Is Leon, Mexico, safe to visit? That’s what this guide is here to find out. It will delve into the crime stats and talk about the general risks and safety levels in the city, all so you can make a choice as to whether it’s a-okay to have a spot on your Mexican itinerary this year.
Home to over 1.7 million people, Leon now reigns as the fourth most populous city in the whole of Mexico. It’s served by the Guanajuato International Airport, which sits just to the southeast of the main town, and is seen as a gateway to the heart of the country, to amazing colonial towns like Guanajuato and others.
Being Mexico, many travelers are wary of serious and violent crime risks when they plan a trip to Leon. Others will want to know about more practical safety things, such as travel scams and the cleanliness of the water. Let’s dive right in…
Is Leon, Mexico, safe for travel in 2023?
Generally speaking, Leon is seen as a safe place to travel to in 2023. We say that because the truth is that the vast majority of people who come this way will leave without a single bit of trouble. And there are now quite a few visitors – the Aeropuerto Internacional de Guanajuato, the local arrival point for planes, hosts an estimated 2 million passengers each year.
But it wouldn’t be true to say that Leon, Mexico, is 100% safe. As we’ll see, the town has some pretty striking violent crime and murder stats. It’s not been untouched in the well-publicized cartel wars that have ravaged Mexico in the past few decades. Plus, travelers here probably won’t feel quite as safe as they do in the more touristy parts of the country, such as the Cancun beaches or the historic core of Mexico City.
Let’s dig a little deeper…
Serious and violent crime in Leon
The biggest worry about making a trip to Leon, and to Mexico more generally, is surely the risk of getting caught up in violent crime. Sadly, this corner of North America is no stranger to that, since it’s been a major hotspot for drug trafficking since the days Pablo Escobar ruled the roost down in Colombia.
The thing is, many cities in Mexico manage to almost completely dodge the bad rep that comes with the drug cartels. Leon is not one of them. Just look at the stats. The city now has the third highest murder rate in the country overall. It’s beaten only by the infamous border crossing towns of Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, which both have homicide rates of over 1,000 in every 100,000 head of population.
It’s not quite that bad in Leon, but you’re still looking at a murder rate of 816 people per 100k – that’s eight times what it is in Chicago for some striking perspective. Behind it is a surge in cartel-related violence tied to an ongoing conflict between two of the most powerful gangs in western Mexico: The Santa Rosa de Lima and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.
The good news is that cartel violence rarely spills over into the major tourist areas in cities like this, so sticking to the historic heart of town and the main sites can really reduce your risk of getting mixed up in it. However, things do occasionally get pretty bad, and the US State Department has even issued travel warnings for Guanajuato state in recent times. You’ll need to check those aren’t in place before you travel.
Is Leon, Mexico, safe for solo female travelers?
The same considerations of safety in Leon will apply here no matter if you’re traveling as a solo female or a large group. You’ll still need to check if there are any current FCO or State Department travel warnings in place, and ensure that you don’t stay in parts of the city that are known for their violent crime and cartel related violence.
The good news is that Mexico isn’t specifically known for crimes against women, so there’s likely to be only a minimal heightened risk here if you’re traveling as a lone female. Still, adopt all the precautions you would elsewhere: Try not to walk around alone at night, stay out of sketchy areas, be careful accepting drinks from strangers, and always let someone trusted know where you’re headed.
Is the water safe to drink in Leon, Mexico?
Sadly, the water in Leon isn’t safe to drink. In fact, the general rule is that you shouldn’t drink the tap water anywhere in Mexico. Even the locals don’t do it. Poor plumbing and infrastructure means that water from the tap often isn’t treated properly for human consumption. In other places, it’s sourced from unclean reservoirs on the roofs of buildings.
The good news is that bottled water is cheap in these parts. A small bottle (250ml) will set you back around 70 cents, while a bigger bottle of 1.5L is just over $1. H2O is sold at pretty much all grocery stores and is also widely available in hotel bars and lobbies.
What areas are safe and what areas are unsafe in Leon?
One of the main things to know about when you plan a trip to Leon is what areas of the city are seen as safe and what areas are seen as unsafe. Sometimes, moving a single block over can swap an affluent and traveler-friendly district with a slum that has soaring crime rates…
Some of the neighborhoods you will absolutely want to avoid here include:
- Santa Rosa de Lima – A set grid neighborhood of about eight blocks that’s known for its namesake cartel, Santa Rosa de Lima sits on the northeast of the city.
- San Felipe de Jesus – A bustling district on the northeast of town with its own center and church, San Felipe de Jesus also has some of the highest crime rates in the town.
- La Piscina – A industrial area with some slums that sits on the south side of the town.
The areas where the risks are generally lower for tourists in Leon include:
- Centro – This is the heart of the town and the home to the main sights of the De los Leones Fountain and the Triumphal Arch of the Causeway of the Heroes. It’s got lots of hotels.
- Balcones del Campestre – Past the highway on the north side of the town, the Balcones del Campestre is filled with big mansions with swimming pools. Many are fenced off and protected by private security. It’s one of Leon’s most affluent quarters.
- Gran Jardin – Even high up the hillside that the Balcones, this one’s got big houses, also gated, often with swimming pools and large grounds.
Naturally, this list of the dangerous and not-so-dangerous parts of Leon is by no means exhaustive. We’d urge all travelers heading to this part of Guanajuato state to do their own research and check specific crime rates for the side of town they want to stay in.
Top Leon safety tips
Here are just a few safety tips for travelers looking to head to Leon, Mexico, this year…
- Don’t stray out of the center of the town – The Centro districts and the areas immediately around it tend to be the safest parts of town and host all of the major attractions anyhow. Get your hotel there and don’t stray to outer suburbs where things can get sketchy fast.
- Don’t walk around alone at night – This should be pretty obvious, but crime rates and violent crime incidences get more common after dark. Having company can help you avoid becoming a victim.
- Don’t show off your valuables – Whether it’s new Nikon camera or a 14-carrat gold chain, valuables of all shapes and sized can be a come-get-me sign to would-be thieves.
- Always check travel warnings – The US State Department and the British Foreign Office can issue warnings for specific states in Mexico if they think there’s a heightened risk of crime. Look out for those applying to the state of Guanajuato, which is where Leon is situated.
- Avoid intoxication – Getting drunk means you lose complete control of your faculties. That’s not a great way to go in a town with the third-highest murder rate in Mexico if you ask us!
Is Leon, Mexico, safe? Our conclusion
Generally speaking, we’d say that Leon, Mexico, is safe for travelers in the sense that the majority of people who come this way will leave without any trouble at all. However, it’s important to note that the city has suffered immensely at the hands of drug cartels in the last 10 years and now has one of the highest murder rates in the country to show for it. That means it’s super important to plan accordingly, avoid dodgy areas, and watch out for State Department warnings before you travel.