There is one question that every first-time traveler to Mexico wants to answer: is Mexico safe?
Mexico is generally safe for travelers if you take proper precautions, do your research, and use your head. The safety situation in Mexico does vary considerably by region, however.
The U.S. State Department has issued elevated travel advisories for several Mexican states, including a few popular with tourists as well as several bordering the US. These travel advisories mostly related to gang-related crime. Additionally, solo female travelers may need to exercise increased caution in Mexico.
It is also true that there have been several high profile safety incidents in recent months in Mexico, which you may have read about. These incidents do happen. On the other hand, more than 35 million tourists visit Mexico each year, most of them safely.
In this guide, I’ll cover exactly what you need to know about safety in Mexico before visiting. I traveled and lived in Mexico for nearly a year and learned a lot of Mexico tips for staying safe.
So, let’s address the question “Is Mexico Safe”:
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Is Mexico Safe?
Mexico is a safe destination if visitors use common sense and educate themselves about the particular region of the country they are visiting. Due to crime, several regions of Mexico are subject to elevated travel advisories. It is important for travelers to be mindful of their personal safety, stay updated on public health concerns, and exercise normal precautions while visiting Mexico.
For more information on the specific part of Mexico you are visiting, see these Mexico safety guides:
For other regions of Mexico, see the U.S. State Department’s list of regional travel advisories for Mexico.
The US State Department currently has a “Level 4: Do Not Travel” warning for the following Mexican states:
- Colima state (due to crime and kidnapping)
- Guerrero state (due to crime)
- Michoacan state (due to crime and kidnapping)
- Sinaloa state (due to crime and kidnapping)
- Tamaulipas state (due to crime and kidnapping)
- Zacatecas state (due to crime and kidnapping)
The US State Department also has a “Level 3: Reconsider Travel To” warning for the following Mexican states:
- Baja California state (due to crime and kidnapping)
- Chihuahua state (due to crime and kidnapping)
- Durango state (due to crime)
- Guanajuato state (due to crime and kidnapping)
- Jalisco state (due to crime and kidnapping)
- Morelos state (due to crime)
- Sonora state (due to crime and kidnapping)
In March 2023, four Americans were kidnapped (and two killed) when they were reportedly caught in the crossfire of cartel violence in Tamaulipas state, which borders Texas. This incident lead the Texas Department of Public Safety to warn against spring break travel to Mexico. [Source]
In general, it is not advisable to travel to the Mexican states subject to a Level 4 advisory. But you will need to assess your own risk tolerance when considering travel to states subject to Level 3 advisories, including popular tourist hotspots like Guanajuato, Jalisco, and Baja California states.
It is important to note that the crime advisories apply on a state level, and often the incidents which cause them are concentrated in certain or larger cities that are separate from the tourist destinations.
For example, Puerto Vallarta is in Jalisco state, which is subject to an elevated safety warning. However, in general the crime in Jalisco is concentrated in the large city of Guadalajara, not Puerto Vallarta, which is a touristy beach town with a better safety record.
Remember that each year many travelers visit Mexico without incident. In 2017 alone, more than 39 million international visitors traveled by air to Mexico. Most of them enjoyed their vacation without incident.
Ultimately, all travel is risky and to some extent the decision whether to travel is up to you. You still need to be a very smart traveler when you travel to Mexico. Remaining aware of your surroundings at all times and learning about the area you’re going to ahead of time are key aspects of keeping yourself safe.
Things to Know About Safety in Mexico
Mexico Travel Advisories
Mexico is a big country, so the American government has several travel advisories across various regions of Mexico. These advisories include risks of crime and kidnapping in certain areas.
As of time of publication, the following Mexican states were under a “Do Not Travel” advisory from the U.S. State Department:
- Colima state (crime & kidnapping)
- Guerrero state (crime)
- Michoacan state (crime & kidnapping)
- Sinaloa state due (crime & kidnapping)
- Tamaulipas state (crime & kidnapping)
- Zacatecas state (crime & kidnapping)
The good news is that the above are generally not the states that are most frequented by tourists, so most likely you are not planning to travel there anyway.
However, several Mexican states that are popular to tourists currently have a “Reconsider Travel” advisory due to crime and kidnapping. These include Jalisco state (home to Puerto Vallarta and Guadalajara), Guanajuato state (home to San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato city), and Baja California state (home to Tijuana).
The official list of travel advisories for Mexico changes regularly, so it’s best to check it out before your trip.
Crime in Mexico
The most recent crime rate in Mexico was recorded at 28.37% per 100K population. This represented a slight decline in the crime rate from the previous year. However, it comes after a few years of a rapidly rising crime rate in Mexico.
