Safety and security - Mexico travel advice (2023)

Violence

Do not become involved with drugs of any kind. Drug-related violence in Mexico has increased over recent years. The violence is more heavily concentrated in some areas, although few areas are totally immune. Make sure you research your destination thoroughly. Penalties for drug offences are severe. Convictions carry sentences of up to 25 years.

Some areas of Mexico have a high crime rate due to the fighting between rival organised crime gangs. In these areas there is a risk of being caught in the crossfire or of being mistaken for a member of a rival gang. Whilst risks are lower in tourist areas, you should take local advice and be aware of your surroundings at all times. Use reputable tourism or transport companies, and travel during the daytime where possible.

Outbursts of politically-motivated violence can occur across the country, with a recent increase in the states of Guerrero and Mexico City.

Main tourist destinations

The Mexican government makes efforts to protect major tourist destinations like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta and Nuevo Vallarta. However, since the beginning of 2021, there have been several clashes between rival criminal gangs in popular tourist destinations in Cancun and surrounding areas. Two foreign tourists were killed in Tulum, more tourists were injured during a shoot out in Puerto Morelos, and most recently there was a shooting in a hotel in Playa del Carmen in locations popular with tourists. There is currently an increased police presence in the Cancun area, including in the hotel zone. While tourists have not been the target, anyone in the vicinity of an incident could be affected. British travellers have been physically and sexually assaulted. In some cases, hotel employees, taxi drivers and security personnel at popular tourist destinations were involved. In some cases, hotel staff are not helpful and try to dissuade victims from pursuing the incident with police. You should exercise increased caution after dark in downtown areas of Cancun, Tulum, and Playa del Carmen, and remain in well-lit pedestrian streets and tourist zones. If you are visiting any of these areas, you should monitor local advice, remain vigilant and follow the advice of the local authorities and your tour operator.

There have been several instances of armed crime both within and outside tourist areas in Acapulco. If possible, travel by air if you are visiting a major tourist destination in Guerrero. Due to an increase in violent crime, you should be extra vigilant in Acapulco and surrounding areas.

North

Many fatalities are suspected gang members killed in turf wars between the different organisations that compete for control of trafficking routes into the US. Drug-related violence is a particular problem in the northern states of Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, Sinaloa and Durango. Armed clashes between security forces and drug groups can occur at any time without warning. You should take extreme care outside tourist areas in all of these states.

Baja California (including Tijuana):

We advise against all but essential travel to the city of Tijuana in Baja California (except airside transit through Tijuana airport, the cross border express taken from the airport zone and passage through Tijuana to cross the border via the federal toll road 1D and Via Rápida). We also advise against all but essential travel to the city of Tecate including the roads 2D and 2 that connects Tijuana and Tecate.

If you are crossing the border by toll road 1D you should try to do so during daylight, or exercise increased caution after dark. Tijuana is an extremely violent city and there is a risk that you may be targeted and / or caught up in conflicts between rival groups. Many businesses including shops operate with an unofficial curfew, only opening during day light hours due to the security threat. There are numerous organised crime groups fighting for control over the city’s drugs trade and trafficking routes. There are high rates of kidnapping in the state, a very high murder rate and high levels of organised crime activity particularly drugs, human and arms trafficking.

Armed attacks and targeted killings continue across the state and violent robberies are a particular issue in the urban centres of Tijuana, Mexicali and Ensenada. You should take precautions including in Tijuana, Mexicali, Ensenada and Rosarito. There have been several incidents of violent armed crime in these towns, which has targeted stores and bystanders in response to disputes with the government. There has been a rise in drug-related crime in Baja California Sur, including Los Cabos.

Stick to established tourist routes and destinations across the state and be aware of your surroundings at all times.

You should take care when travelling to Ciudad Juárez or other cities in Northern States. Travel during daylight hours when possible, inform relatives or friends of your travel plans and use reputable hotels only.

You should take precautions in the state of Baja California, including Tijuana. There has been a rise in drug-related crime in Baja California Sur, including Los Cabos. You should take extra care when travelling to these areas.

