Mexico is the land of cold margaritas, white sand beaches, and hot sun. But is Mexico Safe? I spend quite a bit of time in Mexico, in particular in the Riviera Maya. Occasionally friends in Canada, the US, or the UK ask me if Mexico is safe. Or in particular, is the Mayan Riviera safe? My instinctive response was always “Yes, very. Why do you ask?” Turns out the media they hear paints a very different picture. So, I decided to investigate crime in Mexico. Looking to find the difference between my experience and what people were perceiving of Mexico. And to answer the question, ‘Is Mexico Safe?’ See what I found – it might surprise you, it certainly surprised me.
To start I decided to base this on factual data where I could. Rather than giving an account of my experiences alone. So, I focused on finding comparable statistics on crime in Mexico, Canada, the USA, and the UK. Fortunately, there’s a neat resource, Nation Master. It allows you to compare statistics, including crime across countries. But, most countries don’t collect statistics on all the same crimes, so it made it a little harder to find direct comparisons. However, there were 4 crimes with statistics collected for Mexico, Canada, the USA, and the UK. Also, they collect the stats for many other countries too. So, I could compare these crime stats to answer the question, is Mexico safe.
Mexico compares favourably to the USA, Canada, and the UK, having the lowest crime rates in 3 out of the 4 categories. The UK, surprisingly, ranked highest in 3 out of 4 categories. Begging the question ‘is the UK a safe place to travel to?’ Being an ex-pat Brit I kinda find that one amusing.
The chart below shows homicide rates in the Americas in 2016. As you can see, Mexico’s homicide rate is below that of Belize. And that of Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, and Venezuela, and many other countries. Indicating again that Mexico is a safe place in the region.
Despite having the lowest total crime rates out of Mexico, the USA, Canada, and the UK, Mexico, did rank second in murder with firearms. And in recent years violent crime in Mexico has been on the increase. So what’s the cause of that and where is it happening? And is Mexico safe still as a result of this?
To find out more, I found many interesting insights from a University of San Diego study. (Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico, Analysis Through 2018, Justice in Mexico, Department of Political Science & International Relations, University of San Diego, April 2019, by Laura Y. Calderón, Kimberly Heinle, Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira, and David A. Shirk). These insights help explain some of the media reports especially related to violent crimes. And they add a lot of perspective on safety in Mexico.
According to the study up to 2/3’s of violent crimes in Mexico are by organized crime groups. In recent years violence has changed as the major cartels have become fragmented due to government enforcement. The study states “While there is a general perception that Mexico’s violence is pervasive and persistent throughout the country, violence has been highly localized, sporadic, and geographically specific”. For example, “homicides have been regionally concentrated in the major drug trafficking zones in the northwest and the Pacific Coast.” This explains why people perceive Mexico to be unsafe. And why my experience is so different. In the Riviera Maya on the Caribbean (east) coast, the situation is very different from some specific areas in this large country. As you can see in the graphic below which shows homicide rates across Mexico. The map shows that homicides have been regionally concentrated. And are in the major drug trafficking zones in the north and areas of the Pacific Coast.
U.S. and Mexican counter-drug efforts have targeted major drug trafficking organizations. This has resulted in fragmentation and infighting among criminal organizations. The increased competition among criminal organizations has been a major contributor to the violence. But, this is not across Mexico generally, only in localized areas. As the chart, right, shows, the areas to avoid are the major drug trafficking zones in the northwest, northeast. And caution is advised outside of tourist areas along the Pacific coast. But the rest of the country including Baja, southern Mexico, and all along the Caribbean coast (Quintana Roo/Riviera Maya) are safe. In essence (and like many countries) the majority of the country where tourists travel, Mexico is safe. And according to these statistics is the Mayan Riviera safe? Yes, it is.
But what do the official travel advisories from the US, UK, and Canadian governments have to say on the question is Mexico safe? And do they provide specific information to the question is the Mayan Riviera safe?
The US Department of State travel advisory for Mexico at the time of writing is at a level 4 – Do Not Travel, because of Covid19. But, when looking at the travel advisories based on crime we can see a clear picture. The level of travel advisory goes from a Level 1 – Exercise normal precautions, to a Level 4 – Do not travel. As above the main tourist areas of the Baja and the Riviera Maya are given a Level 2 advisory. Before Covid19 (when now all countries are Level 4 advisory), Level 2 was given to France, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Mexico.
