Just under 100 million people visit Mexico every year. They’re drawn down south for all sorts of reasons. From the golden beaches of the Pacific coast to the ivory-white sands of the Yucatan, the mystical temples of Chichen Itza to the taquerias of Mexico City, the hills of Oaxaca to the tequila-soaked villages of Jalisco, there’s loads to get through. But what are the most dangerous places in Mexico that everyone should avoid?
Sadly, there’s no shortage of them. Mexico has a bit of a bad rep when it comes to crime and whatnot. Five of the six most murderous cities on the planet are here. There are a whopping 14,000+ cartel-related homicides in the country in a normal year. There have even been reports of drug-related violence spilling into sun-kissed tourist resorts in recent years.
Now we’re not saying don’t go to Mexico. Not at all. This is one seriously incredible country; a land of rich Mayan history, wild jungles, and beaches the likes of which you’ll never encounter again. However, it’s important to be careful and to plan accordingly, which is where this list of the most dangerous places in Mexico can be of help…
Home to the busiest land border crossing in the world, Tijuana sees more than 50 million people pass through every year. That’s one stat. Another is more shocking: A murder rate of 134 per 100,000 head of population. That translates to over 2,300 killings per year and makes the town the most murderous city on the planet by quite some way!
Really, it’s all down to the geography. Just check where Tijuana is on the map. Plonked neatly on top of the US-Mexico border right below San Diego, it’s unsurprisingly become something of a hotspot for traffickers and cartels. In fact, it’s been fought over by some of the most powerful cartels in the country since the early 1980s and things haven’t really let up since then.
Thing is, much of the violence in Tijuana is limited to specific areas. Thousands of day and night visitors still cross to enjoy the shopping of Downtown Tijuana and the party venues of Avenida Revolucion, where you can sample authentic tacos and hit cool bars, not to mention score cheap pharmaceuticals galore. However, there are certain areas to avoid completely, like the Zona Norte red-light district and the neighborhoods to the east of the town center.
Capping off the lovely Baja California Sur peninsula, Los Cabos is a major tourist hotspot. It has gold-sand beaches, amazing whale watching, and glassy surf breaks, not to mention a reputation for hedonism and luxury that keeps everyone from spring breakers to jet-setter celebs coming back for more.
That’s all despite the fact that it is arguably the most dangerous city in Mexico. To put it in perspective, in 2017, the city had 328,245 residents and a total of 365 homicides reported. That translates to a murder rate of just over 110 per 100k people, putting it roughly in line with the top two most deadly cities on the planet (both of which happen to be in Mexico!).
The New York Times have reported that shootings in Los Cabos indicate conflicts by cartels battling over territory. They do, however, make it clear that tourists were not the target in these shootings. What’s more, the vast majority of tourist visits to the town go off without a hitch, so we’d say have your wits about you but don’t be put off coming to see the humpbacks and get your tequila slammers in Cabo Wabo!
Mention Acapulco and it’s usually yellow-tinged sands and sloshing Pacific waters that come to mind. You wouldn’t be wrong – this town was made famous in the 1950s as the spot John Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy chose for their honeymoon. They came, they sunbathed, they were transformed into fashion icons.
However, Acapulco is a whole load more dangerous than it was back then. The city has seen a surge of violence caused by drug trafficking and warring cartels. The homicide rate in 2022? Are you ready for this? It was a whopping 110 per 100k of population. That makes salt-washed Acapulco the second deadliest town in the world. We’re pretty sure the Secret Service would have something to say about JFK coming back these days!
Of course, lots of people do still come for vacations of jet skiing and hiking in the Sierra Madre. Many won’t even leave the confines of their hotel resort it’s that dangerous. We’d probably follow suit.
It might seem a little ironic that a place with the name La Paz, which means “peace” in Spanish, hits this list of the most dangerous places in Mexico. But so it is in this nation where cartel-fueled violence can collide with serene beaches in the blink of an eye; where even the most picturesque colonial hill towns can be spots you need to watch your back.
This is the capital city of Baja California Sur. Sat amid rugged sierras topped with scraggly cacti and taupe-colored beaches that roll straight off the desert, it’s long been a popular escape for US vacationers keen for that hit of Mexicana life. It’s actually even closer to the America-Mexico border than Cabo!
Although there are no travel restrictions when it comes to La Paz, the crime rate makes most visitors think twice about spending their vacation here. According to the Los Angeles Times, perhaps the biggest concern for travelers is the fact that some of the homicides are taking place close to airports. They also report a soaring rate of violence in recent years, much of it centered on those ever-popular beaches.
As with other cities in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, the crime rate here continues to rise, mostly due to rival drug cartels operating in the area. According to Business Insider, much of the bloodshed is caused by shootouts between rival gang members and the police. The major drug cartel in the area is the hyper-violent Zetas group, who have been making big moves to claim the territory from the Gulf cartel in recent times.
Thing is, Reynosa is right there, smack dab on the border with Texas. It’s literally a stone’s throw from the spur-spinning Lone Star State at some points, which has led to concerns that the crime will spill over into the US or cause issues for cross-border American travelers passing through on their way to other parts of Mexico.
If you’re one of them, then you should also know that basically the WHOLE of the surrounding state of Tamaulipas is considered pretty unsafe. Reynosa sees just about a fifth of the overall homicides of the region, and cartels are active from here all the way to Ciudad Mante in the far south.
There was a time when it was the state of Sinaloa that would strike fear into the hearts of readers. After all, that was the epicenter of the hit Netflix drama Narcos: Mexico. Fast forward to 2023 and it’s actually not all that bad. Towns like Culiacán have seen a whopping 50% reduction in violent crime rates in just five years.
