Is Mexico Safe To Travel?

Up-to-date summary of safety, crime and security in Mexico

The short answer is yes. The long answer is more complicated:

  • Is it safe to travel to Mexico right now?
  • The safest cities in Mexico to vacation
  • The most dangerous cities in Mexico
  • Current travel warnings in Mexico
  • Is it safe to drive in Mexico?
  • Types of crime and violence in Mexico
  • Kidnapping crimes in Mexico
  • Natural disasters in Mexico
  • Is it safe to travel to Mexico after the earthquake?
  • Earthquake, Volcano, and Hurricane travel warnings
  • How to stay safe in Mexico
  • Embassies and emergency contacts

The first thing you will notice is that Mexico is a fairly developed country, and that all the news you’ve seen instilled such a wrong image. You’ll see people going on about their day like anywhere in the world, only probably laughing more and full of color. In the context of negative press about Mexico, it’s important to remember that only the worst news makes it out alive.

What you won’t see is the narco-infested, crime-ridden Mexico that television series depict – unless you’re involved in that sort of thing. It’s called organized crime for a reason. Much of the violence relates to gang fatalities, killed for control of the billion-dollar trafficking corridors to the US. You’re just a small fish, in a very big pond.

That’s not to say crime doesn’t exist. Drug-related violence has increased in recent years, but it is concentrated in specific areas, with some regions almost completely bypassed by drug gangs. Still, it’s not uncommon to see private security guards outside shops and businesses, sometimes with guns.

Then, there are natural disasters to be aware of, with Mexico being no stranger to regular earthquakes, active volcanos, and hurricanes. Politically-motivated violence also occurs across the country, with Mexico City, Guerrero, and Oaxaca experiencing some unrest in recent years. On a positive note, terrorism is rare – because who could possibly not love the smiley, open-armed Mexican culture?

Should any of this put you off from traveling to Mexico?

Absolutely not. You’ll only be missing out on the amazing food and unique experiences Mexico has to offer

You still need to travel with some caution, but not to the point that you put off a holiday to Mexico. So just how safe is it to travel to Mexico, and what precautions should you take?

Is It Safe To Travel To Mexico Right Now?

Whether Mexico is safe or not is a complicated question. Generally speaking, Mexico is a safe country to visit, and almost 40 million yearly visitors travel without any problems.

In fact, Mexico is one of the top 10 countries visited in the world (ahead of the UK, Germany, and Thailand) – and its popularity is rising, with record visitor numbers in 2017, despite travel warnings.

In saying that, in a report on the top 50 dangerous cities in the world, Mexico appeared 12 times. But so did St Louis in Missouri (13), ahead of the notorious Mexican crime-center of Juarez City (20), followed by Baltimore (21), New Orleans (41) and Detroit (42). The US appeared on the list more than Colombia (three cities), Honduras (two cities) and Puerto Rico, El Salvador and Guatemala (one city each). Much of the crime in Mexico is also contained to the drug world, which is unlike the random shootings the US has recently experienced. Knowing this, many people wouldn’t avoid traveling to the States.

Nonetheless, in 2018 the US raised its travel warning for Mexico to a level 2, advising that travelers exercise ‘increased caution’. But to put this into perspective, Level 2 is the same tier given to tourist hotspots that many of us would think nothing of traveling to:

  • Bahamas
  • Belize
  • France
  • Germany
  • Italy
  • Spain
  • United Kingdom

Still, it is important to take certain precautions and avoid dangerous areas. As much as you would avoid dodgy neighborhoods in any capital city around the world, try to avoid travel to certain states in Mexico.

The Safest Cities In Mexico To Vacation

  • ­Mexico City
  • Puebla and Cholula
  • San Miguel de Allende
  • Tulum and Bacalar
  • Merida and Campeche
  • Puerto Escondido and Huatulco
  • Queretaro
  • Guanajuato
  • Oaxaca City
  • Todos Santos, Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo, and La Paz

The Most Dangerous Cities In Mexico

While it’s true that murder, kidnapping and shoot-outs can occur, they are largely concentrated in specific areas in Mexico, particular northern border states. In general, it is advised to avoid non-essential travel to Baja California, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Sonora and Tamaulipas. Some central states are also affected–Durango, San Luis Potosi, State of Mexico and Zacatecas–plus some states that sit along the Pacific drug-corridor, such Guerrero (except for the cities like Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo and Taxco, and the toll road to Taxco), Jalisco, Michoacán (except for cities like Morelia and Lázaro Cardenas), Nayarit and Sinaloa, with armed crime more recently reported in Acapulco.

