Is Juarez, Mexico, safe? We wish you didn’t have to ask, but it’s definitely wise to. This city on the border between the state of Chihuahua and the US state of Texas has a long-held reputation for cartel activity and gang clashes. Before you venture across the Rio Grande to see the sights and hit the shops, it’s worth getting a feel for what to expect and what the risks are.
Thousands of people use the international crossings here every day, moving in both directions. That means you’re likely to be in good company if you decide to visit Juarez. But numbers don’t equal safety, especially not in this corner of the country – the border towns along the Lone State line are known to be among the highest-risk destinations in all of Mexico.
This guide offers some insights into the sort of risk level that you can expect when you head over to the metropolis in the Chihuahuan Desert. It will answer is Juarez, Mexico, safe, by running through some of the key dangers in the city. And we’ll give some tips on how to stay safe if you’re still determined to visit.
A little bit of background
The reason so many people ask “is Juarez, Mexico safe?” is because this city was once known as the single most dangerous place on planet Earth. Yep, an eruption of gang violence in the noughties raised the homicide rate here to 3,500 per year. That put it above the likes of San Salvador and Tijuana, with an average of nearly 10 murders a day! There were also startling reports of soaring violence against women, grand theft auto, and daily robberies.
That all came to head around 2007, when the authorities decimated the police force with mass sackings. The aim was to root out corruption and solidify security within the city. The federal government also provided help, offering a huge cohort of troops to patrol the town, many of which are still in place.
The effect was an almost instantaneous reduction in crime rates. By 2013, homicides had dropped to less than 500 per year and then sat at just 314 for the year in 2015. By the late 2010s, there were even ad campaigns in place to tempt tourists back to the town.
Is Juarez safe today?
Sadly, things have gotten worse in the last few years. The security gains of the 2010s faltered in 2019 with a sudden upsurge in cartel activity in the border towns, Juarez in particular. Murder rates were back to a whopping 1,500 for the year. That represents a 15% rise, with experts warning that the trend is set to continue, spurred by the formation of new gangs and rekindled vendettas between the La Empresa and Barrio Azteca gangs especially.
2020 has since been listed as the 4th most deadly on record for the city. There were only five days in the whole year that didn’t see a murder, and a total of 1,644 homicides over just 12 months. That coincided with a huge increase in drug trafficking on the US border, with some estimations putting the increase at a mega 500% for the year. All that despite pretty stringent lockdown rules due to the global pandemic. Yikes!
Major dangers in Juarez, Mexico
Obviously, the major danger in Juarez is being caught up in all that cartel violence. We’re talking serious crimes – murder, kidnappings. As the stats reveal, it happens quite a bit in the city (murder rates for 2021 and 2020 combined have already elevated Juarez back to the unenviable position of the 2nd most dangerous municipality in Mexico, second only to infamous Tijuana). That means you need to be aware that there’s always a risk when you cross the old El Paso border and make a visit.
However, the truth is that most visits to Juarez go off without a hitch. Tourists often stick to the main historic center of the town (which is where all the main attractions are anyway) and usually only visit during daylight hours (generally much safer), helping to combat potential dangers. The upshot? The majority of travelers will probably come and go without even knowing that Juarez is considered so dangerous by so many.
That said, it’s very common these days for guided tours of the city to include a chaperone of an armed guard. That’s hardly the hallmark of a town that’s without its dangers, right?
Minor dangers in Juarez, Mexico
Aside from the glaring dangers that come with the presence of Mexican drug cartels and gangs, Juarez also has a whole host of your run-of-the-mill worries. For example, things like pickpocketing and petty theft are rather common. Travel stat collator Numbeo ranks the risk of being mugged or robbed in Juarez as “very high.” They also list auto theft as “very high,” and give the city an overall low rating for safety walking alone at night.
On top of that, there’s a higher risk of being in a car accident in Juarez than there is just a stone’s throw over the border in the US town of El Paso. Oh, and there’s generally thought to be a higher risk of falling victim to a travel scam, especially when it comes to buying fake goods and fake medications.
Is Juarez, Mexico, safe for solo female travelers?
Solo female travelers should almost certainly steer clear of Juarez. Crimes against women here are very commonplace.
It’s estimated that nearly 400 females were victims of cartel-related kidnappings and beatings between 1993 and 2005 alone. Sadly, the gender-based crime trend continues on, although the stats aren’t quite as bad as they were 15 years ago. Still, this is not the part of Mexico to visit if you’re a woman journeying the globe alone. You’d be much better off in a more tried-and-tested beach resort like Cancun or Puerto Vallarta, for example.
Tips for staying safe in Juarez
Most of the tips below are basic, common-sense stuff that you should be doing pretty much anywhere on the planet anyway. However, they are essential reading if you’re planning a jaunt over the border from El Paso to Juarez because they could help reduce the risk of all sorts of crime, from petty theft to getting caught up in gang violence.
- Never travel to Juarez on your own – This has to be the number one tip. Traveling alone not only opens you up as a potential target to kidnappers, but also means you won’t have someone there to help if things do go south. Partnering with one or more globetrotting pals is definitely the way to go.
- Always visit during daylight – Don’t be tempted to head across to Juarez at night. Daylight sees lower risk of all levels of crime, and the cartels aren’t as active in the day. Also, El Paso (on the US side of the border) has plenty of fantastic Tex-Mex eateries to see you through, so don’t worry about that!
- Consider doing a tour with an armed guard – Lots of the current tourist packages into Juarez are done with an armed guard. This is one of the best ways to the see the city with a bit of extra added security.
- Stick to the touristy area – There’s a very clear-cut tourist zone in Juarez. It forms a sort of triangle around the Plaza de Armas and encompasses the main churches and missions, along with the best museums in town. You probably don’t need to leave that area at all, and it’s a very good idea not to!
So, is Juarez, Mexico, safe to visit?
Is Juarez, Mexico, safe to visit? Not really. The truth is that this town is still suffering from being on the flashpoint of the drug frontier between the USA and Mexico. It might not be as bad as it was back in 2010 (when there was a whopping 3,500 murders in just one year), but there are still some serious issues with violent crime. Even with the fact that tourists rarely come into contact with that sort of thing, it’s not a city that we’d be putting close to the top of our Mexico bucket list. Maybe one day, eh?