We’ve spent several years living in Mexico, and we truly love most things about the country. From its mouth-watering cuisine to its stunning architecture, Mexico is one of the most epic countries to visit on Earth. After living and traveling through most of Mexico, we have been to almost every major city in the country, including those known as the most dangerous places in Mexico.
While there are so many things to love about Mexico, stories about drug cartels and violent crime have crept back into the news in recent years.
For these reasons, a lot of people worry about their safety in Mexico when planning a trip, and they choose to either avoid the country as a whole or hide on a resort the whole time.
The Cartels Are Only a Risk in Certain States
The drug trade is only heavily concentrated in a few Mexican states, and the most dangerous cities in Mexico are generally places that tourists don’t go to anyway. While there are occasional stories of bad things happening in places like Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas, the truth is that the most touristy places in Mexico tend to also be some of the safest places in Mexico…at least most of the time.
I’ll say this: Mexico is not an especially dangerous place for tourists in most cases, and you are usually in no more danger in 99% of Mexico than you are in the United States. One look at the St. Louis crime statistics proves that point.
But what about that other 1%?
This post is going to take a look at safety in Mexico, as well as 10 of the places that people often call the most dangerous places in Mexico. For each one, we will offer an opinion on whether or not it is safe enough to visit based on our own experience.
Note: the content of this post is based on our own personal experiences as well as stories we have heard from friends and fellow travelers. You should take precautions anywhere that you travel in the world, and we are not liable in any way for anything that happens during your trip.
Why Is Mexico Dangerous to Visit?
Whether or not Mexico is truly dangerous to visit as a whole is a topic that will be discussed later in this post. However, there are some real issues that cause reason for hesitancy when considering a trip to Mexico. Having lived in Central Mexico, I can offer some true insight into what these issues look like and what causes them.
Organized Crime in Mexico
It is true that organized crime exists all throughout Mexico. Drug trafficking is a very profitable business thanks to the major demand for drugs across the border in the United States. High potential profits have led drug cartels to take extreme measures, ranging from inter-gang violence to full-scale human trafficking.
The Jalisco New Generation Cartel, Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel, Sinaloa Cartel, and Las Zetas are all criminal groups vying for control of territories and routes to the U.S. market.
The Mexican government claims to be doing all that it can to combat the issues, and there are many people in the government who actually are. However, corruption is a major issue in most Latin American governments, and Mexico is a textbook example. There are corrupt police officers in almost every Mexican city and corrupt government officials at every level.
Is Mexico Dangerous for Tourists?
In general, Mexican drug cartels do not want to harm American tourists. It is bad for business. If anything, they want to appeal to American tourists!
If you visit a popular tourist destination like Los Cabos, Cancun, or Puerto Vallarta, it is very common to be offered illegal drugs by a straggling salesman wandering along the beach. You should always say no, obviously, but these individuals are almost always tangentially related to a major drug cartel, if only at the lowest level of the totem pole.
U.S. Citizens, as well as tourists from Europe, Canada, and other countries outside of Latin America are generally very safe in Mexico so long as they don’t seek out illegal activities. Popular tourist destinations are generally not among the most dangerous places in Mexico.
The Most Dangerous Cities in Mexico (Supposedly)
I’ll be very clear up front. Some of these cities are truly very dangerous, while others are some of the safest cities in Mexico. The goal of this post is to point out which cities are truly dangerous.
The main reason that foreigners have a negative idea about danger in Mexico is because the U.S. State Department tells them to. The U.S. State Department has notoriously risk-averse standards, and its travel warnings regarding Mexico teeter on the verge of fear-mongering.
There are places in Mexico that are truly dangerous and should be avoided. However, the truth is that most Mexican cities are quite safe places, and you will run into very few issues in most parts of Mexico. From someone who has traveled all around the country, here is the inside scoop on the most dangerous places in Mexico.
Tijuana, one of the biggest cities in Mexico, is located right on the border with the United States across from San Diego, California. Before we ever traveled to Tijuana, all we heard of were risks of crime and pickpocketing, cartel violence, and certain death. It is included on every list of the most dangerous places in Mexico.
At one point, Tijuana even held the reputation of the most dangerous city in Mexico.
