Is Tijuana Safe to Visit in 2024? Your Complete Guide by a Local

Is Tijuana safe? The question of safety is often at the forefront of people’s minds when they plan a trip anywhere in Mexico for the first time and that definitely includes Tijuana, a misunderstood city right on the frontera that acts as a gateway into Mexico from the United States. (and vice versa). 

You are in good hands here because I have been living in Mexico for the last 2.5 years with my Mexican partner. We have passed through TJ numerous times, and created this guide to give you a realistic look at what traveling here is like.

Is Tijuana safe?
Is Tijuana safe?

Is Tijuana Safe to Travel to in 2024?

The reality is that as it stands today, Tijuana is not the safest city in Mexico, not by a long stretch. Crime rates are high (both in terms of violent/drug-related crimes) and petty theft/muggings.). 

Although the former is not likely to affect you as a tourist, it is worth being aware of what the situation is in the places that you travel. Things have definitely changed for the worse in recent years and while TJ might have once been a fun day trip destination from San Diego and Southern California, many areas are now a little run down and rough around the edges. 

That is not to say that you shouldn’t go, or that if you do go, something bad is guaranteed to happen. You just need to have a good level of situational awareness and use the same common sense as you would when traveling anywhere else in the world for the first time. 

You can enjoy a safe trip to Tijuana with precautions. However, this is not a city where you can just wander around freely following Google Maps and allowing yourself to get lost in different areas. 

Know which areas are safe and which are not 

One critical thing to be aware of when you travel anywhere in Mexico is just how much the safety situation can vary substantially from state to state, city to city, and from district to district within a specific city. 

In Tijuana, CDMX, Guadalajara, and other Mexican cities, you can be in a perfectly safe area, walk ten minutes down the road, and then find yourself in a sketchy area where your gringo presence is not apprecaited. Avenida Revolución is essentially the main “strip” in Tijuana and many of the city’s most interesting attractions, nightlife options, etc can be found either directly on the street or just off it. 

It always has a pretty high police presence, even during the day, so you can generally walk around here with no issue, as long as you are mindful of your belongings, etc. 

You want to avoid Rio Norte, TJ’s red-light district that runs from the downtown area right up to the US border zone, as well as the barrios of Camino Verde, Tres de Octubre, Urbivilla Del Prado 2, Mariano Matamoros Sur and Sánchez Taboada.

Rio Norte, in particular, is filled with junkies and brothels. It is a haven for people traveling south of the border from the US to Mexico to do drugs and indulge in all the vices that they don’t feel they can do at home.

With their presence, comes opportunists that want to target them. Downtown TJ and Zona Rio are among the “safer” areas, but crime rates are still high so you need to know where you are going and always be aware of what is going on around you. 

La Mesa and Colonia Libertad have both seen an increase in crime and gang-related activity in recent years and offer little interest to the cultural traveler anyway.

Cartel presence in Tijuana 

No doubt one of the biggest issues facing Tijuana is the cartel presence here and the fact that the city is located right on the Latin America – US smuggling route. As a result, all types of unsavory people pass through here, often involved with drugs, contraband, and human trafficking.

Homicides and violent crimes have increased in recent years, largely due to Mexico’s three largest cartels fighting over the territory.

The city has high rates of violent crime and homicide, with a rate of 105 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2022, and at some points in 2022, six homicides per day were recorded in the city.

While looking at the statistics can be scary (TJ sees some of the highest homicide rates in Mexico), these are not random acts of violence and take place between members of crime groups, not tourists. 

Arguably the increased risk of cartel violence could increase the risk of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but this is still highly unlikely. Violent crimes like kidnappings and homicide do not typically target tourists. 

Crime rates in Tijuana

Your biggest risk here is someone stealing your phone or taking your wallet out of your back pocket but there are precautions that you can take to mitigate that risk that we will look at in this post. 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.

Safest areas to stay in Tijuana 

Opt to stay somewhere centrally located and popular among tourists like Playas de Tijuana, Zona Central (downtown TJ), and Zona Rio. There are a lot of hotels in Zona Norte too but because it’s the red light district, it really isn’t the best area for solo travelers, families, etc.

There are a plethora of excellent, secure hotels around the central districts of Tijuana and many have 24/7 reception and security. 

Piñatas and Mexican snacks and candies for sale at a Mercado in Tijuana

Check your government travel advice for Tijuana

If you are a little nervous about your first trip to Tijuana, your government travel website is a good place to start looking for information. The US Department of State provides a state-by-state breakdown of the safety situation in each of Mexico’s 32 states and is updated in real-time to reflect any heightened risks, changes in entry requirements, etc. 

The advisory also goes on to state that the nearby coastal towns of Ensenada and Rosarito are safe with precautions.

It is a little sternly worded and the reality of the situation in Mexico is a little more nuanced than the site sometimes implies, but it is a good starting point. You will also find the Canadian government safety advice for Mexico here, and the UK travel advisory page here. 

