Is Riviera Maya Safe? Your Complete 2024 Guide by a Local

Are you wondering if the Riviera Maya is safe to visit in 2024? You have come to the right place. 

If you are planning a beach getaway to the gorgeous beaches of the Mexican Caribbean and the resort towns of the Riviera Maya, you might be concerned about safety. Mexico often gets a bad rep in international media and it isn’t necessarily a destination that is associated with being safe.

The good news is that the Riviera Maya is not only one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country, it is also one of the safest. Millions of tourists travel here every single year, many foreign expats live here permanently, the tourism infrastructure and transport in the area is excellent, and English is widely spoken. 

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Riviera Maya to you as a safe travel destination whether you are coming here with a partner, with friends, solo, or as a family with young kids.

You are in good hands because I am a British Travel Writer that has been living in the Mexican Yucatan for the last few years. In this post, we will look at everything you need to know before traveling to the Riviera Maya to ensure your trip is safe and memorable for all the right reasons. 

Waking up at the Mayakoba in the Riviera Maya

Is the Riviera Maya Safe to Visit in 2024?

The Riviera Maya is the name given to the scenic coastal area in Quintana Roo that awaits 36km south of Cancun. It starts in Puerto Morelos and runs down to Punta Allen, including popular destinations like Tulum, the Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve, Akumal, Puerto Aventuras, and Cozumel Island in its grasp. 

Sometimes people tie Cancun in with the Riviera Maya because it is nearby, although technically speaking it isn’t in the same region. On the whole, the Riviera Maya is safer than Cancun because it consists mostly of sleepy, quiet beach towns whereas Cancun is a sprawling metropolitan city with a wild nightlife and a whole bunch of suburbs of various safety levels. 

If you head further south past Punta Allen, you reach the even quieter Costa Maya which, while starting to see a steady trickle of international tourists, has as of yet managed to escape the effects of mass tourism. The Costa Maya. is very safe too, and it is here where you will find the quaint tropical fishing village Mahahual and the gorgeous multi-color waters of Lake Bacalar. 

Mexico and its media portrayal

People are often concerned about traveling to Mexico but tourism makes up a huge part of the Mexican economy, especially in the Riviera Maya and keeping tourists safe is a major priority for the local authorities.

OECD Reports indicate that tourism accounts for more than 8.5% of Mexico’s GDP and according to the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, Mexico was the second most visited country in the world in 2023,  second only to France.

With more than 25 million international tourists traveling to Mexico every year, many of whom fly to Cancun to enjoy the Riviera Maya, if Mexico was really as dangerous as the stereotypes would have you believe, we would hear of a lot more violent incidents wouldn’t we? If it was so dangerous and scary, people would stop coming.

When you research information for your trip to Mexico, be mindful of which sources of information you choose to pay attention to. Many people who havent even traveled here often have something negative to say based on hearsay or something they have seen in a Netflix narco series which obivously isnt a good view of reality.

It is also important to keep in mind just how vast Mexico is as a country. In the past, the US and other international governments have issued travel warnings for Mexico based on something that happened in a part of the country where tourists would never venture to anyway, and which was thousands of miles away from the Riviera maya.

That would be like choosing not to travel to New York because you heard of something happening in Seattle. If someone is offering unsolicited advice on Mexico and they havent traveled here personally, take what they say with a pinch of salt.

Check your government travel advice before you go 

Is a good idea to check your government’s travel advisory before heading anywhere new for the first time and that includes Mexico and the Riviera Maya. 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. Department of State has a particularly comprehensive travel advisory page which offers a state-by-state safety rating to each of the 32 Mexican states.

There are no restrictions on U.S. government employees or standard American travelers in the Riviera Maya and the area is recognized as a place where you can travel freely but exercise increased caution. The adjacent states of the Yucatan and Campeche state are the safest states in Mexico and are well worth traveling to if your itinerary allows.

(In the Yucatan in particular, you can find world-famous sites like the UNESCO protected ruins of Chichen Itza, and lesser known Yucatan Mayan settlements like Ek Balam, Uxmal and the Puuc route and the city of Xcambo).

Is the cartel in the Riviera Maya? 

Mexican cartels have a presence in Cancun and the Riviera Maya but this is not something that you need to be scared about as a tourist. While clashes between criminal organizations have happened in the region in the past, tourists were never the target. 