In our experience, this just isn’t the case. While there is a larger cartel presence in Tijuana than there is in many other places in Mexico, that doesn’t necessarily put you at risk.
The cartels are smart; they’re not in the business of killing Americans. At least most of them aren’t.
In Tijuana, your real risk is in getting scammed or pickpocketed by a petty criminal – not so much getting shot and killed by a cartel. While petty theft is no fun, it’s not nearly as bad as cartel-related violence.
While the reputation of danger in the city is definitely overhyped, that doesn’t mean you can let your guard down. Tijuana is not a particularly safe place; it’s just not nearly as dangerous for tourists as people hype it up to be. As a border city, there is certainly a risk that innocent bystanders might get dragged into a bad situation, but this is very unlikely.
If you follow the steps that I outline in my Tijuana travel guide, you should not have any major problems while visiting Tijuana. In fact, we loved it there, as well as the rest of the Baja California state! It’s one of our favorite places in Mexico because of its incredible food and craft brewery scene.
So, is Tijuana too dangerous for tourists to visit in 2023?
Tijuana is safe enough to visit if you practice common sense.
2. Cities Along the Texas Border
Over the past several years, there have been a lot of really bad stories surfacing about things happening on the Mexican side of the Texas border. A family of Americans was accidentally blown up in their SUV by a cartel who mistook them for a rival gang. Massive graves have been uncovered, people have been kidnapped, and tourists’ cars have been surrounded and commandeered by gangs.
Is there any truth to this?
Unfortunately, yes there is. While any “dangerous place” isn’t necessarily dangerous all of the time, the Mexican border with Texas tends to be one of the most dangerous places in Mexico as a whole.
The entire U.S. border is prime real estate for the cartels, as they look to find entry points for their illicit products. As a result, there’s a high concentration of bad people here, and an even higher concentration of accidental killings of innocent people that get stuck in the crossfire.
Sadly, the Mexican border with Texas tends to be one of the most dangerous places in all of Mexico.
While passing through during the day on a road trip and staying in the major cities is not especially dangerous, straying away from tourist areas and heading out at night both tend to lead to bad outcomes. Monterrey has a pretty good reputation for safety, but Reynosa, Nuevo Leon, and even as deep as Ciudad Obregón all have sketchy reputations for violence.
The Texas border is mostly unsafe to visit.
While it was once one of the most glamorous destinations in the Americas and a playground for Hollywood celebrities, Acapulco’s popularity has really decreased. This is largely due to a really bad reputation for violence and crime. Many stories of dead bodies washing up on the shore and body parts being found in the streets started to surface, and tourism nearly reached a standstill.
Is there any truth to this? Yes and no. There definitely used to be.
Acapulco went through a period of time where it was truly one of the most dangerous places in Mexico and was not a place you wanted to go. Criminal groups in the area took control of the city and made it practically a warzone.
This is not the case anymore. While the slums outside of Acapulco are definitely not a place you should go anywhere close to, the tourist areas themselves are once again completely safe.
I go into more detail in my Acapulco travel guide. But basically if you keep your guard up and take certain precautions, you can have a really fun and relaxing trip to Acapulco.
This Pacific Coast gem is once again a popular place packed by tourists – both Mexican and foreign – and it’s a really cool place to check out. There are also several really great beaches here, and if you decide to go, you should check out my rankings of the best beaches in Acapulco!
Acapulco is safe enough to visit.
4. The State of Sinaloa
The State of Sinaloa is where one of the most infamous criminal syndicates of all time got its name. The Sinaloa Cartel, the group that made El Chapo famous, calls Culiacan its home.
Due to being at the very core of one of the most illustrious criminal organizations in history, Sinaloa should be dangerous, right? Traveling here should be a death sentence, right?
There is certainly some truth to the dangerous rumors of Sinaloa.
Well, sort of. Like most things, making too broad of a generalization is what puts this into a gray area. There are some places in Sinaloa that are very safe. The coastal city of Mazatlan is a great example of this.
However, there is certainly some truth to these rumors, too. While there are more dangerous places in the world, Sinaloa is typically better off avoided unless you have a lot of experience traveling in Mexico.
