Is Mexico Safe? Yucatan Safety 2020
‘Is Mexico Safe?’ was the first thing we asked ourselves before deciding to visit Mexico. Friends and family were quick to highlight the violent reputation of Mexico. They advised us not to travel there owing to perceived threats to our safety from drug-related crimes, kidnapping and bombings!
Of course, when travelling to an unfamiliar country with loved ones or as an individual, information about the safety of a country is vital. However, it’s important to remember that every country is made up of many different regions.
Area specific, local information is more helpful when planning a trip as it gives an accurate context which is invaluable. This post contains our research on the safety of the Yucatan peninsula. It’s how we decided ‘Is Mexico safe?’ for us and it may help you too.
Is the Yucatan Peninsula Safe?
Yes, the Yucatan peninsula is safe, but you need to exercise caution.
The Yucatan peninsula is a small part of Mexico and is comprised of 3 states: Yucatan, Quintana Roo and Campeche. The peninsula borders the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea and extends to parts of Belize and Guatemala (see map).
Without doubt, Mexico is a dangerous country and its drug-related violence from cartels competing for trafficking routes to the USA is well-reported internationally. In 2018, Yucatan peninsula safety was called into question with explosions in Puerto del Carmen along the Riviera Maya.
However, compared to other regions of Mexico, the Yucatan peninsula is relatively safe.
Consult your Government’s Travel Advice Pages
When seeking up-to-date information about a country’s safety, it is vital that you first check out your government’s travel advisory pages. These are constantly updated in light of regional developments.
The UK’s foreign travel page (https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/mexico) has excellent advice about ‘Is Mexico safe?’ It reports that 513,800 British nationals visited Mexico in 2016 and most visits were trouble-free.
However, they advise that drug-related violence in Mexico has risen over recent years but ‘the violence is concentrated in specific areas, and some regions are completely spared’ (https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/mexico/safety-and-security). UK government advice about visiting the main tourist destinations (including those in the Yucatan peninsula) is ‘to monitor local advice, remain vigilant and follow advice of the local authorities’.
It is important to remember that the Yucatan peninsula is a major tourist region and the UK government also reports that ‘the Mexican government makes effort to protect major tourist destinations like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta and Nuevo Vallarta and these areas have mostly not seen the levels of drug-related violence and crime experienced elsewhere’. In our experience, there was a reassuring high police presence along the Riviera Maya, especially in Puerto Morelos.
The US travel ban implemented in January 2018 was widely reported and relates to the following 5 Mexican states owing to drug cartel activity and violent crime: Sinaloa, Colima, Michoacan, Guerrero and Tamaulipas. Three of these states border the USA.
The Yucatan peninsula is some distance away from these regions and is described by some as a ‘safe haven’ away from turf wars in other parts of Mexico. However, the US travel advisory pages about Mexico have comprehensive advice about each region. Check out the travel advisory for the Yucatan peninsula before you visit: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/mexico-travel-advisory.html.
Research the Yucatan Peninsula Thoroughly
So, yes Mexico can be dangerous, but you can minimise risks by following your government’s advice, being vigilant and exercising common sense.
However, it is important to recall that different regions of Mexico experience higher levels of violence. The Yucatan peninsula is formed of comparatively safe states. Making national and international comparisons about the levels of violence helped us to put things into context.
According to 2018 figures, London’s homicide rates are beginning to rise above those of New York City. Interestingly, if you look back to 2017, there were 116 murders reported in London compared to 290 in New York and 46 in the Yucatan peninsula.
Furthermore, the federal body responsible for Statistics and Indicators calculates that, in 2017, the Yucatan homicide rate was 10 times lower than the national average in Mexico. The national rate was 20.5 per 100,000 inhabitants compared to 2.12 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants in the Yucatan region. This is a significant national difference.
In contrast, the USA’s national homicide figure in 2017 was 5 per 100,000 inhabitants whereas the city of New York recorded 3.4 homicides for every 100,000 people during the same year. According to these statistics, the Yucatan peninsula is safer than New York City.
Furthermore, Mexico’s National Institute for Geography and Statistics’ 2017 survey of public safety perception revealed that 72.8 % of Yucatecans perceived the Yucatan as being a safe state. This compared to an average of 25.7 % of Mexicans who felt that other states were safe.
Of course, decisions about whether to visit a country owing to safety concerns are personal. Doubts can ruin a holiday! Personally, we found that our research on Yucatan Mexico safety helped put generalisations into perspective and we had a truly amazing and unforgettable trip to this part of the world (see Yucatan Peninsula Two Weeks Backpacking).