Is Tijuana safe for solo travelers? 

Tijuana can be safe for solo travelers. You just need to make sure that you are extra assertive and aware of what is happening around you, etc. 

Being alone can make you more of a target for opportunists looking to take advantage of you. Honestly, this is just as true for men as it is for women – perhaps even more so in some parts.

Be wary of strangers who wander up to you and act as if they are your long-lost best friend. Exceptionally attractive women who are out of your league, and who approach you seemingly enamored are probably on the make (sorry). As are men who promise to take you to certain bars filled with girls. 

Is Tijuana safe for solo female travelers?

This entire website has been written by a solo female traveler based in Mexico (me!). I have traveled to 13 states during my time in the country, including a number of places on the “do not travel list”. 

My partner is Norteño (from Northern Mexico – Sinaloa to be exact) so I have traveled to a lot of adventurous places in Mexico. I am of the opinion that you should never let your gender or your physical appearance deter you from traveling anywhere that you want to go. 

If you really have your heart set on visiting TJ for whatever reason. I would say that Tijuana is a place best reserved for hardened solo female travelers who have at least some experience traveling solo in Latin America or in other countries/cities that require extra assertiveness. 

TJ is definitely somewhere where you will often find yourself looking over your shoulder and unless you are visiting friends here or have locals that can show you around, you might feel uncomfortable with the attention you receive, and the fact that you just cannot freely wander around. 

You might feel a lot more comfortable in places like Puerto Vallarta and Merida, or perhaps Chiapas, Santiago de Queretaro, and Guanajuato City if you are looking for something a little more off-the-beaten-path and cultured. 

Mexican women tend to dress modestly in Tijuana to not attract attention to themselves. You will usually note that they wear jeans and a T-shirt even when it’s pretty hot.

It is better to follow suit if you’re coming here alone. 

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. When you head back to your hotel, choose to take an Uber rather than walk, especially if you have had a few drinks.

Is Uber safe in Tijuana? 

Yes. Uber is pretty safe in Tijuana and it is the preferred way to get around in cities across Mexico on the whole, which may come as a surprise depending on where you are coming from and the attitudes towards ridesharing app safety in your country. 

When you think about it though, it makes sense. There is more accountability via the app than when you get into a random street cab because with Uber, you already have the driver’s name, license plate details, etc and the platform has a record of all of the journeys you take. 

Taxi drivers in TJ (like taxi drivers the world over to be honest) are often a law unto themselves and often overcharge unsuspecting tourists to an exorbitant degree. In Mexico, there is also the risk of “express kidnappings” which happens when a taxi driver and his accomplices hold you at gun/knife point and drive you around the city, forcing you to make the maximum withdrawal from every ATM and hand over your valuables. 

It’s not super common but in TJ, it’s a risk you don’t want to entertain. 

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. If you are nervous about using the app in Mexico, check the driver’s profile before getting in the car, make sure they have a rating of 4.5 or above, and make sure that they have completed a few hundred journeys/been active on the app for at least a year before riding with them.

If they have only done a handful of journeys 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 not charge you for doing this.

When your driver arrives, make sure that the car and license plate you see in front of you correspond with what you have on the app.

Get someone to order a car for you if you can’t use Uber

Obviously, not every taxi driver in Tijuana is a scam artist. However, 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.

Is it safe to cross the border from San Diego to Tijuana (and vice versa)?

The El Chaparral Port of Entry (Puerto Fronterizo El Chaparral) is one of the most popular US-Mexico border crossing points that exist. You can both drive and walk across it, and doing so is perfectly safe during the day. 

If you are crossing in the evening, or this is your first time visiting Tijuana, it is generally better to take an Uber from the border to your hotel or wherever it is that you are going. The crossing takes between 10-25 minutes depending on the time of day

Walking to downtown TJ means crossing a bridge over the Tijuana River which is poorly lit, and is best avoided after dark. 

Practical tips for staying safe in Tijuana 

I have enclosed some practical tips for staying safe during your time in Tijuana below. Some of these things may seem a little obvious, but they are worth reiterating here. 

  • Leave your designer labels at home – expensive sunglasses, flashy jewelry, and designer handbags will only make you more of a target in a city with petty crime issues where people often live below the poverty line

  • Avoid the bridges around the Tijuana River during the evenings or at night

  • Remember that nothing is ever worth your life or your personal safety. If someone insists that you hand over your phone, wallet, etc, it is better to comply

  • Always keep your eye on your personal belongings, especially in crowded places like Mercado Hidalgo. Don’t walk with your bag slung over one shoulder, etc

  • Always purchase comprehensive travel insurance before you travel anywhere – a good policy will offer at least $250,000 USD of medical coverage. Today health isnt promised tomorrow!