If those states don’t sound familiar, the names of beach resort towns such as Acapulco (in Guerrero) and Mazatlán (in Sinaloa) might ring a bell. But even with increased reports of armed crime in Acapulco, the Telegraph reported that the hotels were full and the city wasn’t “off limits,” as long as you act sensibly and avoid certain neighborhoods.

Due to the presence of drug cartels, the security in these states can be unpredictable, particularly in remote areas. Armed clashes between security forces and drug cartels can occur without warning.

But Mexican authorities make particular efforts to protect major tourist destinations such as Baja California, Cancun, Puerto Vallarta and Cozumel — and they’ve good reason to, given the economic benefits a steady stream of visitors brings and the some 10 million locals that the industry employs. In March 2018, 900 extra police offers were assigned to Quintana Roo, the state of the popular tourist destinations of Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Tulum and the Riviera Maya. While the state experienced a rise in homicides, most appeared to be gang and drug related.

Current Travel Warnings For Mexico

You can check the travel warnings for Mexico by county:

Below is a list of Mexican states for which the US has issued travel warnings, and is largely repeated by other countries. It is important to note that US government employees are banned from traveling high-level risk areas, meaning emergency services may not arrive if you travel there. However, the main touristic areas in each state usually have no employee restrictions.

Level 4 Travel Warning: Do Not Travel

The US has assigned complete travel bans to Colima, Guerrero, Michoacan, Sinaloa and Tamaulipas, due to increased crime in these areas. There are some safe touristic areas within these states, but you should otherwise choose safer places in Mexico to visit – and we agree.

It is widely known that these are currently the most dangerous states in Mexico, and even locals avoid non-essential travel.

Level 3 Travel Warning: Reconsider Travel

At Mexlocal, we have visited several of the states listed below without incident, although the US would disagree. Regardless of your own decision, you should try to avoid remote areas in these states.

  • Chihuahua
  • Coahuila state
  • Durango
  • Estado de Mexico
  • Jalisco
  • Morelos
  • Nayarit
  • Nuevo Leon
  • San Luis Potosi
  • Sonora
  • Zacatecas

Level 2 Travel Warning: Exercise Caution

The Mexican states below have received level warnings, although they are also considered the safest Mexican states to travel to.

  • Aguascalientes
  • Baja California
  • Campeche
  • Chiapas
  • Guanajuato
  • Hidalgo
  • Mexico City
  • Oaxaca
  • Puebla
  • Queretaro
  • Quintana Roo
  • Tabasco
  • Tlaxcala
  • Veracruz
  • Yucatan

Is It Safe To Drive In Mexico?

It is considered dangerous to drive on rural highways in restricted-travel states, where car-jackings, illegal roadblocks, and armed robberies can occur, particularly in US-Mexico border states and along the Pacific coast,  including from Acapulco to Ixtapa and Huatulco. Reports of illegal roadblocks have increased recently, particularly in Chiapas (protests) and Guerrero (cartels).

There are less regular police controls along remote highways, and road conditions vary. Use toll roads (cuota), which have more police controls, and avoid free roads (libre) where possible.

In Mexico City it is permitted to drive through red traffic lights at night, to stop cars from being stuck in one place.

To increase your safety while driving in Mexico, is advised to:

  • Avoid driving on isolated roads, or at night.
  • Use toll roads where possible.
  • Keep doors locks and window up while driving, especially at traffic lights and in large cities.
  • If choosing public transport, use first-class buses and go during the daytime.
  • Be careful when driving along the Pacific Highway route, where a number of violent car-jackings and robberies have been reported.
  • If you think you’re being followed or watched, try to drive to the nearest police station or another safe place. Large camper vans and SUVs are usually targeted more.

Crime & Violence In Mexico

If you are ever the victim of a crime, you should file a report with the Mexican police before leaving Mexico. You can also contact your local embassy for help you filing your criminal report.

Touristic areas and holiday resorts don’t see high levels of crime or violence, although of course, it still occurs on occasion, particularly street crime and petty theft, so watch out for pick-pockets, especially on local transport. Petty theft is particularly common at airports, bus stations, public transport, and those walking alone at night, usually financially motivated crimes based on perceived wealth. For this reasons, it is advised not leave your expensive belongings at home.

