Is Mazatlán Safe To Visit? 2022 Safety Guide to Sinaloa

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Affectionately known as, “the Pearl of the Pacific”, Mazatlán is a coastal city becoming increasingly popular as a Mexican tourist destination, thanks to its magnificent beaches, rich history, and vibrant sports and culture scene. Idyllic neighboring islands and a warm, tropical climate make it a great place to soak up the sun and there are scuba diving and ziplining opportunities aplenty. 

Still, it’s hard to talk about Mexico without mentioning the subject of security, leaving many wondering, is Mazatlán safe? We’ve all seen headlines about cartel presence and violent muggings in the colorful Central American country, but how does Mazatlán square up? And is it safe to visit?

Our guide is here to answer all of your safety questions about traveling to Mazatlán in 2022 to make sure you get the most out of your trip. From natural hazards to public transport, tap water, and going solo, it’s time to find out just how safe Mexico is. Let’s get into it.

Is Mazatlán safe to visit?

Maztlán city
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Mexico might be riddled with rumors about gun violence and gang crime, and some of what you hear is true. Nevertheless, it’s considered very safe to travel to Mazatlán in 2022 and the city is an extremely popular cruise ship port and family-friendly destination. Sinaloa might be best known for the notorious cartel which controlled the country’s main drug exports through the late 20th-century. But this group has since disintegrated and while small-scale cartels still operate, the police presence in Mazatlán is widespread and efficient. You can rest assured that you’ll feel more protected here than in some areas of the country.

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. 

Additionally, you should keep up to date on the weather before and during your trip, especially if you’re planning to visit during the months of July and September. Mazatlán is prone to the occasional tropical storm and hurricane during this time. Be sure to take out travel insurance in the case that you do get stuck due to extreme weather.  

That being said, Mazatlán is an increasingly popular and vibrant destination to visit, so the emphasis on safety and the upkeep of security is already better than in most of Mexico. Don’t let any of this deter you, as long as you follow these precautions, you should be in for a smooth trip. 

Is Mazatlán safe for solo travelers?

Mazatlán cliff dive
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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 bus
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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?

Mexican street
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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?

burst pipe
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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.

7 Safety Tips for Mazatlán

  • 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 tainted reputation when it comes to safety, overall Mazatlán and the Old Town center is an extremely safe place for visitors with 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 and your biggest concern is pickpockets. 

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, you’ll be near-guaranteed a problem-free getaway. Mexico isn’t the bloody and violent nation it once was, and while the cartel still has a stronghold over organized crime, there’s no reason this should affect your trip. 

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Esmé is an English literature graduate and freelance writer. Originally from London, Esmé is lucky enough to call Bali home. Her travels have taken her from the far corners of the East to the islands of the Caribbean. When she's not writing, you'll find her lying on a beach somewhere, lost in a crime novel.