Drug Violence in Mexico: 3 Important Travel Safety Tips

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Millions of people have a safe time in Mexico despite news reports about drugs and drug related violence. Here’s what you need to know to stay safe and within the law.


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In recent years, the incidence of drug related violence in Mexico has increased, however that violence is largely confined to a few areas thanks to the efforts of local authorities, with only the occasional incident occurring near tourist spots.

Foreign nationals have been killed while working for cartels and occasionally, travelers have also been killed when in the wrong place at the wrong time.

More than 30 million visitors head to Mexico each year, with the vast majority not experiencing any trouble. If you take a few personal safety precautions and avoid the hotspots while traveling around the country, you should be fine. Mexican nationals are more likely to encounter drug related crime; more than 28,000 people were killed in 2018 as a result of the drug trade and other illegal activities. If you participate in the drug trade, the risk to your safety increases considerably.

Known violence hotspots

Government travel advisories and warnings vary in regards to safety in Mexican states affected by drug violence, so it’s vital to check if you will be in any of these areas. These are some of the known hotspots:

Northern Mexico

States which border with the US, such as Sinaloa, Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua (which includes Copper Canyon), Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Durango. In 2014, the state of Tamaulipas was brought under control by the Mexican authorities due to a spike in violence. Travelers also need to take caution in major cities such as Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, Nogales, Reynosa, Matamoros and Piedras Negras.

Western and southern Mexico

Jalisco, Guerrero, Colima, Nayarit and Chiapas. In 2014, the Mexican authorities took control of Michoacan state due to the increase in organized crime and other gang- related activity. It’s important to note that the crime risk is lower in Morelia, west of Mexico City, and Lazaro Cardenas, south of Morelia. The UNESCO World Heritage Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Centre between Mexico City and Morelia is considered safe for travelers. It’s reported that violence against visitors is rare.

Eastern Mexico

Several government advisories report that crime has increased in the states of Tabasco and Veracruz.

Popular tourist spots such as Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel and others are generally safe as the authorities have made intensive efforts to protect these locations.

Drug laws in Mexico

Under Mexican law, trafficking illegal drugs and possession beyond the legal amounts are federal offenses.

Convicted offenders face jail sentences (up to 25 years) and hefty fines. For drug trafficking, bail is not an option.

It’s not uncommon for foreign nationals, charged with drug offenses, to be detained for between six months and a year before a verdict is reached.


In 2009, the Mexican government made changes to the “General Health Law” to allow for the possession of drugs for personal use (amounts vary depending on the drug). Possession beyond the nominated amounts is considered small scale trafficking.

Note: If you choose to use illicit drugs and something happens to your belongings, personal safety or impacts any part of your trip, you will not be covered by your travel insurance.

Traveling with medications

If you need to take prescription drugs while in Mexico, you must carry the necessary paperwork (doctor’s letter, prescriptions) to avoid falling foul of the law. Some drugs which would be considered legal in your home country, may not be in Mexico. To find out more, check out our Mexico travel health article.

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