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!
First made famous in the 1950s as the spot JF Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy chose for their honeymoon, Acapulco is now much more dangerous due to the high level of homicides. Known as one of the most dangerous places in Mexico, a good tip is to not venture too far from your holiday resort.
The city has seen a surge of violence caused by drug trafficking, land rights and social triggers, historical ones and institutional ones. The good news is that the violence doesn’t really affect tourism partly due to the fact that the city has a public safety initiative that provides assistance to visitors.
It’s a bit ironic that the name La Paz means peace in Spanish, as this holiday hotspot is anything but peaceful. This capital city of Baja California Sur, with its rugged beaches and incredible beaches, does require travelers to be careful and aware of their surroundings.
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, the biggest concern for travelers is the fact that some of the homicides are taking place close to airports.
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 this area. According to Business Insider, much of the bloodshed is caused by shootouts between rival gang members as well as these individuals clashing with police officers and soldiers. The major drug cartel in the area is the hyper-violent Zetas group.
NBC News reported that neighboring San Diego is safe, mostly because it is fortified by plenty of law enforcers from the FBI, US Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the US Coast guard, and the US Drug Enforcement Agency.
It is so bad, in fact, that some of the violence and homicides even happen within prison walls. The Guardian reported that in 2017 there was a big shootout inside a prison, which led to injuring thirteen people and killing seven.
Located around an hour from the Pacific coast, the city of Culiacán is the capital city of the Sinaloa Mexican state. It is an eight-hour drive away from the tourist hotspot of Puerto Vallarta but not nearly as inviting because of its crime rate.
It deserves a spot on our most dangerous places in Mexico list as drugs and violence are the first things that come to mind when you ask them about Culiacán. PBS reported that the state’s problem with drug rivalry reaches back as far as a hundred years. Culiacán has in fact become the hotbed of the largest drug traffickers Mexico has ever known.
Ciudad Juarez is the highest populated city in the Mexican 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 also around the world. However, 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. Homicide has also been on the rise since 2016, which earns it its nickname as being Mexico’s Murder City.
The State Department has advised travelers to reconsider visiting this dangerous city. In 2017 alone, Chihuahua had 460 homicides, a lot if you consider its population of 929,884.
Chihuahua city is the capital of the Mexican state by the same name. The Army and Federal Police have bases in this city to help operate anti-drug operations. Their presence seems to have a positive effect as crime and murder rates have fallen from 2010.
Ciudad Obregón is a large city based in the northern Mexican state of Sonoran. It was named after the Mexican president, Álvaro Obregón. The Tuscan Sentinal has reported that the US Department of State has warned that non-essential travel to this city should be halted unless the crime rates drop. As with our other most dangerous places in Mexico, the high crime and homicide rate is due to the international drug trade. It’s also known for its high human trafficking rates.
What is the deadliest city in Mexico?
As mentioned above, Los Cabos is currently the deadliest city in Mexico. In 2017, the murder rate per 100,000 people was 365. This means that this municipality has the largest per capita murder rates in the world.
The main driving point of crime is a large number of drug cartels moving into the city. While the violence is not specifically targeted towards tourists, the US State Department has advised caution when planning a trip to this beautiful resort city.
How dangerous is Mexico right now?
Aside from the high crime rate in Mexico, we also have to consider Covid restrictions right now. The good news is that it is currently open to travel. As far as current travel restrictions go, however, Forbes reported that travelers will have to fly into Mexico at the moment as the land border with the US is still closed to all non-essential travel.
Also, be aware that anyone showing symptoms when they arrive in Mexico will be quarantined. While there are more restrictions depending on which area you are traveling to, tourist hotspots like Cancun and Cozumel are open to tourists.
At the moment, the US State Department has assigned Mexico with a Level 3 Travel Advisory due to the high level of Covid cases. They recommend that you only travel to Mexico after being vaccinated and have urged US citizens to currently reconsider traveling there.
And if that wasn’t enough, you also have to consider the high amount of toxic and dangerous animals in Mexico. Some of these, like the Fer-de-lance snake, is also considered to be one of the most dangerous animals in the world. Best follow traveling advice on how to avoid these animals.
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.
Its spectacular coastline featuring azure waters and soft sandy beaches is another great reason for choosing this safe Mexican destination. And to top that, it offers some great cavern and cave diving as well as plenty of hotels and restaurants for every budget. The US State Department has reported that there are no restrictions on traveling to Tulum.
You can also consider a trip to Nogales, Mexico, as long as you take every caution and never travel alone.
Just bear in mind that even when traveling to one of the safest places in Mexico, bad things can always still happen. Regardless of where you go in this country, it’s best to follow good common sense. This means leaving your valuables at home, always getting a taxi after dark and only drinking in moderation.