• Alan Travers

Is Mexico Safe to Visit in 2021? | A Gringo's Guide!

Updated: Feb 8, 2021



There seems to be growing concerns about the safety and violence surrounding Mexico, it can all seem to be quite ambiguous at times, with all of the stories on the news about the increasing dangers for tourists, with gang violence and killings happening every day it's hard not to pay attention, but on the other hand, you also may read about topics online and hear stories from blog's or people saying it's just fine to visit.


I have personally travelled back and forth across Mexico to many destinations over the last year, I've also set up shop in Mexico City, while I absolutely do not consider myself to be an expert on the topic i'll try my best to answer some of the most searched and asked questions about the safety of Mexico.


I'm an Irish gringo with little to no Spanish, and travelling across Mexico's vast lands can be quite intimidating, I have learned a couple things over the last few months so, with the life experiences I have gained over the last year, I would like to share some of that knowledge and try to help shed some light on the topic.



Which states and cities are dangerous?


When people are looking to book a holiday or visit Mexico, this question is usually one of the first searched, everyone wants to know which places are safe to visit and which ones aren't so safe.


Once again the answer to this question may seem ambiguous, as the United States Travel Advisory has put out level four warnings (do not visit) to five states in Mexico, some states may be dangerous but that does not mean all of the town's or cities in said states are also dangerous!


You can't take what the U.S government is telling you for face value as most of the things are simply not true, it has more to do with politics than anything else. Although most of the information you hear on the news about Mexico may not apply to you, there are some dangerous areas in Mexico, just like there are in any country in the world.


Just below you will find all of the places in Mexico I consider to be dangerous at this moment, some are worse than others, and though they may be dangerous, none are considered dangerous enough so much so that you are guaranteed to have problems if you visit, you can absolutely visit, just exercise increased caution if you do choose to do so.



Tijuana


This is the most famous town for border crossing into the states and Mexico, you'll find that most of the dangerous places in Mexico are in fact border towns.


With Tijuana being the most popular of the towns for crossing you can expect this to be slightly more dangerous. Unfortunately, Tijuana nearly has one of the highest homicide rates in all of Mexico, with a rate of 100 people annually per 100,000.


Though the homicide rate is exceptionally high, it's mostly due to gang violence, it's very rarely if ever tourist-related.



Acapulco


This city has fallen far from it once was, not too long ago Acapulco attracted celebrities, politicians, presidents and was famed for its culture, nightlife and welcoming people.


Sadly those days have long been gone, now the city has one of the highest rates of crime and homicides in the country.


This is due to many reasons, drug cartels, gang violence, social triggers and issues of land rights, though these problems continue to persist, they do not affect tourism, this is primarily due to a public safety initiative put in place by the Mexican government to aide tourists and locals alike.



Guerrero


Zihuatanejo is one of the many beautiful coastal towns in Mexico, one I have been planning to visit for some time now, but it is unfortunately located in Mexico's most impoverished state, Guerrero.


This state is plagued by cartels, paramilitary groups and gang violence, while the coastal towns may be safe for you to visit, the surrounding areas are not, it's not uncommon to run into roadblocks where paramilitary are known to be violent towards travellers, I would recommend you reconsider your trip to visit Guerrero.



Tamaulipas


Another border town between the states and Mexico, Tamaulipas is the first state on the U.S Travel Advisories "do not travel" list.


While I disagree with the level four warning, ranking this state just as bad as war-torn countries, it has indeed got its problems and is best avoided for now.


Within Tamaulipas you will find the cities of Reynosa and Ciudad Victoria, both cities which should have their own warnings as they have high petty crime and homicide rates, they are also not very tourist-friendly.


This state is rampant with drug cartels as It's position on the Texas border provides drug smugglers with strategic advantages to smuggle drugs into the states, because of this the death toll in the cities is skyrocketing due to the shootouts between cartels, police and military groups.



Sinaloa


Mazatlan is a beautiful beach town in the state of Sinaloa that attracts thousands of visitors daily, and while I would love to visit myself, I consider the dangers in the state to prominent in this moment to visit.


