Mazatlán, the main beach resort in the whole state of Sinaloa, is currently on the up. People are flocking in to wander the buzzy promenade by the Pacific, get lost in a rejuvenated old town area, and hit untouched beaches that roll for miles and miles. But is Mazatlán safe?
Sadly, that’s a question you simply have to ask when considering a trip to anywhere in Mexico. And it’s a question you especially must ask when it comes to the state of Sinaloa, a region of the country that’s historically been renowned for its connection to the cartels and organized crime groups.
This guide covers everything you need to know about safety in Mazatlán. It will run through the key points and what to know about the risks and worries about traveling to this corner of North America. It’s got information on the crime levels, the potability of the tap water, public transport, and a whole load more. Let’s begin…
Is Mazatlán safe to visit?
Mazatlán is now considered a safe place to visit. We say that because the vast majority of the thousands of travelers who come here each year will come and go without a single worry. What’s more, despite overall high levels of crime in the surrounding Sinaloa region, the city enjoys relatively low rates of everything from homicide to theft. Let’s dig into the stats a little…
According to the numbers, Sinaloa is the fifth-worst state when it comes to homicides in the country, recording nearly 2,500 murders in 2010 alone. However, the stats show that was on the decline by 2012, and – most importantly – it was rare for serious violent crimes to spill into the resort of Mazatlán itself. Most of it was limited to neighbourhoods and regions of the state that are known to be more wrapped-up in cartel violence.
In fact, travel safety collator Numbeo currently rates Mazatlán a “low” risk for being muggings or theft, car theft, and physical attacks based on gender or race. It’s also only “moderate” for its general level of crime. The only thing that’s listed as a “high” risk here is the presence of corruption, which is something that’s unlikely to affect a fly-in traveler.
Cartel violence and crime in Mazatlán
Sinaloa – the region in which you find Mazatlán – is probably best known for the notorious cartel (the Sinaloa Cartel) which controlled the country’s main drug exports through the late 20th-century. There’s the hit Netflix drama Narcos to thank for that! However, the organization is nowhere near as active in the region as it once was. It’s main activities tend to be around key border towns in the north.
What’s more, many commentators think that the large cartels are actively trying to avoid causing trouble in mainstay resorts like Mazatlán in order to avoid police scrutiny and attention. There have been incidents, such as the arrest of a leading cartel boss in 2022, and the death of several cartel members on the streets in 2011. However, these are now generally isolated and few and far between.
Petty theft in Mazatlán
Perhaps the biggest risk when traveling to Mazatlán is petty crime, which is common all over the continent. As with any city, certain areas should be avoided, and we advise sticking to touristy neighborhoods like the Golden Zone, Old Town, and the Marina Zone where police have a constant presence.
The Golden Zone is a more modern part of the city, with plenty of resorts, open-air clubs, and swimmable beaches. On the other hand, Old Town dates back to the 19th century and is considered one of the most tranquil parts of the city. Here you’ll find local art galleries, the historic Angela Peralta Theater, restaurants, and bars as well as gorgeous cathedrals. Last, but not least, the Marina Zone is home to many exotic sailboats, shops, and restaurants.
Still, with tourists comes petty theft and criminals operate in crowded areas where it’s easy to pickpocket or snatch and grab valuable. You should never throw all caution to the wind wherever you visit, and we recommend exercising basic safety precautions everywhere in Mazatlán.
These include keeping your cash concealed, not drawing attention to yourself by wearing flashy jewelry in town, using trustworthy transport, and being watchful of your surroundings. It would also be a good idea to book all your trips and transport, especially into rural areas outside of town, in advance to avoid getting lost and stumbling into potentially dangerous situations.
Is Mazatlán safe for solo travelers?
Mazatlán is perfectly safe for solo travelers, and with so many restaurants, historic markets, beaches, and entertainment venues to explore, it’s a great place for your first independent adventure. It’s also easy to hop on a tour to a neighboring island or explore some of the rest of the country. Nevertheless, traveling alone can be daunting, and there are some things you can do to ensure your stay is as relaxing and fulfilling as possible.
You should make sure to bring sunscreen wherever you go in Mexico, but especially in Mazatlán since the city has a humid, tropical climate, with sunstroke being a very real possibility, and ensure that your accommodation is accredited. Staying in popular tourist areas, like Zona Dorada, Olas Altas, El Malecon, or La Marina is your best bet, and can expect a lessened risk of crime. We also advise that you keep your valuables concealed, never leave your possessions unattended while swimming, stick to trusted ATMs in shopping centers, and stay away from secluded areas.
Use your common sense when venturing outside of resort areas, but don’t take tourist areas too lightly either. It’s always a good idea to be on the lookout for petty crime since tourists are easy targets. You also shouldn’t expect complete safety during the late hours, and it’s best to travel in a group of at least two at night.
Female travelers should also maintain a heightened sense of awareness when using public transport, as they can be pickpocketing hotspots. Of course, experimenting with or buying drugs in Mazatlán is another thing that should be avoided. Not only do you not want to involve yourself with the cartel, but drug use or trafficking involves heavy sanctions, and gringos are not given special treatment by local law enforcement.
That said, there is a strong police presence throughout the city, and incidents of serious crimes against tourists are definitely in the minority. So, don’t worry or overthink it too much, trust your gut, and take basic precautions as you would in any other city.
Is public transport safe in Mazatlán?
Mazatlán is a very easy city to get around, thanks to its many safe and affordable, public transport options. There are three main modes of public transportation in Mazatlán: buses, taxis, and Pulmonias, with each bringing unique thrills.
