chichen Itza and other incredible sites that you can reach from the Riviera Maya are detailed below. Book your place online in advance to avoid disappointment!
- Chichen Itza, Valladolid, and cenote all-inclusive tour
- From Cancun and Riviera Maya: Chichen Itza, Valladolid, lunch and cenote
- Private tour of Chichen Itza from Cancun/Riviera Maya
- Ek Balam and Cenote Maya full-day tour from Riviera Maya
- Coba, Chichen Itza, and Ik Kil private tour from Riviera Maya
Be careful about taking cabs
You should never get into a random street cab or hail a taxi on the street in the Riviera Maya or anywhere in Mexico. if you spend any amount of time traveling in Mexico, you will know that most people prefer to use ride-sharing apps like Uber and Didi rather than street taxis.
Cars ordered via ride chat apps are considered safer. This is perhaps interesting as many people in other countries around the world have a different view.
The mindset is that there is more accountability when you order a cab via a rideshare app. After all, you have all of the details on the driver, their experience, and their vehicle.
You simply do not have this when you get into a random street car.
Uber and Didi are available in many parts of Mexico. Unfortunately, they are banned in the state of Quintana Roo with the exception of Cancun.
If you are in Cancun, you can use uber. in other parts of the Riviera Maya, you should always ask your hotel receptionist or concierge to organize a trusted taxi for you. never get into a random street cab.
Express kidnappings are an issue in Mexico. This happens when an unsuspecting tourist gets into a taxi and the taxi driver insists that they hand over all of their money and valuables.
The tourists may be driven around and forced to withdraw money from ATMs. Alternatively, they may be told to call family members and demand ransom money.
While the intention is never to harm people, it is not really the type of vacation experience that you want.
Uber in Cancun
The US government recently issued a warning about using Uber in Mexico which is worth noting here.
Many cab drivers are unhappy with the presence of uber in their City. While this happens in many cities around the globe, taxi drivers act like a gang in Cancun and often threaten or attack Uber drivers.
Tourists have been caught in the middle of this chaos when they have gotten into the back of an Uber and found that someone started abusing their driver. A quick Google search of the matter will bring up stories of Ubers being chased by baseball bat-wielding cabbies.
So should you avoid Uber in Cancun?
Not so fast. I personally would prefer to ride in a car with an Uber driver rather than a taxi driver that finds it acceptable to behave like a thug.
And while you cannot tar all Cancun taxi drivers with the same brush, overcharging tourists and scamming them has been an issue in this part of Mexico for a while. There are a few things that you can do to make your Uber experience a safe one.
You should walk a little distance away from Main landmarks before calling your uber. Uber drivers will not want to pick you up from outside the Ado bus station for example where there are lots of taxis waiting around.
When your Uber arrives, it is a good idea to sit in the passenger seat beside your driver rather than in the back. If you are uncomfortable with getting in an uber, do a thorough check of the driver’s past reviews and profile first.
Make sure that your driver has been on the app for a couple of years and has a rating of at least 4.5. If you are not happy with their profile, cancel the ride for free and search for another driver.
Is driving in Riviera Maya safe?
The roads in the Riviera Maya and the Yucatan Peninsula as a whole are actually pretty good. They are very well-paved and maintained.
You don’t have to contend with potholes or poor road services here. For the most part, if you are renting a car in Mexico, you may not find driving here that different from driving in the United States.
There is one main federal highway that connects Cancun with all the other towns and villages in the region. This is the Carretera Federal 307 and it runs all the way to the border with Belize.
Some people speed or exhibit alarming driving skills. If you spend any amount of time in Mexico, you will hear people saying that a lot of people don’t really bother learning to drive or taking lessons. They simply pay someone to give them a license.
When you get here and see the way that some of the people drive, that really explains a lot! Just be aware of your surroundings and watch your own driving.
Fines for speeding or breaking road rules in Mexico can be steep and the police are often corrupt. So, it pays, even more, to drive carefully.
Stick to toll roads and only drive between cities during the day. While there is criminal activity around Cancun, the main issue with driving at night is the lack of street lighting.
Most intercity roads do not have any lighting whatsoever. This makes it very difficult to see hazards such as stray animals, stray dogs, etc.
Don’t walk around at night
While places in the Riviera Maya such as Cancun are safe during the day, it is a very different story at night. Don’t walk alone at night, especially when intoxicated.
When you leave a bar, make sure that you organize a transfer back to your hotel in advance. At any time of day or night, you should avoid walking down sketchy-looking side streets or into areas that you do not know.
Don’t take drugs
The Riviera Maya is known for being one of the best party and nightlife destinations in Mexico and arguably, all of Latin America. It is better not to take drugs in Mexico at all, especially in an area that has an issue with violent drug-related crime.
Besides, if you do take them, you are supporting and encouraging the industry that is causing a safety concern for all travelers to Mexico.
