Is Tijuana safe to visit in 2023? If you are planning a trip to Mexico, safety is likely to be one of the things at the forefront of your mind.
Unfortunately, Mexico does not have the best reputation for safety internationally. It is often in the media for all the wrong reasons.
For the most part, Mexico doesn’t deserve its dangerous reputation. Over 26 million travelers visit the country every year and most visits are trouble-free.
However, the safety situation can vary significantly from one part of the country to another. There are definitely those places in Mexico where you need to take additional precautions and which are not that safe on the whole.
Unfortunately, one of those places is Tijuana. If you are planning your first trip to Mexico and you are looking for a destination that offers beautiful beaches, fascinating historical sites, and rich culture and gastronomy, there are an abundance of places to choose from.
Places such as Merida in the Yucatan, the Costa Maya, Los Cabos, and Puerto Vallarta are stunning coastal destinations that are much safer than Tijuana. However, if you need to specifically go to Tijuana for whatever reason, this guide will help you with the safety aspect of your trip.
It has been written by a British Travel Writer based in Mexico (me!) that has traveled the country extensively.
Is Tijuana Safe to Travel to in 2023?
A couple of years ago, Tijuana was a popular day trip destination for people traveling in Southern California. Tijuana is just an hour south of downtown San Diego.
So, for people who wanted to be able to cross the border and say that they had been to Mexico without having to travel miles or catch a flight, Tijuana was a convenient option. The city offered excellent Mexican food, colorful markets, and great nightlife.
But recently, things have changed for the worst and you need to exert a lot more caution if you do decide to travel to Tijuana. Generally speaking, if you stick to busy tourist areas and you are mindful of where you go, don’t wander around alone, etc, you should be okay.
But there is definitely a lot of potential to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Feeling as though you are constantly looking over your shoulder or you constantly have to be aware of your surroundings is not everyone’s ideal travel environment.
Crime rates in Tijuana
Tijuana is repeatedly cited as being the most dangerous city in Mexico and one of the most dangerous in the world. It has high rates of violent crime and homicide, with a rate of 105 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2022.
At some point in 2022, six homicides per day were recorded in the city. Several drug cartels operate in the region and fight to control the trafficking routes into the United States.
Narco violence does plague the city and its surrounding areas which is why you need to be mindful of where you go in Baja California Sur. Still, despite the seemingly terrifyingly high crime rates, most violent crimes are restricted to incidents between crime groups.
They aren’t random acts of violence. For the most part, if you don’t go looking for trouble, trouble won’t go looking for you.
But Tijuana requires a lot more assertiveness than other parts of Mexico. The Numbeo crime index is a safety rating awarded to various cities across the world based on local residents’ perception of safety.
Tijuana has a very high crime rating of 82.69 with residents concerned that crime has increased over the last three years. If we compare that to other parts of Mexico, Cancun, which is also considered a relatively dangerous city, has a crime rating of 61.76 and Guadalajara has a rating of 73.74.
Check your government travel advice for Tijuana
It is a good idea to check your government’s local advice before traveling to Tijuana and any parts of Mexico. The U.S. Department of State’s Mexico travel advice, although slightly sternly worded, is a good source of information.
It provides a state-by-state breakdown of the safety situation in Mexico and is updated frequently to reflect current entry requirements and the current safety situation. It recognizes that most crimes happen in non-tourist areas of Tijuana and the importance of staying in a central area.
The advisory also goes on to state that the nearby coastal towns of Ensenada and Rosarito are safe with precautions. There are no restrictions on u.s. government employees in any of these areas.
Keep up to date with any news and developments in the area before and during your trip.
Stick to tourist areas
One of the key differences between traveling in Mexico and Latin America versus traveling in other parts of the world is that you have to constantly be mindful of where you walk. In other words, you cannot just blindly follow Google maps and enjoy getting lost in the hidden back streets of the city.