There have been a couple of instances where travelers were caught up in the crossfire of a fight between cartels. In October 2021, a Californian woman and a German woman were killed when they were hit by ricocheting bullets in a cafe in Tulum.

Since then, the local authorities have heightened the police and security presence in Tulum, Cancun, and throughout the region and similar reports have not happened again. The chances of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and experiencing something similar are very slim. 

The clashes between criminal organizations have been driven by tourists using drugs, driving up demand, and encouraging a fight for the territory. 

Crime in the Riviera Maya

Nowhere is completely trouble free. As a tourist, the biggest thing that you need to be concerned about is petty crime like someone stealing your phone out of your back pocket in a crowded marketplace or snatching your bag.

These are mostly crimes of opportunity which can be avoided by taking basic precautions for yourself and your personal items, and keeping your eyes on your things at all times. Crime rates are lower in the Riviera Maya when compared to larger Mexican cities, especially in the smaller beach towns.

Using Tulum as an example, we can use the statistics site Numbeo to see what the crime and safety ratings are like in the area. The site gives cities a rating of 0 to 100 based on interviewing local residents about safe they feel in the places they live.

The crime rating is measured on a scale of 1 to 100 where the higher the number, the higher the number of incidents, while the higher the safety rating number, the more secure respondants feel.

We can see how Tulum and the Riviera Maya compares to other Mexican, US and global cities below.

Place Safety ratingCrime rating
Playa Del Carmen53.1146.89
New York City50.0349.97
Los Angeles47.0452.96
San Francisco38.0761.93
How safety in the Riviera Maya compares to other places

Is the Riviera Maya safe at night?

Many beach towns in the Riviera Maya are a lot more tranquil and quiet compared to raucous Cancun. Walking in places like La Valeta in Tulum or Akumal isn’t necessarily unsafe, although many of the quiet jungle roads are poorly lit at night, with no street lamps and there are often stray animals so it is better to not go wandering around after dark. 

I don’t like to scare you, but I would not feel right writing this guide and not being completely honest about some of the things that happened here. In early 2022, two female tourists went missing in Tulum and one, a Romanian woman went to the bathroom on a night out and was never seen again. 

Watch your alcohol intake if you go to bars and beach clubs and never leave your drink unattended. Get a reputable taxi back to your accommodation rather than walking, especially if you are alone or a bit tipsy.

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 

In all of my years in Mexico, I have never been offered drugs anywhere except for in Cancun and the Riviera Maya. This is one of the main nightlife and party destinations for American/international travelers and you will get offered drugs a lot. 

Not only is doing drugs here illegal, but the increased demand for drugs in the area (thanks to an increased tourist presence) is the exact thing that is causing a heightened cartel presence and the subsequent cartel violence that comes from it. Don’t contribute to this or become involved with people who take or sell drugs.

Beach safety in the Riviera Maya 

Most of the public beaches in the Riviera Maya boast soft, powdery white sands and calm, translucent turquoise waters that are shallow and perfect for swimming in. This isn’t an area with strong undercurrents and riptides where you need to watch out for certain flag warnings. 

There generally aren’t any lifeguards on the beaches here so if you are traveling with little ones, you still need to keep an eye on them to make sure that they dont go out of their depth, etc.

Never leave your valuables unattended on the beach while you go off swimming. 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.

If you are traveling solo and will have no one to watch your things while you go in the sea, only come out with what you need and leave your cash and expensive items in the hotel safe. 

I bought a waterproof pouch for my phone, and I leave my beach bag somewhere close to other tourists where I can keep an eye on it and easily get back to it from the water.

Safety tips for visiting the Riviera Maya

Some useful safety tips for keeping safe in the Riviera Maya are detailed below. Some of these things are good practice wherever you travel but they are worth reiterating here.

  • Watch your personal belongings at all times – walk with your bag in front of you in crowded markets, and never leave your laptop/phone on a coffee shop table while you go to the bathroom

  • Don’t wear expensive jewelry or pack any valuable designer items that you would be worried about losing. You will be safe in your resort, but this is one way to draw attention to yourself as a tourist with money if you head off to more off-the-beaten-path parts of Mexico.

