Is the Yucatan Safe? Your 2024 Guide by a Female Expat

Is the Yucatan safe to travel to? Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula is one of the most popular travel destinations in the country and it attracts millions of tourists from across the world every year. 

Most people who travel to this region have a wonderful vacation. However, Mexico is a country that people are often apprehensive about travelling to and sometimes, it can feel like Mexico is in the media for all the wrong reasons so it is understandable that you may be a bit anxious before you take your first trip here. 

The Yucatan is safe. (In fact, it is one of the safest parts of Mexico.) I have been living here since January 2022 and have travelled the region extensively (and I am a solo female traveller). This Autumn, I even went through the process of buying a house here in Merida and setting down roots in the Yucatan.

Obviously staying safe comes with some caveats; there are good and bad people everywhere and the Yucatan is safe provided that you use your common sense and take precautions for your safety. In this guide, we will cover everything that you need to know about safety in the Yucatan so that you can ensure your trip is memorable for all the right reasons.

Is the Yucatan safe? Sitting outside the archaeological site of Kabah
The archaeological site of Kabah

Is the Yucatan Safe to Visit?

Generally speaking, the Yucatan is a safe part of Mexico. On the whole, Mexico can be a safe place to visit and the country does not deserve the negative stereotypes it often receives.

The Yucatan peninsula is one of the safest parts of Mexico. It is made up of the three states of Campeche, the Yucatan state, and Quintana Roo, and is home to ultra-popular travel destinations like Tulum, Cancun, Playa Del Carmen and Isla Mujeres. 

Other emerging travel destinations like Merida, Valladolid and the yellow city of Izamal can be found here, and I would urge you to set any fears aside and venture off the beaten path while you are in the area.

Is the Yucatan safe? Progreso Beach at sunset
Progreso Beach at sunset

Check your government advice before you travel

It is always useful to read your country’s government travel advice before travelling anywhere and the same rings true for visiting Mexico for the first time.

The United States travel advisory, in particular, is useful as it provides a safety breakdown for each of Mexico’s 32 states. These are divided into different categories based on their perceived safety.

Campeche and the Yucatan state are the two safest states in Mexico and they are the only two places in the country that have the lowest US travel advisory warning level. (“exercise normal precautions”). 

The state of Quintana Roo is still safe, but there are parts of Cancun and the Riviera Maya that are a little rough around the edges. Quintana Roo is flagged as a place where you need to “exercise increased precautions”.

So, while it is still perfectly fine to travel there, you ought to be a little more aware of your surroundings while you are in the area. 

Unfortunately, the major surge in tourism to QR in recent years has led to an increase in demand for drugs, which has led to criminal groups and drug cartels fighting over the territory. There have been a few violent clashes in recent years, although tourists are never the target.  

Approaching an old Mayan arch outside Kabah
Approaching an old Mayan arch outside Kabah

Safe destinations in the Yucatán Peninsula

As a woman who relocated to Mexico alone, I actually feel safe in most parts of the Yucatan peninsula. Nothing bad has ever happened to me during my two years here, and I mostly feel safer here than I did in my home town in the UK, which might come as a shock to hear. 

I use my common sense when travelling around, but I never feel that I need to keep looking over my shoulder or constantly reminding myself that I am in Mexico. The culture in the Yucatan is actually rather different than in many parts of the country. 

The violent things that you hear about happening in parts of Northern Mexico or border towns (fronteras) simply don’t happen here. The Yucatan capital of Merida where I live is widely known as being not only the safest city in Mexico, but that feeling of safety and security extends to even the most remote villages and beach towns of the Yucatan.

Gorgeous Playa de las Dunas beach
Gorgeous Playa de las Dunas beach

Safe places to visit in the Yucatan

Some of my best recommendations for safe places to visit in the Yucatan are shortlisted below. 

