Is Mazatlan Safe? | Gringo’s Travel Guide
Is Mazatlan safe?
It was nearly 10:00 pm on a Tuesday evening. I'd just ate dinner with my buddy at one of my favorite restaurants in Zona Dorada, one of the most popular tourist areas in the city.
Taking a backstreet to our apartment, a shady looking character suddenly switched directions as we walked by and started walking our way.
He began to pick up his pace. My buddy and I made a quick glance back. We'd both lived in Colombia. Both had chance run-ins with the underworld of Latin America.
We knew someone changing directions to walk your way at night wasn't a good sign.
My heart rate picked up. He'd have to be a moron to jump two young, in-shape guys with anything but a gun. However, this is Mazatlan, Mexico — home of the Sinaloa Cartel.
Guns aren't necessarily hard to come by here.
He was drawing closer and I was getting more nervous with each step. I decided to see if we could make him make a decision before he wanted to. Before he was ready. I whispered to my buddy, “Stop” as we passed a trash can and I slowly threw away my drink while turning around to face the suspicious looking guy.
He glanced at us and kept walking, before making a sharp turn down an alleyway about 10 seconds ahead of us.
My buddy and I both laughed.
He probably had no intention of robbing us whatsoever, but the way he changed directions and started walking down the same road as us was so sketchy. The dangers of Colombia change a way a man thinks.
Luckily, that type of thinking and worry isn't always necessary in Mazatlan, Mexico
Sure, there's the Sinaloa Cartel and all that jazz. But it's highly unlikely you'll interact with these guys at all during your stay in Mazatlan. I certainly haven't – and I've been here nearly three months now.
So in this guide, we'll discuss things like:
Is Mazatlan, Mexico Dangerous?
Now, there's no doubt that Mazatlan, Mexico has a certain stigma to it.
Located right in the heart of Sinaloa, the city is well-known for its dances with drug cartels and El Chapo. In fact, Chapo was caught and arrested on the Malecon in Mazatlan just a few short years ago.
So, there's no doubt that some scary characters are around the city. But there's also a few other things to consider…
First, the Sinaloa Cartel has absolutely zero desire to interact with tourists – both domestic and international alike.
The economy of Mazatlan relies heavily on tourists coming in for weeks or weekends. Without these tourists, the city's economy just falls flat. There's more jobs in tourism here than almost anything else.
The cartels know violence against or around tourists is bad for business. Why? Because if locals start losing their jobs in tourism, they'll start to get upset.
When the locals start getting upset and questioning the politicians, the government is forced to put pressure on the cartels. This is when the violence seems to really erupt.
And violence is bad for business. More violence almost always equals less money for the cartels, so it's certainly not their main goal these days. Plus, violence against a random tourist is chump change for the cartels.
There's no money in jacking a cell phone from an unsuspecting gringo – when you can ship pure powders into the USA for millions.
~ Police Everywhere
Next, there's more police in the tourist areas of Mazatlan, Mexico than anywhere else I've ever been. Seriously, you cannot walk for five minutes without seeing some type of cop in the tourist areas here.
In Mazatlan, there's 5+ different types of cops. From the tourist police in Zona Dorada to Los Federales – you'll find the city crawling with police.
And these aren't just any lowlife police officers looking to shake down a gringo over a few bucks, commonplace throughout Latin America.
In Mazatlan, you'll find many of the police roll around in military-grade vehicles with machine guns ready. They take things seriously here. Probably because they have to, but that's a different story. I've never seen such well-equipped police anywhere in the world, even in the United States.
Mazatlan Safety | What the Stats Say?
As you may have noticed, I'm of the opinion that Mazatlan, Mexico is safe. Not 100% safe, but safe enough to spend a few days or months at the beach with no issues.
In fact, I'd say street crime and petty theft isn't almost non-existent in Mazatlan. Why? Well, I've been using a scientific method that offers 100% accurate results when comparing street crime in different countries and cities.
What's that you ask?
~ The Instagram Test
Throughout Mazatlan, you'll see people taking Instagram photos out in public at all times of the day and night.
I'm talking portraits, selfies, and the like. I've never been in a city where people take so many photos out in public. No one has a care in the world about someone jacking their brand new cellphone from them while taking a photo.
Because that just doesn't happen here.
This isn't Colombia. Hell, it's not even the Dominican Republic. Petty theft and street crime doesn't seem to occur in most areas of Mazatlan, especially the places where tourist frequent.
Now, there are more serious crimes that take place in the city. After all, Mazatlan is considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world for a reason…
Coming in at #43 on the world's 50 most dangerous cities list, Mazatlan does have its fair share of problems. But so do cities in the United States like St. Louis, Detroit, and New Orleans – which all rank higher than Mazatlan on the same list.
With over 39 homicides per 100,000 people (Source), Mazatlan can certainly be considered a violent place. But one must remember that a majority of those crimes stem from cartel-related violence.
Aka cartel members killing rival gangs and “guerras” between rival factions.
Most of this action takes place far outside the tourist zones of the city. In fact, they tend to keep those type things in the countryside.
Because the cartels do not want to get involved with the local police and especially not with the Federales. When they do, they often end up dead.
The U.S. Department of State's Take?
It should come as no surprise that the U.S. Department of State isn't a fan of travel to Mazatlan.
Or Sinaloa as a state. And for good reason, as there are known and powerful criminal organizations operating throughout the region. Is Mazatlan safe? Not according to the U.S. government.
Let's take a look at what Uncle Sam has to say (Source):
Sinaloa state – Level 4: Do Not Travel
Do not travel due to crime. Violent crime is widespread. Criminal organizations are based and operating in Sinaloa state.
