The author of "Is Oaxaca Safe?", McKenna Mobley, holding a coconut water while posing on a beach in Oaxaca

Is Oaxaca Safe to Visit? (Honest Advice for 2023)

👉 Jump to: Is Oaxaca Safe? | Advisories | Covid-19 | Crime | Scams | Weather | Solo Female | Nightlife | Water | Safety Tips | FAQ

It seems like crime in Mexico is constantly on the news in the U.S., prompting you to wonder, “is Oaxaca safe?” The colorful streets of Oaxaca and the tasty traditional food make it one of the most visited places in Mexico, but there are some things to know before you go.

I’ve traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico many times as a solo female and have never encountered crime, but of course, there is nuance to this. In this article, we’ll dive into safety and how to have a great trip while exploring the top activities in Oaxaca.

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Is Oaxaca Safe?

Oaxaca is one of the safer states to visit in Mexico. Still, although Oaxaca is relatively safe, travelers should still exercise caution to prevent petty theft while visiting this southern coastal state.

You will have a blast in Oaxaca as long as you take the necessary safety precautions to avoid petty crimes in Oaxaca like theft, traffic violations, and harassment.

Oaxaca has a lower crime rate than other nearby states in Mexico and is overall one of the safer destinations to visit in Mexico. Most of the violence that occurs around the area is drug-related and does not concern tourists.

Because Oaxaca is so far south and a bit off the beaten path, it’s not overcrowded like other tourist destinations in Mexico. Most tourist crime in Mexico happens in overly touristy places.

Read All Our Mexico Safety Guides:

Things to Know About Safety in Oaxaca

Travel Advisories

The author posing for a photo in Monte Alban archaeological site
Me, being silly at the Monte Alban archaeological site

The U.S. government’s official travel advisories website encourages travelers to exercise increased caution due to criminal activity and violence in Oaxaca.

In addition, you may encounter protests throughout the state of Oaxaca, most likely in the main plaza and the highway. When I was there, an indigenous protest was happening that blocked the highway for one full day.

There are also feminist protests happening around the whole country at this time. If you want to avoid a potentially violent protest, I recommend avoiding the Oaxaca city center.

Covid-19 Safety in Oaxaca

View of colorful buildings in Oaxaca city center
The Oaxaca city center

Mexico was hit hard during the Covid-19 pandemic. Although the most extreme measures and restrictions took place in the huge, metropolitan Mexico City, other major cities around Mexico were either closed or required masks.

There are very few Covid-19 restrictions still in Oaxaca today. The only mandates in place are to wear a mask in government buildings like a bank or airport. There are usually free masks available at these locations if you don’t have one.

You won’t find many mask wearers on the hot sandy beaches of Oaxaca, but you are always at full liberty to wear a mask whenever and wherever you want.

Crime in Oaxaca

The biggest problem with crime in Oaxaca is property crimes like vandalism and theft. This is seen more in the major towns like Oaxaca City and Puerto Escondido as well as on public transportation.

The second most frequent crime in Oaxaca is drugs. This includes both using and dealing drugs. If you want to avoid potentially dangerous situations while traveling in Oaxaca, you should avoid drugs at all costs.

Another major crime in Oaxaca is corruption and bribery. This typically affects locals more than it does tourists but it is still something to look out for while traveling in the state. An example of this crime is paying off a police officer to get out of a speeding ticket or paying a local to take you into an illegal, closed archaeological site.

There is also a low rate of violent crime in Oaxaca. Although you are more likely to encounter petty crimes than violent crimes like armed robbery or assault, you should still take necessary precautions to avoid these crimes.

Common Scams in Oaxaca

👮 Police – Beware of individuals in uniform who are trying to make a quick buck. As previously mentioned, there is corruption and bribery among political figures in Mexico. The local police have been known to target tourists for bribery.

While this isn’t necessarily dangerous, you will still want to watch out for corrupt police. They may try to “arrest” you for things like jaywalking or running a stop sign (even if you didn’t) just so you can “pay them off.”

Be up-to-date with the local laws to avoid any alterations with the police.

🛍️ Souvenir Scams – Be on the lookout for “tourist prices.” Tourists are oftentimes charged double or triple what local Mexican nationals would be charged when it comes to shopping for either food or souvenirs.

If you can, try to order in Spanish to avoid “tourist prices.” If you don’t know Spanish, I recommend having someone who does know the language try to barter prices for you.

💳 Card Scams – When possible, try to pay for everything with cash in Oaxaca. Similar to the U.S., credit cards are more likely to be ripped off in Mexico. 

This is often the case at gas stations and sometimes even restaurants in Mexico. Be wary of fake card readers at convenience stores and ATMs as well. When it comes to shopping in Oaxaca, “cash is king.”

💰 Pickpockets – This scam is especially prevalent on public transportation. This petty crime is most likely to occur while on the local bus or in a taxi, but it can also happen while walking in crowded areas like Oaxaca City.