  • Izamal – “Yellow city” of the Yucatan known for its bright yellow buildings, historic convent, and Kinich Kakmó pyramid

  • Valladolid – Yucatan pueblo magico with a charming central square

  • El Cuyo – A quiet beach town reminiscent of what Tulum was like 15 years ago

  • Cholul – A cute, upscale village just north of Merida filled with some great brunch spots

  • San Bruno – Tiny village along a pristine stretch of coastline home to some great beach clubs and boutique hotels

  • Mahahual – Paradisical beach town in Costa Maya, south Quintana Roo

  • Progreso – Closest beach town to Merida which makes a great jump-off point for continuing along the coast to Yucalpeten, Chicxulub, Uaymitun, etc

  • Motul – Pueblo magico with a cute central market where you can try the local delicacy “huevos motuleños” (motul eggs).

  • Ruta Puuc – 30km stretch of road in the southern part of the Yucatan state that leads through the well-preserved archaeological sites of Uxmal, Kabah, Labna, Sayil and Xlapak

  • Campeche City – UNESCO-protected colonial capital of Campeche state that feels almost like venturing back in time

  • Lake Bacalar – Beautiful natural lake known as the “seven colour lagoon” because of how the waters shimmer in different shades of blue and turquoise

  • Chichen Itza – One of the “new” seven wonders of the world and one of the most important Mayan cities in Mexico. 
Blue facade of an ice cream store in Merida, Mexico
Blue facade of an ice cream store in Merida, Mexico

Merida is the safest city in Mexico 

The colourful colonial city of Merida makes a great starting point for any road trip around the Yucatan.

Merida is not only the safest city in all of Mexico but one of the safest in the entire North American continent. There is no history of political unrest here, and the State Department’s Mexico crime and safety report for Merida (OSAC) details that there is little to no narco-related crime threat. 

There are various theories as to why Merida has remained such a safe and mostly crime-free place during a time when crime waves have rocked other parts of Mexico. One theory is that Merida is safe because many narcos and their families live here and have established the city as a neutral zone. 

When you note that so many people in Merida have money and flashy cars, that certainly seems possible. However, for the most part, it seems to be simply that the culture in Merida and the wider Yucatan state is very different from the culture in other parts of Mexico.

Merida is so safe that I feel very comfortable going for a run through the local park in the evenings (there are always lots of people around) or dashing to the store at 10 p.m. I wouldn’t do that in most pars of the world.

The police here tend to be better than in other areas; there are more checkpoints scattered around the state, and police respond faster to callouts.

Yucatecans are conservative yet friendly, and there seems to be a general sense of community. It is cliche but the locals here are among the friendliest in the country. As you walk around, they greet you with “Buenos dias” or “Buenos tardes” and people are usually hospitable.

Campeche safety 

Campeche is the least visited of the three Mexican states in the Yucatan tristate area. Its capital, Campeche City is a gorgeous UNESCO-protected colonial port settlement.

The city, which still maintains its original 17th-century fortifications, is seemingly frozen in time. Meander along the Malecon to watch the sunset.

Then, explore the Zocalo (main square), take a trolley out around the cobbled streets of Campeche’s old town, and admire the ornate interiors of the Campeche cathedral. 

You will see very few other tourists in Campeche city but the city feels no less safe or inviting than Merida. Campeche is very safe.

Just use the same common sense precautions here as you would anywhere else. Violent crimes in Campeche are rare, and crime rates in general here are low. 

If you are renting a car in Mexico, you can stop in the town of Hecelchakán on your way to Campeche. This little settlement is said to serve some of the very best cochinita pibil (a Yucatecan dish made by slow-roasting pork in an underground oven) in the Yucatan peninsula.

Some of the best Mayan ruins in Mexico can be found in the southern part of the state, though they are in remote, rural areas and are not all that easy to get to. Calakmul sits deep in the Petén Basin region, in the dense jungles occupied by jaguars!

Since this area is so remote, you should be careful if driving alone.

Chacchoben, Southern Quintana Roo
Chacchoben, Southern Quintana Roo

Quintana Roo safety 

The state of Quintana Roo, with its Riviera Maya, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Mexico. Playa del Carmen is continually expanding as an ex-pat hub, while Tulum and Cancun are international favourites.

For spectacular Mexican Caribbean beaches where soft, powdery white sand coastlines run beside translucent azure waters, head down to Mahahual, or to the islands of Isla Mujeres, Cozumel, or Isla Holbox. Unfortunately in parts of Mexico where you see more tourists, you often see higher prices and more scams.