Card ‘skimming’ is another common crime, and you should always ask to see a service worker swipe your card and regularly check your bank account for unauthorized transactions.

There have been limited reports of spiking drinks or food, which you should never leave unattended or accept from a stranger or recent acquaintance.

Other common crimes in Mexico include kidnapping, armed robbery and sexual assault. There have been some reports of assaults and robberies by people disguised as police officers.

Other reports involve taxi-related crimes, where the driver is in collusion with the criminals. Taxis should not be hailed off the street. It is generally safe to take a taxi from airports, hotels or ‘sitios’ (taxi sites near shopping malls or main attractions). Uber also operates in some cities, and is considered a reliable service for its tracking and accountability.

Recent years have seen a rise in organized crime, including in the typically tourist-heavy states of Quintana Roo and Baja California. Tourists are rarely the target of such crimes, but they can become inadvertently involved in drug-related violence and crime.

Kidnapping Crimes In Mexico

Kidnapping for ransom does occur in Mexico, with allegations that some police officers, taxis and public transport drivers are involved. Only travel with official forms of transport.

There are also incidents of ‘express kidnapping’, where people are forced to take out funds from an ATM before being released. Try to stick to ATMs in crowded places, inside banks or in shopping malls, and during daylight hours.

It is also advised to exercise caution if you receive a call from an unknown number, particularly if they ask for personal information or phone numbers of family or friends. This can be used for ‘virtual kidnappings’, where you can be coerced by violent threats into paying to free your (falsely) kidnapped relatives, where the perpetrators convince you by knowing enough personal details (like your last name) to appear believable. Other phone calls are linked to high caller-collect fees.

Civil & Political Unrest

Mexico has an established democracy, based on multiparty coalitions. Political unrest is common across the country, and sometimes demonstrations escalate.

Protests, demonstrations and strikes occasionally occur in Mexico, which can lead to instability, but more likely, just disrupted local travel and transport.

The Mexican constitution prohibits foreigners from participating in political activities, and have the right to detain or deport those who are caught. You should avoid demonstrations if you’re near an area where a protest is taking place. See reports on Mexico City.

Natural Disasters In Mexico

Once you’ve overcome your fear of Mexico’s reputation as a crime hotspot, you’ve just got one last hurdle to jump: Natural disasters in Mexico.

Is it safe to travel to Mexico after the earthquake?

Mexico sits on three of Earth’s largest tectonic plates–the North American plate, the Pacific Plate, and the Cocos Plate. The pacific coast, extending down from California, is close to Mexico’s major fault lines.

Mexico is a highly seismic active country. In reality, there are daily or weekly earthquakes in Mexico, although most are not felt or are only small tremors. It is rare that an earthquake exceeds 6.0 or 7.0 on the Richter scale.

If you’re in Mexico City you may feel tremors amplified, a result of the city’s history being built upon a lake making the soil very soft. Tremors also occur regularly in the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero.

The most recent, destructive earthquake was on 19 September 2017, where a 7.1 tremor near Puebla, south east of Mexico City, caused several buildings to collapse in the capital. Before residents had time to recover, a 7.2-magnitude quake hit the state of Oaxaca on 16 Februrary, 2018, with buildings damaged near the epicenter and tremors felt in the capital 350 miles away. Mexico’s most deadly quake killed 9,500 people in 1985 with a magnitude of 8.1, which was eerily close to the date of 2017’s tragedy.

Much work has been done towards improving earthquake building codes, although how much these are adhered to is under debate, as evidenced by the collapse of several new buildings in the 2017 quake.

Several cities employ earthquake alarms to give an early warning, although many cities still lack the proper infrastructure.

However, if you hear the earthquake siren, there are certain rules. For example, those stranded higher than the sixth floor are expected to remain where they are, as it is not considered enough time to exit, besides stairwells being a dangerous area to be during a quake, especially if clogged with an excess of people.

Earthquake travel warnings in Mexico

You can monitor earthquake activity on the government website (in Spanish; get English reports here from the national seismic service).

If you visit Mexico City, you can download the CDMX 911 app, which will send a 60-second prior warning, although not all earthquakes can be detected in time.