US Travel Advisory
Level 1 Blue Exercise normal precautions
Level 2 Yellow Exercise caution
Level 3 Orange Reconsider travel
Level 4 Red Do not travel
If you do decide to visit the non-tourist areas of Mexico this US Department of State website has lots of up-to-date security alerts.
The Government of Canada has a regional advisory to avoid non-essential travel in specific areas within Mexico. These seem to coincide with the same areas in the US State Department map above. But, whereas the US State Department issues a blanket level 3 or 4 on these areas, the Government of Canada provides specific guidance. For example, the US State Department classifies all Nayarit state as Level 3. But the Government of Canada only specifies “the area within 20 km of the border with Sinaloa and Durango, and the city of Tepic” to avoid non-essential travel. The rest of the state of Nayarit is fine.
So, while Canada currently has a no travel advisory worldwide due to Covid 19, from a crime perspective is Mexico safe? And is the Mayan Riviera safe? According to the Government of Canada any of the tourist areas such as the Riviera Maya, Baja, are safe.
The UK Government does not appear to apportion levels of crime or risk to Mexico or regions within Mexico. Instead, they provide advice based on very large regions. Each of which would be much larger than many European countries including the United Kingdom. But they do state “The Mexican government makes efforts to protect major tourist destinations like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta, and Nuevo Vallarta. These areas have mostly not seen the levels of drug-related violence and crime experienced elsewhere in Mexico.” They then provide some basic vanilla advice “If you’re visiting any of these areas, you should monitor local advice, remain vigilant and follow the advice of the local authorities and your tour operator.” Is Mexico safe? At least in these tourist areas, it would appear so according to the UK Government. And based on their advice on the major tourist areas the UK Government answer the question is the Mayan Riviera safe, affirmatively.
Based on all the evidence the answer to is the Mayan Riviera safe, is yes. As you can see from the chart earlier, crime in the Riviera Maya is one of the lowest in the country. Crime rates in the Riviera Maya are low not only compared to the Mexican average. They are also lower than in other tourism places. Such as Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco, Manzanillo, Mazatlan, and other Pacific Coast areas, within Mexico. But, this isn't that surprising. As the Mayan Riviera is the number one tourist area in Mexico it generates more revenue for the economy than any other area. The Mexican government understands this and has focused on security efforts to ensure the Mayan Riviera is safe.
But is the Mayan Riviera safe from my experience? Yes as long as you take basic precautions (see below). Areas outside the major towns and cities are usually very safe in the Riviera Maya. Cancun and Playa Del Carmen, being larger urban areas do have more drugs and petty crime than other areas. And in these areas, you might want to exercise some caution at nighttime. In most cases in Cancun and Playa Del Carmen, you are more likely to run into trouble from a drunken tourist than anything else. The Riviera Maya is safe, especially outside of Cancun and some areas of Playa Del Carmen.
Besides, cracking down on organized crime, the Mexican Government recently took extra measures. President Lopez Obrador has created a National Guard. This 60,000-person armed security force is staffed from the ranks of the Mexican military and police. Ultimately, it is to create a highly trained, and well-staffed force. Their focus is to confront law enforcement challenges, primarily focusing on organized crime.
Although this article is intended to look at and compare crime data, it's important to discuss Covid19 safety as well. Like the crime data, the situation with Covid19 in Mexico varies throughout the country. Larger rates of infections occur in the denser population centers. But throughout Mexico, there has been the adoption of some stringent practices. For a detailed discussion read Covid19 – Learn From My Experience Of Traveling To Mexico Now. This describes the procedures and practices from a few months ago that were adopted in Mexico well before they were in other parts of the world. Including in Canada where I live part of the time.
The region I am most familiar with is the Riviera Maya in Quintana Roo. Because of the procedures adopted the area has been open for most of the last year. Albeit at reduced capacities of patrons in shops, beaches, restaurants, etc.
Below is data from John Hopkins University comparing the number of Covid19 cases per million people in Canada, the USA, the UK, and Mexico. I was quite astonished when I first saw how low the cases have been in Mexico in comparison to these ‘leading’ countries.
Despite some of the dramatic headlines in the media, millions of travelers visit Mexico safely every year. In fact, in the Riviera Maya alone there are 25 million visitors every year! And the vast majority don’t have any problems at all. Yet, no matter where you travel in the world there are certain basic precautions you should take. And is Mexico safe will then definitely be answered positively. Below are 10 tips to stay safe.
