Safety Tips for Travelers to the Pacific Coast of Mexico

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The Pacific Coast is one of Mexico's most popular travel destinations. But just how safe is it in Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, Sayulita, Acapulco, and Oaxaca? Our safety expert takes a look.


City rooftops at sunrise in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico Photo © Getty Images/Mint Images

Mexico’s Pacific coast, from Mazatlan, in Sinaloa, to the state of Oaxaca, in the southwest of the country, has a lot to offer tourists. But how safe is this stretch of more than 1,200 miles (1,930km)? Here's the latest information.

Is Mazatlan safe to visit?

Though it’s in the state of Sinaloa, which gives its name to the oldest and most powerful criminal organization in Mexico, Mazatlan is the only part of the state that doesn’t come with a government travel warning.

With 12 miles (20km) of sandy beaches, the city was, like Acapulco, known for its glamour in the mid-20th century, before becoming package-tourist fodder. Since then, it’s been overhauled, its historic “tropical neoclassical” center restored, and good times – as well as fine dining and vibrant nightlife – are being had again.

There is no reason why cautious, vigilant travelers should not have a safe stay in Mazatlan. Cartels are not in the business of costing themselves money. Do bear in mind these few rules, however, which apply all the way down the Pacific coast: acquire some Spanish; drink bottled water; plan your nights out; don’t make a show of your valuables; avoid packed buses (rapid transit systems are safer and quicker); don’t hail cars in the street, but Uber is fine; book accommodation through a reputable platform; keep a list of emergency numbers; hire a guide for tours outside the city limits; and watch out for scams – overcharging street and beach vendors, ATM skimming, and fake police officers.

Is Sayulita safe to visit?

The Nayarit Riviera, almost 200 miles (322km) of coastline from San Blas in the north to Nuevo Vallarta near the Jalisco border, draws a lot of surfers, and Sayulita, with excellent surf camps and all-level breaks, is their capital.

Formerly sleepy and recently designated a Pueblo Magico (a place notable for its beauty, historical significance or cultural import), Sayulita is a small town with the usual growing pains that come with sudden popularity (relatively sudden, anyway, since the mid-90s), but it is one of the safest spots in one of the safest states in Mexico.

Reminding people of Puerto Vallarta in the 60s – tourists often outnumber the locals, and golf carts are the vehicle of choice – Sayulita’s lack of development is the main threat to your safety. Many businesses don’t accept cards, so you’ll need to carry cash. Use bank ATMS, avoid withdrawing at night, and wear a pickpocket-proof money belt.

The beach in Sayulita, Mexico.
The beach in Sayulita. Image credit: Getty Images / Alfredo Matus

Is Puerto Vallarta safe to visit?

Mexico’s Pacific coast doesn’t get much more desirable than “Vallarta” as the number of expats, retirees, and second-homers there will testify. An LGBTQ+-friendly destination, dubbed “the San Francisco of Mexico”, in terms of drinking, dining, clubbing, public art, and water sports the city wants for nothing, and it has its own airport and cruise ship berths too.

Generally impressively safe, where Vallarta poses dangers – irritations, at least – it’s where it’s been a victim of its own success. After you pass through customs at the airport, you’ll have to head through “the shark tank”, which is where timeshare sales reps shoal. To describe their tactics as heavy-handed – free tequila shots, margaritas, offers of breakfast – is to not experience the onslaught up close. Though it’s possible to milk the reps for spa passes, massages, and whale-watching excursions, you are better off not engaging – it is doubtful you’ll get one over on people who are prepared to lie for their living.

Is Acapulco safe to visit?

Acapulco is the largest beach and balneiro resort in Mexico, but since its heyday in the 60s, when Elvis Presley filmed there and Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor holidayed, it has gone the wrong kind of loco.

After attracting all the wrong headlines for its top-ten placing on the league table of dangerous locales – for murder, abduction, and extortion, in particular – Acapulco had started to recover. Domestic tourists were returning, even if the convention centers weren’t full of international visitors. But the devastation wrought by Hurricane Otis in October 2023 has reopened the door to cartels vying for control of the city and its criminal economies.

