The second-largest city in Mexico offers a less-frantic alternative to the capital Mexico City. It’s known for its quintessential Mexican culture, bumping mariachi music, potent tequila and mezcal, wide-brimmed sombreros, and charreadas (rodeos). Sadly, there’s also a dark side to the town that tells of powerful cartels and gangs. So, is Guadalajara safe?
The overall answer to that is yes, Guadalajara is generally safe. The majority of people who come and go here during their travels throughout Mexico will leave without a single problem, and there’s oodles to see, from striking cathedrals to tequila distilleries. However, there are certainly still risks and worries associated with a trip to Guadalajara.
That’s what this guide will focus on. It will run through what you can expect when you plan a trip to the city, with info on everything from the serious crime rates right down to the safety of the water that comes from the tap. We’ll even touch on a number of top safety tips for would-be visitors to the state capital of Jalisco.
Is Guadalajara safe to visit in 2023?
Guadalajara should be a safe place to visit if you keep your wits about you. We can say that because there are an estimated 2.2 million travel arrivals in this city each year, many of them tourists, and most will come and go without any troubles. Anecdotally, we did just that back in 2019 and found the town to be very welcoming and easy to navigate. However, it’s not right to say that Guadalajara is 100% safe for travelers. It’s most certainly not…
There’s currently a US State Department warning out on travel to Jalisco state and its capital (that’s Guadalajara) in particular. The agency cites the risk of “territorial battles between criminal groups” taking place in tourist areas and a heightened risk of kidnappings. We’ll take a closer look at the serious crime stats a little later, but suffice to say that it certainly is a worry for would-be visitors here, and something you’ll need to weigh up before you book.
To put it into perspective a little, crime and travel stat collator Numbeo rates the overall crime rate in Guadulajara as 72.72/100. That’s more than 20 points higher than what it is for New York City, but about 7 points less than Chicago. The upshot? This certainly won’t be the safest place you’ll ever visit, but it’s not likely to be the most dangerous, either.
Violent crime and cartel crime in Guadalajara
Probably the biggest worry for would-be travelers to Guadalajara is the risk of getting caught up in cartel and gang violence. Let’s not forget that this town was the backdrop to season one of the hit HBO TV series Narcos: Mexico. Its role as a bit of a hub for the Jalisco and Sinaloa cartels is no secret. It was once even considered the center of power for traders of both marijuana and cocaine in the whole of North America.
However, Guadalajara isn’t the city it once was. The Sinaloa cartel that brought the infamy of the 1980s and 90s largely fell when leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán was forced to go on the run. However, that left a power vacuum, which was promptly filled by the emerging Jalisco New Generation Cartel, an organization that’s been tersely described as a “criminal behemoth.”
Since around 2012, they’ve risen to become one of the most powerful criminal organizations that Jalisco has ever seen. And Guadalajara, sadly, is once again in the thick of it all. There have been some shocking incidents in the last few years – the discovery of mass graves related to cartel murders, gunfights in the streets, bodies left on park benches in nearby tourist towns. There’s simply no way to guarantee that you won’t witness such horrific sights if you choose to visit Jalisco’s capital these days.
The Mexican government has responded by deploying more troops to Jalisco and Guadalajara but the town is still dealing with a murder rate of nearly 40 in every 100,000 head of population (that’s more than Johannesburg). The overall message is that there is now a serious risk of cartel violence in this city, and, although it remains unlikely, all travelers should know that there’s a chance it could have a huge impact on their trip.
Safe and unsafe areas in Guadalajara
It is a good idea to avoid certain neighborhoods in Guadalajara, just as you would in any major city. First, the bad districts:
Calzada de la Independencia runs north to south, dividing the metropolis. It is best to steer clear of the east side of the Calzada at night since it is undeveloped and poverty-stricken. Mobile phones and other valuables are commonly stolen from the bar district, Av Chapultepec. Tourists also have no business walking around El Cerro de Cuatro, Tlaquepaque, and the outskirts of Tonalá.
