Is Mexico Safe? A Gringo’s Go-To Guide
Is Mexico Safe?
Well, that depends on who you ask and where you’re going.
Personally, I was of the opinion that most of the violence was of the “cartel-on-cartel” variety for my first few months living in Mexico.
I didn’t have an issue for over 3+ months while living in one of the most dangerous cities in the world – Mazatlan, Mexico.
Then I ended up somewhere I shouldn’t have been. And seemingly, my luck ran out…
By that, I mean there was a knife way too close to my neck.
A bad hombre caught a friend and me trying to take some YouTube content in an abandoned house overlooking the city.
The view was insane, but we were screwed when the banditos came in. Backed into a corner and without any weapons so to speak of.
Yelling in rapid-fire Spanish occurred and before I knew it, the knife was far too close to my neck for comfort.
Giving up my iPhone was a no-brainer.
A phone certainly wasn’t worth heading to the hospital or worse.
…You can read more about the full encounter by clicking here.
Certainly not one of my finest Mexico travel moments.
But when people ask me, “Is Mexico Safe?” – I still say overall it is.
Call me crazy, but taking videos in an abandoned house around sunset isn’t the brightest idea anywhere in the world.
Much less a city known to be rough around the edges.
Enough of my fluff, though.
Let’s dig in and find out is Mexico safe through stats, government agencies, firsthand stories, and more.
My Experiences with Crime in Mexico
Now, I’ve talked a little bit about my experience dealing with crime in Mexico.
After spending nearly 5+ months in the country over two different trips, I only had one issue.
And I checked out cities like:
- Mexico City
- Playa del Carmen
Although, Culiacan definitely gave me some goosebumps with a few of the narco-related sites.
Yet, those banditos robbing my phone was the only time I truly ever felt unsafe in Mexico.
And for good reason!
I was getting robbed at knifepoint in an abandoned house in Mexico. Of course, I felt unsafe.
For the most part, I’ve always felt safe and welcomed while in the country. Mexican people are exceptionally friendly and good-hearted.
Most who come to Mexico feel the same way.
They enjoy safety in the tourist zones, find Mexicans not working in tourism to be quite friendly, and generally enjoy their time in the country.
I have many foreign friends living in the country and seemingly, no one has had many issues while living in Mexico – especially those in Mexico City.
Although a certain buddy had quite the run-in with a knife-wielding transvestite chasing him down the street.
But that’s a tale for a different day 😉
Is Mexico Safe? What the Stats Say
My opinions and experience traveling in Mexico don’t mean much, though.
To get a better feel for safety in the country, we need to dive into the stats and see how Mexico stacks up to other dangerous places.
Mexico certainly has a reputation for violence, and there’s a reason for that.
Out of the 50 most dangerous cities in the world, nearly 25% of them call Mexico home.
Yep, 12 out of the 50 most dangerous cities in the world can be found in Mexico (Source).
That’s not a good look.
Not only that, over 35 million foreign tourists visit Mexico each and every year – a majority of them coming from the USA (Source).
Not to mention…
Los Cabos, Mexico – aka Cabo San Lucas, is considered the most dangerous country in the whole entire world.
The murder rate is higher in Los Cabos than any other city in the whole entire world. Even Caracas, Venezuela.
Hell, according to the stats, the locals in Cabos have a better chance at dying than people in Somali!
The stats certainly don’t lean in Mexico’s favor. That’s for certain.
But, do the numbers tell the whole story here? Is Mexico really that dangerous?
In some ways, yeah.
You can’t go to certain areas in Mexico. The violence is real and the economy is not good.
There are haves and have-nots galore in the country – which generally equates to crime in droves.
And the murder rate is skyrocketing.
The country is on pace to hit 30,000+ murders in 2018. That’s truly insane – even for a country the size of Mexico.
In comparison, the United States has nearly three times the population, but there were only 16,000 or so murders throughout the country in 2015 (Source).
So, Mexico has some issues.
However, this generally isn’t true in the tourist areas.
Tourist areas in Mexico are filled with policia galore. Seriously, I’ve never seen more police in my life than walking around Zona Dorada in Mazatlan.
Every five minutes another truck filled with heavily armed police would drive by.
And trust me when I say, there’s a reason for that. They’re not trolling around all day, every day for charity.
The reason? To ensure criminals and bad hombres don’t hinder tourism dollars.
That being said…
I still believe the vast majority of crime in Mexico involves the drug trade. Cartel-on-cartel violence, so to speak.
The drug money and competition for territories still cause the vast majority of murder in the country.
Te Lo Juro.
What Does the U.S. Department of State Say?
Now, the United States government isn’t the best source of travel advice and safety information.
They tend to scare tourists away more than anything else, especially when it comes to traveling in Latin America.