There has been an increase in cartel activity in Cancun and Tulum in recent years and there are some parts of the cities where you simply do not want to go. The problem is that many of the clashes between crime syndicates have taken place in broad daylight, often in tourist areas and beaches.

So, while you are not a target for this as a tourist, you could be unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is still rare, but you should always be aware of your surroundings.

A quiet beach in San Bruno, along the Gulf of Mexico
A quiet beach in San Bruno, along the Gulf of Mexico

Is the Yucatan safe for solo travellers? 

The Yucatan is safe for solo travellers of all ages and genders, including solo female travellers in Mexico. Since a lot of people travel to this region, there is good tourism infrastructure in place, and it is easy to meet other people. 

Rest assured, you won’t stick out like a sore thumb or get weird looks for being by yourself because locals are accustomed to seeing tourists. There are some hostels in popular destinations like Merida, Cancun, Holbox, Isla Mujeres, etc that make it easy to meet people. 

Even if you aren’t staying at a hostel, you can hang out in its common areas or go along to its events and bar crawls. If like me, you aren’t much of a hostel person, there are also lots of great Facebook groups like “Merida Mexico Expat Community” and “Backpacking Mexico” where you can create a post and see if any other travellers will be around during your trip. 

Exploring Sayil archaeological site
Exploring the Sayil archaeological site

Is the Yucatan safe for solo female travellers?

As a solo female traveller who lives in the Yucatan (aka I am not just someone who is passing through), I feel very safe here. I have explored the region extensively, even driving out to remote ruins like Oxkintok, Ake, and Edzna where there were no other tourists around and never felt uncomfortable. 

I mostly wear shorts, t-shirts, skirts and sundresses since it is hot and humid here virtually every day. You will notice that a lot of Yucatecan women dress the same, and the Yucatan isnt somewhere where you need to worry about dressing modestly or dressing a certain way because of creepy stares. 

I am a conventionally attractive woman and sometimes I do find that people are looking at me, and I have experienced the occasional catcall or silly comment like “Hey do you want a Mexican boyfriend?” 

Honestly? I just ignore it and don’t give these people the time of day and recommend that you do the same. 

Don’t give these people the power to ruin your trip. I lived in Greece for five years before moving to Mexico and I feel that I experience less harassment and catcalling in the Yucatan than in the Mediterranean. 

I have only really had one creepy incident here when I was walking along the Malecon in Campeche City and noticed a guy following me for over an hour. He was driving along on his motorcycle and kept stalling and waiting for me to pass. 

I went into a convenience store and left out the back exit and lost him. This is why it pays to be aware of your surroundings.

If anyone continues to bother you, go into a store and tell someone. (You can type it out on Google Translate if you don’t speak Spanish).

Is it safe to drive in the Yucatan?

Renting a car in Merida or Cancun is a great option, as public transport in the area is not great. I have a car which has made everything so much easier.

When it went in for repair, I realised how difficult it was to even take day trips from Merida without one.

Driving in Mexico in general is not as daunting as people assume. The Yucatan is a particularly pleasant area to drive around and to be honest, driving here is not that different from driving in the US and Canada.

The roads are very well-maintained and in excellent condition. People will generally advise you to drive on toll roads (autopistas) rather than free roads (carreteras libres) but honestly, all roads in the Yucatan are safe.

Look out for speedbumps (topes) as some of them are inexplicably steep and they are seldom marked on the roads. Some archeological sites like Chacchoben or Calakmul are in pretty remote areas where you have to drive along jungle roads where you may not pass another car for hours and there is no phone signal.

These areas are safe, but can be intimidating, especially if you are alone. Make sure you have an emergency kit for your car, a spare tire, plenty of water, etc.

It is better to avoid driving at night, not because its dangerous, but because there are no street lights on most of the roads between cities. Some parts of the Yucatan consist of protected nature reserves where all manner of wildlife is likely to run out in front of your vehicle at night, as well as stray dogs that run around in packs. 

Chuburna, Yucatan
Chuburna, Yucatan

Police checkpoints in the Yucatan

When driving in the Yucatan, you may occasionally encounter police checkpoints that pop up at ever-changing locations, as well as at state borders. They usually just wave people through but be prepared to show your passport/ID.

