Dominating the second portion of North America, Mexico is a bustling tourist hotspot and as typographically diverse as it is culturally distinct. The land of margaritas and mariachi music was once riddled with a reputation for drug smuggling and gang crime, but you might be wondering, is Mexico safe for tourists in 2022?
From the ancient ruins to the globalized cuisine, dynamic cities, and paradisical beaches, there are tons of reasons to visit Mexico. You can lounge under tropical palms, discover underwater worlds, delve back in time to centuries gone, and party the night away, but this doesn’t mean there aren’t some safety concerns you should look out for.
Our guide looks at all the risks that come with traveling to Mexico in 2022 to determine whether or not it’s the vacation spot for you. Covering everything from cartels to natural disasters and even the water quality, we’re in for a bumpy ride. Let’s get into it.
Is Mexico safe for tourists to visit?
Drug cartels and violent crime have long been associated with South America, and Mexico is no stranger to these issues. Mexican drug cartels have been among the world’s leading suppliers of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine for decades. Although many gangs have dispersed since a global war on drugs sought to infiltrate and eradicate drug-related crime, with much success, around 150 organized crime groups still operate in the country.
Mexico’s homicide rates remain among the highest in the world, with over 26 deaths per 100,000 people. According to statistics, the country’s overall peacefulness is on the up, but homicide counts and gun violence are only worsening, so what does this mean for tourism?
Organized crime is the main driver of homicide and gun violence in Mexico, with two-thirds of deaths being linked to the drug trade. While these numbers can make Mexico seem daunting, the majority of violent crime is interpersonal, inter-gang, and causational. This means, of all these crimes, a very small percentage directly affect tourists.
Petty crime and opportunistic criminals operate wherever you go in the world, and this is no different in Mexico. But there are a number of regions with no lingering cartel presence and you’re unlikely to stumble across gang-related warfare and crossfire unless you venture off the beaten track.
Kidnappings put tourists at risk, but high-profile, wealthy visitors are much more likely to be targeted. Staying in touristy areas, leaving valuables at home, and not being flashy with wealth can help tourists keep a low profile, while some businesses and properties might hire private security to be on the safe side, especially in high-risk regions.
The Sinaloa Cartel is still active in Mexico and they’re the dominant and most powerful drug gang in the country. For these reasons, Sinaloa, Colima, Guerrero, Michoacán, and Tamaulipas, where Sinaloa have a stronghold and carry out a lot of its operations, are considered very dangerous for foreign travel.
However, Mexico is punctuated by safe cities and states. Yucatán, where you’ll find the party haven of Cancún and lusted, beach resorts like Tulum and Cozumel, is the most peaceful state, with lower crime rates than most US cities. The peninsula is joined by Tlaxcala, Chiapas, Campeche, and Hidalgo as the provinces demonstrating homicide rates of around eight per 100,000, less than a quarter of those for the country as a whole.
Is Mexico safe for solo travelers?
Whether or not to travel to Mexico alone depends on where you go. Some destinations are extremely safe for independent travelers, and even solo women, but some areas are best avoided. Solo travel in the capital, Mexico City, is definitely possible, but women are advised to avoid poorly lit areas at night and public transport where organized crime gangs can operate, especially in the cover of night. That said, the metro is easy to navigate by day and the bus network makes independent travel mostly efficient.
Tourist resorts like Cancún and Tulum in Yucatán are largely free from gang crime, but they can only be as safe as you make them. Petty crime is rife, as with any tourist hotspot in the world, and solo travelers are more at risk. Machismo culture also still dominates. Women can expect unwarranted attention, alone or otherwise, and while this usually won’t go beyond catcalls and whistles, you should always keep your wits about you. Drink spiking and sexual violence remain a problem, even in resort towns.
Still, tourists pose just as much of a threat to other tourists, especially in the Mayan Riviera. This region serves as a party haven and it is not uncommon to come across extremely inebriated revelers in the street at any time of the day. Drunk people can be violent, rude, or just simply clumsy.
Solo travelers can use the cross-country transport systems easily, but it’s also uncomplicated to meet like-minded travelers in the plentiful backpacker hostels if you want some company. Although, you should always use your judgment before jumping to trust strangers in any foreign country.
Mexicans are welcoming and warm, and they’ll be willing to help any solo traveler in distress, but always plan ahead. You don’t want to get caught out in the middle of nowhere with no phone signal as a result of poor planning or unreliable interstate busses. Especially if you’re in gang territory, which isn’t safe for solo travelers.
Is it safe to drink the tap water in Mexico?
As a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t drink water from the tap in Mexico as you can never determine what bacteria it might harbor. Water tends to be purified at the source in order to aid water quality, but contamination can happen at any point during the distribution process before it reaches your tap.
Most visitors report using the water to brush their teeth without any issues, but this isn’t recommended in really remote areas or where signs instruct otherwise. Water in Mexico can contain microorganisms including giardia, e. coli, and cryptosporidium. Some locals take the risk and drink the water because they have little other choices, or their bodies have become used to some of the less harmful bacteria water can carry.
Still, it’s always best to opt for bottled water and most Mexicans do this. Bottled water is readily accessible and you will likely be served bottled or filtered water if you order table water at a restaurant. Be careful ordering ice in more remote areas, like beach bars, if you don’t know where it has come from. Frozen tap water is just as harmful as fresh stuff.
Is Mexico safe from natural disasters?
