The Riviera Maya is an idyllic little slice of paradise located on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. If you’ve been drooling over hashtags of Mexico on Instagram, you’ve no doubt come across pictures of this incredible area and its beaches, cool coastal towns, and jaw-dropping landscapes.
A lot of the common questions tourists have when it comes to Mexico, revolve around safety. Very often in the media, this country is portrayed as highly dangerous, and you get the sense that anyone visiting finds themselves in some sort of trouble. While this is true for some parts of Mexico, this isn’t the case everywhere.
This quick little read will cover the basics of safety in the Riviera Maya, and give you some top tips for how to avoid any possible issues while you’re there, so you can have the best time possible! Let’s dive right in shall we?
Is Riviera Maya Safe Right Now?
As a whole, Mexico recorded a total of 33,308 homicides in 2021. During late 2021 and early 2022, there have been several incidents in and near the Riviera Maya. In the popular tourist towns Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum, tourists have been injured or killed as a direct result of violent crime. The most notable of which was a shootout at a popular restaurant, where a travel blogger from the US and a German citizen were killed, with three more tourists injured.
While there’s no denying the uptick of violent crime and the tragic deaths of tourists, the majority of violence in the Riviera Maya has been drug-traffic related, and the number of tourists directly affected is a tiny fraction of the overall homicide rate.
Both the authorities and experts say that criminals are not targeting tourists for violent crime, but that these incidents are the result of drug trafficking disputes between cartels. Unfortunately, the once sleepy Riviera Maya towns such as Tulum have gained popularity as party destinations, putting them “on the map” so to speak for cartels looking to sell drugs, leading to these kinds of incidents.
All this being said, the US Travel Advisory recommends exercising increased precautions when traveling to Quintana Roo state, where the Riviera Maya is located. However, we always advise you to double-check for up-to-date information. This is the second–lowest advisory in the US system, and basically means you should be aware of the heightened risk to safety and security in the area you’re traveling to.
Is Riviera Maya Safe to Visit?
The most popular towns on the Riviera Maya to visit are Tulum and Playa Del Carmen. Playa Del Carmen is a safe place to visit, as long as you are sensible and avoid putting yourself in a potentially dangerous situation – like most destinations. It is extremely popular for nature lovers, as you’ve got stunning beaches, amazing cenotes to explore, and Cozumel Island nearby!
However, in January 2022, there was an incident involving a lone gunman at a luxury hotel. The authorities stated that in this case, the individuals (three Canadian citizens) were targeted, and disclosed that the two that were killed had criminal records, one of which involved drug trafficking amongst other things.
Despite the recent incident mentioned previously in Tulum, it is generally a safe destination and one of the most popular places to visit on the Riviera Maya! It is known for its party scene, insta-worthy hotels, and nearby Mayan ruins.
In both of these destinations, the main danger to tourists is petty crime such as theft, burglary, and non-violent muggings. These are of course not pleasant for the victims, but these kinds of incidents can be easily avoided with some extra precautions such as keeping your valuables hidden, avoiding deserted alleyways, and walking in groups at night.
Is Riviera Maya Safe to Live?
Unsurprisingly, Mexico attracts people from all over the world, and a significant proportion decide to make it their home. The Riviera Maya is particularly popular among ex-pats for its great weather, and proximity to the US (you’ll find a lot of American ex-pats here). Most long-term foreign residents are either retired or have a second home in the area.
If you are really thinking about relocating to the Riviera Maya either permanently or on an on-and-off basis (good for you!) it is definitely worth doing some more in-depth research on the different towns, and maybe dipping your toe in the water with a nice vacation first? There are some seriously stunning coastal towns, and whether you’re looking for somewhere with a bit more going on or a chilled-out vibe, you’ll find what you’re looking for, probably with an amazing local beach too!
Some precautions to take and things to remember are that touristy areas like these always have a significant wealth gap. This invites petty crime and burglaries, so following some basic safety rules as mentioned above, always locking your doors, and investing in decent home security are highly recommended.
However, despite this, you may be surprised to hear that according to Numbeo, the crime index of popular towns Playa Del Carmen and Tulum are 50.10 and 33.83 respectively. This, compared to the New York crime index (47.06) makes Tulum safer and Playa Del Carmen roughly on par with New York according to Numbeo’s statistics.
Is Riviera Maya Safe for Solo Female Travelers?
Just as the Riviera Maya is safe for general travelers, it is also a safe (and pretty darn fantastic) destination for solo female travelers! An incredibly important thing is to always exercise caution when traveling alone. This sounds alarming, but what we mean here applies to most destinations. Think about it, would you walk down a dark street alone at night in your hometown? Probably not, so you shouldn’t do it there either.
