The second-largest city in Mexico, Guadalajara, offers a less-frantic alternative to the capital. Despite Guadalajara’s motifs of quintessential Mexican culture, with mariachi music, wide-brimmed sombreros, and charreadas or rodeos at every turn, the city also represents the vanguard of the new Mexico with endless appeal.
Those who want to visit Guadalajara will be happy to know that the city has done a lot to shake its dangerous reputation in recent years. Drug cartels, gang-related violence, and even kidnappings once made it a daunting place for tourists, but is Guadalajara now exempt from all these concerns?
Our guide is here to answer all your questions about the risks of traveling to Guadalajara in 2022, whether you’re visiting with a group of females or you’re a budding young backpacker, making your dreams of solo travel a reality. From scams to tap water, we’ll talk you through everything you need to consider before taking to the promenades of the ‘Pearl of the West.’ Let’s get into it.
Is Guadalajara safe to visit?
Generally speaking, the violence and drug-related incidents that many associates with Mexico are not prominent in Guadalajara anymore. The crime rate is lower than in many urban hotspots, but with a population of 4.4 million, petty crime can still be expected.
There are two worlds to the city, one in the daytime and another at night. During the day, it is relatively safe for tourists and solo travelers, but at night, like most of Central America, there are some heightened risks to navigate.
It is a good idea to avoid certain neighborhoods in Guadalajara, just as you would in any major city. Calzada de la Independencia runs north to south, dividing the metropolis. It best to steer clear of the east side of the Calzada at night since it is undeveloped and poverty-stricken. Mobile phones and other valuables are commonly stolen from the bar district, Av Chapultepec. Tourists also have no business walking around El Cerro de Cuatro, Tlaquepaque, and the outskirts of Tonalá.
With an overall medium risk on safety rankings, Guadalajara is safe if you keep your wits about you and always familiarise yourself with your surroundings. Stick to the nice areas and touristy parts of town like the Historical Center, The Americana, Providencia, Chapalita, Zapopan, and Puerto de Hierro, and you shouldn’t bump into any trouble. Keep belongings close to your person and only take out cash and valuables that you really need.
Human dangers are not the only factors that play a part in the levels of safety. The mountains of Jalisco around Guadalajara have experienced minor tremors over the years and still do today. However, there has not been a severe earthquake in a very long time. Guadalajara is located far inland, where hurricanes don’t tend to reach, and flooding is not much of an issue. Natural disasters are unpredictable and could happen at any time, but compared to the rest of the country, the city is less at risk of extreme weather.
Is Guadalajara safe for females?
Guadalajara is a modern city that celebrates and values women, so female travelers should feel more at ease here than in other destinations across the country. Still, women don’t have a clear path to safety anywhere in Central America. It’s recommended to travel in groups when you can and stick to trodden tourist paths to avoid trouble.
Guadalajara is friendly and progressive and machismo culture isn’t as much of a problem as it is elsewhere in Mexico. Still, you can expect some cat-calling and unwanted male attention, but this shouldn’t go beyond verbal harassment. Trying to fit in with local women in terms of dress code and behavior can help reduce this risk.
Avoid moving around alone at night and take advantage of the vibrant hostel scene where you will find like-minded travelers and make solid friends for life, or at least for your time in the city. This goes without saying, but don’t accept drinks from strangers, as there have been cases of spiking in nightclubs in Guadalajara.
Is public transport safe in Guadalajara?
One of the unspoken joys of traveling is the experience of local transport. Bustling busses, tuk-tuks, and overnight trains are an adventure in themselves. Not to mention the price, which is enough to sway you that way. Backpacker is just about the journey as it is the destination and this is certainly true when it comes to navigating Central America. Still, you should always travel with caution in Guadalajara, and be aware that crowded buses, trains, or train stations are hotspots for pickpocketers.
Tourists are prime targets for opportunistic theft but organized crime groups also operate on the public transport in the city. The best advice we can give is to avoid looking like a tourist by being confident with your routes, protecting your valuables, and concealing electronics or cash. Blend in with the crowd and you’ll be a less obvious target.
Registered taxis are the best option in the city and hotels, hostels, and restaurants will summon them for you on departure. This is much safer than winging it and hailing taxis on the street, and while Uber may not have the best reputation in other parts of the world, in Mexico it is also one of the safest ways to get around cities.
Still, the best way to get around Guadalajara is on foot. The streets are best taken in at a leisurely pace and most of the best attractions are within easy walking distance from each other. Take to the streets by day, and have your taxis booked in advance for getting around after dark.
Is Guadalajara safe from scams?
Scammers are masters of deceit who often aim their crimes at tourists. As Mexico has increased in popularity, so has the number of scam operators infiltrating the city.