To avoid being the subject of a pickpocket, I recommend either wearing a money belt or keeping your backpack at your frontside at all times while in public. You will also not want to leave your belongings unattended at the beach. 

Hazardous Weather and Natural Disasters

The author smiling for a photo with colorful flowers on her background
Posing with flowers I encountered on my walk from my hostel to an Oaxacan beach

Oaxaca is vulnerable to multiple natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, flooding, landslides, and volcanic eruptions. Mexico City experiences its fair share of earthquakes, and nearby volcanoes such as Popocatepetl are often on the brink of eruption.

Keep up-to-date with safety protocols and measures before you travel to Oaxaca to ensure your utmost safety. Consider Mexico travel insurance just in case.

Solo Female Safety

The author smiling for a photo at a rooftop in Oaxaca City
Me, being goofy on a rooftop in Oaxaca City

If you’re wondering, “is Oaxaca safe for females?”  I’m here to tell you yes. I’ve traveled to this colorful state many times as a solo female and have never encountered any problems.

Oaxaca is one of the safest Mexican states for solo female travelers but it is still important to be a smart traveler and be aware of safety concerns. For example, I don’t go to nightclubs by myself and I thoroughly research my destination to make sure it’s legitimate and safe. 

With exercised caution and common sense, a trip to Oaxaca Mexico will be one of the safest and most memorable trips to Mexico.

Nightlife Safety

Going out to dance is a must when you visit, but that doesn’t mean you have to compromise your safety in Oaxaca. I recommend going out only with friends during your stay in the capital city. The beach towns are a bit more secure and safer to explore after sundown.

The top travel safety tips for going out at night in Oaxaca are not going out alone, being responsible with your drinks, not leaving your drink unattended, and purchasing a local sim card, just in case. 

👉 Pro Tip: If the question of “is Oaxaca safe” is on your mind, you should consider purchasing travel insurance. Sometimes, common sense can only get you so far and you may still be the subject of crime in Oaxaca City. Travel insurance protects you and your belongings while abroad. Visitors Coverage is my go-to travel insurance and I cannot recommend it enough.

Is Tap Water Safe to Drink in Oaxaca? 

Sunset over the Pacific Ocean in Puerto Escondido
Sunset over the Pacific Ocean in Puerto Escondido

I do not recommend drinking tap water in Oaxaca. Although some brave backpackers are okay with drinking tap water in Mexico, I recommend purchasing bottled water or using a filtered water bottle.

Most tourists who drink tap water will likely get an upset stomach for a few days due to the foreign bacteria in the water. In case this happens, you will always want to have some

Imodium on you. This may happen even if you eat raw produce that was washed with tap water.

12 Safety Tips for Oaxaca

Keep a Money Belt

View of people and vendors outside a church in Oaxaca
Vendors outside of an Oaxaca church in the historic center

If you can, try to keep your money hidden while exploring new destinations. Carrying a money belt is one of the top safety tips in Oaxaca. 

Money belts go around your waist and under your clothes and are essentially invisible to outsiders. This is the best way to keep your money safe and avoid a pickpocket. 

I recommend keeping a small amount of cash outside of your money belt (around 500 pesos) so others don’t see you reach into your secret stash unless you have to.

Don’t Go Out Alone at Night

The author with her hostels friends at night in Oaxaca
Hostel friends and I enjoying the fresh air after a night out

I recommend not going out alone at night when visiting Oaxaca. You are more likely to be targeted as a solo traveler and thieves are able to slip under the radar better after dark.

If you are traveling to Oaxaca for the first time as a solo traveler, you should look into staying in a hostel and checking reviews on Hostelworld. Most hostels offer community events and are a great way to meet fellow travelers and make friends to go out with at night.

Don’t Skimp on Tours

You may be trying to save money on your trip to Oaxaca but I recommend taking at least one guided tour. Tours are the best way to get to know locals and local customs.

Try an Oaxaca food tour, one of the most popular tour options in the state. With so much incredible food and local, traditional flavors, learning how to make popular Oaxaca dishes is one of the most fun activities to do in the state.

Another popular Oaxaca tour is a Monte Alban guided tour. Monte Alban is the biggest archaeological site in Oaxaca and is best explored with a knowledgeable local guide. It is also one of the best things to do in Mexico.

Leave Some Cash Behind

A Emiliano Zapata art wall in Oaxaca
Emiliano Zapata is an icon in Southern Mexico

Leave some of your cash and non-important credit cards in your hotel room in case you are the subject of a petty crime. This way, you won’t be entirely stranded with no means to get back to the airport if you were pickpocketed.

Many hotel rooms have a safe and many hostels have lockers but you will want to bring your own padlock. I travel everywhere with this flexible, convenient travel lock.

Don’t Wear Flashy Jewelry

Stone architecture found at the many buildings in Oaxaca
Oaxaca is adorned with stone architecture

Leave the expensive jewels at home! Only wear jewelry in Mexico that you don’t mind potentially losing. There are so many beautiful pieces to buy in Oaxaca, that it’s worth it to leave your favorite jewelry pieces at home and purchase some local adornments.