In Tijuana, the safety situation can change very rapidly. You can be in a relatively safe, central tourist area and then when you walk a couple of blocks further, you can find yourself in a really sketchy spot.
Stick to Zona Central (downtown Tijuana), Playas de Tijuana, Zona Norte, and Zona Rio and you ought to be fine. Zona Rio is arguably the safest place to base yourself.
There are a plethora of excellent, secure hotels here. Many have 24/7 reception and security.
Enjoy your time in Tijuana!
Tijuana is the largest city in the Mexican state of Baja California and it’s a lively, vibrant place. Although Tijuana’s dangerous reputation precedes it, the city is also known for its street art, gastronomy, and food scene.
If you ask locals about the safety situation in Tijuana, many will tell you that you are just fine here, and will comment on how over the top the “dangerous” image of Mexico is. While you definitely need to be aware of your surroundings, be sure to focus on enjoying your trip and not on worrying.
If you are skittish and paranoid, you will stand out more. And if you are constantly worrying, you won’t enjoy your trip!
Be sure to head to the famous Mercado de Hidalgo in Zona Rio. This little market first opened its doors back in 1955 and sells everything but the kitchen sink!
The Catedral de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe is the oldest cathedral in the city and has been built in a gorgeous blend of colonial and neo-classical architecture. It’s a beautiful place to stop and take some photos.
You should also be sure to head to Caesar Restaurant for lunch one day. It was in this elegant 1920s style spot that the caesar salad was created by Chef Caesar Cardini on the fourth of July 1924.
Explore with a local guide
One great way to get your bearings in a new city is to do a walking tour with a local. Opting to do so means that you can gain a lot more history and context to the various sites you see than you would when wandering around independently.
Doing a walking tour in Tijuana can also make you feel more comfortable if you are a little nervous about safety when you arrive. You will also stumble across neighborhoods, bars, and businesses that you could never know about without expert local insight.
Better yet? You have a Tijuana resident on hand to ask for recommendations on things to do in the city.
Several reputable tour companies operate in Tijuana. You can do tours that pick you up in San Diego county and take you across the border or tours where someone collects you from your hotel in TJ.
You can also do organized excursions out to some of the gorgeous wineries outside the city.
Recommended Tijuana tours
A selection of some of the best options is detailed below for your consideration. Book your place online in advance to avoid disappointment!
- Tijuana: Guided city tour with local food and beer tasting
- From San Diego: Tijuana city and food tour
- From Tijuana: Valle de Guadalupe private winery tour
- Private Puerto Nuevo tour from San Diego with lobster lunch
Is Tijuana safe at night?
Tijuana is sketchy by day so you definitely have to be more careful by night. You don’t want to wander around aimlessly when the sun sets.
However, if you are heading out to some of the bars and restaurants on Paseo de los Heroes, Avenida Revolución, and Calle Coahuila, you are safe enough to walk from one bar to another. Most places here have their own private security, the streets are well-lit and there is a heavy police presence.
Obviously, you should use common sense when going out at night. Watch your alcohol intake, never leave your drink unattended, and don’t walk home intoxicated.
Avenida Revolucion is the main nightlife hub in Tijuana. It has been an iconic part of Tijuana since the 20th century.
During the Prohibition Era from 1920 to 1933, Americans would cross the border to be able to come and drink here. It was the first paved main road in the city.
Use Uber rather than random street cabs
Uber exists in Tijuana and is safe to use. Most locals prefer to use ridesharing apps like Uber and Didi rather than street taxis.
There is more accountability when you use this app. After all, when you order an Uber, you can see the driver’s name, vehicle, license plate number, and past reviews.
When you get into a random car on the side of the street, you don’t know who you are getting in a car with. Sadly, taxi drivers are often a law unto themselves wherever you travel.
It’s not rare for travelers to talk about taxi drivers taking them on a long, roundabout route from A to B or overcharging them and assuming that they don’t know the going rate. Taxis come with greater risks in Mexico though as express kidnappings are a concern.
