Is Mexico Safe? Top 10 Safety Concerns for Travelers

Thousands of people visit Mexico each year and return home from a trouble-free trip. With a bit of common sense, you can too. Here's what you need to know.

Photo © Getty Images/ElOjoTorpe

Street Safety

Despite the media headlines painting Mexico as a place of crime and drug violence in the past few years, travelers shouldn’t allow that to stop them from experiencing one of the most colorful and amazing cultures in the world and the cities have plenty of that. Using your common sense, being aware of your surroundings, keeping your valuables out of sight and taking a few precautions while exploring the cities means your Mexican trip will be a safe and fun one.

Scams in Mexico

Fake taxis, fake cops, airport scams, watered down drinks, car rental damage scams and the good old foreign exchange switch.

These are just some of the scams can test any traveler in Mexico and in some cases; drain your holiday funds if you’re not careful. Most locals aren’t out to fleece you, but with a little care and being aware of who is around you and what is going on, you can avoid falling prey and becoming a scammer’s next lucrative customer.

Drugs and Drug Cartel Country

Unfortunately, Mexico does have a reputation for drug related crime including in popular tourist spots such as Cabo San Lucas, Cancun, Tijuana, Acapulco and others. Most travelers have a trouble free trip, however there have been reports of travelers being killed by drug cartels. Often it’s been a case of “wrong place, wrong time” or not following government safety warnings and advisories in the case of the popular and spectacular hiking spot of Copper Canyon, where taking a local guide is not just a necessity for the language barrier but for safety.

Night Safety

If it’s one thing Mexicans do well, it’s that they know how to party. From sunset to sunrise, whether you are at a bar, in a club or enjoying a night time festival; it’s important to look after yourself, your fellow travelers and your belongings. Drink spiking can occur which places you at risk of assault and theft. So watch your drinks and drink in moderation so you can get back to your accommodation safely.

Transport Crime

Pickpockets, car-jackings and robberies have occurred in Mexico and the risk of these crimes while traveling increases at night, particuarly in known drug cartel country and border areas. So it’s best to do your traveling around town or within the country during the day. Travelers also need to take personal safety precautions and secure their valuables when on the move including on public transport and around transport hubs.

Express Kidnapping

While not exclusive to Mexico, express kidnapping is a growing issue in Latin America. Often used as a means to obtain quick money, the victim is kidnapped and forced to empty their bank account. While most people are let go without physical injury, it’s still a traumatic experience. On occasions, injuries and death can sometimes occur when people resist their kidnappers. Taking precautions when withdrawing money at ATM’s and using licensed taxis can help reduce the risk of being express kidnapped.

Women's Safety

While most locals are friendly, there are some who still uphold the machismo attitude towards women. Solo women travelers may experience harassment as a result. Dressing modestly and low key (especially in rural locations) can help avoid unwanted attention. Check with locals where are the safe places to go when in town and if you’re unsure about exploring by yourself, take a tour. It’s also a great way to meet other fellow travelers. Avoid traveling at night.

LGBTQ Safety

Mexico is increasingly becoming a hot spot for LGBTQ travelers each year, however the conservative influence of the Catholic Church still exists and for local LGBTQ people, expressing their gay side is done discreetly. There are local LGBTQ communities in the city areas however if you plan to travel out into rural locales; attitudes are more conservative, with public displays of affection frowned upon. It’s important that travelers be discreet and respectful towards the local culture to avoid putting yourself potentially in harm’s way.

Natural Hazards

Most of the time, things are pretty calm in Mexico however during various times in the year, nature decides to challenge the locals and travelers. Volcanoes, earthquakes, heat, hurricanes, animals.. Even going to the beach can present risk for any traveler. Many people drown each year at popular beach holiday spots across Mexico due to the conditions, rips or misadventure. These are a few of the hazards you need to watch out for while enjoying the beauty of Mexico’s natural environment and there are many ways you can stay safe.

Travel Health

Split by the Tropic of Cancer, Mexico has both tropical and temperate climates which aid numerous mosquito borne diseases such as dengue fever, malaria, chikungunya and other health hazards. The country also has great hiking spots, some of which are at thousands of feet above sea level, posing the risk of altitude sickness. Throw in a dose of “Montezuma’s Revenge” and staying healthy while traveling in Mexico can present even the most intrepid traveler with a challenge.

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13 Comments

  • David Torres said

    I agree in several points here, but others are not quite true. I have lived in Mexico City since i was a little boy and i can tell you that the only thing that have happened to me was to be pickpocketed twice: in the subway and in a really big concert. It's true that the northern part is quite a not-so-advisable place to travel, but I think the capital is just as other cities in the world, like Delhi or Lima, where you have to just be careful and keep common sense at hand.