U.S. government employees are prohibited from travel in most areas of the state. In areas where travel is permitted, the following restrictions are in place:
Mazatlan: U.S. government travel is permitted only in Zona Dorada, the historic town center, and direct routes to and from these locations and the airport or the cruise ship terminal.
Los Mochis and Port Topolobampo: U.S. government travel is permitted within the city and the port, as well as direct routes to and from these locations and the airport.
Basically, only travel to Mazatlan if you're willing to stay in a couple of heavily policed tourist areas.
What's the fun in that?!
Here at Nomadic Hustle…
Of course, I went with friends to these places and made sure to visit during the day. But that's simply common sense. I haven't felt a lick of danger while living in Mazatlan or traveling around Sinaloa – and I even spent a bit of time in Culiacan!
Is Mazatlan Safe? | 4 Tips to Ensure You Stay Safe
Honestly, most people won't have any issue traveling around Mazatlan and staying safe.
Is Mazatlan safe? Ask any local and they tell you it is.
But, you need a little more info than that.
So, I'll give you guys a few tips to ensure you won't have any issues while visiting this stunning beach city.
Here's a few quick tips:
– Learn Some Spanish –
This is essential!
While English levels are decent in Mazatlan and Mexico in general, learning a little bit of the local language always helps.
You'll be able to avoid any potential confrontations by diffusing any issues with your Spanish speaking ability.
Plus, you'll greatly enhance your travels by interacting with locals in their language. A must no matter which country you're traveling to.
Luckily, it's easier than ever to learn Spanish these days – and you can do it all from your computer before you travel.
– Stay in a Safe Area –
This one is huge. No matter what city you're staying in throughout Mexico or Latin America. By staying in a safe, upscale neighborhood – you can eliminate most dangers.
In Mazatlan, you can eliminate 95% of potential issues just by staying in a popular tourist area, like:
- Zona Dorada
- Olas Altas
- El Malecon
- La Marina
If you stay around these four areas, it's unlikely you'll interact with too many shady characters, especially characters looking to rob you.
Because no criminal in their right mind would rob someone in areas where cops routinely come around every 3-5 minutes. It's way too easy for them to get caught.
And yes, Mexico police actually arrest and detain petty thefts. Unlike many other Latin American countries who laugh at foreigners when they get robbed.
Basically, just look for a hotel or apartment that is as close to the beach areas as you can afford. The closer to the beach a place is in Mazatlan, the safer it seems to be. I found a great place in Zona Dorada and I'm not sure I ever want to leave this pad.
Just check it out…
Beach views in Zona Dorada, fast Internet, and modern furnishings.
And there's tons of reasonable spots on Airbnb in Mazatlan just like the one above.
– Never Drive at Night –
Surfer dudes driving around Sinaloa at night a few years back. Next morning, they're found dead in their burnt van. The road they took was dubbed the “Highway of Death” by locals. People get killed driving at night on this stretch of road nearly every couple months.
And it's only a few hours south of Mazatlan…
Luckily, most of the tourist attractions within an hour or so of Mazatlan are fairly safe. You can take a bus or an Uber during the day and come back before nightfall without worry. But no, you should never drive at night in Sinaloa. It's not worth it. No matter how much of a rush you're in.
Even the Mazatlan locals will say not to drive outside the city at night. To keep your nighttime activities in the city. Just listen to this advice and you'll be fine.
– Just Relax –
You've heard the stories.
You've seen the El Chapo “hype” all over the news for years. I certainly understand why you're scared of Mazatlan, Mexico – and certainly, Sinaloa.
The good news?
It's not that dangerous here. In fact, many grandmas and grandpas come down to Mazatlan for 3-8 months every year. In Mazatlan, they refer to these people as “snowbirds” escaping the winter by coming down south.
Seriously, Canadian and American retirees flock to Mazatlan by the tens of thousands each and every winter. They're able to stay safe in Mazatlan, Mexico – all the while running around with their prosthetic hips and replaced knees.
If you're a young, able-bodied individual, you shouldn't have much to worry about – as long as you're not an idiot. Aka walking around in dark alleys at night trying to buy white powders off trannies for pennies on the dollar of the “street market value” in the tourist areas.
Just relax. Enjoy the beach. Snap some Instagram photos on the Malecon. Dance to a little banda music.
I Got Robbed in Mazatlan…
After writing this article, I seemed to have “jinxed” myself. I eventually got robbed while living in Mazatlan, Mexico. Here's the thing though:
It was probably my fault.
I was chilling in an abandoned house overlooking Olas Altas beach as the sun was going down. I'm talking a rundown old place — yet featuring one of the best views you'll find in all of Mazatlan.
My friend and I were enjoying the view and taking some photos, when two men with knives cornered us in the back of the house while we were sitting down to watch the sunset and robbed us of our cell phones and wallets.
While they had knives just inches away from our throats.
It was not a fun situation at all, but also a situation that could have been easily avoided. I was in what could commonly be referred to as a “trap house” in the USA. Aka a spot where hoodlums and low-level drug dealers hangout. Not my brightest move.
I still believe the main tourist areas of Mazatlan, Mexico are 100% safe. Places like Olas Altas, the Malecon, Zona Dorada, and the like.
Mazatlan Safety | The Verdict?
If it's not clear enough, I'm inclined to say you'll be perfectly fine visiting Mazatlan, Mexico.
Is Mazatlan safe?
In the opinion of your humble author, Mazatlan is quite safe if you use a little bit of common sense and stay within the city limits at night. Don't be like me and go to abandoned houses ;(
For gringos and other foreigners looking to visit a picturesque beach town, I couldn't recommend Mazatlan enough. The people are incredibly friendly, the waves are damn good, and the seafood is truly out of this world.
I'll be coming back soon!