  • Purchase a theft-proof Pacsafe bag if you spend a lot of time in Mexico and Latin America – they are slash-proof, waterproof, and come with a TSA-approved mesh locking system

  • Don’t carry wads of cash. 4,000 pesos is plenty to last you for a couple of days and international credit and debit cards are widely accepted.

Scams in the Riviera Maya 

Sometimes, tourist destinations tend to attract toots and other unsavory salespeople who are often trying to make a quick buck out of tourists by overcharging or trying to scam them in some way or another. This isn’t purely a Mexico thing, it’s something that you notice all over the world. 

Because the Riviera Maya does experience some overtourism in parts, there are a few opportunist scams to be aware of in the area. 

Added extra gratuity/tipping pressure 

While I do believe that you should always tip in Mexico because people work long hours in high temperatures for low pay, tips are always optional. It is actually illegal here to add an obligatory tip to a menu, but it is something that you will find in a lot of restaurants and tourist places.

Sometimes, a 10% service fee will be added to the bill, and the waiter will still be pushy and expect more. This has happened to me in the past when I have tipped as much as 20-25% of the bill in somewhere that was not cheap to begin with and the person was still not happy with the tip they received.

Ultimately tips are at your discretion and if something is added to your bill that you do not agree with, you are well within your right to request its removal. 

The mustard scam

The mustard scam is a common scam all over Latin America which has been reported in Playa Del Carmen and in parts of the Riviera Maya. Someone will bump into you and drop mustard or ketchup down your shirt and while they are apologizing and trying to help you remove it, their accomplice will try and pickpocket you. 

Otherwise, they may be overly friendly and insist they take you somewhere to help you clean the sauce stain, for their accomplice to be waiting there to rob you. 

The bird poop scam  

Similar to the mustard scam, people have reported a well-dressed couple in Playa Del Carmen who approach tourists claiming that a bird has pooped on them and offering to clean their shirts. As one person distracts you, the other tries to steal your valuables. 

Car rental insurance scam

Renting a car in the Riviera Maya can make it a lot easier to get around the area independently but there are definitely a lot of car rental scams to look out for. Some rental platforms have cars listed for as little as $5-10 per day but if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. 

Realistically, you are looking to pay around $30-$40 USD per day for an economy-sized rental including full-coverage insurance. Use a comparison site like Discover Cars to rent from a reputable supplier. (It is a good idea to filter by suppliers with a rating of 7 and up only and look for reputable names like Avis and Hertz). 

A common scam here is for the rental company to force you to purchase their insurance policy even if you already have your own which is perfectly valid. Sometimes they will threaten that you cannot take their vehicle if you do not buy their insurance and this happened to my friend and me in Merida. 

Cancun Airport transfer touts 

Once you have passed through customs at Cancun International Airport, the arrivals area is usually absolute chaos with hundreds of touts all vying for your attention. I would strongly advise you to organize a Cancun airport transfer before traveling to Mexico so that you know that someone is waiting for you when you land. 

Many luxury hotels and resorts across the Riviera Maya also offer shuttle services – either included in their room rates or for an extra fee. Taxi drivers are a law unto themselves the world over but in Cancun, they are pushy and aggressive and will often make up a price on the spot which can be as much as two or three times the correct going rate. 

The bill swap scam 

A couple of years ago, Mexico introduced a blue 500 peso bill that looks similar to the blue 20 peso note. There have been instances where scammers have taken someones 500 peso bill, switched it with a 20, and then tried to convince them that they have handed them the wrong note. 

Always be aware of what you are using and handing over. 

Waiter from hotel scam

Tourists in Playa Del Carmen have reported a scam where someone has rushed over to them enthusiastically on the beach or in the street, claimed to be a member of staff from their hotel, and been overly friendly. The person then steers you in the direction of an overpriced tourist store or bazaar and tries to pressure you to buy something. 

Take organized tours with reputable tour companies 

While the public transport in the Riviera Maya is excellent, you might want to consider taking an organized tour to help you get your bearings if you are nervous, or if you just want someone else to manage the logistics of how to get from A to B.

Many excellent archeological sites, pueblos and beaches are located just an hour or two away from the Mayan Riviera. This includes Chichen Itza, the yellow city of Izamal, the pueblo magico of Valladolid and the ruins at Ek Balam.