  • Helen said

    I was astounded to read Janet's comments. We (a couple in our 60's) are just back from our third trip to Mexico and can't speak highly enough of the country and its citizens. We find the people to be kind courteous and extremely helpful. We love their penchant for late hours and have never felt unsafe, even very late at night. We do not go to the US haunts such as Cancun and the north. If you are thinking of going don't miss Mexico City. We feel safer there than in Sydney these days. Also think about Puebla and Qeretaro, both UNESCO listed cities, within easy reach of Mexico City. Also from Queretaro it is an easy trip to The natural beauty of Xilitla where inspired eccentric English artist Edward James created Las Pozas. The gardens and pools make Gaudi's garden in Barcelona seem very insignificant. It is a wonder of the world. Buses are the way to travel as they are very punctual, clean and very cheap. Do practise saying 'Soy d'Australia' so that you are not mistaken for an American and your trip will be truly wonderful. Did I mention the food?? So delicious and so reasonably priced. They appreciate you telling them it was delicious by saying 'Muy rico'. Go and enjoy.

  • Alina said

    "Do practise saying 'Soy d'Australia' so that you are not mistaken for an American and your trip will be truly wonderful..." XD Helen, I love you :) Australians will always be so welcome in Mexico.

  • Gary said

    After travelling around by myself for 6 weeks in a rental car in the Yucatan peninsula area and mingling with the local people I feel that area is safer than many places in the USA or Canada. I am returning this next winter and extending my journeys further. Don't be frightened by the hype!
    Link here to my trip report http://www.playa.info/playa-del-carmen-forum/75045-adrift-yucatan.html

  • Nazmul said

    If an average of 100 US citizens are getting killed every year, I don't give a damn how tasty their food is,or how beautiful the places are, specially not with little kids...

  • Andrew said

    I'd never visit Mexico:

    15.643 murders in mexico in 2015.
    17,013 muders in mexico in 2016. Yeah, it's getting much worse.

    Mexico holds first place worldwide in kidnapping.

    https://www.osac.gov/pages/ContentReportDetails.aspx?cid=17114

  • mark said

    How safe is Los algodones, Baja mexico? Going there for dental work.

  • Sandra said

    Has anyone been in Northern Mexico recently? I would really like to visit since I am originally from Piedras Negras. I used to visit every 1 or 2 years but as the crime increased my family stopped going and I haven't been there in 8 years. I do know that it's more unsafe than other parts of Mexico, but my cousins still go there each year and so do other friends who are from Ciudad Juarez. Has anyone been there (or to northern Mexico in general, esp. border towns) and have any useful advice for women traveling to that area? I would be staying with relatives so I wouldn't be completely alone, and I do have the advantage (at least I hope it's an advantage) of being able to blend in but can also pretend to not know Spanish if I need to.

  • Don Juan Pedraza said

    I no longer visit Mexico ( my former country ) because of the cops that stopped me everytime I went there to visit my friends since my family all live in America now. You do nothing wrong, but in their minds you did do something wrong. A car with Mexican plates can pass you up, but the Mexican cops will stop you for going too fast when someone has already passed you up right in front of their noses. I can go to the Market Square in our city and buy everything I can buy in Mexico.

  • Josh Hall said

    If you follow a few simple rules and travel wisely, Mexico is safe and amazing! We spent six months traveling throughout the country and had zero issues. We wrote about our experience in the link below (satire):

    http://www.travelamateurs.com/mexico-safety-travel-warning/

  • Angel said

    I lived there for over 5 years, and I loved it! also as soon as i hit my pension, im going back, I adopted Mexico, and I can tell you the people are appalled at the narco crime and what is happening to their country. Most people are honest, hard working, drink Moderately, and are frugal. They are warm hearted, friendly, helpful, and just plain awesome! Not long after moving, to Cancun, man was looking into the window of the stairway, well, my neighbor caught him and started grilling him and the guy left. See? this Discourages, theivery, and keeps the neighborhood safe. And Thank You to my Fantastic Friend Jose Luis for looking out for a "stranger" God Bless Mexico and their people. They have lovelty traditions, Family is Still important, and the food, well,,, the food is grrreat! Go, you wont be sorry but play it safe, dont go walking into alleys, Ever,,, Especially at night. If someone wants to pick a fight, leave, immediately, and avoid hassles, of a more serious nature,,,, Do, have fun, but be Safe first,, god bless

  • rickardo said

    I've been to Mexico many times and never felt threatened,even late at night,but cateristas do inhabit every nook & cranny on buses & trains in DF . The stories of cops wanting bribes are rampant and I know them to be true,but I've been able to ward them off with my size,self confidence and judicious use of Spanish.

  • Renato Lopez said

    I just spent 70 days in Mexico in a state of Sonora The only issue I had was with the municipal police who searched my car and stole my Cologne. Other than that I had no problems with moving around the city in restaurants in public parks and museums in the outback.

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