Between the popular beach town of Progreso and the city of Merida, there are occasionally weekend checks to make sure that people are not drinking and driving.

If you encounter this, dont worry, you wil just be asked to pull over and breathe into a breathalyzer.

Using Uber and ridesharing apps in the Yucatan 

Uber and other Mexican ridesharing apps like Didi and Indrive are most locals go-to ways of ordering a cab in Mexico. Here, Ubers are considered safer than street taxis as there is more accountability via the app.

(You have all of the driver’s information, a trace of whose car you got into and the journey you took, etc). You can also see their ratings and reviews and opt to search for another driver if you are not comfortable with the one provided.

Uber works in Merida and the nearby coastal areas of Progreso and Chicxulub in the Yucatan and in Cancun in Quintana Roo. (It is banned elsewhere in Quintana Roo).

In January 2023, the US government warned tourists against using Uber in Cancun due to clashes between local cab drivers and Uber drivers. Like in many places, local taxi drivers are not happy about Uber drivers stealing their business and there have been instances where they have confronted Uber drivers while tourists were in the vehicle.

Honestly, I still use Uber in Cancun and have never had any problems. I would much prefer to get in a car with someone just trying to make a living via Uber, than a thug who thinks its okay to threaten Uber drivers.

If you feel comfortable, you can sit in the front seat next to the driver so it looks more like you are taking a ride with a friend. Didi is a Mexican ridesharing app that is often cheaper than Uber and is worth downloading. (You may have to set your location on your phone to Mexico).

Taking taxis in the Yucatan

It is generally not safe to take street taxis in Mexico so this is not something I would recommend. In some areas, there is a risk of being the victim of an express kidnapping.

This is not really likely to happen in the Yucatan state, but it may happen in Cancun or Tulum. An express kidnapping happens when a tourist gets into a random taxi, the taxi driver calls his accomplices and they hold the tourist at gun/knife point driving around and having the person hand over their valuables.

This may be the worst-case scenario of what could happen but it is definitely something that you want to avoid the possibility of. Use Uber or have your hotel call a trusted cabbie for you.

When I was in places where I couldn’t use Uber (like Playa del Carmen), I had my hotel order a cab for me. Merida is a very safe city so you may be fine taking cabs from the ranks outside the ADO station, etc but for me it was never worth the risk.

If nothing else, as a tourist, you are likely to be significantly overcharged by a taxi driver who assumes that you do not know the correct going rate.

Hunucma, Yucatan
Hunucma, Yucatan

Is Public transport in the Yucatan safe?

Public transport in the Yucatan is far from extensive and leaves a lot to be desired. It is okay for getting between major cities and tourist sites. (E.g. from Cancun to Merida, Merida to Campeche, and the Riviera Maya to Chichen Itza). 

However, beyond that, it is very difficult to get to many towns, archeological sites, and beaches without a car. The Maya train will be completed in December 2023 and aims to provide better transport links all around the peninsula but until then, there are just a handful of intercity buses. 

The ADO and the Noreste buses that run between major cities like on the routes above are pretty modern and comfortable. They are mostly safe, although there have been instances of thefts from overhead bins so it is important to always have eyes on your belongings.

If you have a heavier suitcase or a large backpack, you need to check it in under the bus. When you do, you will be provided with a ticket that you need to display in order to collect it again at the end of your journey.

(There is always a member of staff there sorting through the luggage. So you can feel assured that nobody will just grab your bag and run off with it.)

Innercity buses in Merida, Cancun, etc are not unsafe but they are mostly used by locals on their daily commute. They can be very crowded, with people standing in the aisles and no air conditioning.

Are Yucatan beaches safe?

The Yucatan state has beaches that would rival those in the Mexican Caribbean for their beauty. Better yet, many of these coastal areas see a fraction of the tourists.

During the week, you will often have many remote Yucatan beaches and fishing villages virtually all to yourself. The only busier times are on Sundays, when people are off work (most Mexicans have a six day work week) and local families head to the beach.

Progreso is the most popular beachtown near Merida but you can also head to Yucalpeten, Pig Beach, Chuburna and Chelem.