You may be surprised to learn that many types of crime are actually more common in the United States than in Mexico. One notable exception, however, is that Mexico does have a significantly higher murder rate, much of which is connected to cartel-related violence (addressed in detail below).
There is a wide range of crimes that can affect tourists in Mexico. These occurrences range from petty crimes like pickpocketing and other forms of theft to more violent crimes like carjacking and kidnapping. Visitors are encouraged to do research into the area they are traveling to and avoid regions of high risk.
Common Scams in Mexico
Unfortunately, there are quite a few common scams to be aware of before you travel to Mexico, besides run-of-the-mill pickpocketing. These scams tend to happen more frequently in big cities like Mexico City. Some of the most common scams in Mexico to look out for include:
🏧 Fake ATMs – When you’re grabbing cash at an ATM, you may not normally think about what ATM you’re using. But, this is a consideration you need to make in Mexico due to the abundance of fake ATMs that rip off your card info.
The best way to avoid this scam is by using trusted ATMs in official banks. If a random ATM on the street looks dodgy, it very well could be.
🍽️ Restaurant Scams – Another common issue tourists run into when they travel to Mexico is restaurant scams. This is a fairly basic scam in which restaurants give back incorrect change or overcharge patrons on their bills. Just keep a close eye on your tab and you should be able to avoid becoming a victim of a restaurant scam.
🦤 Bird Poop Swindle – The bird poop swindle is a variation on all the other “sticky goop” types of robberies. Basically, you get hit with a gross substance like bird feces, and a kind passerby helps you clean it off. But, really, that person is stealing anything they can grab from your pockets.
If you think this may be happening, get away from the person helping immediately.
🛬 Airport Taxi Upcharge – Airports are always filled with people looking to take advantage of tourists. A popular way in Mexico is the airport taxi upcharge.
During this scam, the driver hurries you into a big van or doesn’t run the taxi meter to overcharge you for a ride from the airport. This is especially common in Mexico City. To avoid it, always ride with official taxis in Mexico.
Covid-19 Safety in Mexico
Visitors to Mexico no longer need to present a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination when they travel to Mexico (Source).
COVID-19 restrictions have loosened in Mexico. Still, many people in certain parts of Mexico, especially Mexico City, still choose to wear masks.
There are many places to get COVID-19 tests in popular tourist destinations in Mexico.
Hazardous Weather and Natural Disasters in Mexico
The most common natural disaster that occurs in Mexico is earthquakes. The country is located in a region that’s known for having a lot of seismic activity, which increases the likelihood of severe earthquakes. In places like Mexico City, earthquakes are especially common.
The coastal regions of Mexico can also be affected by hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, and flooding.
Hurricanes are especially a problem in Quintana Roo state, home to popular places to visit in Mexico like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum. In general, hurricane season runs from June to November, with September and October being particularly risky months for hurricanes.
See our guide to the best time to visit Mexico for more advice on when to visit Mexico.
Drug Cartel Violence in Mexico
One of the top concerns that travelers have in Mexico is the drug trade and drug-related violence. Drug cartels and criminal organizations do exist in Mexico, and drug-related deaths are unfortunately common in Mexico. Tourists need to be mindful and careful of this reality on their trip.
The best way to avoid getting caught in the crosshairs of criminal groups is by never ever coming anywhere close to getting involved with criminal activity, including especially anything involving the purchase of prohibited substances.
Even something that might be considered minor in your home country can be extremely dangerous in a country like Mexico where the drug cartel is prevalent.
Stay far away from anything even remotely sketchy in Mexico.
Safety for Solo Female Travelers in Mexico
While Mexico is a fairly safe destination with precautions, there are some extra steps that solo travelers need to take to keep themselves safe. This is especially true for solo female travelers.
As a whole, Mexico isn’t a very safe country for women traveling alone and it isn’t the best choice for first-time solo travelers. Certain areas in Mexico are a complete no-go for solo female travelers. So, it’s extra important to do your research before a trip and know what you’re getting into.
If you do choose Mexico as a woman traveling alone, don’t go out walking after dark and be very careful when exploring Mexico’s nightlife. Additionally, make sure you know at least a little Spanish to get yourself out of any sticky situations if there are no English speakers around.
Is Tap Water Safe to Drink in Mexico?
It is absolutely not safe to drink tap water anywhere in Mexico. Consuming tap water in Mexico is very likely to cause moderate to severe illness in visitors.
Bottled water is widely available in Mexican convenience stores at affordable prices. You can check Google Maps for the nearest “OXXO” convenience store and stock up on bottled water.
