You might be curious to know about the most dangerous places in Mexico if you are planning a backpacking trip here and want to know which areas you ought to avoid. Otherwise, it might be out of sheer curiosity based on hearing stories about Mexico in the news (and Mexico always seems to be in the media for all the wrong reasons).
I am a British Travel Writer living in the Yucatan capital of Merida in Mexico. I am a huge advocate for traveling in Mexico and venturing off the beaten path and maintain that for the most part, Mexico does not deserve its often negative portrayal.
Most Mexican cities and areas of tourist interest are safe for visitors. And Mexico is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. (According to the Mexican Tourism Board, more than 66 million international tourists traveled here in 2022 and most visits were trouble-free and memorable for all the right reasons.)
Still, the safety situation in Mexico varies significantly from state to state, city to city. Even within specific Mexican states, one area can be completely fine, but you do not want to find yourself in the region just 2 hours down the road.
In this post, we will look at some of the most dangerous places in Mexico based on statistics and crime data. Then, we will look at why they are dangerous, if they are really that bad, and if there is anything interesting about them that could redeem them.
Most Dangerous Places in Mexico in 2024
If you are curious about the most dangerous places in Mexico, or knowing which areas to avoid, you might find it useful to know that the US Department of State travel advisory provides a state-by-state breakdown of each of the 32 Mexican states. This can be a little sternly worded but it’s a good starting point.
States are broken down into four categories based on their perceived safety rating. They are recognized as places that you should exercise normal precautions when traveling to (The Yucatan and Campeche are the safest states in Mexico), places that you should exercise increased precautions when traveling to, places you should reconsider traveling to, and places you should avoid traveling to completely.
There are currently six states on the ¨Do Not Travel¨ list for Mexico. These are Sinaloa, Colima, Guerrero, Michoacan, Tamaulipas and Zacatecas.
There are also some dangerous cities in other parts of Mexico. The destinations we will review in this post are as per the below.
- Tijuana, Baja California
- Sinaloa state
- Iztapalapa, Mexico City
- Acapulco, Guerrero
- Guerrero state
- Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua
- Celaya, Guanajuato
- Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz
- Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas
- Michoacan state
- Tepic, Nayarit
- Uruapan, Michoacan
- Cancun, Quintana Roo
- Irapuato, Guanajuato
- Ensenada, Baja California
- Tepito, Mexico City
Tijuana, Baja California
For decades, Tijuana was seen as a fun city to visit on a day trip from San Diego for any Americans and international travelers that wanted to have a small taster of Mexican food and culture. They would cross the border, meander down Avenida Revolucion, grab a taco and a tequila sunrise, visit a few shops and museums, and then head back to California in the evening.
Today, Tijuana is considered not only the most dangerous city in Mexico but the most dangerous city in the world. According to Statistica, the homicide rate in Tijuana in 2023 is 105.15 per 100,000 inhabitants and the murder rates seem to be worsening, not improving.
The main reason for the safety problems in Tijuana is because Tijuana is a frontera (border town). It is one of the main crossing points into the United States and a prime hotspot for traffickers of all kinds of contraband.
Still, Tijuana can be a safe place for tourists to visit, with precautions and common sense. Generally speaking, if you don’t go looking for trouble in Mexico, trouble won’t go looking for you.
Homicide rates and violent crime statistics in Tijuana look scary but they mostly only impact people involved in criminal organizations, not random innocent civilians and tourists.
Sinaloa is one of a handful of states on the ¨Do not travel¨ list for Mexico and it is likely to remain there for the foreseeable future. Within Mexico, Sinaloa is nicknamed ¨the breadbasket of Mexico¨ and is known for its agricultural exports.
Internationally, the area is perhaps most famous for the Sinaloa cartel, one of the most powerful drug cartels in the world. Still, much of the criminal activity, areas where drugs are produced, etc, are restricted to certain rural areas that you wouldn’t have any reason to venture into as a tourist anyway. (Although there is still a long of corruption in the state on the whole).
