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.


Camouflage men in the back of a pickup truck Photo © Getty Images/PEDRO PARDO - Stringer

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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  • sofia said

    so I have family from Morelia and Mexico but my mom said that it is not safe?

  • Howard Pine said

    Sofia, Go to Morelia, its gorgeous, historic, hip, and in many ways very modern for a city that is 470 years old, and home to the first university in the Americas. I can honestly say that in some 30 years that I've been familiar with Morelia, I have never experienced a moment of fear for any reason. And I'm an odl guy with a gray beard. My BFF fishing bud lives there, and I've spent many happy weeks walking around in Morelia, enjoying the food, architecture, parks, activities sponsored by the Univ. etc. Its super easy and inexpensive to fly into. Its not the cheapest place in Mexico, but hardly expensive. If you have any questions about Morelia, feel free to hit me up. Howard Pine

  • Conrad Ruiz said


    My dad has family properties in Mexico. I have never been and am wanting to go in late February. My dad can’t go with because of work however he said I would need to fly into Morelia, rent a car and travel about 4 hours from the city to my grandparents farm. He said three of there farms that I need to see are there in the Michoacán state. He said one of the family farms my grandpa built a school and receives funding from Morelia to operate and the other neighboring farm grows avocados and Mangos too truck to Morelia for sale. My dad said business was good for both of my grandparents farms till the Cartel has been forcing villagers to sell. I didn’t really understand what my dad meant till I have been doing research and have come to understand Avocados are a big crop their state down there. My dad said once we fly into Morelia if we rent a bus we will be incognito but can only take the bus so far out of Morelia then will need to walk. However, if we rent a truck we can make it all the way to the farm because of the 4x4. The literature I have reading and my dad saying that leads me to believe it maybe to much of a risk trying to see the family farm for someone like me whom doesn’t speak the language or know the terrain. My dad any cabby in town Morelia will know if my family’s farms they are so wealthy down there but I think I’m just going to wreak of Gringo even tho I look very Mexican. I need your input and or advice to help out!?


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