Sinaloa is often referred to as the drug cartel capital, the Sinaloa cartel is also said to be one of the most dangerous and powerful cartels in the world today.



Juarez


If there is one place I will not go to in Mexico it's definitely Ciudad Juarez, although this border town seems to be improving year by year as the criminal activity and homicide rate was at its peak between 2010 and 2012, it still seems to be somewhat prevalent today.


The crime rate also seems to be high enough that the local police can't and don't have the resources to respond to all illicit activities happening in the city.


Thankfully things are slowly but surely getting better here, maybe in one or two years, the criminal activity will be low enough for me to reconsider travelling too.



Crime Statistics


Just because a country has dangerous areas does not mean another country, which deems itself to be superior has the right to slam the lesser countries tourism industry.


Those level four warnings put out by the U.S travel advisory are saying Mexico is just as bad as war-torn countries like Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan. It's quite ridiculous considering most cities across the USA have higher homicide rates than Mexico City and most of the cities across the country.



How prominent are the drug cartels?


As I previously mentioned, there are places in Mexico which unfortunately are running rampant with drug and cartel-related activity.


Mexico does have a bad reputation for drug-related crimes, the crimes are also not only limited to certain cities and states as it's becoming more prominent in favourite tourist spots such as Cancun, Cabo San Lucas, Acapulco, Chiapas and others.


Although the crime and violence may seem to be increasing between the drug cartels and gangs, this does not affect most travellers.


It is exactly what it is, gang-related crime and nothing more, so unless you are looking to join a gang, sell or buy drugs, you will be just fine.


You very rarely if ever listen to stories about tourists being gunned down by gangs, and if so you can be sure that it was a case of "wrong place, wrong time".


Things like this can happen if you choose not to follow government safety warnings and advisories, if you apply common sense, you won't only have a safe trip, but I'm sure it would be an exceptional one.



Are the streets safe?


Absolutely yes! This also seems to be a recurring question for first-time visitors, and the answer is an obvious one, generally speaking, the streets are safe, especially in highly popular destinations such as Cancun, Mexico City and Cabo.


I mean if you go wandering into dangerous neighbourhoods, stay out late after dark and roam cities without the use of common sense, you are highly increasing your chances of falling victim to some sort of crime.


Not only will you find hidden gems if you choose to explore the streets, but you'll also make your holiday a more adventurous, memorable one.


When planning your visit to Mexico, just research your intended destination, know where the bad neighbourhoods are and where not to go in the city, apply common sense and will be fine!



Is it safe to go out at night?


It depends! Although the question is similar to the last, the answer is quite a bit different, even though the streets might be safe for you to roam in the day, sometimes this may not be the case come nightfall.


In popular areas and tourist destinations such as Cozumel, Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Puerto Vallarta, most places would be considered safe for you to go out at night.


You need to be aware that come nightfall is when thieves, drug dealers and all kinds of seedy people come out to play, so it's best not to venture too far from where you are staying or popular locations, avoid alleyways at all costs and stay in areas that have a lot of people.


If you do have to travel distances that are more than 20 minutes walking, I highly suggest you take an Uber or Taxi as walking such distances after dark may prove dangerous.



What are common scams in Mexico?


No matter who you are or where you are, there is a good chance you have fell victim to a scam before, at least once in your life.


Unfortunately, I have had more than my fair share of bad experiences when travelling in my own country and abroad, but because of this, I'm better informed to advise you on what to avoid and what not to do in such situations, should they arise.


These scams are not only limited to Mexico as most of them are commonly used around the world today, always keep your wits about you when travelling, so you don't fall victim to such crimes.



The 50/500 scam


This scam has become so very common in Mexico, it's like that old magic trick that your grandpa continues to show you every time you stop by.


It is used widely across the country in multiple industries and generally targets tourists that are not familiar with the Mexican peso. The scam goes as follows:


Tourist: Pays for a product (food, gas, drinks) with a 500 peso note.


Scammer: Has a 50 peso note at the ready, then takes the 500 peso note from the tourist, turns and swaps the 500 for a 50 bill, then turns back to the tourist and asks for more cash.