There are some areas of tourist interest in Sinaloa, particularly in the northern Ahome region. (Although they are arguably best reserved for more seasoned travelers).
The El Chepe train route is considered one of the most beautiful train routes in the world. It takes travelers on a scenic journey through Los Mochis, the pueblo magico of El Fuerte, and a number of other idyllic stopping points en route to Creel Chihuahua.
Topolobampo is a peaceful coastal town an hour away from Los Mochis where locals like to spend their weekends by the sea. The houses here have been painted in vibrant colors and cascade down the hilltops.
Nearby, the village of San Miguel Zapotitlan is home to one of the most interesting Easter (Semana Santa) processions in the country.
Iztapalapa, Mexico City
Iztapalapa is a neighborhood on the outskirts of Mexico City that was previously given the title of being the most dangerous neighborhood (“barrio”) in Latin America. It remains one of the most dangerous boroughs in Mexico City. However, in recent years, locals and law enforcement agencies have been working hard to turn things around.
Violence against women is a huge problem in Mexico, with studies indicating that more than 70% of the country’s female population has experienced some form of gender-based violence in their lifetimes and more than 10 women disappear every day.
Iztapalapa was one of the worst places in the country for gender-based violence. Today, it is home to the most illuminated street in the world.
Ermita Iztapalapa Street can be seen from aircraft/the sky! A lot of attacks on women once happened here, partly because it was so dark and dimly lit, and not safe for females to walk down after dark.
The inventive illumination initiative has changed that. In recent years, a lot of actors, actresses, politicians, and public figures have been visiting schools and educational facilities in Iztapalapa in order to inspire and motivate younger generations.
Iztapalapas streets are today covered with murals and street art paintings – making it the barrio with the most artwork in all of Latin America. Its not safe to wander through as a tourist just yet, but things are moving in the right direction.
Decades ago, Acapulco was the place to see and be seen in Mexico if you had any money. It was the travel destination of choice for Hollywood celebrities and the likes of John Wayne, Elizabeth Taylor, Rita Hayworth, and Ronald and Nancy Reagan all vacationed here.
Today, Acapulco, unfortunately, makes headlines for completely different reasons. The city is largely controlled by cartels.
In recent years, news reports have seen bodies wash up on the shores of Acapulco beaches while holidaymakers sunbathe nearby, and shoot-outs take place in broad daylight. The risk of being caught up in something is still minimal, and a lot of international and domestic Mexican tourists still choose to travel to Acapulco when they want a vacation in the sun.
But the risks of traveling here are not necessarily risks that everyone wants to take.
Culiacán (officially Culiacán Rosales) is the largest city in and capital of, the state of Sinaloa. We have already mentioned Sinaloa on this list but Culiacan is worth a special mention as it is where a lot of criminal activity takes place.
Parts of the city are fine to explore during the day, but you have to take great care about which neighborhoods you enter, and you may feel like you are constantly looking over your shoulder which is not the kind of travel style that everyone prefers.
The other thing to keep in mind is that violence can ensue here at a moment’s notice. When Ovidio Guzmán López, the son of Sinaloa Cartel boss El Chapo was arrested in January 2023, flights had to be grounded because people started shooting at an Aeromexico plane, setting cars on fire, and rioting.
Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua
Ciudad Juárez is a city in the Northern Mexican state of Chihuahua that sits close to the US-Mexico border and the Texas city of El Paso. Residents of El Paso can look across to Juarez from the Rio Grande River.
The city dates back to the 17th century when it was founded as ¨El Paso Norte¨ by Spanish conquistadors and has a thriving industrial scene.
Still, Juarez is a dangerous city, there is no denying that. It is a frontera (border town) along a major human trafficking/drug trafficking route, and femicides and violence against women are at their worst here.
Travelers should think very, very carefully about any decision to travel here. Juarez is notorious for being one of the most dangerous places in Mexico for a reason.