Acapulco is a crucial entry point for cocaine en route from South America to consumer markets in the United States, and the Jalisco Cartel New Generation, Sinaloa Cartel groups, Familia Michoacana, and the Acapulco Independent Cartel all maintain a presence there. For now, I would leave the city to its own devices.

Is Oaxaca safe to visit?

Mexico’s fifth largest state may be one of its poorest, but it’s rich in diversity, both topographically and culturally – being home to 16 indigenous groups, each with its own customs, traditions and language.

It is also very safe, as it’s not cartel country – few contraband corridors run through the state’s forbidding landscapes: mountains, jungle and cacti-sentried scrubland.

Apart from the big waves at Playa Zicatela, the 2-mile (3.5km) beach at Puerto Escondido, Mexico’s best-known surfing spot (which has its own airport), the region is largely unmapped swell territory. That’s because it’s undeveloped. You can drive for hours on the 200 coast road and not pass a single town, but one dusty shoreline track later…

Upcoming surf towns include Manzunte, Zipolite, Barra de la Cruz, San Agustinillo, and Salina Cruz. Summer, from April when the southern swells start kicking off, is the peak season for surfing in Oaxaca, and winter is great for beginners. You should bear in mind, however, that the more remote the locale, the less likely it will come with warning signs or, traditionally, red flags. Every year, dozens of unsuspecting tourists fall prey to powerful undertows and rip currents – surfers are better equipped than swimmers to withstand the conditions, but the risks are very real.

The culture on the Pacific coast is laidback, and not averse to a party, so store your valuables, camera, and passport in a strongbox at your hotel/hostel and take just enough cash to see you through the night. Again, a money belt is your friend. For more tips to stay safe at night in Mexico, check out our article.

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  • Sandra Vee said

    Excellent article! Thank you :)


  • Sarah said

    Extremely helpful- thank you for writing this!


  • Gwen said

    Well done. Informative article. Mucho gracias señor ????


  • Nancy said

    Very Informative. We have learned many new things that we did not know yet and we have been here 4 years in a row. Thank-you for putting our minds at ease for this trip as there is much talk of the new violence in Cancun. I think it is far enough away from Puerto Vallarta. We are staying for one month this time and needed this affirmation. :)


  • Gordon said

    Thank you for your very informative website that is not full of ads and useless video links that have nothing to do with tourism at all. It's too bad your site is so far down in google, it took quite a while to get here. Keep up the good work.


  • Jani said

    Thank you sooo much! We just purchased a condo in the Icon and will pass along this valuable info to our renters.


  • Alton said

    My family has been visiting P.V. and each time feels like coming home. This information adds a new layer of expectation for our next trip. Zip-lining - Yes! Snorkling and scuba - Yes! Art walk - yes! Two hundred and fifty foot swim through an underground cavern - hmmm (Think about it). Maybe! Great informative article.


  • Cate Indermuehle said

    This was so informative and helpful! I have been to Puerto Vallarta and what you said is accurate! There was quite a bit I didn’t! Thanks!!


  • Nick said

    I'm headed to PV tomorrow for the first time and this article was just what I needed! Thanks so much!


  • Betty said

    I have been enjoying trips to Mexico many times over the years and people such as yourself who have taken the time to upload information such as you have done is always very informative and helpful. There is always something new to learn about. Thank you.


  • Pat said

    Great article! I learned so much! Would have also enjoyed learning the names of some recommended cafes and restaurants in Old Town...I am a woman and may be traveling alone. Thanks so much!

    Pat G.


  • Billy Le said

    Thank you very much for your greatly informative article! This is the first time we have been in P.V., and we love this place so much. We will certainly come back here every year and inform other family members and friends about about this paradise!


  • Rosemary Shaw said

    We have been to PV many times over the past 10 years and this article sums it up perfectly.. Loved the part about the "Shark Tank".... Well done and informative article.


  • sandra said

    Thank you for the informative article. Traveling to PV for the first time and this is very helpful..


  • Bill said

    Any updates to this 3 year old document?


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