Chihuahua:

The FCDO advises against all but essential travel to the state of Chihuahua except the city of Chihuahua the border crossing in Ciudad Juárez access by federal toll road 45 and the federal toll road 45D connecting the two cities of Chihuahua and Ciudad Juárez. Also exempt is the Copper Canyon rail route to and from Chihuahua and towns immediately on this route including Creel, the road from Creel via San Juanito to San Pedro, and state highway 16 from San Pedro to Chihuahua.

There are high levels of organised crime activity, particularly human and drugs trafficking. There is illegal drug cultivation in rural areas of the state, with associated criminal activity.

If visiting the Copper Canyon rail route, you should avoid walking alone in the canyon, or straying from the tourist trail. Make sure you have time to complete all your activities within daylight hours. There are numerous organised crime groups operating in the area and there is a risk you could be caught up in conflicts between rival groups. It is advisable to conduct all activities with a reputable tour company or trusted local guide.

Sinaloa:

The FCDO advises against all but essential travel to the state of Sinaloa except the cities of Los Mochis and Mazatlán, the 15D federal toll road that traverses the length of the state, road 32 running between El Fuerte and Los Mochis (including the town of El Fuerte itself), and the Copper Canyon tourist train. There have been reports of armed robbery and vehicle theft in El Fuerte and you should avoid driving at night on the route between El Fuerte and Los Mochis.

There are high levels of drug cultivation in rural areas, leading to conflict between organised crime groups fighting for control.

Due to the strong presence of organised crime, there are high levels of drug-related violence. Gun battles between government security forces and organised crime groups are frequent, including in the city of Culiacán, leading to numerous deaths and the destruction of security infrastructure.

Whilst tourists are not usually specifically targeted, you could be a victim of violence due to mistaken identity or on suspicion of spying for other organised criminal gangs – particularly if you are off the beaten tourist track.

Zacatecas:

The FCDO advises against all but essential travel to the state of Zacatecas with the exception of Zacatecas City reached by air. You should not travel by road to the city of Zacatecas.

The Institute for economy and peace reports that Zacatecas state has the highest murder rate in Mexico, of 97.3 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. The state is extremely dangerous due to ongoing battles between organised crime groups for control of drug trafficking routes and rural areas of the state. Entire municipalities have been displaced due to the activities of criminal organisations. On 6th January 2022, Mexican authorities discovered the bodies of ten people in a vehicle left in front of the main square in the city of Zacatecas, north-west of Mexico City.

Due to the strong presence of organised crime, there are high levels of drug-related violence. Gun battles between state security forces and organised crime groups are frequent, leading to numerous deaths and the destruction of security infrastructure.
Tamaulipas

The FCDO advises against all but essential travel to the state of Tamaulipas except the border crossing at Nuevo Laredo accessed from Monterrey by federal toll road 85D. You should travel during daylight hours.

Tamaulipas is dangerous due to the presence of many organised crime groups who fight for control of drug trafficking routes.

The West and Central

Colima:

The FCDO advises against all but essential travel to the whole state, except the city of Manzanillo reached by sea or by air via Manzanillo-Costalegre International Airport, and direct travel via road 200 from the airport to Manzanillo. You should not travel by other routes to the city of Manzanillo.

Colima has high levels of organised crime activity. The criminal organisations fight each other for control over the state: this is leading to armed gun battles on the streets of Colima City as well as throughout rural areas.

Guanajuato:

In the state of Guanajuato the FCDO advises against all but essential travel to the areas south west of the road 45D. This includes the cities of Celaya and Irapuato as well as the municipalities of Silao de la Victoria, Romita, San Francisco del Rincón, Purisima del Rincón, Manuel Doblado, Cuerámaro, Pénjamo, Irapuato, Abasolo, Huanímaro, Salamanca,Valle de Santiago, Yuriria, Uriangato, Moroleón, Acámbaro, Salvatierra, Jaral del Progreso, Pueblo Nuevo, and Santiago Maravatío.