Cancun, Quintana Roo
It may or may not be surprising to see Cancun detailed on this list of the most dangerous places in Mexico, considering the city’s popularity as a tourist destination. Tens of millions of people fly into Cancun every year, with a view to having a relaxing beach break by the Caribbean Sea or using the city as a base for a wider Yucatan itinerary.
However, the high number of tourists in the region and the wider Riviera Maya area drive up the demand for drugs and contraband. In recent years, different cartel groups have been in an all-out war, fighting for control of the territory.
While tourists are never the intended targets of fighting or shoot-outs, there have been a couple of unfortunate incidents in Tulum and Cancun in recent years where tourists have been caught in the crossfire. The likelihood of this happening during your visit is still rare, but the cartel members have zero care or consideration of where they are shooting or who gets in their way.
The Mexican government and the local authorities take tourist safety in the country seriously and have increased the police presence in the hotel zone and downtown Cancun. However, that can be intimidating and if you are looking for a safer, sleepier beach town vibe, you might want to consider Mahahual, El Cuyo, or other Yucatan beaches instead.
Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas
Ciudad Victoria in the Nothern state of Tamaulipas is one of the most dangerous cities in Mexico and the state of Tamaulipas is on the ¨Do not Travel¨ list for the country.
The city sits at the foot of the Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range and dates back to 1750 when it was founded by the Spanish Colonizer José de Escandón y Helguera.
The statistics website Numbeo awards various global towns and cities with a crime and safety rating from 0 to 100. (With 0 being very safe and 100 being dangerous).
According to this, Ciudad Victoria has a crime index of 65.12 and a safety index of 34.88. Violent crime is rife here, including things like homicide, kidnapping, extortion, armed robbery, and violence against women.
The main cause for concern here is the presence of cartels and criminal organizations, particularly the Northeast Cartel (CDN), a splinter faction of the Zetas. CDN frequently has clashes with rival cartels such as the Gulf Cartel that operates out of nearby Hidalgo and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel based out of Guadalajara.
Tamaulipas was in the media recently after four Americans were kidnapped trying to cross the US-Mexico border at Matamoros. Civilians and authorities in Ciudad Victoria and neighboring towns have also, on occasion been victims of violent massacres and shoot-outs between local cartels.
There are some interesting (and safe) places that you can visit in the Mexican state of Veracruz. For instance, the witchcraft capital of Catemaco, or the coastal Veracruz City.
But unfortunately, Coatzacoalcos (pronounced coatza-coal-cos) is not one such place. The city sits in the southeastern part of the state, on the Gulf of Campeche, and takes its name from a Nahatual word meaning ¨site of the snake¨.
The area is largely controlled by the Jalisco New Generation Cartel which frequently clashes with the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel for control of the local turf and trafficking routes. Numbeo gives Coatzacoalcos a safety rating of just 21.47 and a crime rating of 78.53, estimating the likelihood of people being victims of violent crime as very high, and stating that most residents are concerned that crime has continued to increase in the area over the last few years.
If we want a better frame of reference for Numbeo’s rating, we can compare Coatzacoalcos and other dangerous places in Mexico on this list, with safer Mexican cities and cities in the US. For instance, Merida, the safest city in Mexico, has a safety rating of 74.84 and a crime rating of just 25.16. (That is almost Coatzacoalcos statistics in reverse!)
The Mexican state of Guanajuato is recognized as a state where you should ¨reconsider travel to¨. There are some gorgeous, and culturally-rich travel destinations here.
For instance, San Miguel de Allende, a beautiful colonial city and American expat haven, and Guanajuato city, home to the famous (and macabre) Guanajuato mummies. However, one place that you definitely don’t want to find yourself in Guanajuato is the city of Irapuato.
The city sees a high rate of homicides and is the site of ongoing turf wars between the Jalisco Cartel New Generation and the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel. Irapuato has a crime rating of 71.28 and a security index of just 28.72 according to Numbeo.