Is Sinaloa dangerous on an international level? Not especially. However, generally speaking, this is still one of the more dangerous places in Mexico and you have little need to go here unless you’re headed to the beaches of Mazatlán or the Copper Canyon.
Some places are safe enough to visit, others are too dangerous.
5. Ciudad Juarez
Ciudad Juárez, located right across the border from El Paso, Texas, has certainly earned itself quite a bad reputation. During the peak of its infamy, it was considered to be a literal warzone.
There was excessive indiscriminate violence and it was known as one of the femicide capitals of the world. It had one of the highest homicide rates in the world. For comparison, its highest murder rate was higher than Damascus at the peak of the Syrian Civil War.
People were being killed left and right, and there weren’t enough ambulances to pick up the bodies. Sexual assault and gang activity ran rampant. It was honestly a horrible place to be. But is that still the case?
Nah, Not really.
While Juarez is still a bit rough around the edges (quite literally), it is definitely safe enough to visit. We visited and split our time between Juarez and El Paso, Texas, and we really had an awesome time.
While you definitely need to take safety precautions in Juarez, the odds of something happening to you aren’t particularly high anymore. The extremely high levels of violence have dissipated, although it is still one of the most violent cities in Mexico.
If you don’t draw attention to yourself, don’t go out after dark, and keep your wits about you, you shouldn’t have any issues. I’d advise reading my guide to staying safe in Juarez, though, just to make sure you know everything you need to know!
Ciudad Juarez is safe enough to visit during the daytime if you take precautions.
6. Mexico City
Mexico City is the most populous city in Mexico, and depending on what you read, it’s either a safe haven or a no-go zone. There’s a lot to unpack here because the answer to this is a little bit more complex.
Mexico City is ginormous. It’s the second biggest city in the Americas and makes New York City look like a village. The city absolutely sprawls, and as a result, you can’t really refer to the city as a whole when answering this question.
It really all comes down to what part of the city you’re talking about, as it has bad areas just like any other big city. The truth is that if you stick to the “good” areas and touristy areas of Mexico City – like Roma, Condesa, Hipodromo, the Historic Center, and Polanco – you’re going to feel like you’re in a perfectly safe, upscale place.
While you need to take general big city precautions even in these nice neighborhoods, they’re still just as safe as any big city in Europe or North America.
The truth is that if you stick to the “good” areas and touristy areas of Mexico City, you’re going to feel like you’re in a perfectly safe, upscale place.
How to Stay Safe in Mexico City
To stay safe in Mexico City, the plan is pretty simple – don’t go into the bad areas, and stick to Uber and the subway system instead of buses and local means of transportation. While using public transportation is a favorite of mine, sticking to Uber and the subway in Mexico City is a great strategy for avoiding danger.
I’ve heard of schemes where robbers enter buses and demand that everyone hands over their wallets and phones at gunpoint. This kind of floors me, because I’ve never had anything but good experiences in Mexico City.
Regardless, sticking to good areas and certain kinds of transportation will make you feel not just perfectly safe, but also will set you up to have a really enjoyable trip to Mexico’s capital.
Some places are safe enough to visit, others are too dangerous.
7. Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and the Riviera Maya
The state of Quintana Roo and its Riviera Maya is the most popular tourist zone in Mexico. This area encompasses the entire Caribbean coast, from Cancun all the way down to the Belize border.
While millions of vacationers visit this stretch of immaculate coastline every year to sunbathe and check out the ruins of Chichen Itza, recent headlines have painted an entirely different image of the region.
It is true that there have been shootings and other horrible things in the Cancun and Tulum area over the past couple of years. The massive flow of tourists into the region makes it a very alluring area for cartels to operate, as many of these visitors are interested in purchasing illicit drugs during their Mexican vacation.
Violence in Quintana Roo Is Normally Very Contained
However, it is important to realize that the violence that occurs here is usually contained, targeted, and organized. If you are on a family vacation to a resort in Cancun, there is an incredibly slim chance that anything violent will occur around you during your trip.
While there is a chance of violent encounters between rival gangs on any trip to the Riviera Maya, the threat is not as large as the media portrays it to be.
As an American, you are likely to hear just about every violent event that goes on in Cancun. This portrayal makes it seem incredibly dangerous. But what if your local news network reported on every violent crime that occurred in New York, St. Louis, and Chicago?