Guanajuato’s central position means it is a drugs trafficking route. There have been reports of increased security incidents and drug-related violence in the state of Guanajuato. Fuel thefts from plants and pipelines also occur. Organised crime activity is rampant, particularly in the south of the state, Shootouts are of particular concern in the state of Guanajuato as they can occur in heavily transited places with bystanders frequently being caught in the crossfire. On 1st July 2020, 26 people were killed in the city of Irapuato. The majority of attacks have been attributed to organised crime.

Guerrero (including Acapulco)

The FCDO advises against all travel to the State of Guerrero except the coastal strip of the touristic zone in Acapulco reached by the 95D federal toll road from Mexico City and runs west from Acapulco Airport, from Blvd. de las Naciones to the beach, from Acapulco – Aeropuerto Acapulco to the beach, from Av Costera Miguel Alemán to the beach until Playa Caletilla, the town of Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa accessed by air and the town of Taxco accessed by the 95D federal toll road.

Guerrero is an extremely violent state plagued with a history of insecurity. There is a strong organised crime presence throughout the state, including in central Acapulco and Chilpancingo. There have been several instances of armed crime, including shootings and executions, both within and outside the tourist areas in Acapulco. The local authorities work to reduce the risks to tourists in the touristic zone in Acapulco, but you should take extreme care and avoid walking outside of your hotel at night and avoid leaving the touristic zone.

Whilst local authorities make significant efforts on the security of the 95D toll road, there are frequent reports of illegal roadblocks where local crime groups take control of toll booths. If you encounter these, you will need to have cash to pay the fee to pass through the booth. If you’re driving in Guerrero, avoid travel after dark and use toll roads where possible, although you may still encounter disruptions.

The interior of the state is dangerous. State security forces have scant presence. Control is often in the hands of organised crime groups and local ‘self-defence’ organisations. Foreigners’ presence in rural Guerrero is likely to be regarded with high levels of suspicion by omnipresent organised crime and local self-defence groups, and the possibility of misunderstanding and ensuing violence is high.

Jalisco:

The areas in Jalisco, which the FCDO advises against all but essential travel to include:

The areas south and southwest of Lake Chapala to the border with the state of Colima. Specifically the municipalities of San Marcos; Ameca; Guachinango; Mixtlán; Atenguillo; Atengo, Cuautla, Ayutla, Villa Purificación, Casimiro Castillo, Unión de Tula, Tenamaxtlán, Tecolotlán, El Grullo, El Limón, Ejutla, Autlán de Navarro, Cuautitlán de García Barragán, San Martín Hidalgo, Cocula, Villa Corona, Acatlán de Juárez, Zacoalco de Torres, Atemajac de Brizuela, Chiquilistlán, Juchitlán, Tonaya, Tapalpa, Amacueca, Techaluta de Montenegro, Teocuitatlán de Corona, Tuxcueca, Atoyac, Sayula, Gómez Farias, Zapotlán el Grande, San Gabriel, Tuxcacuesco, Tolimán, Zapotitlán de Vadillo. The northern municpalities of Hostotipaquillo, San Martin de Bolaños, Chimaltitán, Bolaños, Totatiche, Colotlán, Santa Maria de los Ángeles, Huejúcar, Villa Guerrero, Mezquitic, Huequilla el Alto.

This is due to inaccessibility for security forces and lack of state control, drugs cultivation and the fact this area is territory disputed between different criminal groups leading to high levels of violent crime.

Michoacán:

The FCDO advises against all travel to the State of Michoacán except the city of Morelia accessed by federal toll roads 126 and 15D (between Mexico City and Morelia) and federal toll roads 15D and 43 (between Guadalajara and Morelia); the town of Pátzcuaro accessed by federal toll roads 14D and 15 from Morelia and the federal toll road 15D that traverses the state.

Michoacán is one of Mexico’s most violent states with high levels of organised crime activity, some areas are totally lacking state control and do not have a security presence. The rural terrain of much of the interior of the state makes it difficult for state security forces to respond to incidents.

There are numerous illegal roadblocks and checkpoints on the (poor quality) roads in this region. These tend to be run by local crime groups seeking to control who is entering and leaving the areas they control. The Michoacán state government itself recommends foreign nationals to avoid this region. Outsiders travelling in these regions are likely to attract the attention of organised crime groups, who will treat them with suspicion and as possible informants for either other criminal groups or state security.