A number of reputable tour companies operate in Quintana Roo state and offer organized excursions at decent prices that include a hotel pick-up and drop-off. You will find a lot of excellent excursions and day trips on Viator and Get Your Guide.

Recommended Riviera Maya tours for 2024

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!

Getting around in the Riviera Maya

It is safe to walk around most beach towns in the Riviera Maya, including Tulum, during the day. Public transport links in the area are excellent and comfortable, air-conditioned ADO and Noreste buses connect major cities and tourist towns.

As of 2024, the Tren Maya train is finally running from Cancun to Merida and Paleneque, making various tourist places in the Yucatan more accessible. Later in the year, the train will also run from Cancun down the coast to Tulum, Akumal, Bacalar and Chetumal, making getting around even easier.

Local buses within cities like Tulum and Cancun often run on infrequent schedules and can be tricky to navigate. Taxis can be a convenient way to get around if you are not comfortable renting a car but there are a few things you need to keep in mind.

Taking taxis in the Riviera Maya

People across Mexico tend to prefer to use Uber, Didi and other ridesharing apps rather than taxis because they are considered safer than street taxis here. This is perhaps interesting as many people in other countries around the world have a different view but of course, there is also more accountability when you order a cab via a rideshare app as you have the drivers name, experience and reviews, vehicle info, etc.

Unfortunately, Uber and similar apps are banned in the Riviera Maya and are only available in Cancun. Elsewhere in the Riviera Maya, you need to be cautious about taking taxis and only take licensed ones that are organized by your hotel.

Never take a taxi that you have hailed at random on the street. Once you find a driver that you like, take their number/business card so that you can use them for future journeys.

Many cab drivers here are likely to overcharge you and assume that as a tourist, you do not know the correct going rate of things. In the worst case scenario, you might also be a victim of an express kidnapping.

While express kidnappings are rare in this part of Mexico, they do happen occasionally. This happens when an unsuspecting tourist gets into a taxi and the taxi driver holds them at gun/knife point to insist that they hand over all of their money and valuables.

The tourists may be driven around and forced to withdraw money from ATMs or 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 so be very careful about what cabs and cars you get into.

A note on taking Uber in Cancun

As mentioned, Cancun is the only place in Quintana Roo state where Uber exists. In the past, the US government have issued a warning about using Uber here, but I disagree with the sentiment and have personally used it a lot, including in Cancun, with no issues.

Like in many cities around the world, many Cancun cab drivers are unhappy about the presence of Uber in their city. They have often behaved like a gang, threatening and attacking Uber drivers and have even created roadblocks in the past.

I personally prefer to ride in a car with an Uber driver rather than a taxi driver who finds it acceptable to behave like a thug, especially since taxi drivers here often scam you and rip you off anyway.

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, as summarised below.

Uber in Cancun safety tips

  • Order your Uber a little distance away from main landmarks and transport stations – 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

  • Always check past ratings and reviews. If your driver is brand new to the platform or has a rating below 4.5, cancel the ride for free and wait for another. If someone has been on the app for years and has completed thousands of journeys, it’s a good sign that they are trustworthy

  • Sit in the passenger seat beside your driver rather than in the back. If anyone asks who you are waiting for, tell them you are a waiting for a friend.

Is driving in Riviera Maya safe?

Renting a car in Mexico will make it a lot easier to get around the Yucatan peninsula much easier during your trip and it is worth considerinf if you want to visit lesser-known beaches, nature reserves and Mayan ruins.

The roads in the Riviera Maya and the Yucatan Peninsula as a whole are pretty good. They are very well-paved and maintained and honestly, driving here is not that different from driving in the United States or Canada.

You don’t have to contend with potholes or poor road services and people tend to follow road rules and drive carefully because the penalties for dangerous driving and speeding or very high.

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. 

Toll roads are generally considered safer in Mexico but honestly all of the roads in this region are safe. There are no cartel roadblocks or groups of bandits in Quintana Roo.

It is best to only drive between cities and in rural areas during the day, not because of crime, but due to the absence of street lights that makes it very difficult to see hazards such as stray animals, stray dogs, etc.

Is Riviera Maya safe for solo travelers?

Yes, the Riviera Maya is safe for solo travelers of all ages, backgrounds and genders and that includes fellow solo female travelers. (This entire post and website has been written by me, a solo female traveler that came to Mexico on vacation, moved here permanently and has traveled across the country extensively).