And so the spotlight shifts to Michoacán, a state that’s had such awful stats for murders and kidnappings that there’s been an almost consistent State Department warning against travel since 2008. Within Michoacán itself, it’s the city of Zamora that really stands out like a sore thumb…
The town clocked up the worst murder stats in the world in 2021, with 610 homicides in the 365-day period. On top of that, there were out-of-control rates of kidnapping and theft, auto crime and house theft. Look, it’s just not somewhere you want to be right now! If you must head to this region, stick to Morelia, the romantic state capital, where crime stats are nowhere near as bad.
Ciudad Juarez is the highest populated city in state of Chihuahua. Situated on the Rio Grande just south of El Paso in Texas, this is one of the most dangerous cities in Mexico and undoubtedly one of the most dangerous on the planet. In 2022, the place clocked up a murder rate of 67.69 per 100k head of population, making it the 9th worst overall – not just in the home of mezcal and mariachi!
What’s odd for the situation in Juarez is that it’s a major, major destination for US travelers. Thousands of people flock across the urban border crossings each day. Some come for cheap electronics goods or pharmaceuticals. Others come for a hit of Mexicana food. Either way, they’re straying into a town that sees thousands of murders per annum.
That said, a report by the State Department’s Overseas Security Advisory Council stated that US tourists are not a specific target for violence. The council has warned visitors to be aware of burglary, theft, carjacking and robbery, although the main tourist area in the centro aren’t as bad as more crime-ridden out-of-town districts.
There was a time when Colima would have done nothing more than stoke the wanderlust. This is the home of the surf-washed beaches of Manzanillo and the snow-capped volcanoes of the Nevado de Colima. It might be the fourth smallest state in Mexico but it sure does pack a punch on the travel front.
Sadly, you’re probably going to have to hold off a while to visit. Right now, Colima is officially the most murderous city on the planet. It has a soaring per capita murder rate of 181 per 100,000 people. That makes it worse than ANYWHERE, even Port-au-Prince in Haiti where people report pitched gang battles in the street.
Things still aren’t quite as bad here as they got in aforementioned Juarez back in 2010. But we’re talking levels of crime similar to that of major cities in Colombia during the throes of the Pablo Escobar era. Yikes.
Ciudad Obregón is a large city based in the northern Mexican state of Sonora. It was named after the Mexican president, Álvaro Obregón. The US Department of State has warned that non-essential travel to this city should be halted unless the crime rates drop considerably. The reason? They are currently the third-worst in the world on the murder front.
That adds up to a murder rate of 138/100k head of population, which is just shy of Colima (see above) but still pretty darn awful. Alongside that, you have out-of-control rates of muggings, kidnappings, crimes against women, human trafficking – you name it. It’s probably not the best pick for that upcoming holiday!
If things ever do change then you can look forward to a town that’s a gateway to both the Sea of Cortez and the northern deserts. The wild, pine-studded Sierra de Álamos lurk on one side, and there’s rich whale-watching territory on the other.
It’s the same old story in Irapuato as it is across Mexico. Escalating territory disputes between the two new cartels on the block, the Jalisco Cartel New Generation and the Santa Rosa Lima Cartel, have fueled street violence that’s sent the homicide and gun crime stats to the moon in these parts in the last couple of years.
It’s gotten so darn awful that little Irapuato, home to a mere 500,000 people, now ranks as the sixth deadliest city on the whole planet. Yep – the WHOLE PLANET. That’s because the per capita homicide rate here clocked up past 81.4 per 100k head of population, sending it above the likes of Cape Town in South Africa and Natal in Brazil.
What’s so striking is the speed of Irapuato’s rise to infamy. Ten years ago, the place saw a relatively normal level of street violence (at least, it was normal for Mexico). Then came 2018, which counted more murders than the whole decade that preceded it. Just another warning of how even small provincial cities are not immune to the forever-morphing drug wars of Mexico.
Sorry, folks – we know this is a name that lots of readers probably didn’t want to see on this list. However, Cancun has been in the throes of a particularly bad spike in the same cartel-related feuds that have caused chaos in Irapuato in the last five years. Murder rates here have been creeping up, finally hitting a zenith in 2022 at 64.4 per 100,000 population. That’s the 12th worst in the world. Yikes.
What’s so worrying about seeing Cancun falter is that it proves there’s hardly a part of Mexico that’s out of bounds when it comes to the cartel turf wars. This is the quintessential holiday mecca of the country, with white-sand beaches aplenty, nightlife to please any spring breaker, and more lux hotels than you can shake a frosted margarita at.
Visitors to Cancun have been caught up in the violence of recent times, too. Recently, four people were killed in a shooting that took place on one of the town’s idyllic Caribbean beaches. There was also a deadly shooting in a restaurant in 2021 that saw European visitors caught in the crossfire. And there was a brutal assassination in a hotel down on the nearby Maya Riviera to boot. Very worrying. Very worrying indeed!
What is the deadliest city in Mexico?
Colima is currently the deadliest city in Mexico. As of 2022, the mid-sized regional city clocked up a murder rate that made it the most murderous town on the whole planet. There were 601 murders in a population of just 300,000.
How dangerous is Mexico right now?
Mexico certainly is dangerous but it’s very much a case of where you choose to go. The country is vast and there are some places that suffer from high crime rates and bad cartel violence, while others don’t see much at all. That said, we’d also recommend planning well ahead, staying up to date with State Department advice, and steering clear of any of the most dangerous places in Mexico during your travels.
What is the safest place in Mexico?
The coastal town of Tulum is quite possibly the safest place in Mexico. Less touristy than the other resort towns in the Yucatan Peninsula, this town offers great historical structure and is mostly known for its well-preserved Mayan city wall ruins. Other people will say that’s the safest spot is the lovely city of Merida in the Yucatan, a newly founded Digital Nomad hub close to the Caribbean Sea.