My point is that anywhere you travel comes with inherent risks. In my 10+ trips to various places all around Mexico’s Caribbean coast, I have never even sniffed a trace of danger. In most cases, if you don’t go looking for danger in Cancun, you won’t see any.
There’s a chance, but you’re highly unlikely to witness any violent crime.
8. Ciudad Victoria and the Rest of Tamaulipas
The state of Tamaulipas is known as one of the most dangerous states in Mexico, and Ciudad Victoria is its capital. Tamaulipas sprawls along most of Mexico’s sea border with the Gulf of Mexico. This proximity to the water makes it prime real estate for criminal activity, and with cartels usually come high crime rates.
Frankly, there aren’t many tourist destinations in Tamaulipas, so there is very little reason to visit. The crime rates are so high that the U.S. State Department issued severe travel advisories that bar most U.S. Government Employees from even entering the state.
Driving from Texas to Monterrey requires a quick drive through Tamaulipas, and this route is generally considered to be safe. However, driving any further into the state is not advisable.
Avoid at all costs unless driving from Texas to Monterrey.
9. Los Cabos, La Paz, and the Rest of Baja California Sur
Baja California Sur contains the iconic resort cities of Los Cabos and La Paz, but it has had a back-and-forth relationship with criminal groups in previous years. A few flare-ups of crime led to strict travel advisories against the state, and many tourists reconsidered their plans.
Today, visiting the most popular destinations in Baja California Sur is quite safe. These beach towns are once again considered safe places to visit, and you only need to take normal precautions when visiting. Los Cabos is one of Mexico’s ritziest areas these days, and Mexican authorities are doing all they can to keep it that way.
Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo, and La Paz are both quite safe destinations and there is very little to worry about when visiting.
Irapuato is not a very popular place for tourists to visit, and that’s probably a good thing. Located in the state of Guanajuato, Irapuato is a hub of criminal activity with a high homicide rate. There are few draws here for tourists, and it isn’t usually included on Americans’ itineraries in Mexico.
While Irapuato is not popular with Americans, some nearby cities are. The city of Guanajuato is just a stone’s throw away and is exploding in popularity. San Miguel de Allende is one of the most popular cities in Mexico for Americans, and its also very close.
The good news is that despite how close these places are to Irapuato, Irapuato’s crime doesn’t really affect them. Guanajuato is prone to flare-ups on occasion, but San Miguel de Allende is largely considered a safety bubble. Americans can generally visit both of these places with no hesitation, and only standard precautions are necessary.
Avoid, it because there’s no need to visit anyway.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Most Dangerous Cities in Mexico
What place in Mexico has the highest crime?
The place in Mexico that has the highest crime levels is generally the border with the United States. While there are other dangerous places throughout the country, there is no region that is as dangerous as a whole as the United States border.
What are the most dangerous states in Mexico 2023?
The most dangerous states in Mexico in 2023, according to the numbers, are those along the border and the northern part of the Gulf of Mexico. These include Baja California, Coahuila, Sonora, Chihuahua, and Tamaulipas. Sinaloa is also very dangerous.
However, it is important to remember that while the state’s crime levels may be high, that doesn’t mean the entire state is dangerous. Just because Chicago is a hub of crime doesn’t mean that all of Illinois is, for example.
What are the worst cartel cities in Mexico?
The worst cartel cities in Mexico, in terms of corruption and organized crime, are usually Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez, Victoria, Reynosa, and Culiacan.
How many murders in Mexico in 2023?
There were 36,579 murders in Mexico according to a recent study found on wisevoter.com. This translated to a murder rate of 28.37 per 100,000 people, which ranked 4th in the world. According to the study, men are 8 times more likely to be victims of a murder than women.
Thanks for reading my post on the places to avoid in Mexico. Hopefully, if you’ve been wondering what parts of Mexico are dangerous, my advice helps you when you’re planning your next trip. If a place you’re wondering about didn’t make this list, odds are it’s not in one of the most dangerous parts of Mexico, and as long as you take basic precautions, you should be fine.
If you decide to go to any of these places, let us know! If you have any questions or thoughts, either drop a comment below.