Tulum Mexico Safety
Is Tulum safe? Tulum is a safe touristic site and town in the state of Quintana Roo, situated along the Riviera Maya tourist corridor. We travelled problem-free from Xpu-Ha to Tulum by ‘Colectivo’ with the locals and afterwards to Valladolid using the same method of transport.
The current US travel advisory for the entire state of Quintana Roo is to ‘exercise increased caution due to crime’ but you need to put this in context (see above – Research the Yucatan peninsula thoroughly). There are no current travel restrictions on US government employees in Quintana Roo which includes Tulum.
Tulum is many things, but we did not find it dangerous. Instead, here you will find the fabulous well-preserved ruins of an important Mayan port city and some excellent beaches.
As a major tourist site, the Tulum ruins are packed with international tourists, so you need to take care with your personal belongings. We borrowed bicycles from our Guest House (situated at the entrance of the ruins) and visited the town and enormous supermarket with no problems. The only risk was from other cyclists and traffic!
Don’t miss out on this spectacular piece of Mayan history owing to generalisations about safety. The ruins of Tulum are fascinating. Furthermore, the setting is breath-taking: a high clifftop with the turquoise blue waters of the Caribbean Sea as a dazzling backdrop (see Yucatan Peninsula Two Weeks Backpacking).
What Can I Do to Limit by Chances of Becoming a Victim of Crime?
There are many things you can do to limit your changes of becoming a victim of crime. Firstly, be mindful that most killings in Mexico are gang-related and the chances of a tourist being murdered remain small.
Travel with Someone
Whenever possible, make sure that you travel with someone. As discussed above, research your destination thoroughly and inform trusted contacts of your travel itinerary. Also, monitor local media during your visit so that you are aware of any potential hazardous situations. Use your common sense and avoid being in areas where there are few other people in the vicinity. Stick to busy areas.
Travel in Daylight Hours
Perhaps most importantly, travel in daylight hours whether you are driving or travelling using local transport. Travelling at night in Mexico and the Yucatan peninsula is not recommended and should be avoided.
See the section below for more detailed advice about avoiding falling victim to crimes associated with driving.
Use Public Transport
The Yucatan peninsula has a superb bus network across the state. You can choose to travel first-class using ADO buses or second class on Mayab and Oriente buses. Furthermore, you can share a ride using ‘Colectivos’ which are mini-vans that don’t leave until they are full of passengers.
We used each of the different classes of buses and ‘Colectivos’ during our travels around the Yucatan peninsula. Travelling with other tourists and local Mexicans made us feel safe. We avoided police road blocks and scams at petrol stations, plus got cheap transport from A to B. Also, no need to pay for fuel or parking!
However, as with any other country, it is important to be alert when using public transport. Airports, bus stations and train stations are a paradise for pickpockets and thieves. Don’t leave sight of your luggage.
See the section below for specific advice about how to avoid pickpockets.
Limit Money and Valuables
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If possible, use the safe in your room to store valuables and cash that is not required that day. Only carry a small amount of money on you each day. In addition, use a money belt to conceal currency under your clothing. Also, keep larger bills separate to smaller amounts of cash. Shoes are a great place to keep emergency funds in case of theft.
Furthermore, always keep your credit cards in sight when making a purchase to avoid card cloning and other scams.
Finally, don’t leave your valuables unattended when you swim or on display in a parked vehicle. Don’t give opportunist thieves the chance to spoil your trip.
Make Copies of Important Documents
Be prepared. If you do fall victim to a crime, especially theft, it is important to be able to prove your identity.
Prior to travelling, email yourself a copy of your passport, driver’s license and any other important documents. We also travel with a photocopy tucked away in our rucksacks, so that we can access these quickly if we are in a no Wi-Fi zone!
Is it Safe to Drive Around the Yucatan Peninsula?
If you are hiring a car, use an international rental company and don’t skimp on insurances. Avoid any surprises and make sure you are fully protected for all eventualities.
If you are driving, avoid using isolated roads and stick to toll roads (cuotas).
In the past, there have been violent car jackings along the Pacific Highway, targeting large campervans and SUVs. Keep your car doors locked and windows closed, especially at traffic lights. If you suspect you are being followed, drive to a police station or other safe place.