Tourist: Oh sorry, and pays more cash without realizing what they have just done.


It's easily avoidable by paying the exact amount cash necessary, and if you only have a denomination of 500, make sure that you clearly say to the server that you are paying with a 500 bill.



Pemex scam


Similar to the previously mentioned scam, the attendants at Pemex stations across the country, especially in tourist areas are known for doing the 50/500 scam, they may operate a little bit differently as they often have a partner in crime.


Tourist: Pays cash to the attendant at a Pemex station.


Scammer 1: Draws attention away from the other attendant, by cleaning your car or asking would you like your oil changed.


Scammer 2: Changes out the cash you paid for with a lesser denomination and requests more money.


This is only one of the scams, another popular one they choose to do is not reset the pump, so your not only paying for the gas you bought but you also pay an additional amount depending on what the pump gave out before, always make sure the pump is reset to zero!


Both of these scams are common among tourists, so make sure to pay attention and don't fall victim.



The survey scam


Sometimes in popular destinations such as Cancun or Cabo, you will find people who speak perfect English asking if they can perform a survey on you, avoid these people at all costs!


What may seem like a pleasant person just chatting with you while you answer some bogus questions is most likely trying to scam you and your family.


They generally ask questions about some false service, product or area, then ask you for your name and contact information.


With the information you have just given them, they will research you online, find some family members, then call them and explain to them that they have kidnapped you.


While on the phone to your family members, they demand a ransom immediately. With your family being panicked and rushed, they can sometimes just pay instantly without calling or checking up with you first.



The sob story scam


This is very common in not only Mexico but the world, literally every place I have visited or been to has someone with a sob story, looking for your cash, never fall for it!


Though the scam is commonly used around the world, it generally carries a bit more weight in Mexico.


Being that I'm from Europe and have more money than most of the general population, I don't mind helping out, giving bigger tips and overpaying for small items, but what get's to most people and me is seeing really poor locals with their children begging for small change, this would just break anyone's heart.


Although they may be poor and be in a bad position, it's usually not the position that they want you to believe, It is more often than not a crime syndicate run by gangs, that specifically send children out to the streets and metro systems to beg for money.


You can also find people in popular locations who will approach you and tell you the sad story of how they were robbed and have no phone or money, it's incredible how many people have approached me in Mexico City with the same exact story and were all alone, don't believe a word.



Pigeon poop scam


This scam is almost as old as time itself, never fall for this ridiculously overused scam!


A scammer will usually have some sort of condiments like mayonnaise, mustard or ketchup, and then squirt it onto an unsuspecting victim, after doing so the scammer then proceeds to inform the person that a bird has just pooped on them.


Usually, after this happens the victim puts some items (Bag, DSLR etc.) on the floor or doesn't take much care of them, it is in this moment the thief will grab your things and run off with them.


This is easily avoidable, if a person informs you that you have bird poop and tries to help you clean it, this is an immediate red flag! Move away fast and just say thank you, then wait until you arrive in a safe place before you clean anything.



Taxi Scams


I'm sure there are plenty of dirty tricks taxi drivers use in Mexico to take your hard-earned cash, but you can better prepare yourself by reading up on local scams.


I have heard plenty of stories about taxi drivers in Mexico, very few of which were pleasant!


Some popular places like Playa del Carmen and Cancun have taxis that don't operate by the meter and if you happen to find yourself using one of them, always make sure to negotiate on a price before you make the journey! It's not uncommon that drivers will extremely overcharge tourists for what is a short journey.


In Mexico City, I have run into multiple taxi drivers who have had the meter to the wrong setting.


The rate should be different from morning, afternoon and night, with the night rate being the most expensive, you can determine this by looking at the rate beside the meter cost, it's usually a 1,2,3,4 with 4 being night.


Some drivers will set this to a 4 regardless of the time of day, especially if they notice that you are a tourist, so watch out.



Are public and private transport safe?