Now let’s take a quick look at the areas where you’re least likely to run into problems:
The monument-rich Historical Center, along with the Americana, Providencia, Chapalita, Zapopan, and Puerto de Hierro, are all relatively safe areas that see high numbers of tourists. You’ll still want to be certain to keep belongings close to your person and only take out cash and valuables that you really need in these parts of town, though, especially since petty crimes and pickpocketing can be common.
Is Guadalajara safe for females?
Guadalajara is a more modern metropolis than say, Oaxaca City, so female travelers should be a little more at ease here than in other parts of Mexico. Solo female travelers who’ve been to the town have reported feeling generally safe and well-respected in the streets of Jalisco state. Of course, there are extra risks when going it alone as a woman and extra precautions that females have to follow whenever they travel.
For example, you might expect some cat-calling and unwanted male attention, but this shouldn’t go beyond verbal harassment. There’s also the ever-present risk of unwanted groping, especially on close-knit public transport.
A good way to mitigate the risks of such incidents is to ensure you never travel alone at night and steer clear of areas of the city that have a bad reputation for crime. Also, never accept drinks from strangers and try not to get drunk to the point that you aren’t in control of your faculties. Basically, always stick to the precautions that you’d take anywhere around the planet as a female traveler.
Natural dangers and risks in Guadalajara
Human dangers are not the only factors that play a part in the levels of safety. The mountains of Jalisco around Guadalajara have experienced minor tremors over the years and still do today. However, there has not been a severe earthquake in a very long time. Guadalajara is located far inland, where hurricanes don’t tend to reach, and flooding is not much of an issue. Natural disasters are unpredictable and could happen at any time, but compared to the rest of the country, the city is less at risk of extreme weather.
Is public transport safe in Guadalajara?
Unfortunately, tourists are prime targets for opportunistic theft on local buses in this city. What’s more, organized crime groups are also known to operate on public transport in Guadalajara.
The best advice we can give is to avoid looking like a tourist by being confident with your routes, protecting your valuables, and concealing electronics or cash. The idea is to blend in with the crowd to make yourself less of a target.
Registered taxis are generally seen as the best option in the city and hotels, hostels, and restaurants can usually summon them for you on demand. This is much safer than winging it and hailing taxis on the street. Uber is also considered reliable and safe for getting around in Guadalajara and the rest of Mexico, so there’s always that as a backup.
Overall, though, the best way to get around Guadalajara is on foot. The streets are best taken in at a leisurely pace and most of the best attractions are within easy walking distance from each other. Do your walking by day, though – crimes are more likely to occur after dark.
Common travel scams in Guadalajara
Scammers are masters of deceit who often aim their crimes at tourists. As Mexico has increased in popularity, so has the number of scam operators infiltrating the city.
These crimes range from petty deceit to large-scale fraud. Though it’s not necessarily a crime, look out at restaurants for separate tourist and local menus if you want to get the best price. Scammers can also sell any manner of fraudulent products from fake designer goods to tours, taxis, and non-existent vacation rentals. Always double-check your bills and small change if you don’t want to be left short by a vendor.
Throughout Mexico, a scam known as ‘The Mustard Scam’ is also growing in popularity. A group of thieves will use the good cop/bad cop method and one of them will spill mustard on your clothing while the second approaches from behind to offer a napkin. During the volunteer’s efforts to remove the stain, they will attempt to distract you to swipe your belongings. Of course, the Mustard Scam can take the form of any distraction and your best bet is to keep space between yourself and strangers.
Are food and water safe in Guadalajara?
Mexican cuisine is a worldwide favorite and is a major draw factor for holidaymakers visiting Mexico. If it’s a favorite at home, just wait until you experience real Mexican dishes and Guadalajara has its fair share of iconic local staples.
However, not all counties have the same food safety hygiene standards, and Mexico knows a thing or two about cutting corners. Look for restaurants that are full and have lots of customers, it sounds strange, but can be the best way to judge whether people are getting sick from the food. Still, if you have a stronger stomach and really want to get a taste of Guadalajaan cuisine, don’t be scared off from sampling the street food. Just try to stick to verified vendors of popular stalls. A rule of thumb in restaurants and markets is if it doesn’t look or taste clean, it probably isn’t.
