Is the Yucatan safe? Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the county.
Of the 25 million international travelers that visit Mexico every year, a large portion of them travel to the Yucatan. They venture to this part of the country to visit world-famous Mayan ruins, quaint traditional villages, gorgeous beaches, and renowned resort areas such as Tulum. Most visits to Mexico and the Yucatan are trouble-free.
Generally speaking, Yes, the Yucatan is a safe area to travel to.
Even solo female travelers can have a wonderful time traveling to this region. However, as is the case with many areas in Mexico and Latin America, you need to use some common sense precautions.
I am a solo female traveler and I live in the Mexican Yucatan (in the city of Merida). I have traveled through this region extensively since moving here, and I am well poised to assist you in planning your Yucatan road trip itinerary and determining whether the Yucatan is the destination for you.
Is the Yucatan Safe?
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.
It is important to note that people use the term ¨Yucatan¨ to refer to different parts of the country. For instance, there is the Yucatan state, in Southeastern Mexico and then there is the Yucatan peninsula.
The Yucatan peninsula contains the three states of Campeche, the Yucatan, and Quintana Roo. The Yucatan state is arguably the safest of the three, although you should not be in any way deterred or concerned about traveling to any of these regions.
Campeche is the least visited state in the Yucatan tri-state area which is a shame as it has plenty to offer. Some of the best Mayan ruins, such as Calakmul and Edzna can be found here. They see less than a handful of tourists every week!
The Yucatan state is home to the cities of Merida, Izamal (the yellow city), and Valladolid, as well as the world-famous ruins at Chichen Itza and Ek Balam. Meanwhile, the state of Quintana Roo is where you will find popular Mexican Caribbean beach towns such as Tulum, Isla Mujeres, Cozumel, and Playa del Carmen.
Despite the fact that Quintana Roo is the most popular and touristic of the three states, it is arguably the place where you need to exercise the most caution. This part of the country has seen a large uptick in cartel activity in recent years, particularly in the city of Cancun.
Official Government Advice for the Yucatan
It is always useful to read your country’s government travel advice for the places that you travel to. The same rings true when 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.
Namely, the categories are ¨Do Not Travel To¨, ¨Reconsider Travel To¨, Exercise Increased Caution When Traveling To¨ and ¨Exercise Normal Precautions When Traveling To¨. All three Yucatan states fall into the latter categories.
The Yucatan state and Campeche state are recorded under ¨Exercise Normal Precautions When Traveling To¨ while Quintana Roo is marked as a place where you need to ¨Exercise increased caution¨. As you can see, they are among the safest areas in Mexico.
Merida is the safest city in Mexico
The colorful colonial city of Merida makes a great starting point for any adventure around the Yucatan. The city boasts its own international airport that is situated right in the center and offers connections across Mexico, the United States, and wider Latin America.
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 so 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.
The police here tend to be better than in other areas. For instance, there are more checkpoints scattered around the state, and police respond faster to callouts.
Generally, though, it seems to be a cultural thing. 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 a ¨buenos dias¨ or a ¨buenos tardes¨ and you will find that even in the evenings, you can comfortably walk around alone without any feeling of creepiness.
Yucatan state safety
The general feeling of safety and community extends beyond Merida to other reaches of the Yucatan state. From Celestun in the west to El Cuyo in the East, and all the coastal areas, beach towns, and pueblo magicos in between.
You can feel very comfortable exploring the Yucatan state. People will not harass or bother you, and even the most offbeat, rural villages are a pleasure to explore.
In fact, some of the lesser-known areas such as Santa Elena, Kikil, Hunucma, and Sisal are among the highlights of traveling to this region. Even solo travelers (including solo females) can feel very safe exploring the Yucatan.
Campeche is the least visited of the three 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. Use the same common sense precautions here as you would anywhere else.
For instance, be careful with your belongings in crowded marketplaces and ideally, invest in a theft-proof backpack or walk with your bag in front of you. Violent crimes in Campeche are rare, and crime rates in general here are low.
If anything, the only crime you are likely to encounter is an opportunist snatching your bag or a pickpocket. This is a problem that affects cities all over the world.
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.
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 favorites.
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.
Never get involved with drugs, and be wary of over-friendly people. If you go to bars and clubs, always watch your drinks, and never go wandering off alone while drunk.
Cancun is mostly safe but there have been a few incidences in 2022 where tourist women have gone missing. You should not be scared of traveling to these places but you should be well informed as to the realities.