These crimes range from petty deceit to large-scale fraud. Though it’s not necessarily a crime, look out at restaurants for separate tourist and local menus if you want to get the best price. Scammers can also sell any manner of fraudulent products from fake designer goods to tours, taxis, and non-existent vacation rentals. Always double-check your bills and small change if you don’t want to be left short by a vendor.
Throughout Mexico, a scam is known as ‘The Mustard Scam’ is also growing in popularity. A group of thieves will use the good cop/bad cop method and one of them will spill mustard on your clothing while the second approaches from behind to offer a napkin. During the volunteer’s efforts to remove the stain, they will attempt to distract you to swipe your belongings. Of course, the Mustard Scam can take the form of any distraction and your best bet is to keep space between yourself and strangers.
Are food and water safe in Guadalajara?
Mexican cuisine is a worldwide favorite and is a major draw factor for holidaymakers visiting Mexico. If it’s a favorite at home, just wait until you experience real Mexican dishes and Guadalajara has its fair share of iconic local staples.
However, not all counties have the same food safety hygiene standards, and Mexico knows a thing or two about cutting corners. Look for restaurants that are full and have lots of customers, it sounds strange, but can be the best way to judge whether people are getting sick from the food. Still, if you have a stronger stomach and really want to get a taste of Guadalajaan cuisine, don’t be scared off from sampling the street food. Just try to stick to verified vendors of popular stalls. A rule of thumb in restaurants and markets is if it doesn’t look or taste clean, it probably isn’t.
What’s more, tap water in Guadalajara tends not to be safe. With no exception from private residences, hotels, and restaurants, filtered or bottled water is the way to go.
You can also boil water to purify it and make it safe to drink or use in ice cubes and cooking. You don’t have to contribute to plastic consumption to be hydrated when you’re out and about either. In Guadalajara, many restaurants and homes have clean, great-tasting drinking water delivered, so don’t miss the chance to fill up your eco-bottle from these tanks when you can to avoid buying single-use bottles.
Keep an eye out for ice cubes in less commercialized places and make sure it’s not homemade from a tap. There’s never harm in asking. Fruits and vegetables need to be washed, even from supermarkets. Tap water again isn’t clean, but you can buy more natural disinfectants from the supermarket, made from grapefruit.
7 Safety Tips for Guadalajara
- Avoid public transportation where possible – busy local busses and overnight trains are as much a part of traveling as backpacking hostels, but petty theft is common on Guadalajara’s public transport. Book registered taxis, Ubers, or even stick to getting around on foot if you can.
- Try to blend in – Tourists are more likely to be victims of petty crimes. Try and dress like a local and avoid being too loud in the streets or flashing expensive goods.
- Be prepared for rain – It might not be at much risk of natural disasters, but it rains a lot in Guadalajara, and bringing an umbrella out with you is a good idea to avoid being caught in a sudden torrential downpour.
- Avoid walking alone at night – The city is a safe place by day, but it can be a different story at night, much like other major metropolises. Avoid poorly lit areas at night and always book a taxi instead of wandering the streets after nightfall.
- Know your limits – Guadalajara has a great party scene, but taking it too far and losing a sense of your surroundings can put you at real risk. Mexican alcohol is notoriously strong so always pace yourself and make sure you’re partying in a group if you do plan to let loose a little. Avoid drinking in the street or being rowdy when you have had one too many, as a Mexican police cell is the last place you want to wind up.
- Learn some Spanish – This one is not only respectful to the locals, but knowing some Spanish can help keep you safe especially if you get into bartering with vendors, asking for directions, or encountering local law enforcement.
- Follow your gut – If you keep your wits about you, there’s no reason to feel unsafe in Guadalajara as it’s no more dangerous than most other major cities. Still, follow your instincts if you are in doubt, and don’t be afraid to say no to taxis, traders or tours.
Where is the safest place in Guadalajara?
All of the tourist areas in Guadalajara are mostly safe during the day. These include Centro, Zapopan, Tlaquepaque, and the Financial District where most of the attractions, monuments, bars, and restaurants are concentrated. Still, this means pickpockets will try to target tourists here so keep your belongings close at all times and don’t flash expensive goods.
Is the cartel still in Guadalajara?
Guadalajara has a long history of drug trafficking and cartel crime and one of the first groups to work with the Colombian cocaine mafias was the Guadalajara Cartel. However, the cartel disintegrated in 1989 and while modern-day branches or “plazas” like the Tijuana, Juarez, and Sinaloa cartels originated from Guadalajara, there are no drug trafficking gangs operating on the same scale in the city anymore.
When is the best time to visit Guadalajara?
The best time to visit Guadalajara is between October and December when you’ll find the driest weather and pleasant temperatures in the low 80s. Festivals fill the calendar at this time and the city makes for a great winter sun destination. However, if you’re looking for discounted hotels and food prices, January to May also make a good time to check out the city. Rainfall is common but temperatures are even higher and you’ll still get plenty of blue skies.