Is Mexico Safe?
Updated: Feb 9
If I had a dollar for every time I was asked this question I surely could have rescued all the street dogs by now.
I'm going to give you the most truthful answer to this question that I can give from my perspective as both a resident of Mexico and a native of the 3rd safest community in all of Canada.
The question of safety in any place is a loaded one because usually it's fairly relative. What degree of safety are you accustomed to? What is your comfort level with things like guns, cultural differences etc. and for heaven's sake can we specify what area we're talking about? There are definitely places in Mexico one simply should not venture but there are also many places in the U.S. where that is also the case. For the sake of consistency I will use Riviera Maya, Yucatan (Merida/Progreso) and Acapulco as my example of Mexico as these are popular tourist and expat destinations.
The media makes Mexico look like war torn Afghanistan. Add to that a bad batch of homemade booze, a good Neflix series and a handful of firsthand accounts of pickpockets, police corruption and roofies and you've got yourself a horribly unsavory, unsafe destination. I hear many warnings of violence and robberies at gunpoint in a particular town in my area coming from it's community Facebook group. After working and spending time in said town for some time, I finally decided to take a closer look at these warnings. I scrolled through the FB group and found one after another. I started to wonder if I should be working in this town. Somebody was warning of "many violent crimes" taking place throughout the area. I read further. Turns out the person had never been to this area. I've since observed that this is a very common phenomenon. Everyone who has never been here coming with a big warning. It's like a childish game of "Telephone".
My firsthand experience as a resident of Mexico is definitely not as bad as they make it out to be in the media. Not even close. Is it my hometown, the 3rd safest town in all of Canada? It's definitely not that either.
Where I come from you can let your kids play outside all night while parents enjoy a bonfire and a few beers in a neighbor's backyard. Mine used to run back and forth to their friends' houses down the street/across the street at all hours in the summer. We grew up doing the same. There is zero concern about abduction, sexual assault or robbery on the streets of my sleepy little hometown. Everyone strives to be a good citizen and neighbors would watch out for all the kids if anything. Is it perfect? No. It's full of Karens for lack of a better term and a few obnoxious little snots do roam the streets swiping a lone bicycle from a yard here and there but we're here to discuss safety and on that subject it's about as close to perfect as you can get.
With that said, my bar is set pretty high. When I heard all the warnings about safety here I kept them mentally noted but being who I am I came anyway to experience it for myself. What I have experienced has been pretty uneventful for the most part.
I commute from Playa to Tulum a few times a week for work and have done several road trips through the Yucatan and Riviera Maya, probably half of them alone and through very remote areas where there is no phone signal for hours. I've traveled solo within Mexico as well to Acapulco a few times. No issues.
I brought my entire family to live here which shows my degree of faith in mainstream media. My senior mother would go out for her walks pretty late at night in Centro. She's a night owl and prefers to start her day late afternoon so she'd take her walks around 9 pm and stay out until 1 sometimes, wandering downtown shops and restaurants. My only advice to her was to walk home on a main street and not a dark, deserted, unlit road. I also advised her to only take one card and just enough cash. She never did listen to me but fortunately never had any issues.
I also brought my 18 year old daughter to live here. Once she got to know some people in the area she started going out clubbing downtown Playa del Carmen almost nightly for a while which I hear is a big no-no if you don't want to be roofied or harassed and extorted by the local police. She's not a big drinker but I still advised her not to leave her drink unattended, go directly to the car when the bar closes and drive directly home. I also had her enable her location sharing with me on her phone and Apple watch and check in periodically, even if it was late and I was sleeping. She always complied and never experienced any issues. Sometimes she'd come home with tales of drug dogs going through the bar sniffing everyone or funny pick up lines from locals but no safety issues.
The only brush with crime I or any of my family have encountered here was the theft of some luggage from my car. When it happened I knew better but was tired and in a rush so I didn't drop it off at home and go back out. I stopped at the mall on my way back from the airport to pick up a few quick groceries and in a matter of 10 minutes someone had pried my door open and taken all of my friend's luggage which happened to contain my mother's most valued possessions inside... all of my kids photos from their baby years to present. Gone. I haven't heard the end of that one. In her defence I did know better.
So You Tell Me, Is Mexico Safe?
If you have to lock the gate on your yard, not mingle with random unsavory characters to buy drugs etc., not carry too much cash, watch your drink in the bar (even watch the bartender), film interactions with the police and not leave items in plain view in your car, do you feel safe?
Only you can answer the question of whether Mexico is safe enough for you. Maybe I've been lucky or maybe the fear mongering isn't so justified. It's true, I am on higher alert here than I am back home but that's also because it's more complicated to replace important documents and cards from abroad. I'd rather prevent an issue than deal with damage control. Does the fact that I haven't personally experienced any safety issues here mean that crime doesn't exist in Mexico? Of course not but if someone tries to convince you that walking down the street in Riviera Maya is unsafe then please, for everyone's sake, send this to them.