  • Never do drugs in Mexico – not only is it illegal, but it also encourages cartels in the area

  • If heading to bars at night, take an Uber rather than walking, especially after drinking

     
  • Don’t carry wads of cash. 3000-4000 pesos is a lot of money here and is plenty to last you a few days

  • Choose street food stands that are popular among locals and where food hasn’t been left out for extended periods

Is it safe to travel to Tijuana for medical tourism? 

Traveling to Mexico for medical reasons is appealing as everything from medical check-ups and surgeries to dental work and cosmetic procedures such as veneers, breast augmentation, etc are much cheaper here than in the United States and elsewhere. 

There are also many reputable doctors and surgeons in Tijuana who have studied in the US and Canada and decided to practice in Mexico. Tijuana might seem convenient if you are in California because of the ease of driving across the border. 

However, other cities like Guadalajara and Merida are becoming increasingly popular for medical tourism and cosmetic surgery and dentistry. I live in Merida and I am very impressed with the treatment here.

If you are nervous about traveling to Tijuana, it’s worth considering the other destinations available. You can find affordable flights to Guadalajara, Cancun, and Mexico City from most US cities. 

Obviously, you should check the references and reviews of any clinic before making a reservation. Mexico expat Facebook groups can be great sources of information where you can ask people about their recommendations and experience. 

Police corruption in Tijuana 

The police force across Mexico is generally considered corrupt. Where possible, it is better to avoid interactions with the police if you can.

While I did not have any negative experiences in Tijuana, my partner and I had an incident in Sinaloa when we were driving and another car sped through a red light and smashed into the side of our car. 

The driver quickly sped away and despite not being the ones at fault, the Sinaloa police surrounded us. We were escorted to the police station and forced to pay a bribe of 1200 pesos (circa $ 71 USD) for something that wasn’t our fault because the police saw an opportunity to make money. 

This is the first and only time we have had a bad experience with the police after several years in Mexico but it is not unheard of. If you are going to be driving in Mexico, be cautious and try not to give the police a reason to pull you over.

Unfortunately, because of the lack of resources, manpower, etc within the Tijuana police, they are not likely to be all that helpful to you if you should be a victim of a petty crime. If someone takes your wallet, phone, etc, you are highly unlikely to ever see it again so that’s why it’s important to take precautions in the first instance. 

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. 

Enjoy your time in Tijuana!

At the end of the day, despite its less-than-perfect reputation, traveling to Tijuana can still be enjoyable and the city has its highlights, just like anywhere else in the world. This is a city of 2.1 million people and most of the time, life goes on here as normal.

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 constantly worried or nervous, you simply won’t enjoy your trip. Some of the best, safe, and fun things to do in Tijuana are summarised below.

Tijuana Highlights

  • Shop for souvenirs in 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! 

  • Have lunch at the elegant, 1920s-style Caesar restaurant. It is here where Chef Caesar Cardini invented the Caesar salad for his American customers on the fourth of July 1924

  • Catch a Lucha Libre (Mexican wrestling) show at the Auditoria Municipal Fausto Gutierrez Moreno, and check out some interesting Luche libre merch at the  Museo De La Lucha Libre Mexicana (Calle Hermenegildo Galeana 8 186)

  • Admire the gorgeous Catedral de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, the oldest cathedral in the city which has been built with a gorgeous blend of colonial and neo-classical architecture

  • Visit the Centro Cultural Tijuana home to a fantastic contemporary art museum, the Museum of the Californias, and host of the annual Tijuana art festival

  • Head to the Playas de Tijuana beach and Friendship Park where a giant border wall that separates the US and Mexico is adorned with some pretty impressive murals and people can talk to each other from opposite sides of the border

  • Go for drinks along the Avenida Revolucion, TJ’s main nightlife hub and the first paved street in the city. During the Prohibition Era (1920 to 1933), Americans would cross the border to be able to come and drink here.

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. This can help you gain a lot more history and content in a new place than you would ever obtain wandering around by yourself and it can be reassuring if you are somewhere you feel a little uncomfortable or unsafe, like Tijuana.

Better yet? You have a Tijuana resident on hand to ask for recommendations on things to do in the city. 

Recommended Tijuana tours

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.

A selection of some of the best options is detailed below for your consideration. Book your place online in advance to avoid disappointment! 

Is Tijuana safe? Final thoughts

Tijuana can be safe to visit with precautions, although it is far from being one of the safest places in Mexico. It does not necessarily offer the type of travel experience that everyone seeks. 

What was once a place where daytrippers from California would head for just one day in Mexico in order to experience a taste of the country, grab a taco or two, and sip a couple of margaritas in a sombrero hat before heading back north, is now one of the world’s most dangerous cities.  

You should think carefully about your decision to travel here though with a little caution, planning, and research, you may be able to guarantee that your trip is an enjoyable one that is memorable for all the right reasons. 

Do you have any further questions or worries about safety in Tijuana? As mentioned, I have been living in Merida Mexico for the last few years and I am happy to chat about any questions that you may have. 

Feel free to drop me a comment below, drop me an email, or connect on social media. 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.

Similar Posts