Express kidnappings happen when an unsuspecting tourist gets into a random street cab and the driver is corrupt. The driver will go a short distance and stop so that his accomplices can enter the car.
The passenger will then be held at gun/knife point and forced to hand over all of their valuables. They will usually be forced to withdraw the maximum amount of money from all of their ATM cards and hand it over.
Sometimes, they are forced to call a friend or family member for ransom money. In safer parts of Mexico like places in the Yucatan, this is uncommon. But it is a serious risk if you are in Tijuana.
How to stay safe using an Uber
Using Uber in Tijuana isn’t 100% risk-free but it is a lot safer than getting into a car with a random taxi driver. After all, there is a trail of who you are traveling with.
It is a good idea to check the driver’s profile before getting in the car. Make sure they have a rating of 4.5 or above and that they have completed a fair few journeys and have been on the app for a few years.
If you are their 10th journey or they just joined the app a day ago, it is better to cancel and look for a new driver. As long as you cancel and search again quickly, Uber will do this at no charge.
When your driver arrives, make sure that the car and license plate you see in front of you corresponds with what you have on the app. If it doesn’t, don’t get in.
You will often see random drivers pulling up at popular pick-up points, especially outside bars and clubs at weekends. Never get in a random car without checking the license plate first.
There is a strong anti-Uber sentiment with Uber in Cancun and Tijuana because many local cabbies feel like Uber drivers are stealing their jobs. When ordering an Uber, it is better to do so a block or two away from major taxi ranks and hubs like train stations, bus stations, etc.
If you feel comfortable doing so, sit in the passenger seat beside the driver rather than in the back. If anyone confronts you about waiting for an Uber, you can just say you are waiting for a friend.
Get someone to order a car for you if you can’t use Uber
Obviously not every taxi driver in Tijuana is sketchy or a scammer. But the shady few give local cab drivers a bad reputation on the whole.
Generally speaking, taking a street cab here is just not worth the risk. But if you cannot find an Uber and you need a cab, you should ask the concierge/receptionist at your hotel to order one for you.
If you find a local driver that you like, you can ask for their number/business card and use them as your go-to driver for the rest of your trip.
Can you drink the water in Tijuana?
You cannot drink tap water anywhere in Mexico and that includes Tijuana. Although it is purified at the source, it may be contaminated en route to your tap.
Even locals do not drink it. You will be provided with complimentary bottles of water when you check into your accommodation and then you can buy large, multi-litre bottles to store in your hotel fridge.
You don’t have to worry about having ice in your drinks or consuming Mexican drinks made with water like agua frescas and horchata. Everything is prepared with bottled water and restaurants and hotels have ice delivered.
To save on your plastic waste, you may want to consider purchasing a reusable water bottle for your trip to Mexico. That way, you can buy large bottles of water and then just fill up the reusable bottle each day.
Bottles such as Lifestraws also have built-in filters. Some luxury hotels may have taps for drinking water.
If they do, they will tell you at check-in or there will be signs that read “agua potable”. Don’t just assume!
Is it safe to walk across the US border to Tijuana?
Tijuana is home to the busiest border crossing between the United States and Mexico. You might be surprised to hear that you can actually walk across it to and from San Diego.
Crossing on foot usually takes between 10 and 25 minutes depending on how busy it is at that time of day. You can then walk from the border crossing to downtown TJ.
This is safe enough to do during the day. But avoid walking between the border and the city center at night and opt to take a taxi instead.
There are actually five different points where you can cross the US-Mexico border into Tijuana and back to the States. El Chaparral PedWest (aka PedWest) is the closest to the downtown area.
Be careful with your money
You don’t need to have bundles of cash with you when traveling to Tijuana. 3,000 or 4,000 pesos should be the maximum amount of cash that you carry around with you.
It is a good idea to open a borderless bank account before you travel so that you can avoid International transaction fees. If you are a US citizen, you can open an account with Charles Schwab.