You may also find yourself going on a few nights out (especially if you’re hitting up Tulum). In this case, our advice to you is to be sensible and follow general “night out” safety rules. Never leave your drink unattended and if possible watch the bartender make it and have them hand it to you. It’s also good practice not to accept drinks from strangers, even if it’s flattering.
Another “girl’s night out” golden rule is to try to arrange to go out with some other girls (or guys) from your hostel or accommodation and make sure to leave together and leave no one behind.
Some great solo things to do while you’re there are to head to the beach, take yourself on a “me date” and try some delicious local cuisine, and explore some local ruins! If you’re feeling a bit nervous about being alone, why not find a group tour to join?
Is Riviera Maya Safe at Night?
Many parts of the Riviera Maya come to life at night and there will be plenty of party-goers on the streets until the early hours of the morning. That being said, we strongly advise against walking around alone at night and advise you to take a taxi back to your accommodation or to the clubs/restaurants. If you’re looking to go out on the town, find a group of people at your hostel/hotel to dance the night away with and make sure to stick together.
Another important thing is to trust your instincts. If you head somewhere and the vibe doesn’t feel quite right, don’t be afraid to ask to leave.
Lastly, and boy do we sound like your parents… try not to stay out too late and avoid getting too drunk. Most incidents on nights out (whether you’re in Mexico, the US, Europe, etc.) happen when everyone has had a little too much to drink and there may be people looking to take advantage of your vulnerable state.
Is Public Transport Safe in Riviera Maya?
Public transport is a great way to travel across the Riviera Maya, either between towns or to visit some of its amazing tourist spots! Buses are safe to use but can be a lot less comfortable than a taxi (picture no aircon and possibly no available seats). If possible, avoiding buses at night is a good practice as it’s better to get directly from point A to point B. Some bus services like the Tusca buses in Playa Del Carmen don’t even run at night.
One alternative is to take taxis. Taxis are a safe way to get around, but, if you’d prefer to, there’s also Uber! As always there are a few extra steps you can take to make sure you are as safe as possible. This includes agreeing on the price with the taxi driver before getting into the car (they’re generally very friendly but it can’t hurt to agree on a price beforehand), carrying coins and small change as taxis don’t accept credit or debit cards, and noting the unit number and license plate in case there’s a problem you need to report later.
Is Tap Water Safe to Drink in Riviera Maya?
Even though water treatment and filtration have come a long way in Mexico, drinking the tap water in the Riviera Maya still isn’t the greatest idea. Most accommodation normally provides free bottled water for this reason. It’s not only unsafe to drink, but you should also use bottled water to brush your teeth and be careful of accidentally swallowing water in the shower (it’s perfectly safe to wash yourself with though).
When eating out, avoid having drinks with ice as it can be made using local tap water which could make you sick. You should also be mindful of what you order as salads or fruits could be rinsed with tap water and the residue could still remain. That being said, even if you are careful, anti-diarrhea tablets are a must for your first-aid kit!
Top 7 Riviera Maya Safety Tips
We hope you’ve been paying close attention to our guide on Riviera Maya safety, but if you’re a skim reader, be sure to read our top 7 Riviera Maya Safety tips below!
- Don’t walk around at night (especially if you’re alone) – We really want to hammer into you that walking around in the dark in the Riviera Maya is not the best idea. Even if your final destination is 5 minutes away from your accommodation, save yourself a possible nightmare situation and get a taxi. They’re relatively cheap, safe, and reliable.
- Keep your valuables hidden – This part of Mexico is extremely touristy and there will be lots of people looking to take advantage of unsuspecting tourists. Flashing your valuables, whether it’s your phone, camera, or jewelry, could make you a target for pickpockets or even muggers. We don’t want to alarm you, but bring a secure bag to store your things when you don’t need them and keep the jewelry to a minimum.
- Do not drink tap water in Riviera Maya – This is one of the fastest ways to ruin your vacation. The tap water here could be contaminated so always drink bottled water and use bottled water to brush your teeth. When eating out avoid drinks with ice, and foods that may have come into contact with tap water like salads.
- Watch out for pickpockets – Pickpocketing is extremely common in crowded areas and even that loose change in your back pocket could get nabbed! As I said earlier, keep your things in a secure bag and only get them out when needed!
- Pack sunscreen and insect repellent – Mexico has a tropical climate and that means plenty of sun plus pesky mosquitos and more! The days can get extremely hot so take the needed precautions to stop your skin from burning. A hat and sunglasses are a good idea too!
- Be sensible on nights out – Yes, we want you to have fun, but always watch your drink, take a taxi home (only with people you know), and don’t get too drunk.
- If possible take taxis at night instead of buses – Taxis are more reliable and arguably safer, as they get you directly to your destination.
So there you have it, if you’re planning to visit the Riviera Maya, as long as you’re sensible and take the necessary precautions, you have nothing to fear. It really is a fantastic part of the world, undeserving of its somewhat bad reputation.