Watch your personal belongings
If you are going to be a victim of a crime in the Riviera Maya, it is more likely to be a petty crime such as pickpocketing or bag-snatching, rather than any violent crime. Unfortunately, the high number of tourists in the area does attract a lot of scammers and opportunists.
Never leave your laptop or any other belongings unattended in coffee shops. Take them to the county or to the bathroom with you rather than asking your table mates to look after them for you.
Similarly, you should never leave your belongings unattended on the beach. Even if you think that you have your eye on them while you are swimming, there have been a few instances where people have run away with somebody’s belongings while they were in the sea.
Don’t keep any valuables in your back pocket or places where they can easily be snatched. A theft-proof backpack like those offered by Pacsafe is a worthwhile investment, especially if you travel a lot.
The bags are slash-proof, waterproof, and come with a TSA-approved mesh locking system. they’re a little more expensive than regular backpacks but come with long-term warranties and a well worth the investment if you spend a lot of time traveling in Mexico and Latin America.
Is Riviera Maya safe for solo travelers?
You will see a lot of solo travelers in the Riviera Maya, including solo female travelers. It is relatively easy to meet people if that’s what you want to do.
There are a lot of hostels in major cities and islands in the area. (Cancun, Tulum, Isla Holbox, etc). You will probably find that you make travel friends without even having to make any real effort to do so.
You can also use Couchsurfing hangouts to find other travelers to meet up with and go for dinner, drinks, etc. Since many parts of the Riviera Maya have large expat and digital nomad communities, you will also find a lot of events organized via local Facebook groups and Meetup.com.
Mexico travel Facebook groups are an underrated source of local information. they are also a great way to meet people.
If you are going to be hanging out in the Riviera Maya for an extended period of time, you can join local Facebook groups catered to expats in the area. Simply write a post with a photo introducing yourself and what you like to do.
Share that you would like to meet people to explore, grab a coffee, etc. You may be surprised by how many responses you get and the new travel friends that you make.
Purchase comprehensive travel insurance before you go
It is a good idea to purchase comprehensive travel insurance before your trip to Mexico. Today’s health is not promised tomorrow and despite our best planning, you can never really know what is around the corner.
A good travel insurance policy will include comprehensive medical coverage of at least $100,000 USD per person. You may have to pay extra if you plan on doing adventure activities. E.g. water sports, hiking, or renting an ATV.
Can you drink the water in Riviera Maya?
It is not safe to drink the water anywhere in Mexico including in Riviera Maya. Even though it is purified of the source, it often gets contaminated en route to the tap.
All hotels will provide you with free bottled water during your stay. You don’t have to stress about having ice in your drinks as nothing is made with tap water.
Locals do not drink it either. It will never be used to prepare anything anywhere.
Is Riviera Maya Safe? FAQs
Do you have any further questions about traveling to Riviera Maya or planning a Yucatan itinerary in general? The answers to some frequently asked questions on the topic are detailed below.
Hopefully, you’ll find the information that you’re looking for there. If not, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.
When should you not go to Riviera Maya?
Truthfully, there is no such thing as a bad time to go to the Riviera Maya. The region sees a tropical warm climate all year round.
Still, there are some personal preferences when it comes to the best time to travel to the Yucatan. The summer season runs between May and October and is also the rainy hurricane season.
Fatal or serious hurricanes are very rare. However, there can be a lot of storms that cause torrential downpours of rain. August and September are particularly bad for storms.
Sometimes, there are power cuts or internet outages. These can last for several hours or days at a time.
Still, storms and rainfall are usually brief. They quickly subside and the weather brightens up so that you can enjoy the rest of your day.
The peak time to travel of year to Riviera Maya is in the winter months. (Between December and March.)
However, prices are at their highest during this time and many places get very crowded.
Is Riviera Maya safer than Puerto Vallarta?
Both Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Maya are safe tourist areas. However, Puerto Vallarta is perhaps the slightly safer option of the two.
Although the state of Jalisco has stricter travel warnings, you do not hear of Mexican drug cartels having fights and shootouts in Puerto Vallarta as you do in Cancun. Criminal groups target each other and not local people or tourists.
However, American tourists have been accidental victims of this type of violence in the Riviera Maya on rare occasions in the past.
It is also worth comparing the crime ratings in Puerto Vallarta and in Cancun. According to the Numbeo crime index, Puerto Vallarta has a crime rating of 38.81 which is considered low.
Compare this to Cancun which has a high crime rating of 62.2
Is Riviera Maya safe? Final thoughts
Is Riviera Maya safe? Most travelers have trips to Southern Mexico that are memorable for all the right reasons.
But it is important to never be complacent when traveling anywhere in Mexico. Be aware of your safety and follow the above tips and you will be fine.
You definitely don’t need to feel that you must stay in inclusive resorts and never leave to explore. This seems to be a fear that many travelers have.
If you do that, you will be missing out on so much!
If you are a solo female traveler, you might also find my Facebook group for women traveling alone in Mexico to be useful.
Safe travels and enjoy Mexico!
Buen Viaje! Xo