This is another one of those questions where the answer is yes and no, the answer entirely depends on your chosen method of travel, but generally speaking, yes it should be safe for tourists to use public and private transportation in Mexico.


Many people that have not visited Mexico before don't know that on the different public transport options available, there is a segregation between the men, women and children, most commonly the blue and pink zones!


So if you are a woman and are travelling alone, you shouldn't fear using public transport as you can most definitely stay separate from the men, children can also stay with the mother or female in the woman only zone.


To fully understand which methods of transportation are safer to use in Mexico, we have to dive a little deeper into each of the individual means of transportation.



Taxis


As I briefly said before, there are plenty of stories about taxi drivers in Mexico, and very few good ones! The taxis can be dangerous, and some people may try to rip you off, especially if you are a gringo!


Taxi drivers were also mostly known for being involved with the express kidnappings in Mexico, though most of the drivers were unofficial of course! Thankfully this problem doesn't seem to really exist anymore.


If you are looking to use the services of a Taxi I would recommend that you take an official Sitio taxi, to be sure that you aren't going to have any problems, I highly recommend that you don't pull a cab off the street!


So in conclusion, yes taxis are safe if you go to the official Sitio taxi rank, this can't be said for everywhere in Mexico as there isn't always going to be Sitio taxis.


In Cancun or Playa del Carmen, most taxis don't even have a meter. Just be sure that the driver isn't trying to scam or overcharge you! And if there is no meter, always negotiate the cost before making the journey!



Uber


I would personally consider this to be one of the safest ways of private transportation in Mexico.


All of the transactions are carried out in-app, you can also request and English speaking driver if need be and everything is trackable, you really can't go wrong with this method of transportation, whenever I need to get anywhere after a few beers, Uber is usually my go-to place.



Bus


Some buses in Mexico can be dangerous! In fact, the majority of all buses in Mexico City would prove to be quite dangerous for tourists to use, thankfully you won't need to or be travelling on most bus routes in Mexico.


If you are in any location that is popular with tourists, don't fret, you can most certainly use the bus, the only downside being pickpockets.


If you are in a popular location, you can be sure there is someone out there looking to take advantage of unsuspecting tourists, travel smart and safe by keeping your valuables hidden away and always keep your wits about you.


Never use the bus to travel outside of the city centre or outside other popular locations that are not common among tourists, as you will significantly improve your chances of being robbed or attacked.



Metrobus


The Metrobus primarily exists in Mexico City and could easily be considered one of the safest methods of public transportation in the country, this is thanks to the increased security and protection of its customers.


When using the Metrobus you will find that it is somewhat similar to the metro system, you will have to pass a turnstile to use such services and at each of the turnstiles throughout the city, you will find an armed guard.


After you pay and pass the turnstile, you will also notice that all of the Metrobus stops are retrofitted with security cameras and the same can be said for when travelling on the bus.


On top of all the security measures in place, women and children have a designated area at the top of the bus, so they need not travel with the males also using service.



Metro (Subway)


This can sometimes seem the most frightening way of public transportation, especially in a country like Mexico! But I'm here to inform you that you needn't be worried, not in the least.


I have used the metro system in Paris, Amsterdam, Chicago and numerous other cities spread across the globe, so at the very least I can give you a good idea what to expect and how it compares to different famous cities in the world.


Many people may find this surprising, but I found the metro system in Mexico City, to be one of the cleanest and safest subways in all of the world.


In contrast to other famous cities like Paris or Amsterdam, you will find there are armed police everywhere in the Mexican metro system.


On top of the police being everywhere, there are thousands of cameras, separate areas for women and children and trash cans everywhere! You won't find dirt or rubbish anywhere.


It may be safe for you to use on weekends or not during peak times, but the metro is just rife with pickpockets and criminals during weekdays as it gets incredibly crowded! So much so I wouldn't recommend using the metro unless necessary in those peak times.



Pickpockets


There are plenty of pickpockets all over Mexico, but in truth, there is no country in the world that hasn't got these slimy criminals lurking around.


If you stay vigilant, be aware of your surroundings and don't do anything stupid, you won't have to worry about running into such people.