What’s more, tap water in Guadalajara tends not to be safe. With no exception from private residences, hotels, and restaurants, filtered or bottled water is the way to go.
You can also boil water to purify it and make it safe to drink or use in ice cubes and cooking. You don’t have to contribute to plastic consumption to be hydrated when you’re out and about either. In Guadalajara, many restaurants and homes have clean, great-tasting drinking water delivered, so don’t miss the chance to fill up your eco-bottle from these tanks when you can to avoid buying single-use bottles.
Keep an eye out for ice cubes in less commercialized places and make sure it’s not homemade from a tap. There’s never harm in asking. Fruits and vegetables need to be washed, even from supermarkets. Tap water again isn’t clean, but you can buy more natural disinfectants from the supermarket, made from grapefruit.
Our top safety trips for Guadalajara
- Avoid public transportation where possible – busy local busses and overnight trains are as much a part of traveling as backpacking hostels, but petty theft is common on Guadalajara’s public transport. Book registered taxis, Ubers, or even stick to getting around on foot if you can.
- Try to blend in – Tourists are more likely to be victims of petty crimes. Try and dress like a local and avoid being too loud in the streets or flashing expensive goods.
- Be prepared for rain – It might not be at much risk of natural disasters, but it rains a lot in Guadalajara, and bringing an umbrella out with you is a good idea to avoid being caught in a sudden torrential downpour.
- Avoid walking alone at night – The city is a safe place by day, but it can be a different story at night, much like other major metropolises. Avoid poorly lit areas at night and always book a taxi instead of wandering the streets after nightfall.
- Know your limits – Guadalajara has a great party scene, but taking it too far and losing a sense of your surroundings can put you at real risk. Mexican alcohol is notoriously strong so always pace yourself and make sure you’re partying in a group if you do plan to let loose a little. Avoid drinking in the street or being rowdy when you have had one too many, as a Mexican police cell is the last place you want to wind up.
- Learn some Spanish – This one is not only respectful to the locals, but knowing some Spanish can help keep you safe especially if you get into bartering with vendors, asking for directions, or encountering local law enforcement.
- Follow your gut – If you keep your wits about you, there’s no reason to feel unsafe in Guadalajara as it’s no more dangerous than most other major cities. Still, follow your instincts if you are in doubt, and don’t be afraid to say no to taxis, traders or tours.
Is Guadalajara safe? Our conclusion
Yes, and no. Sorry – but that’s the truth. There’s no question that the city of Guadalajara remains a major tourist draw in western Mexico. It’s got a gorgeous cathedral, an immersive historic center, great local food and music, and is a jump-off to the Pacific coast and the charming town of Tequila (no guesses for what awaits there!).
However, Guadalajara does have some very concerning crime stats and there’s even a US State Department warning in place for travel to the city, which cites the heightened risk of cartel violence and kidnapping. On top of that, you have the worries of all the usual travel scams and the extra risks that come if you’re planning on traveling alone as a female. You’ll have to weigh up the lot before you book.
Where is the safest place in Guadalajara?
All of the tourist areas in Guadalajara are mostly safe during the day. These include Centro, Zapopan, Tlaquepaque, and the Financial District where most of the attractions, monuments, bars, and restaurants are concentrated. Still, this means pickpockets will try to target tourists here so keep your belongings close at all times and don’t flash expensive goods.
Is the cartel still in Guadalajara?
Guadalajara has a long history of drug trafficking and cartel crime. It was once the home of the infamous Sinaloa cartel led by El Chapo and others. Today, the New Generation Jalisco Cartel is the main organized crime outfit operating in the city and rates of violent and drug-related incidents are fast increasing. There’s no question that this is a potential concern for would-be travelers to Guadalajara in 2023.
When is the best time to visit Guadalajara?
The best time to visit Guadalajara is between October and December when you’ll find the driest weather and pleasant temperatures in the low 80s. Festivals fill the calendar at this time and the city makes for a great winter sun destination. However, if you’re looking for discounted hotels and food prices, January to May also make a good time to check out the city. Rainfall is common but temperatures are even higher and you’ll still get plenty of blue skies.