In early 2020, two butterfly activists were found dead in the Monarch butterfly reserve in Michoacán.

East

There have been reports of increased security incidents in the states of Tabasco and Veracruz. There has been a recent increase in violence in the State of Veracruz, including the city of Veracruz. Illegal roadblocks have also been reported more frequently. You should take extreme care.

Centre

Criminal activity is a problem in the State of Mexico (Estado de México). You should take care when travelling through the state, as well as outside of tourist areas. There have been reports of armed robbery on public transport and vehicle theft on the highway. Petty crime is also common throughout the state.

Crime

Crime and violence are serious problems in Mexico and the security situation can pose a risk for foreigners. Many Mexican and foreign businesses choose to hire private security. You should research your destination thoroughly and only travel during daylight hours when possible. Monitor local media and inform trusted contacts of your travel plans.

If you’re the victim of a crime and wish to report the incident, you should do so immediately to the nearest branch of the state prosecutor’s office (Agencia del Ministerio Público). No criminal investigation is possible without a formal complaint to Mexican authorities. Complaints must be made in person before leaving Mexico.

The emergency number in Mexico is 911. You can also download the 911 CDMX app (for Mexico City) or the Guest Assist App for Quintana Roo (which includes Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum).

To contact Mexico City’s Tourist Police, you can either call them on (0052) 55 5207 4155 or you can whatsapp them on (0052) 55 4891 1166.

The Mexico City Command and Control Centre (Centro de Atención a Emergencias y Proteción Ciudadana de la Ciudad de México) has information and advice in Spanish on safety in Mexico City.

Public transport and driving

When driving, avoid isolated roads and use toll roads (‘cuotas’) whenever possible. Keep car doors locked and windows closed, especially at traffic lights. There have been a number of violent car-jackings and robberies along the Pacific Highway and you should be careful when travelling on this route. Those travelling in large camper vans or sports utility vehicles (SUVs) have been targeted in the past. If you suspect you’re being followed or watched, drive to a police station or other safe place.

Be particularly alert on public transport, at airports and in bus stations. Theft on buses is common so keep an eye on your belongings at all times. Buses have also been hijacked in conflict areas. Where possible, travel on first-class buses using toll roads, which have a lower rate of incidents than second and third class buses travelling on the less secure free (‘libre’) roads. Most first-class bus companies perform security checks when passengers board the bus.

Passengers have been robbed and assaulted by unlicensed taxi drivers including in Mexico City. In Mexico City, use the better regulated ‘sitio’ taxis from authorised cab ranks or ask your hotel concierge to order you a taxi. At airports, use only authorised pre-paid airport taxi services.

Women travelling alone should be particularly alert when travelling on public transport.

Street crime

Street crime is a serious problem in major cities and tourist resort areas. Pick-pocketing is common on the Mexico City Metro. Dress down and avoid wearing expensive jewellery or watches. Limit the amount of cash or credit/debit cards you carry with you. Keep a close watch on briefcases and luggage, even in apparently secure places like the lobby of your hotel.

Take care when withdrawing money from ATMs or exchanging money at bureaux de change. It’s generally safer to use ATMs during daylight hours and inside shops or malls.

Be wary of people presenting themselves as police officers trying to fine or arrest you for no apparent reason. If in doubt, ask for identification and if possible note the officer’s name, badge number, and patrol car number.

Don’t leave food and drinks unattended in bars and restaurants. Travellers have been robbed or assaulted after being drugged. There have also been reports of tainted alcohol causing illness or blackouts. If you have any concerns, seek advice from your tour operator or the local authorities.

Several serious sexual offences have also occurred in tourist areas outside of Mexico City. Take care even in areas close to hotels, and especially after dark.

Scams and virtual kidnapping

Foreign visitors and residents may be targeted by scam artists. Be wary of strangers approaching you or contacting you by phone asking for personal information or financial help. If you or your relatives or friends are asked to transfer money to Mexico, make absolutely sure that it is not part of a scam and that you have properly checked with the person receiving the money that they are requesting it.