Since this area is so popular among tourists, locals are accustomed to seeing people meandering around by themselves here so you are not going to attract weird looks or make yourself a target by being alone. As the Riviera Maya is on a well-trodden tourist route, it is very easy to meet other travelers in hostels, coworking spaces, etc, and there are a lot of events and parties that are catered towards a Digital Nomad crowd.

If you want to be social here, you will probably find that you make travel friends without even having to make any real effort to do so. There are also tons of Mexico Facebook groups that you can join to ask for advice or search for people to grab coffee with, etc.

Is Riviera Maya safe for solo female travelers?

Yes, the Riviera Maya is safe for solo female travelers and it is perhaps one of the best starting destinations for solo women heading to Mexico for the first time. Plenty of solo women come here by themselves and many of us choose to leave here too!

Many parts of Mexico are quite conservative, but in the Riviera Maya and across the Yucatan peninsula in general because it is so hot and humid here most of the time, both local and tourist women tend to wear shorts, t-shirts, summer dresses etc.

Obviously being a woman anywhere is different from traveling as a man. Sometimes you may find that men look over at you a little inquisitively or for a prolonged amount of time, but catcalling really isnt all that bad in the Yucatan. (It seems to be a part of the respectful culture here).

Have your wits about you and use the same common sense that you would use anywhere else and you will be fine.

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?

No. It is not safe to drink the water anywhere in Mexico including in tje Riviera Maya. Even though it is purified of the source, it often gets contaminated en route to the tap and contains nasty viruses and harmful bacteria that can make you sick.

Locals do not drink it either. All hotels will provide you with free bottled water during your stay and then you can purchase more as you need from Oxxo convenience stores and other shops and restaurants.

You don’t have to stress about having ice in your drinks as nothing is made with tap water and restaurants will have ice delivered.

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.

Is the Riviera Maya safe for families?

Yes, the Riviera Maya is a safe destination for families. There are lots of excellent resorts around the region that offer wonderful activities for kids of all ages – for instance, children’s swimming pools and classes, kids creches and activity centers, etc. 

Mexico, in general, is a very family-oriented place and you will see lots of families with young kids meandering around. The Riviera Maya towns of Puerto Morelos, Punta Allen, and Akumal are probably a bit better suited for you than Cancun and Tulum if you don’t want to be around a rowdy nightlife crowd.

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, although most people prefer to travel here in the winter months (between December and March.)

Since this is the “peak” season, prices are at their highest during this time and some areas do get quite crowded. The hurricane season runs between May and October and although fatal or serious hurricanes are very rare, there can be many heavy storms and torrential downpours of rain.

August and September are particularly bad for storms and sometimes, the power can go out, or the internet stops working for several days.

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, there have not been any recent incidents of tourists getting caught in the crossfire of violent clashes between cartel groups in Puerto Vallarta as there have been in Cancun and the Riveira Maya.

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 while Cancun has a high crime rating of 62.2. 

Is Riviera Maya safe? Final thoughts 

I hope that this post on safety in the Riviera Maya has helped you feel more confident about traveling to the area in 2024 and beyond.

Most travelers have trips to Southern Mexico that are memorable for all the right reasons. Mexico isn’t the scary no-go place that it is often depicted to be and you definitely dont need to spend your vacation here confined to your resort.

Explore as much as you can, visit the sunbleached remnants of Ancient Mayan cities that are thousands of years old, tuck into traditional Yucatecan food and treat yourself to a stay at an old hacienda.

If you let fear deter you from traveling here or convince you that you need to stay in your resort, you will miss out on so much!

If you are still concerned about making a trip here after reading this advice, feel free to reach out to me! As I mentioned, I have been living in the Yucatan for the last few years and I am always happy to chat.

Safe travels and enjoy Mexico! 

Buen Viaje! Melissa Xo 

Melissa Douglas

Melissa Douglas is a British Travel Writer based in Merida, Mexico and the Editor-in-Chief of Mexico Travel Secrets. She has over seven years worth of experience in working in travel media and has travelled to 57 countries, mostly solo. Throughout her career, Melissa has produced written content for several high-profile publications across the globe - including Forbes Travel Guide, the Huffington Post, Rough Guides, and Matador Network.

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