1. Use your common sense at all times and be aware of your surroundings
2. Always keep your valuables out of sight
3. Avoid visiting the high crime areas noted above
4. Avoid wandering alone at night or in poorly lit areas
5. Be vigilant when renting cars and take detailed notes of damage to your vehicle before signing off on it. Where possible only rent from reputable car rental companies
6. If you’re out late nightclubbing watch your drinks and drink in moderation
7. When traveling across Mexico, be sure to avoid the known areas of violent crime.
8. If you are a solo woman traveler dress modestly and low key to avoid unwanted attention
9. Leave valuables and irreplaceable items in a safe place. Or don't bring them at all so you won’t be the victim of petty theft. Leave valuables in the vacation rental or hotel safes.
10. Make copies of important documents (such as your passport) and keep a list of important numbers (such as your local Consulate)
Hopefully, like most people you do stay safe in Mexico during your visit. But if you do have an emergency while in Mexico and need help embassies or consulates will often be able to provide assistance.
There are 10 US consulates and embassies across Mexico.
The closest consulate to the Riviera Maya is in Merida
Calle 60 No. 338-K x 29 y 31 Col. Alcala Martin Merida, Yucatan, Mexico 97050 Phone: (+52) 999-942-5700 Fax: (+52) 999-942-5758
U.S. Citizen Services From Mexico: 999-316-7168 From the United States: 1-844-528-6611 AskMeridaACS@state.gov
The consular services include both routine, and specialized services. Routine services to help US citizens in Mexico include
Like the US, there are 10 Canadian embassy and consular offices helping Canadians in Mexico. But Canadian consular offices across Mexico may be closed to visitors due to Covid19. Consular assistance and support are also provided through email exchanges or by phone.
Canadians in distress should call at 55-5724-7900 ext. 379-3348 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org before presenting themselves at any of the offices across Mexico. Leave a message, and they will call you back. If the office is closed, your call will be automatically transferred to the Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa. The center operates 24/7 and may be reached directly at +1 613 996 8885 (call collect where available) or email@example.com
In the Riviera Maya, there is a Canadian consular agency in Playa Del Carmen.
Consular Agency of Canada in Playa Del Carmen
Address, phone, fax, email Consular Agency of Canada Plaza Paraíso Caribe, Modulo C, Planta 2, Oficina C21 - 24 Av. 10 Sur entre Calle 3 y 5 Sur, M-35, Lote 1 Colonia Centro 77710 Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo - Mexico
Telephone: 55-5724-9796 Fax: 984-803-2665 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hours of Operation Monday - Friday: 9:00 am - 1:00 pm
There are 3 locations across Mexico where there are British Embassy or Consulate offices: Mexico City, Tijuana, and Cancun.
British Consulate-General Cancun
Torre Europea Office 202 Blvd. Kukulcan KM 12.5 Cancun Hotel Zone 77500 Cancun Mexico
24-hour helpline number 0052- 551670 3200
During Covid19 staff are working remotely and you are asked to call +52 (55) 1670 3200 (option 4) 24/7, if you require emergency assistance. For other matters, you are asked to contact them online.
Services provided by the consulate include:
It’s the land of cold margaritas, white sand beaches, and hot sun. But is Mexico Safe? According to all the stats its’ doing better than the US, UK, and Canada in 3 out of 4 crime measures. But due to infighting between drug cartels, there are specific areas you don’t want to visit. Yet the majority of the country, and in the tourist areas, Mexico is safe. This data is supported by the crime-related travel advisories for Canada, the US, and the UK. And Mexico according to the US State Department has the same crime travel advisory as Germany, the UK, France, and Italy. And as for Covid19, the cases per million in Mexico are lower than in the US, UK, and Canada.
So, the answer to the question is Mexico safe, is a resounding yes. Is the Mayan Riviera safe too? Absolutely. Allowing you to enjoy the cold margaritas, the white sand beaches, and the hot sun.
About Our Blog
Exploring The Riviera Maya is Ocean Breeze Akumal's Blog. Here we explore the diversity of Mexico's best tourism destination to highlight the best beaches, cenotes, restaurants, attractions, Mayan ruins, etc., etc. We provide information to help you explore this spectacular part of the world and give you tips and tricks that only the locals know. Helping to give you the vacation experience of a lifetime.
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