Make sure that you DO NOT drink and drive. Drink driving is a serious offense in Mexico and you will end up in jail. The national legal limit is a blood alcohol level 0.08 %. However, some states have LOWER blood alcohol limits. Police road blocks are often set up to breathalyse drivers.
Drivers should also be aware of scams which operate at PEMEX gas stations (Mexico state-owned petroleum stations). Scams include switching money (50 peso note for 500 pesos as they are the same pink colour). To avoid this, say how much money you are giving the attendant. Keep your eyes on your money and change.
Other scams include not zeroing the pump, pumping from the other side of the pump and overcharging. This useful article details these and other scams in more detail: http://everythingplayadelcarmen.com/how-to-avoid-scams-at-the-gas-station/ .
Although scams like these are dishonest and extremely annoying to you as a tourist, the attendants are looking to line their pockets rather than hurt you.
Finally, be wary of people presenting as police officers trying to fine you or arrest you for no apparent reason. Ask for the police officer’s ID and take a note of their name, badge number and patrol car number.
How Can I Protect Myself Against Pickpockets?
Pickpockets are rife in cities and towns around the world, so tourist spots in the Yucatan peninsula are no exception.
Dress down when you are travelling around and avoid wearing expensive jewellery and watches. As far as possible, you want to blend in and avoid the attention of pickpockets.
Limit the amount of cash you take out with you each day and keep a close eye on your bags and luggage. If you are using a rucksack, the humble paper clip is a great way of securing the zips to avoid unwanted intruders.
If withdrawing money, try and use ATMs in daylight hours. Be vigilant of your surroundings and people around you when withdrawing cash from ATMs and the Bureau de Change, just as you would at home.
It is very important to be able to keep your belonging protected when you are travelling. For the latest information about Backpack and How to protect it you can read this article about How to Find a Good Backpack and How to Protect it
Is There any Special Advice for Female Travellers?
When we were backpacking around the Yucatan peninsula, we spoke to many young women travelling together and enjoying their experience in Mexico.
Take care when walking in areas close to hotels and after dark. Be as vigilant as you would in your own country and stick with a friend.
Unfortunately, spiking drinks is a problem in the tourist areas of the Yucatan peninsula, just as it is closer to home. Never leave your food and drinks unattended in bars and restaurants. Furthermore, don’t accept drinks from over-friendly characters in bars and clubs. Click here for information about How to eat street food in the Yucatan Peninsula.
Emergency services including the police can be accessed 24 hours a day by dialling 911 free of charge from landlines and mobiles.
Our View on Yucatan Safety 2019
From our experience as a British national and French national travelling together, we had an amazing and safe time backpacking around the Yucatan peninsula
Having read the information about Yucatan safety 2019, we followed the advice and kept ourselves safe. We had no negative experiences and found the Yucatecans to be extremely friendly, helpful and community-minded people.
During our entire trip, we only used public transport. We travelled along the Riviera Maya and back to the Yucatan state using ‘Colectivos’ or buses. The drivers of the ‘Colectivos’ charged us the same as the locals and were happy to accommodate our rucksacks! We mainly travelled with locals who were going about their business. From time to time, other tourists joined us. We travelled in daylight and were never over-charged, never stopped by police road blocks and had no issues with our luggage or theft.
Our experience of using the ADO, Mayab and Oriente buses was equally positive. Bus stations in the main towns were well-organised and very efficient. Ticket office attendants spoke English and were happy to offer advice. There were seated waiting lounges and bus departures were called clearly and were displayed on digital boards. Often, there was a police presence outside the bus stations. More tourists travel on the first-class ADO buses and locals tend to opt for the second-class Mayab and Oriente buses. On ADO buses, you have an allocated seat. We felt equally safe travelling in daylight using any of these operators to explore the Yucatan peninsula.
During our travels, we visited many of the main tourist sites of the Yucatan peninsula: Puerto Morelos, Puerto del Carmen, Coba, Tulum, Chichen Itza and Isla Holbox and downtown Cancun. We dressed casually and left expensive jewellery items at home. We felt extremely safe walking around these places with our backpacks finding our Guest Houses. In our experience, the Yucatecans welcomed us as tourists with a friendly and helpful manner. We saw no suspicious behaviour and were not victims of any crime, nor did we witness any.
All in all, we highly recommend that you visit this amazing part of Mexico. Leave your worries at home! Have fun experiencing the unique historic culture of the Yucatan peninsula and enjoy the sun on perfect beaches and explore the hidden delights of the crystal-clear seas. It’s truly an unforgettable part of the world and we would go back again without hesitation!