Ciudad Obredón, Sonora
In 2022, Ciudad Obredón in Sonora was named the fourth most dangerous city in the world. (After previously being named the second most dangerous city in the world in 2021).
The city is the second largest in the state after Hermosillo and is 550 km south of the US-Mexico border.
The notorious Sinaloa cartel controls a lot of the smuggling routes through the city and into the US, but they also have a wider impact on the corruption, violent crime, and money laundering that is rife in the city. The Mexican government has assessed the ideology that poverty creates violence and to prevent younger generations from getting involved with criminal organizations, they have invested in programs for education and social reform in Ciudad Obredón.
As of yet, any positive impacts of this remain to be seen. Statistica data shows that Ciudad Obredóns murder rate remains high at 101.13 per 100,000 inhabitants.
Thus far in 2023, the city of Celaya in Guanajuato has demonstrated the highest homicide rates in the country, with a rate of 109.39 per 100,000 residents. (Tijuana comes in second at 105.15 and Ciudad Juarez is in third place at 103.61)
This is largely due to the presence of the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel group who are often involved in violent clashes with Guanajuato authorities as well as rival cartels. Unfortunately, in Celaya, drug-related violence is not restricted to incidents between rival groups and there have been several documented instances of attacks on civilians or local authorities.
Ensenada, Baja California
The city of Ensenada in Baja California is often referenced on lists of the most dangerous places in Mexico but that is somewhat misleading. While historically Ensenada has been seen as something of a safe haven for crime groups, tourism in the region continues to grow and Ensenada marks the starting point of the popular ¨Ruta del Vino¨ road trip route, where travelers can journey through the state sampling different wine blends.
Still, homicides and crime rates in Ensenada, on the whole, remain high, although these are usually restricted to certain areas and to incidents between criminal gangs. According to Statistica, homicide rates in Ensenada in 2023 are currently at a rate of 90.58 per 100,000 inhabitants.
Tepito, Mexico City
Tepito is a dangerous barrio and marketplace in the heart of the Mexican capital. It is best known for its open-air market and colorful stalls known as tianguis.
Interestingly, Tepito’s economy has depended on commerce from these tiangui stalls since pre-historic times. However, while exploring local markets can be a highlight of any trip overseas, Tepito’s market is not your usual shopping experience, and it is not somewhere that you want to unknowingly wander into.
Sure, you can find some street food and clothing here. But most of the stalls focus on selling contraband and illegal items.
Criminals used to joke that they could get whatever they wanted in Tepito – and that includes meeting potential hitmen, ordering guns, or even securing illegal exotic animals. In recent years, tourists have started trying to make their way into the Tepito market, intrigued by the mysteries and dangers but doing so is not a good idea unless you are with a local that knows the area and the culture well.
Tepito has a crime index of 83.33 and a safety index of 16.67 out of 100, indicating a very high risk of being a victim of crime.
Tepic is the capital and largest city of the state of Nayarit in western Mexico. However, unlike the nearby coastal town of Sayulita, it is definitely not a mainstream tourist destination, and a lot of people are put off from traveling here because of the local crime statistics.
Tepic is one of the most dangerous cities in Nayarit with a homicide rate of 45 per 100,000 people. However, as with a couple of other destinations mentioned on this list, violent incidents are restricted to certain areas and to fights between criminals rather than random acts of violence that could affect tourists.
There are a lot of wonderful cultural and historic sites in the city that are well worth taking the time to visit on a day trip from Sayulita if your schedule allows. So, Tepic can be a safe destination for tourists to visit, but you need a high level of situational awareness and common sense, and it is perhaps best reserved for experienced travelers.
The city of Uruapan (Uruapan del Progreso) is a city in the west-central part of Michoacan state. Its name means ¨where the flowers abound¨ in Tarascan Indian, a fitting title given how naturally beautiful Uruapan is.