Mexico is typographically diverse with a complex and varied landscape, extensive coastline, and unique location. This, along with the climatic setting, makes it vulnerable to a host of different natural disasters. Earthquakes, tsunamis, flooding, hurricanes, landslides, and volcanic eruptions are all real and imminent threats.
Hurricane-force storms are very common during the summer months, especially on the east coast, but they often make landfall and cause heavy inland downpours. There have been only 37 recorded tsunami waves in the Caribbean basin since the 1500s, but due to Mexico’s geological location, experts say there is more than a 40 percent chance of a potentially-damaging tsunami occurring in the next five decades.
The 1959 Mexico hurricane was the deadliest disaster event to happen in the country to date and the deadliest Pacific hurricane ever recorded, claiming 1,800 lives. These events can’t be prevented, but some can be predicted thanks to modern technology and more awareness. The best way to avoid a natural disaster affecting your trip is to keep up to date with news and weather reports.
Hurricane season runs from June until November, and it’s best avoided if you don’t want tropical storms putting a dampener on your vacation. Inland, remote regions also suffer most from floods and landslides at this time, so never go off the beaten track without guidance and always let people know where you are.
Is it safe to live in Mexico?
There are plenty of safe places to live in Mexico where you can benefit from good healthcare, employment opportunities, and even lower crime rates than some US cities, but it depends where you go. Quiet surf towns like Sayulita and Puerto Escondido offer slow pace living and a great quality of life, while cities like Merida and Oaxaca are among the country’s safest and most culturally diverse places with good healthcare thanks to medical tourism.
Baja California is the most popular region for ex-pats, although it’s also the least peaceful state. It’s not that crime doesn’t deter ex-pats, but crime in Mexico is all relative and despite devastating homicide numbers and drug-related crimes in Baja California, this doesn’t affect every region of the state.
Foreigners congregate on the coast and around the resort towns while most of the violent crimes are directly related to drug cartels and border conflict. Likewise, Mexico City is home to the second-highest concentration of expatriates, thanks to jobs and amenities, but it comes with all the risks of a big capital.
The country is a desirable place for relocation and is home to the highest number of Americans outside of the United States. Mexico can be as safe as you make it and high crime rates won’t always jeopardize the security of foreigners, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take extra precautions.
7 Safety Tips for Mexico
- Use private transport at night – Public transport in Mexico is crowded and inefficient, but it will give you a taste of local life and is the cheapest way to get around. Pickpockets operate on busses, trains, and at stations, and can only be avoided by being cautious with your belongings, but the crimes can turn sour at night and women should avoid empty transport carriages.
- Learn basic Spanish – You don’t need to be fluent, but having enough Spanish to get by will make things a lot easier for you in Mexico, especially if you get into some sort of trouble. Most people speak English in touristy areas, but you’re more likely to gain locals’ trust by trying to speak in Spanish.
- Be careful what you eat – Mexico has great street food, but always choose wisely. Food hygiene standards aren’t the same as they are in the States and even the spices you’re otherwise not used to could upset your stomach. Stick to popular stalls and judge cleanliness with your own eyes. Produce washed in tap water could also harbor dangerous bacteria.
- Know your emergency numbers – This should be a habit for any foreign country you visit. You should always memorize emergency services, fire services, and ambulance (which are actually three different numbers in Mexico), and it wouldn’t hurt to know your own number and an emergency contact’s too.
- Carry copies of your documents – It’s always a good idea to have proof of your visa and identification on you in case asked, but never bring the original out unless it is 100 percent necessary.
- Try not to stand out – Tourists are the main targets for pickpockets, but flashing your wealth can also make you victim to much worse. Hide your valuables and try to blend in by dressing and acting like locals. You don’t have to wear jeans in 80-degree heat, but sandals, vests, maps, and rowdy behavior will blow your clover.
- Know your limits – Mexico is a raging vacation destination and a party haven, and you shouldn’t stop yourself from having fun. Still, you never want to lose sense of your surroundings or behave inappropriately in the streets because a Mexican jail cell is the last place you want to end up. Don’t accept drinks from strangers and never leave drinks unattended.
Is Mexico Safe for Tourists? Our Verdict
Mexico’s reputation for cartels and violence does not go unjustified. Visitors should take extra precautions here, especially if traveling alone or crossing large portions of the country, but Mexico isn’t all gangs and drugs. There’s so much to explore, and thankfully, most of the country is now largely accessible and safe for tourists. Mexican culture goes much further than the stereotypes attuned to it and safety initiatives have allowed tourists unchartered access to most of its charms. Stay alert, plan ahead, and know your limits, but there’s no reason for security concerns to keep you from a Mexican adventure.
Is Mexico City safe?
Big capitals always come with their problems and Mexico City is not one of the safest places to be. The sprawling metropole demonstrates some worryingly high crime rates, but this is limited to certain areas of the city that can be avoided. Within the city boundaries, petty crime and pickpocketers are your biggest concern and you should take precautions as you would in any city. The capital is even safe for solo female travelers, although wandering around at night and using public transport is ill-advised.
Is public transport safe in Mexico?
Traveling by bus and metro is generally safe in Mexico and security staff regularly patrol stations, however, organized crime groups do operate and you should always be aware of your surroundings. The female-only metro carriages can help solo women feel safe, otherwise using private transportation at nighttime is a good idea to avoid trouble.
When is the best time to visit Mexico City?
Between March and May, and October to November, are the best months to visit Mexico City when the average temperature hovers in the low-80s and you can expect plenty of blue skies and colorful scenery. Springtime can be crowded and more expensive but the chilly winters and stormy summers can make it tricky to navigate the capital.