Mexico is one of the most unique countries in the world, filled with exceptional beaches, stunning cities, and immaculate nature. Despite being filled with so many incredible places to explore, most tourists flock straight to the tourist areas in coastal resort cities. During my time living in Mexico, I’ve learned that almost all of the country’s top places to visit are hundreds of miles inland from the coast.
Cuernavaca is a place that I’d call one of Mexico’s true hidden gems, but so often people find themselves wondering whether or not Cuernavaca is safe to visit. This blog post will provide an inside look at whether or not it is safe to travel to Cuernavaca through the eyes of an American who has lived just a short drive away for years.
Where Is Cuernavaca?
Dubbed the City of Eternal Spring, Cuernavaca is a relatively small city tucked into the mountains of Mexico’s Central Highlands. It is just a quick 1-2 hour drive or bus ride away from Mexico City. Its proximity to Mexico City makes it very easy to get to, since Mexico City has the biggest hub airport in the entire country.
While Cuernavaca is easy to add to a trip that stops in Central Mexico, it is nowhere near the popular tourist areas along the coasts. Places like Cancun, Tulum, Puerto Vallarta, and Los Cabos are a flight away plus the additional time to get to Mexico City International Airport. Acapulco is the one exception, as it is just a short 2.5-hour drive away.
If you’re planning on visiting both Mexico City and Acapulco, Cuernavaca makes the perfect waypoint. We did this once, and the city proved to be much more than just a place to rest overnight before finishing out our drive back to Puebla! We didn’t know much about Cuernavaca before visiting, but it proved to be one of the most tranquil places we’ve ever visited in Mexico, and is even the capital of the state of Morelos!
Best Airport to Fly to Cuernavaca
If you want to fly to Cuernavaca, you have several options. The closest airport to Cuernavaca is its own, Cuernavaca International Airport (CVJ). Generally speaking, this airport is pretty small and only serves a few regional flights. While its footprint has been growing over the years, there’s a good chance you won’t find any great flight options straight into Cuernavaca International Airport.
In my experience, the better options are Toluca International Airport (TLC) and Mexico City International Airport (MEX). These two airports are much bigger and tend to offer more flights throughout Mexico and internationally. Mexico City International Airport is the biggest hub airport in the whole country, too, which will almost always mean that it’s the best airport to use to fly to Cuernavaca, both from within Mexico and from a foreign country.
Is Cuernavaca Safe to Visit for Tourists?
There’s a huge misconception that Mexico is a vastly dangerous country to visit. A large proportion of tourists think that Mexico is just riddled with criminal activity, and that if you leave your beach resort you will come face to face with drug cartels. The truth is that many of Mexico’s most popular tourist destinations are among the most dangerous cities in Mexico, and most major cities are actually quite safe to visit. Step aside, Playa del Carmen!
Cuernavaca is a place that would fall into this category. While any city in the world will have its safety issues, Cuernavaca is a generally very safe place. I’ve heard stories about gang activity here, but you could say this about anywhere – including every major city in the United States! In most places in Mexico, as long as you avoid illegal activities and use common sense, you’ll usually be just as safe as anywhere else north of the border.
The metropolitan area of Cuernavaca has almost a million people, and any city of that size will have good parts and bad parts. But within the central parts of the city, even petty crime is relatively uncommon. Violent crime is usually either in bad neighborhoods of the city and directly targeted towards other criminals.
It’s very important to note that this is written as it applies to foreigners and tourists. The crime rate in Cuernavaca is actually somewhat high, but the vast majority of crimes are directly targeted toward criminal groups. The Mexican government takes the safety of foreigners very seriously, and as a city packed with foreign students, Cuernavaca gets special attention. While it might not be safe to live in certain parts of the city, it is sufficiently safe to travel to Cuernavaca.
A Note on Rising Crime Rates in Recent Years
I’ve seen some sources say that Cuernavaca is as dangerous as Ciudad Juarez, and to me, that just feels like a lie. I’ve been to most of Mexico’s most dangerous cities, including Juarez and Tijuana, and I don’t think Cuernavaca belongs anywhere in that conversation. Chicago would, though!
Numbers don’t lie, but they do sometimes distort reality. According to the numbers, Cuernavaca has one of the higher homicide rates in Mexico. However, this figure is a biased representation of the reality in Morelos’ state capital.