Uruapan sits in the Bajío region of the Mexican Plateau where wildflowers like orchids, mulla-mulla, and bougainvillea grow in abundance. There are also some natural Mexican wanders nearby such as the volcano Paricutín, which appeared suddenly in 1943, and the Laguna de Santa Maria del Oro, a beautiful crater lake.
Sadly, it isn’t recommended for international travelers to try and visit these places. Michoacan on the whole is on the ¨Do Not Travel¨ list for Mexico, and the Jalisco New Generation cartel has a strong presence in Uruapan.
Uruapan has a homicide rate of over 71 per 100,000 inhabitants and according to the Numbeo crime index, it has a crime index of 75.84 and a safety rating of just 24.16. It is one of the most dangerous parts of Mexico, as well as one of the most dangerous cities in the world.
FAQs about the Most Dangerous Places in Mexico
Do you have any further questions about the most dangerous places in Mexico or which areas you ought to avoid in 2023 and beyond? The answers to some frequently asked questions on the topic are detailed below.
Hopefully, you will find the information you are looking for there. If not, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.
What areas to avoid in Mexico in 2023?
You should generally avoid any of the states in Mexico that are mentioned on the Do Not Travel list. As of June 2023, these are the states of Sinaloa, Zacatecas, Michoacan, Colima, and Tamaulipas and they are considered the most dangerous parts of Mexico.
Still, safety in Mexico is a little more complex than that and the safety situation can vary substantially even between neighboring cities in a given state. (For instance, Sinaloa is on the do not travel list but Mazatlan is growing in popularity as a coastal tourism destination and Los Mochis and the Copper Canyon train route are generally considered safe).
You should do thorough research before traveling anywhere in the country in order to establish what the current safety situation is like.
What is the least safe city in Mexico?
Ciudad Juarez in Chihuahua could arguably be considered the least safe city in Mexico and a place that you absolutely want to avoid. Tijuana in Baja California has extremely high crime rates but it also has tourist areas that are protected by the authorities so it doesn’t have to be completely written off as a place to visit.
Acapulco, Coatzacoalcos, Irapuato, Uruapan, Ciudad Victoria, and Ciudad Obredón are all considered very dangerous cities in Mexico.
Which Mexican state has the highest crime rate?
Guanajuato, Baja California, Mexico State, Michoacán, Chihuahua, Jalisco, and Sonora are the Mexican states with the highest homicide rates.
How dangerous is Mexico?
You might be asking ¨How dangerous is Mexico¨ if you are considering planning a trip here. However, it is important to note that Mexico is an extremely vast country (it is the 13th largest country in the world!) that is made up of 32 different states, each of which has a completely unique culture compared to its neighbors.
Mexico, as a whole, is not an inherently dangerous place, despite what the US media will have you believe. Violence is restricted to certain areas.
Some areas are very safe. For instance, in many places in the Yucatan, you might find that you feel safer than you do in your home country and that you can comfortably walk around alone at night and feel completely secure.
Conversely, other areas like Michoacan, Sinaloa, and parts of Chihuahua are places where you absolutely do not want to set foot.
Final thoughts on the most dangerous places in Mexico
Do you have any further questions or queries about the most dangerous places in Mexico on this list? It is interesting to note which places are considered the most dangerous and for what reason, but things aren’t always what they seem and violent incidents in Mexico usually involve people doing something that they shouldn’t, rather than being completely random.
Still, it’s not a good idea to wander into known sketchy areas just to be a daredevil and say that you have been and some areas are better left alone. (Besides, Mexico is filled with gorgeous pueblo magicos, tropical beaches, island paradises, and Mayan ruins anyway, so why would you waste your time with the sketchier areas?
If you are planning a trip to Mexico for the first time, you might also enjoy browsing through these Mexico travel tips. I live in Mexico and have traveled the country extensively in the last couple of years, including visiting several destinations on the ¨Do not travel¨ list. (As you can see from my photos!)
Safe travels, Melissa xo