If you need to get somewhere in the evening, call an Uber or have your accommodation call you a cab. Never get in a random street cab and always triple-check the number plate of a vehicle before getting in.
Safety when driving in the Yucatan
Driving in Mexico in general is not as daunting as people make it sound. The Yucatan in particular is one of the most pleasant areas to drive around.
The roads here are very well-maintained and in excellent condition. This is perhaps owing to the sheer amount of tourists that visit this region. (By contrast, if you find yourself in Chiapas or southern Jalisco driving from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta, you will find roads laden with potholes.)
Look out for Mexican speedbumps (topes) as some of them are inexplicably steep and they are seldom marked on the roads. The main issue with driving in this part of Mexico is the lack of street lights.
Always do your driving in the daytime as by night, there are no lights on country roads in rural areas. 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. Many other towns and villages are filled with stray dogs that run around in packs.
Opt to drive on toll roads (autopistas) rather than free roads (carreteras libres). These are both safer and better maintained. For safety reasons, this is particularly important in Quintana Roo.
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 and FMM card.
Between the popular beach town of Progreso and the city of Merida, there are occasionally weekend checks to ensure that people have not been drinking and driving. If you should encounter this, you will simply be asked to pull the car over and breathe into a breathalyzer.
Remote Yucatan Beaches
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. On Sundays, when people are off work, you will only have to share them with a handful of local families.
Progreso is a popular place to head to the sea from Merida. As are the nearby beaches of Yucalpeten, Pig Beach, 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 unsavory people loitering on the beaches and bothering you. Even solo female travelers can feel comfortable here, as long as they are aware of their surroundings.
The beach town of El Cuyo, in the far eastern part of the Yucatan state, is one of the area’s best-kept secrets. This settlement is little more than a gorgeous, pristine beach surrounded by a handful of hotels and restaurants.
If you are seeking a couple of days of rest and relaxation, this could be the perfect place. The area boasts a small, friendly community and locals will assure you that there has been zero crime here for decades. Conditions here are also perfect for windsurfing if you are interested in trying your hand at watersports.
Public transport in the Yucatan
Public transport in the Yucatan is reliable and is a good way to get around. However, services between some sites are often limited.
You may occasionally find that to get from one point of interest to another, you have to take multiple buses and be waiting around somewhere for an extended period. For that reason, it is generally preferable to rent a car. Still, if you cannot drive or prefer not to, you will still have a great Yucatan adventure with public transport.
Buses run between the main cities and historical sites in the region. E.g. from Cancun to Tulum, Cancun to Merida, Merida to Chichen Itza, etc.
Several operators service these routes, including ADO buses and Noreste. ADO tend to be the better provider, and their buses are more modern and comfortable.
However, whatever operator you end up traveling with, even on older buses, you will not have an unpleasant experience. ADO buses generally provide air conditioning, reclining seats, airplane-style televisions, and onboard bathroom facilities.
If you pay slightly more to travel on their First Class or Platinum buses, you will also enjoy complimentary drinks and snacks, and a USB port/charging socket in front of your chair. You can purchase tickets online in advance via the ADO app and website (do note that these are in Spanish only), via Busbus, or in person at the ticket office.
Using Uber and ridesharing apps in the Yucatan
You should never get into a random street taxi in Mexico. Ordering an Uber or a vehicle via some other form of ridesharing app should always be your first choice.
This may be different from what you are used to elsewhere. After all, plenty of people do not assume that getting into an Uber with a random driver is the safest option. But in Mexico, most tax-related crimes happen when someone gets into a random street car.
Ubers offer more accountability. After all, when you order a cab via the app, you have the driver’s name, profile, vehicle info, and license plate. You can also see their ratings and reviews and opt to search for another driver if you are not comfortable with the one provided.
The main reason that you should not get into a street cab in Mexico is due to the risk of express kidnappings. This is not 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. Then, the taxi driver turns a corner and his accomplices enter the vehicle. They hold the tourist at gun/knife point driving around and having the person hand over their valuables and withdraw the maximum amount of cash from each debit/credit card at every ATM.
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.
Uber works in Cancun and Merida. However, it is banned in other parts of Quintana Roo, so you will need to have a local organize transfer for you there.
Safety is a very personal thing. However, as a solo female traveler who has traveled to over 50 countries and who has been living in Merida in the Yucatan for over a year, I personally feel very safe here in the Yucatan.
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! Buen Viaje! xo