You can’t trust every ratio. You can trust me – I have a background as a data analyst! The crime rate, when simply stated like that, doesn’t account for the motives or limits of the crimes being committed. Similar math is what consistently ranks Myrtle Beach, South Carolina as one of the most dangerous cities in the United States, despite being a family vacation hub.
I’ve always trusted my gut more than I trust government travel advisories and international news networks. I’ve lived in Mexico for years, and I have never once witnessed or been victim of a crime. While there are certainly risks that come with traveling anywhere, I’d always recommend talking to travelers before ruling out a destination, including Cuernavaca. In my own experience, it is reasonably safe to travel to Cuernavaca, especially if you exercise caution.
Tips for Safety in Cuernavaca
While Cuernavaca is a relatively safe city to visit, there are always things you can do to prioritize your safety when visiting. Like anywhere, there’s always a chance of falling victim to a crime. But with Cuernavaca’s general safety along with these safety tips, your odds of having a bad experience are quite slim.
1. Explore During Daylight Hours
Cuernavaca is absolutely beautiful, and there are so many gorgeous areas to explore. From archaeological sites to beautiful gardens and buildings, Cuernavaca might be the most beautiful city in Mexico other than Puebla. There are so many things to fill up your itinerary!
Most of these places are only open for visitors during the day, so obviously heading out at night to see them is pointless. But going out at night is also significantly more dangerous than the daytime, too. When the sun goes down, like anywhere, crime rates do go up.
That’s not to say that Cuernavaca is dangerous after dark. We had plenty of great experiences walking around the Zocalo after dark and munching on delicious street food! But when the sun goes down, you’ll need to make sure you only stay in safe, well-lit areas and always exercise caution.
2. Opt for Uber Instead of Public Transportation or Taxis
In Cuernavaca, there isn’t very much public transportation aside from buses. While I am normally a big public transportation advocate, I scarcely recommend using it while in most Mexican cities. Uber is incredibly cheap and easy in Mexico, and it is almost always the best option.
While some Mexican cities and states do not allow Uber, most do. Cuernavaca fully allows Uber to be used, and it’s the best way to get around the city. It is also markedly safer than public transportation and taxis, as rides are private, prices are preset, and all drivers are vetted and tracked by Uber, adding several layers to your safety.
Uber in Mexico works just like it does at home. You can pay through the app with your credit card and there is no need to carry cash.
3. Carry Only the Cash That You Need
On that note, I don’t recommend carrying much cash around. Unless you’re going shopping, you’ll be perfectly fine in most places with just a credit card. While it’s always good to have some cash on hand for tipping or street food, I’d keep it to a minimum.
Similarly, leave your debit card behind. When you use a credit card, charges can be disputed and your money is protected. When you use a debit card, criminals can fully access your money with no way to get it back.
Generally, I recommend carrying no more than 500 pesos per person in your group for a typical day out. This is usually around $ 20 USD. If you plan on visiting tourist attractions or going shopping, your cash needs may be slightly higher. I recommend researching entry fees in advance to make sure you can pay in card, and if not, that you carry enough cash.
4. Keep an Eye on Your Personal Belongings
Early in my traveling days, a friend told me the most likely crime to ever fall victim to is pickpocketing or bag-snatching. Now as a seasoned veteran, I’d say that advice is spot on. While I have never been pickpocketed or robbed, I have come dangerously close on multiple occasions.
In Cuernavaca, the worst crime you’re likely to experience is pickpocketing. While it’s much better than armed robbery, losing your phone or wallet is still catastrophic! For this reason, I recommend being very diligent with your belongings.
Like in any major city, keep your valuables in your front pockets rather than your back pockets. It’s much harder to steal from your front pockets, especially since most rear pockets are much shallower. I also feel my pockets regularly to make sure everything is still there!
I also highly recommend investing in a theft-proof backpack. While it isn’t necessary, I find that it always provides me with excellent peace of mind, and many of my bag’s features have come in handy on more than one occasion. I always travel with a backpack from PacSafe, and I doubt any other company will win me over.
PacSafe’s bags are both good-looking and highly effective. My bag (the MetroSafe LS450) comes with locks on each zipper, a bottom that can’t be cut or slashed, and straps that can be attached to poles or park bench legs when I set my bag down. Beyond that, the bags are very highly functional and spacious for everyday use, too. If you want to learn more, use my link to check out what they have for sale!