Common areas where pickpockets operate never change! You will find them in highly popular tourist areas, busy buses, crowded metros and pretty much anywhere that they can run away into a crowd to escape you.


As I briefly mentioned before, don't be stupid and stay vigilant! Here are some tips to make sure you never fall victim to this crime.


  • Don't carry your phone or valuables in your hand for extended periods of time.

  • Never take out your wallet/purse in public to count cash.

  • Put your handbag or backpack frontside when using public transportation.

  • Don't wear flashy jewellery in poor areas.

  • Put the DSLR and other tech items away, until you arrive at your destination.

  • Stay aware of your surroundings.

  • Try not to look like a tourist so much.



Express kidnappings


For those of you who don't know, express kidnapping is when a driver (commonly taxi drivers) force you either to get into to a vehicle or not getting out of one and try to shake you down and steal every penny you have, often they will be accompanied by an assailant, and this person is usually armed.


Once the kidnappers have all of your valuables and belongings, the driver will then proceed to arrive at a discreet location, where they have access to a bank link and then will continue to force you to withdraw all of the cash on your card.


After they have successfully stolen everything they can from you, they usually will let you go there and then.


Thankfully this seems to be something of the past now, although it's quite uncommon nowadays, it still does occasionally happen. You need to be extra vigilant when roaming the streets at night, and if someone is trying to force you into their car, immediately run in the opposite direction and shout Policia!



Is it safe to travel alone in Mexico?

Yes, it is safe for you to travel alone in Mexico, in fact, if you choose to do so, you might just find that the locals and people travelling in Mexico be might that little bit more friendly and opening with you.


While it might be safe for you to travel alone in Mexico, my answer is just a general one, if you choose not to follow the previous advice mentioned in this article, for example, not paying attention to your surroundings, travelling at night, visiting dangerous neighbourhoods and looking like a tourist, you are going to be in for a world of trouble.


That fact that you are travelling alone will make you prime picking for criminals, you just need to limit your exposure to them, and if you apply common sense you will most likely be fine!



Women's safety


If you are a woman and are planning to travel alone too and around Mexico, you need to take extra care and plan your trip very well, as I previously said, going to Mexico alone can be quite a rewarding and fulfilling experience as long as you follow some general rules and take extra precautions.


All of the advice in this article applies to men/women and families, looking to experience some of that fantastic Mexican culture!


If you are a woman travelling alone, you need to take extra care in specific places, for example, I mentioned in a previous article found here, that it is not very wise for tourists to visit Iztapalapa, this is especially true for women as this has the highest rate of crime against women in not only Mexico but all of the western hemisphere!


If you plan well and heed my advice, you should have a fantastic experience, male or female!



Natural dangers


There are endless amounts of natural hazards or dangers you need to be aware of when planning to visit this beautiful country, here I will list some of the most important ones you should take note of.


Earthquakes: This should be of no surprise, but for those of you who don't know, Mexico is notoriously famous for having dangerous earthquakes, especially Mexico City as the entire city was built of a lakebed.


Volcanoes: There are a total of 48 active volcanoes in Mexico according to the National Center for Disaster Prevention, this shouldn't be of too much concern, but think very well if you intend on climbing Popocatepetl, located in the state of Puebla, this volcano looks as if it might erupt any day now.


Animals: Mexico has thousands of different species of animals/critters spread across its vast lands, some of which can be quite dangerous.


When visiting certain states, towns or cities, make sure you do your homework and know which animals exist that may cause you harm. Some of the dangerous animals that can be found across Mexico are listed just below.


  • Crocodiles

  • Snakes

  • Mosquitos

  • Scorpions

  • Spiders


Pollution: Not all of Mexico suffers from highly polluted cities, but unfortunately it's capital, Mexico City definitely does, it's one of the worst polluted cities in the world.


This may not be much of a problem for the average tourist only visiting for a few days, week or two, but if you have asthma, respiratory issues or any breathing problems, you may need to consider buying some form of protection. The pollution in Mexico City is generally at its worst between the months of March and June every year.