The most common scam involves criminals phoning, acting as a distressed member of your family, or an employee, claiming to be kidnapped and demanding money for their release. Thieves may also deceive the family by assuring them that their relative is being detained. If you are threatened over the phone, the recommendation is to hang up and authenticate the safety of your family member or employee.

Tourists have reported that some police officers have extorted money from them, for alleged minor offences or traffic violations. Travellers driving rental cars have also been targeted. If this occurs, do not hand over money or your passport, ask for the officer’s name, badge and patrol car number and ask for a copy of the written fine, which is payable at a later date.

Kidnapping

Short-term opportunistic kidnapping - called ‘express kidnapping’ - can occur, particularly in urban areas. Victims are forced to withdraw funds from credit or debit cards at a cash point to secure their release. Where victims have friends or relatives living locally, a ransom may be demanded from them. You should comply with requests and not attempt to resist such attacks.

Longer-term kidnapping for financial gain also occurs, and there have been allegations of police officers being involved. Be discreet about discussing your financial or business affairs in places where you may be overheard by others.

Road travel

You can drive in Mexico using a UK licence or an International Driving Permit. Driving standards are very different from the UK. Roads can be pot-holed. Be prepared to stop unexpectedly and beware of vehicles moving slowly, changing lane without indicating and going through red lights. Many local drivers don’t have any form of car insurance.

To reduce air pollution, Mexico City and some other parts of the country have introduced restrictions on driving. Cars may be forbidden from entering certain areas on particular days, based on their number plates. These regulations are strictly enforced and offenders face heavy fines and temporary confiscation of their vehicle. This only applies to older vehicles and not to newer models which are often used for car hire. Please double check with your car hire company directly.

There is an additional driving restriction in Mexico City, where vehicles without registration plates from the State of Mexico (Estado de Mexico) or Mexico City are not allowed to enter Mexico City from Monday to Friday between 5:00am and 11:00am, and Saturday between 5:00am and 10:00pm. If air pollution is high, generally between February and June, further driving restrictions may apply.

In remote areas, you may come across unofficial roadblocks, including on main roads, manned by local groups seeking money for an unofficial local toll.

Adventure activities

If you take part in adventurous sports (including paragliding, skydiving, scuba diving and jet-skiing), make sure adequate safety precautions are in place. Equipment may not meet UK safety and insurance standards. Only use reputable operators, and satisfy yourself that the company is using the most up-to-date equipment and safety features, and that they are fully licensed and insured. Check that you’re covered by your travel insurance for all the activities you want to undertake. British nationals have been injured and in some cases killed participating in extreme sports.

Water safety

Shark attacks are relatively rare in Mexico, but you should take care particularly when surfing, research the local area and follow the advice of the local authorities.

Crocodiles are present in Mexico, most commonly in lagoons and coastal areas. Sightings have been reported near tourist areas, including Cancun and resorts on the Pacific coast. There are signs warning about crocodiles around many lagoons in these areas. Respect the warnings and don’t walk too close to the water. Tourists have been seriously injured in crocodile attacks in the past.

Hotel safety

In some hotels, balcony balustrades may not be as high as you expect and there could be a risk of falling.

Political situation

Mexico has an established multiparty democracy. Political demonstrations are common in Mexico City and can occur across the country. These can be tense and confrontational and could potentially turn violent. Onlookers can be quickly drawn in. You should monitor local media and avoid all demonstrations.

The Mexican constitution prohibits political activities by foreigners. Participation in demonstrations may result in detention and deportation.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Tuan Roob DDS

Last Updated: 02/15/2023

Views: 6382

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (62 voted)

Reviews: 85% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Tuan Roob DDS

Birthday: 1999-11-20

Address: Suite 592 642 Pfannerstill Island, South Keila, LA 74970-3076

Phone: +9617721773649

Job: Marketing Producer

Hobby: Skydiving, Flag Football, Knitting, Running, Lego building, Hunting, Juggling

Introduction: My name is Tuan Roob DDS, I am a friendly, good, energetic, faithful, fantastic, gentle, enchanting person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.