5. Steer Clear of Illegal Activities
In Cuernavaca, most crime is committed against other criminals. Drug cartels generally want nothing to do with tourists, and they usually avoid them to steer clear of the news and police. However, if you partake in illicit activities, you’re opening up that Pandora’s box.
Drugs and prostitution are always illegal in Mexico. There is no such thing as legal marijuana or cocaine south of the border, and beyond just supporting cartels, you put yourself on their radar by consuming these things. Regardless of your personal habits, you should always avoid these things while in Mexico. As an Uber driver once told me in Tijuana, most foreigners are actively avoided by the gangs unless they put their nose where it doesn’t belong.
6. Know the Emergency Number
The emergency hotline in Mexico is 911, just like in the United States. Whether you need the police or an ambulance, this is the fastest way to get help. You never know when this information can save a life, whether it is yours or someone else’s!
7. Stay in a Reputable Hotel or Airbnb
Costs and prices in Mexico are much lower than many countries in the world, and foreigners can often afford to stay in very nice establishments. It’s common for 5-star hotels in Mexico to cost less than 2-star or 3-star hotels in the United States. If you can afford it, I highly recommend opting for 5-star hotels when traveling in Mexico.
While smaller hotels may be perfectly safe, there’s a higher element of unknown. I had a great experience in a local motel in Orizaba once, and I had a terrible experience in a small motel in Tulum. 5-star hotels are rarely hit or miss, and having an in-room safe is a huge advantage.
You can say the same for Airbnb’s. Always read the reviews before booking your stay. We stayed at a lovely Airbnb in Cuernavaca for less than $50 per night including parking!
In terms of hotels, the Ex Hacienda Santa Cecilia is a 4.5 star luxury hotel that gets raving reviews and often costs less than $100 per night.
8. Do as the Locals Do
Despite how many blog posts you read, nobody knows better than locals. When you do as the locals do, you often find yourself in a safe and manageable situation. As an added perk, the locals always know the best places to go in the city, and if you see a crowd of people eating at a certain restaurant, you know it’s a good one!
We followed the noise in Cuernavaca and wound up at a really nice corner cafe that served delicious food. If you speak Spanish, never hesitate to ask a friendly-looking person for recommendations. Folks in Cuernavaca are very friendly and will often help you out.
9. Travel with a Friend
Safe or not, most places are usually safer in groups than solo. While there’s something to be said about the tranquility of solo travel, having a companion makes almost any situation safer. I’ve always preferred traveling with a friend, and once I got married and had kids that reality was locked in!
10. Stay Hydrated
While it may be the City of Eternal Spring, this weather can actually be deceiving. The cool temperatures often cloud the feeling of thirst, and dehydration can set in quickly. Cuernavaca is pretty hilly, and you’ll likely need to drink more water than you realize.
Like anywhere in Mexico, you should always stick to bottled water or purified water from a large blue jug. Even if you see locals drinking the tap water, that doesn’t mean you should. Trust me – you’re better off paying a couple bucks for bottles!
Is Cuernavaca Worth Visiting?
With hundreds of incredible destinations in Mexico, it can be hard to choose where to visit. While Cuernavaca isn’t my favorite place in Mexico, it is definitely a nice one that belongs on certain itineraries!
To me, Cuernavaca is a decent substitute for a place like Puebla or San Miguel de Allende. While I’d pick either of those cities over Cuernavaca, there’s one situation where I’d choose Cuernavaca instead: itineraries that are stopping in both Mexico City and the coastal gem of Acapulco. Cuernavaca sits right on the route between these two popular destinations, and it makes the perfect waypoint.
Cuernavaca is loaded with natural beauty, and colonial buildings like the Cuernavaca Cathedral are jaw-dropping. But one can say this about many places in Mexico! one big advantage of visiting Cuernavaca is that you can pair it with a visit to Tepoztlan, which is a gorgeous little town in the mountains just a short drive from the center of Cuernavaca.
For international visitors to Mexico City, visiting Tepoztlan and Cuernavaca makes a great day trip, along with the other cities on my list of the best day trips from Mexico City. It’s the perfect retreat from the noise and density of CDMX!
Hopefully this post answered the question any questions you have about safety in Cuernavaca. If you have any questions, let us know by dropping a comment below!