If you are from the UK or Europe, you can open an account with Revolut or Wise.
Using a credit card obviously gives you more Insurance on purchases made in Mexico. Do be careful when making withdrawals from ATM machines in Tijuana.
Opportunists often loiter around machines waiting to mug whoever is making a withdrawal. For this reason, you should stick to ATMs in bank branches or in malls and other busy tourist zones.
Always watch your personal belongings
If you are going to be a victim of a crime in Tijuana, it is most likely going to be a petty crime such as pickpocketing or bag-snatching. However, violent muggings have been reported so that’s why it’s important not to wander around at night or go down quiet, dimly lit streets.
Avoid the bridges around the Tijuana river during the evenings or at night. If you go to crowded areas like Mercado Hidalgo, consider walking with your bag in front of you rather than over your shoulder.
Never keep your phone, wallet, or other valuables in your back pocket where someone can easily grab them. You might also want to consider investing in a theft-proof bag if you travel a lot.
These bags, although slightly more expensive than regular backpacks, come with additional safety features. For instance, they are waterproof, slash-proof and have a TSA-approved mesh interlocking system inside.
Don’t flash expensive items
Walking around with an expensive DSLR camera around your neck or with $400 sunglasses on your head will make you more of a target. It is better not to draw attention yourself.
Keep your valuables out of sight and tucked safely away in your bag. Should someone ever approach you and insist that you hand something over, it is better to comply than to argue or fight.
Obviously, you don’t want to just hand over your iPhone but you can never really know someone’s mental state or if they have a weapon, etc.
Is Tijuana safe for solo travelers?
Solo travelers definitely shouldn’t be deterred from visiting Tijuana. However, you may find that you are more of a target with people trying to take advantage of you.
Be wary of over-friendly strangers that wander up to you as if you are their long-lost best friend. They may be pickpockets, be involved in scams or they may be working in conjunction with corrupt police officers.
If it’s the latter, sometimes tricksters will approach you, tell you that they know a good place to party and get drugs, etc. If you agree, they will set you up by contacting the corrupt cop who you have to bribe to get out of the situation.
This isn’t super common and there are plenty of super nice, friendly people in Tijuana. But don’t be naive.
Is Tijuana safe for solo female travelers?
If you are a solo female traveler, it is a good idea to watch how the local women dress. In Mexico City, Tijuana, and other parts of Northern Mexico, women often dress more modestly.
Unless they are at a beach on the Pacific coast, you will see a lot of people wandering around in jeans during the day even when it’s hot. Obviously, as a woman, you should be able to wear whatever you want, wherever you want.
But unfortunately, that isn’t the world we live in sometimes. I live in Mexico and while I feel very comfortable wearing shorts and dresses in the Yucatan, I noticed I was getting a lot of looks for doing so in Northern Mexico (Sinaloa, TJ, and Chihuahua).
So I would recommend taking note of how local women dress.
Don’t buy drugs
Never buy drugs in Mexico. This only supports and encourages drug violence
Purchase comprehensive travel insurance
It is prudent to buy comprehensive travel insurance before traveling anywhere and Tijuana should be no exception. Despite our best planning, we can never really know what is around the corner and today’s health is not promised tomorrow.
Medical bills are cheaper in Mexico than they are in the US. But things can still quickly add up if you need assistance overseas.
Opt to buy a policy that comes with at least $250k – $500k coverage per person. Double-check the small print as things like hiking, renting ATVs, etc are sometimes considered “adventure sports” and are not included.
Is Tijuana safe? Final thoughts
The city of Tijuana can be a safe place to travel with precautions This is a place with a reputation for being Mexico’s most violent city but most crimes only affect those that are involved in criminal activity.
If you are street-wise, well-traveled, and have your wits about you, you will be fine. But if this is your first time traveling to Mexico, you may feel more comfortable choosing a safer destination such as Campeche or the Yucatan state.
Have a wonderful time! Buen Viaje! Xo