Still, it’s worthwhile to see what they have to say about traveling throughout Mexico…
Mexico – Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution
Exercise increased caution in Mexico due to crime. Some areas have increased risk. Read the entire Travel Advisory.
Violent crime, such as homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery, is widespread.
The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in many areas of Mexico as U.S. government employees are prohibited from travel to these areas.
U.S. government employees are prohibited from intercity travel after dark in many areas of Mexico. U.S. government employees are also not permitted to drive from the U.S.-Mexico border to or from the interior parts of Mexico with the exception of daytime travel on Highway 15 between Nogales and Hermosillo.
Read the Safety and Security section on the country information page.
Do not travel to:
Colima state due to crime.
Guerrero state due to crime.
Michoacán state due to crime.
Sinaloa state due to crime.
Tamaulipas state due to crime.
…And I got jacked in Sinaloa.
So the ole’ government may have a point. Lots of Mexico is still somewhat the wild, wild west.
But you won’t find many of the tourist areas on the “do not travel” list in Mexico.
Places like Mexico City, Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Puerto Vallarta are all perfectly fine according to this list.
Well, more like safe enough…
How to Stay Safe in Mexico
Now, I may not be the foremost authority on staying safe in Mexico.
But I’ll share a few tips and tricks to ensure you stay as safe as possible while traveling throughout this beautiful country.
Mexico has so much to offer and is one stunning country. Don’t discount it just because it’s close to the United States and supposedly dangerous.
Here are a few quick safety tips:
~ Stay in Safe Areas
This is the most important safety tip I can give you while in Mexico.
The nice neighborhoods and tourist zones are heavily policed. You can’t walk around for ten minutes without seeing a cop in these places.
If you want to stay safe in Mexico, I highly recommend sticking to the upscale neighborhoods and the tourist zones.
These places are going to be just as safe as anywhere in the Western world because the police force is out in full.
There’s money in nice neighborhoods and tourist zones. So they get protected first and foremost.
- Zona Dorada in Mazatlan
- Olas Altas in Mazatlan
- Roma Norte in Mexico City
- Condesa in Mexico City
- Chapultepec in Guadalajara
If you stay in neighborhoods like the above, you’ll decrease your chance of having issues tenfold.
~ Learn Some Spanish
English levels in Mexico are surprisingly good. You’ll find many Mexicans speak decent English, as many have lived in the States or work in tourism.
That being said…
Mexico is still a Spanish speaking country.
If you want to spend more than a week at the beach in Mexico, you’d do yourself a lot of good to learn some Spanish.
Not only will it make life easier while living in Mexico, but it should help you if you ever get into a sticky situation…
As it’s unlikely the bad hombre is going to speak English.
~ Don’t Be Dumb
This is what I did.
I acted dumb and paid the price of an iPhone for my stupidity. I could have easily avoided being robbed.
By not going into an abandoned house with the idea of taking videos around sunset.
Abandoned houses aren’t a good idea anywhere – much less in a dangerous Mexican city.
Along similar lines, make sure you stay out of unsavory areas, avoid hookers, ignore drug dealers, and generally, act like an upstanding human being.
If you can do so, you’ll find Mexico safer than you ever imagine before.
Oh, and stumbling around drunk should be avoided, too.
~ Just Use Uber
Last, but not least – just use Uber while in Mexico.
It works insanely well and is crazy cheap.
Most of my rides were around $1.50 USD total.
Sometimes I’d ride in an Uber for 45 minutes and only pay $7-8 USD for the trip. Talk about cheap!
But it’s more than that…
Uber is safe in Mexico. You don’t have to deal with shady taxi drivers and all that accompanies that.
You just get in an Uber and the driver takes you to where you need to be. Quick and easy with no risk to your safety.
Is Mexico Safe? – A Gringo’s Guide
Is Mexico safe?
It can be. It all depends on what you do in Mexico and where you stay.
If you stay in the tourist areas and generally try to avoid abject degeneracy, Mexico can be pretty damn safe.
If you’re running around the barrio acting like a moron, well, Mexico is still Mexico – and that means you might run into trouble.
For the vast majority of people reading this, you will be fine.
Mexico is a beautiful country filled with friendly people and some truly stunning nature.
To not visit because you’re scared of crime would be a shame.
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More Mexico Travel Tips…
- Mazatlan, Mexico: First Impressions on Safety, Beaches, Nightlife, and More
- Guadalajara, Mexico: First Impressions on Neighborhoods, Safety, Weather, and More
- First Impressions on Mexico City Neighborhoods, Weather, Nightlife, and More
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- A Gringo’s Guide to Mexico City Nightlife
- Mexico City Vs. Guadalajara: A Gringo’s Go-To Guide
- A Gringo’s Guide to El Rosario, Sinaloa
- A Gringo’s Guide to El Quelite, Mexico