The Yucatan’s Costa Esmerelda (Emerald Coast) runs along the northern part of the state from Progreso in the west, to San Bruno, San Crisanto, and Dzilim de Bravo in the east. It is pleasant to drive along this route by the sea, stopping here and there to check out a secluded cove or stay in a guesthouse in a little fishing town.

This area is also very safe. You do not have to worry about suspicious or unsavoury people loitering on the beaches and bothering you. I often go to quiet beaches by myself near Uaymitun, Telchac Puerto and Chuburna and sometimes I’m the only one there and nobody bothers me.

Playa de las Dunas and El Cuyo beaches can often get a bit windy because of their locations. Use common sense if you are going out swimming and there are big waves.

A lot of beaches here do not have lifeguards on duty or flags to display whether it is safe to swim in the waters or not so you need to use your best judgement.

San Crisanto, Northern Yucatan

Can you drink the tap water in the Yucatan? 

You cannot drink the tap water in the Yucatan, or anywhere in Mexico for that matter. Although it is purified at the source, it can easily get contaminated with bacteria, parasites, and other problems en route to your tap. 

The Yucatan also has a problem with hard water and for example if I fill up a jug with tap water, or take a shower, I often find that there is a chalky white residue from the water. A lot of long term residents choose to install filters on their taps, and I personally do not wash my face with the water because of this.

Most hotels and Airbnbs will provide you with complimentary bottles of water during your stay, but you can purchase large, multi-litre bottles from Oxxo and other convenience stores. You dont have to worry about having drinks with ice, or drinks like agua frescas made with water because people will always use bottled water and have safe ice delivered. 

A Volkswagen Beetle on a colourful street in Campeche
A Volkswagen Beetle on a colourful street in Campeche

Hurricanes and natural disasters in the Yucatan

Hurricane season in the Yucatan runs between June and November, with the months of August and September being the time that you are most likely to experience heavy rains and storms.

However, hurricanes and fatal storms are rare. Most of the time, this just means heavy downpours which can sometimes be so strong that they knock out the power in certain areas for a couple of days.

For the most part, the hurricane season doesnt mean constant rain all day every day. It usually means periodical showers that quickly subside, so you can still make the most of your itinerary.

It pays to check the weather before and during your trip if you are travelling during this time so you can see what the forecasts are.

Useful tips for staying safe in the Yucatan 

Some handy tips for staying safe during your time in the Yucatan are detailed below. A lot of these things are good practice wherever in the world you choose to travel, but they are worth reiterating here. 

  • Be careful with your belongings in crowded marketplaces like the Mercado San Benito or the Lucas de Galvez market in Merida.  Walk with your bag in front of you rather than slung over one shoulder and consider investing in a theft-proof backpack or fanny pack.

  • Since Uber is not available at Merida International Airport (MID) or Cancun International Airport (CUN), prebook your private airport transfer in advance with a reputable company

  • Don’t be afraid to experiment with street food. Travelling to Mexico is not synonymous with getting sick. Look for stands that have a lot of people eating there and look popular among the locals. That’s a good sign.

  • Don’t carry tons of cash. $4,000 Mexican pesos is enough to tide you over for several days.

  • Always make sure that you have a spare debit/credit card and a small amount of emergency cash to keep tucked away in your suitcase or your hotel safe just in case you lose your bag.

  • Never walk back from bars alone at night and always order an Uber. Triple-check the number plates to make sure you are getting into the right car. 

Is the Yucatan safe? Final thoughts

Safety is a very personal thing. However, as a solo female traveller who has travelled to over 57 countries and who has been living in Merida in the Yucatan for two years, I personally feel very safe here in the Yucatan.

Crime rates here are low, and the Mexican authorities take various steps to protect tourists that visit the country. As a tourist, the main thing that you need to be mindful of is petty theft, pickpockets or an opportunist snatching your bag.

This is a problem that affects cities all over the world and is why you need to always have your eye on your belongings.

Do not let negative stereotypes of Mexico scare you out of experiencing somewhere amazing. If you are visiting Mexico for the first time, maybe you will enjoy reading these Mexico travel tips, or this post covering interesting facts about Mexico

Have a wonderful time 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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