One of the most exciting ways to get around is by Pulmonia. These easy to hail open-air taxis are made from souped-up golf carts, and typically ride up and down the Malecon with loud music blasting from their speakers. They’re generally reliable and safe too, with a trip to the Golden zone costing around $150 pesos, the equivalent to $10 USD. However, you should always agree on a price in advance and shake on it with your driver. Excessive bartering isn’t something you want to get into it and it could lead to you getting scammed.
Accredited taxi services are another option, but you should always ensure that the service in question is fully licensed before you book. There are two kinds of taxis you’ll see in the city, one green, and one red, but neither is metered, and you will need to agree to a fare beforehand. Look for a red or green strip down the car’s side to determine if it’s licensed and ask for the driver’s registration if you’re in doubt.
Buses are the cheapest mode of transport in Mazatlán, and the white local buses are easy to distinguish from the touristy green ones. Standard operating hours are from 5:30 am to 10:30 pm, with fares ranging from six pesos for standard models to nine pesos for air-conditioned units. Even so, they can be pickpocketing hotspots, and you should always be aware of your surroundings and how close you’re getting to other people when using them. The green buses are generally the better and safer option for tourists since they tend to be faster with more comfort.
Is Mazatlán safe to live?
Although it’s situated in Sinaloa, Mazatlán is one of Mexico’s safest cities, and it’s not only a fantastic destination to visit but a great location to consider moving to. It boasts a lower cost of living compared to other Mexican cities too, which has made it a favorite among ex-pats.
Its beautiful beaches, social and cultural diversity, and historic sites make it an amazing place to settle, and you’re likely to experience a lot more than the typical tourist attractions by living here. Seeing as you’ll get to know the environment better, you’ll also be much less susceptible to scams, and less likely to be targeted for petty crimes. Naturally, every city has its no-go areas, but they’re easy to familiarise yourself with and avoid in Mazatlán if you’re a resident yourself.
On top of this, the city is one of the biggest shrimping ports in the world, which means you can buy fresh wild and farmed seafood at unbelievably affordable prices. Fresh fruits, vegetables, and fish are abundant at markets and it is also home to a large, welcoming ex-pat community, incredible colonial architecture, and affordable public healthcare. Its main pull factor has to be its exciting cultural scene though, and you’re likely to find a slew of enthralling happenings along the Malecon, or boardwalk, many of which will be free.
All in all, it’s a fairly safe place to live, and a great place to settle. As long as you take the precautions you would in any other city, you should be absolutely fine.
Is tap water safe to drink in Mazatlán?
By and large, the tap water in any tropical destination isn’t safe to drink, and, unfortunately, Mazatlán is no exception. We strongly advise you to only drink bottled water here as the pipes are easily contaminated by the sweltering heat.
Luckily, you can buy bottled water at any convenience store in the city, and you can get 1 and 2-gallon bottles at very reasonable prices from the big grocery stores. It would be best to avoid buying from vendors who sell water in big plastic jugs, as they often use filters on their taps with the municipal water.
On the bright side, bars and restaurants generally buy purified ice cubes, so buying drinks with ice in them is fine, but as a rule of thumb, if you’re drinking has an earthy taste, the ice might not be clean. You should also wipe the tops of your bottles and glasses before drinking from them, as there’s the chance that the ice bag has been dragged along the floor while it has been transported.
If you become sick after consuming tap water, the best course of action is to drink pediatric electrolytes, which you can find at any drug store. However, if you’re suffering from dehydration or sustained stomach upset, you should always consult a doctor.
Top safety tips for traveling to Mazatlan
It always pays to have your wits about you, no matter if you’re traveling to a Mexican beach resort or just wandering your hometown. Here are some tips that we’d tell all travelers to follow when they come to this corner of the tropics in the home of tacos and tequila…
- Don’t venture off the beaten track – The central metropolitan area is safe for solo travelers and easy to navigate, but you should never venture out of the city alone or even without a guide as it can be dangerous.
- Be aware of your surroundings – Petty criminals will often try to distract you whether they’re being nice or inciting an argument. Don’t let anyone get too close and don’t trust everyone.
- Stay away from drugs – There is a strong narcotics presence in Mexico because getting involved in buying, selling, or trafficking drugs is a death sentence.
- Try to fit in – Tourists are obvious targets and anything from western clothing, nice jewelry, cameras, and speaking loudly can make you stand out. Observe what locals are doing and follow suit, to an extent.
- Wear sunscreen – even on overcast days, heatstroke and sunburn is a real worry in Mazatlán’s tropical climate. Where a good SPF every day and stay hydrated.
- Be cautious at night – From walking around to taking local busses and getting too intoxicated, there are a lot of things you should avoid at night when the city becomes less busy. Know your limits and take precautions after dark.
- Be extra vigilant at ATMs and banks – Not only are some ATMs tampered with to swallow credit cards or even clone them, but withdrawing large amounts of money makes you an instant target and you never know who could be observing. Only take out a little cash at a time and avoid ATMs altogether at night.
Is Mazatlán Safe? Our Verdict
Despite Mexico’s somewhat dubious reputation when it comes to safety, Mazatlán and its charming Old Town center is considered to be a safe place for visitors. It has a heavy police presence and minimal crime. As a cruise ship stop-off, a family vacation destination, and an addition to a backpacking adventure, Mazatlán scores high when it comes to personal security. Your biggest concern is likely to be pickpockets and petty theft. If you venture outside the city, it can be a different story, but as long as you book transfers in advance through reputable agencies and always trust your instincts, things should go smoothly.