👉 Pro Tip: One way to make sure you always get clean drinking water is by carrying a water-purifying straw. My favorite one is the LifeStraw personal water filter. You never know when you might need it.
7 Safety Tips for Mexico
Tip #1 – Choose Where You Stay Wisely
Where you stay in Mexico has a big impact on how your perceive the safety situation. If you’re staying in a gated luxury resort in Playa del Carmen, you’re unlikely to have any safety issues. However, if you’re staying in a budget hotel in Tulum, you may need to think a little more about what part of town you stay in.
You can use our accommodation guides to get started on your accommodation research:
- Where to Stay in Mexico City
- Where to Stay in Tulum
- Where to Stay in Puerto Vallarta
- Where to Stay in San Miguel de Allende
- Where to Stay in Valladolid
Tip #2 – Research Mexico Travel Insurance
Even if you’re only visiting touristy-heavy locations like Playa Del Carmen and San Jose Del Cabo, you may research whether it makes sense to get travel insurance for Mexico. Be sure to do your own research and compare quotes.
Tip #3 – Be Careful With Car Rental Companies
Most people assume that since Mexico is a top tourist destination that renting a car will be a piece of cake. However, renting a car in Mexico can actually be a confusing and difficult process.
You need to be extremely careful with the rental company you’re using and always take photos/videos of the vehicle when you pick it up.
If you do decide to rent a car, then make sure you always use toll roads and never drive at night. Otherwise, there is a higher chance of you becoming a victim of a crime in Mexico.
Tip #4 – Only Take Public Transportation During The Day
Public transport around the country is a reasonable way to get around, especially if you’re visiting Mexico on a budget. While I totally recommend trying out Mexico’s public transport, you need to be careful. Only take public transportation during the day.
Traveling at night time isn’t necessarily going to end in disaster, but there is a higher chance of encountering trouble. This is one of the most crucial safety tips for a tourist in Mexico.
Tip #5 – Follow the Local Laws
You never want to mess with the local authorities and laws when you’re exploring a foreign country. This is very important when you’re in Mexico. You really don’t want to deal with the local police in Mexico because it’s very different from the United States.
Many young people visiting the country for spring break or parties often fail to think about the consequences of breaking the law on their escapade. But, this type of carelessness can get you in a lot of trouble or even put you in danger.
Tip #6 – Don’t Lose All Control While Visiting Local Bars
Mexico’s bars are some of the most fun party places in the world. It’s fine to soak up all of the country’s exciting nightlife and parties.
However, never forget that you’re a guest in a foreign country. Keep a good head on your shoulders and stay in control when you’re out partying in Mexico. Also, keep an eye on your drink because it’s very common for tourists to get drugged when they’re not paying attention.
Tip #7 – Stay Aware of Your Surroundings at Tourist Attractions
Some of the most-visited tourist destinations in Mexico are more dangerous than people think. Even places like Playa Del Carmen, Cabo San Lucas, and Puerto Vallarta can be a hotbed for crime against tourists when they least expect it.
If you’re visiting these popular tourist areas, make sure you pay attention and keep an eye on your belongings. And while you’re at it, make sure you check out Taylor’s Mexico packing list to know exactly what safety items to bring.
FAQs About Safety in Mexico
Is Mexico safe to visit right now?
Many regions and cities in Mexico are safe to visit right now. Though a lot of travelers worry “is Mexico safe?” due to its global reputation, exploring Mexico can be a rewarding and completely safe vacation destination if you take safety precautions.
Is the US or Mexico safer?
According to the latest statistics, Mexico seems to be safer than the United States in many aspects. There are 8X more crimes committed in total in the United States than Mexico, largely due to America’s size and population. America also has higher rates of gun violence, sexual assault, and drug abuse.
With that being said, Mexico has a much higher murder rate than the United States. The murder rate in Mexico is 98% higher than the murder rate in the United States.
What should you avoid in Mexico?
The most important thing visitors should avoid on a trip to Mexico is breaking the law. The last thing you want to do on a vacation is navigate the Mexican justice system.
Other things travelers should avoid in Mexico include visiting regions on the US State’s Department’s “Do Not Travel” list, drinking the tap water, wandering neighborhoods in Mexico aimlessly, and wearing flashy jewelry or electronics.
What is the safest place in Mexico to go?
Merida is widely regarded as the safest city to visit in Mexico. However, there are lots of safe areas in Mexico with little to no violent crime. Mexico City, San Miguel de Allende, and Queretaro are also generally safe destinations.
I hope that answers the question “is Mexico safe to visit?”.
Before you leave, be sure to check out all our Mexico travel guides.
Stay safe in Mexico!
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