Mexico’s reputation for safety isn’t great, but many travellers visit the country every year without incident. Tourism is a major economy and the Mexican government heavily protects major tourist destinations like Cancun, Cozumel, Los Cabos, Playa del Carmen, and Puerto Vallarta.
Equally many of the major cities like Mexico City and Oaxaca have areas that are very safe, as well as areas that are best avoided. Some of the safest cities in Mexico are also some of the best places to visit, so it makes sense to do your research and travel to the places that you feel most comfortable with.
But some areas are best avoided completely, like the states along the border with the US as they are prone to gang-related violence. Though tourists aren’t usually targeted, it isn’t unheard of to get caught up in vehicle hijackings and armed robberies. Read up on your government's current travel warnings before making any final travel plans.
In an emergency call 911, but note that in some regions of Mexico 066 is still used.
It’s best to check which vaccinations you will need from your home country before visiting Mexico. Insect-borne diseases like Malaria and Zika virus are risks in certain areas of Mexico.
Make sure to come prepared with insect repellent and know which areas to use it in. Some natural alternatives to DEET can be found in areas like the Yucatan Peninsula where swimming while wearing insect repellent is banned in order to protect the ecosystem.
It’s best to not drink tap water in Mexico, but most eateries in tourist areas will serve bottled or filtered water anyway.
It’s also advised to steer clear of unpasteurized dairy, unwashed salad, or raw food, as the standards aren’t the same as you may be used to back home - stomach upsets from bacteria can be a common problem for visitors.
As with any tourist destination, there is a risk of becoming a target of petty crime. ATMs and exchange shops can be targets in Mexico, so use them during the day and try to always be with someone else.
Public transport and places like airports are also hotspots for pickpocketing and theft, general precautions like not flashing cash or valuables and not wearing expensive watches/jewellery are the main things to stick to.
Use a money belt, and lock any excess cash and spare cards away in your luggage/hotel safe. It’s also a good idea to have an online copy of your passport or ID documents in the event that you misplace them.
Hijackings and muggings on buses are an issue in Mexico, but they rarely affect the major companies in tourist areas. Try to travel on first-class buses using toll roads and avoid cheaper buses using libre (free) roads. First-class bus companies usually check ID’s and ensure everyone travelling on board is safe at all times.
If driving yourself try to research issues in the area and avoid driving at night. Illegal roadblocks can happen on quieter roads, so it’s best to stay away from isolated roads and use toll roads (‘cuotas’) whenever possible.
Police officers have been known to target rental cars for minor traffic offences and traffic violations, make sure you know the local laws and ask for ID (bear in mind that it may be preferable to pay a small mordida (bite or bribe) rather than end up in jail for arguing with a police officer).
Taxis are generally safe in Mexico but it’s best to use common sense and always check that they are licensed. Always go to a sitio (taxi rank) to find a licensed cab or use an Uber, unlicensed taxis can be an issue especially at night.
In the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico September to October is the peak of the hurricane season, but hurricanes may occur anytime between June to the end of November. Tropical storms and heavy downpours leading to flooding can also make travel more difficult at this time.
Earthquakes are widespread in Mexico, but are particularly prevalent in the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero. Tsunamis may also occur in coastal areas. Local authorities will direct you to your nearest shelter in the event of a natural disaster, it's wise to know the safety measures and procedures where you're staying too.
Mexico also has active volcanoes, like Popocatepetl just outside of Mexico City. Though more well-known as a tourist attraction, eruptions and ash clouds can cause issues with transport and flights.
As a tropical destination, there are poisonous plants, venomous insects, reptiles and spiders in Mexico. In some remote areas, you might also find predatory big cats like puma and jaguar.
Shark attacks are rare but crocodiles can pose a risk in lagoons and coastal areas like the Caribbean and the Pacific coast.
But realistically there are much bigger risks to tourists from the humble mosquito. Drowning, dehydration, and heat exhaustion cause a lot more fatalities than any other natural cause.
Mexico is well-known for its issues with drugs and drug-related violence. But most travellers will avoid any issues by not getting involved or ignoring anyone trying to sell drugs. Penalties for drug offences are severe in Mexico, whether you are a local or a visitor, convictions can carry sentences of up to 25 years.
Travellers should be aware that drink and food spiking can be an issue in some tourist areas. Smoking is now heavily restricted in Mexico and you could be fined up to £150 for smoking or vaping in public places.
Political demonstrations are more common in Mexico City but they can happen across the country, pay attention to the local media if there are any concerns and avoid areas with demonstrations.
It’s good to know that it’s illegal for foreigners to participate in political activities in Mexico, which includes protests of any kind, penalties can be as serious as arrest and deportation.
Same-sex marriage is legal in Mexico, and some areas are very accepting, but there are some more conservative areas too.
LGBTIQ+ travellers may want to research these regional differences further or choose to limit public displays of affection to avoid harassment.