Tourists have a reputation for being rich in Mexico. Even if your jewelry isn’t real, it’s still at risk of being robbed. Purchase some local turquoise or opal to blend in like the locals.

Go Dancing

Get a true Oaxaca experience by learning the local dance moves. Oaxaca comes to life with music on almost every street. Take a stranger’s hand and learn how to salsa or try your luck with bachata in a local club, also known as a discoteca.

Even travelers who don’t like to dance find their rhythm in Oaxaca. In a state where everyone dances, step outside your comfort zone and give those boogie shoes a try.

Download Offline Maps

Locals and tourists wandering in Oaxaca

It’s easy to get lost in the chaos of any major city. Download multiple offline maps to use just in case you get lost while in Oaxaca.

This is also helpful when taking public transportation so you can follow along with what stop to get off at. You may want to purchase a local SIM card when you arrive in Oaxaca, but having backup offline maps is always a helpful travel hack.

Learn the Local Language

Vendors preparing a street food in Oaxaca
Vendors making some delicious street food

It’s always helpful to learn at least the basics when traveling abroad. Many words in Spanish are very similar to English and are easy to pick up. 

Learning some words of the local language helps you make local friends, understand prices, and ask for help in case you’re lost. Some basic Spanish phrases to know are greeting words and how to ask for directions, prices, and the restroom.

Dress In Layers

Oaxaca experiences two seasons: the wet and dry seasons. The wet season is from May-September and the dry season is from October-April. In general, the best time to go to Oaxaca is during the dry season, though it is still worth visiting any time of year.

Your Mexico packing list will vary, depending on when you visit Oaxaca. 

The weather is pretty standard at these times but you should still pack both a rain jacket and a bathing suit just in case. For example, the beach towns in Oaxaca during the summer will be hot but there will be a chance of rain. 

Read Accommodation Reviews

View at the rooftop of Iguana Hostel
The roof of one of my favorite affordable hostels, the Iguana Hostel

Be careful when choosing where you stay in Oaxaca.

Just because a hostel is cheap doesn’t mean it’s habitable. Avoid sleeping in a room that smells like urine or has bathrooms with overflowing trash cans by reading hostel reviews before you settle on your accommodation choice. 

Pay close attention to what other backpackers are saying about a hostel and never stay anywhere that has a bed bugs review. Sometimes, it’s worth it to spend a little more to have a lot more comfort.

Our Pick
HostelWorld
Booking your stay with HostelWorld is a great way to make sure you choose a safe place. You’ll be able to see reviews from real travelers and narrow down your options.

Take Day Trips

The author posing for a photo in Mitla archaeological site
Me, in front of the Mitla archaeological site

While there is a lot to do in downtown Oaxaca, there’s also much more to explore outside the city center.

I recommend taking a day trip for the coolest Oaxaca experience possible. Take a trip to the archaeological site of Mitla or visit the El Tule tree, the widest in the world. San Jose del Pacifico is another great safe destination that’s nestled in the Oaxacan mountains.

Best Tour Provider
Viator

With dozens of options at various price points, there are some great Oaxaca tours on Viator.

Bring a Good Daypack

You will likely be racking up a lot of steps when you visit Oaxaca. With so much to see and do, it’s possible that you’ll be out all day exploring the rich culture and the vibrant streets of Oaxaca.

Bring a good daypack like the Osprey Daylite to fit all your day trip essentials. This bag is lightweight and has enough compartments for your wallet, phone, camera, water, and snacks with plenty of room left over for souvenirs.

FAQs About Safety in Oaxaca

Is it safe to walk in Oaxaca at night?

It’s safe to walk in Oaxaca at night, especially in a group. It’s recommended that solo female travelers explore downtown Oaxaca with friends at night, but the beach areas are generally safe.

Is Oaxaca, Mexico safe right now?

Oaxaca, Mexico is safe right now and has a relatively low crime rate. The tourism industry is booming now in Oaxaca and if you find yourself wondering, “is Oaxaca safe,” the answer is yes.

Is Oaxaca safe for female travelers?

Oaxaca is safe for solo female travel. It is one of the safest destinations in Mexico and receives a large number of solo female backpackers.

Can you drink tap water in Oaxaca?

It is not advised to drink tap water in Oaxaca. Even the local inhabitants drink bottled water in Oaxaca. Since no one drinks tap water, you will always be served bottled water in restaurants and don’t have to worry about getting sick.

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Thank you for reading my complete guide on “Is Oaxaca safe?” For more Oaxaca travel tips, be sure to give this tips for Mexico guide a read. 

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4 Comments

  1. What about the garbage problem Oaxaca had in 2022? Has it been solved at all or is it still piling up?

  2. I’ve been thinking of going for a week on summer break from school. Do you recommend mid June? Is it still considered relatively safe for solo female travelers?

    1. Hi Angela, it may be pretty humid in June, so I suggest visiting Oaxaca’s coast! I went as a solo female twice and had no problems, I even met a bunch of friends! Hope that helps.

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