Volcano travel warnings in Mexico

Volcanos are hot on the heels of Mexico’s seismic activity. Two volcanos, El Chichón and Volcán de Colima, sit south, last erupting in 1982 and 2005 respectively. Two other volcanos lie southeast of Mexico City, Popocatépetl and Ixtaccíhuatl, which often vent visible clouds of gas, with the former erupting in 2010.

Due to their volcanic activity, Colima and Popocatépetl have been closed to visitors. See the latest volcano warnings for Popocatépetl  and Colima. You can also track movement and see a live view of Popocatépetl’s gas activity.

Hurricane travel warnings in Mexico

The hurricane seasons typically runs from June to November, and affects both coasts of the country, in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. It is also the period of Mexico’s rainy season, where even small storms can cause mini-flooding and heavily disrupt transport.

Hurricanes can cause strong winds, flooding and landslides, even hundreds of miles away from the hurricane center.

The US National Hurricane Centre monitors the progress of any storms or hurricanes. Mexico City’s Portal you can find weather reports and rain levels. You can see tsunami warnings here, and all natural disasters.

How To Stay Safe In Mexico

Travelers are advised to take precautions against the most common crimes in Mexico, such as petty theft, armed robbery, kidnappings, car-jackings and homicide.

  • Street crime is what you need to watch the most, which affects major cities and tourist resort areas. Pick-pocketing is common, especially on public transport. Dress down and leave expensive jewelry and watches at home. Be extra aware around bus stations and airports.
  • Only carry limited amounts of cash and credit or debit cards on you; leave the rest in a secure place. Some people carry a ‘burn’ card (one that doesn’t matter if it gets stolen), and just transfer small amounts to the account each day.
  • Passengers report being robbed and assaulted by unlicensed taxi drivers, so stick to pre-paid airport taxi services, taxi apps with tracked journeys (Uber, Cabify), regulated ‘sitio’ taxis from authorized cab ranks, or taxis ordered by a hotel, bar or restaurant.
  • Avoid driving at night, or walking alone on streets at night
  • In situations of ‘express kidnapping, like being forced to withdraw money at an ATM or to pay a sum to release a family member, you should generally comply with requests. Similar to street theft, it’s usually better not to resist these attacks.
  • Scams are common. Hang up on phone calls that appear to ask for personal information or financial help, and avoid engaging with people on the street approaching you.
  • Try to stick to toll roads (cuota) if driving, which have more police controls, instead of free roads (libre). The US Travel Advisory warns against common crimes in Mexico, such as robbery, kidnappings, car-jackings.
  • Be aware if visiting bars or nightclubs; watch your drinks, and take an authorized taxi home. There have also been reports of assaults and robberies of drugged visitors, or tainted alcohol causing blackouts or illnesses.
  • Try not to stand out; do not display wealth or look posh, or even talk about it in public.
  • Be especially aware when taking out money or visiting a bank; try to take large amounts out at daytime or inside shops or malls.
  • When making card payments, make sure the card is swiped in front of you.
  • Be aware of ‘multas’, when people presenting themselves as police officers try to fine you for no apparent reason, and in some cases will threaten to take you in if you don’t pay. If in doubt, ask for their ID, a badge, or a patrol car number, or inform them that you will call your embassy to deal with it.
  • Always keep an eye on your bag, backpack, briefcase or luggage, even in seemingly safe areas like hotels and restaurants.
  • Inform friends or family of your travel plans. Many governments also have travel registration services (ie. STEPS for US citizens).
  • Be aware of the latest health warnings for travelers to Mexico. Monitor local media for other travel warnings, and thoroughly research your destination.
  • Respect crocodile signs and don’t walk close to the water in these areas. Shark attacks are less common, but research any area you plan to surf in.
  • Balcony railings may be shorter than you expect, with a risk of falling..

Embassies & Emergency Contacts

Emergency number in Mexico: 911. If you’re in Mexico City, you can download the 911 CDMX app. For information on local laws, events and social services, call LOCATEL at 5658 1111.

Mexican Civil Proteccion Report

US Embassy: Paseo de la Reforma 305,  Cuauhtemoc, 06500 Mexico City

UK Embassy: Río Lerma 71, Cuauhtémoc, 06500 Mexico City 

Australian Embassy: Ruben Dario 55, Corner of Campos Eliseos, Polanco, 11580 Mexico City

NZ embassy: Jaime Balmes No 8, 4th Floor, Los Morales, Polanco, Mexico City 11510 T: +52 55 5283 9460. Register your travel.

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