By: Paul Hudson
Mexico is a marvelous place to visit. It is one of the world’s top travel destinations due to its people, natural beauty, and tourist infrastructure. Mexico also makes the international headlines for safety problems. This is my attempt at a data-driven analysis of the safest places to visit in Mexico from the perspective of the people who live there.
This article is based on statistics published by the Mexican government’s Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública (SESNSP) on crime rates, Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía (INEGI) on a survey of the perception of safety by local residents, and the U.S. State Department Travel Advisory reports.
There is always somebody ready to declare Tijuana as one of the safest places to visit in Mexico based on their personal experience of spending one day there. I love Tijuana but I wouldn’t send my elderly mother there unaccompanied like I would send her to Puerto Vallarta. 83% of the people who live in Tijuana perceive the city as unsafe and the rate of homicides and disappearances are high no matter what you compare it to. It is best not to rely on one single data point but use multiple sources of information to create a more nuanced picture of the safest places to visit in Mexico.
There are differences between the perception of security issues by Mexican nationals and foreigners. In San Miguel de Allende for example the expat community speaks little Spanish, consumes very little local media nor follows politics. It is a bubble within the larger state of Guanajuato and many residents are unaware of the situation just a short distance away in Irapuato, Celaya, and Salamanca.
Safety in Mexico is one of those issues that gets people really worked up. There are both sensationalists and deniers. Questions about safety in Mexico on the big online discussion forums are often received with rude comments that can quickly descend into petty arguments. Some people who see the US news media sensationalizing the violence in Mexico go so far as to say that the violence in Mexico is no different than the violence in the United States. If you grew up in inner-city Saint Louis or inner-city Chicago I get the analogy. Most of us did not. An honest assessment of the security situation in Mexico will allow travelers to make the best decision for their individual situation.
Honestly, there is little comparison between the types of gun violence in Mexico and the United States. In the US crazy people with guns try to kill as many strangers as possible before taking their own life. In Mexico, gun violence is business related with specific targets and the perpetrators try to escape afterward. The collateral damage in Mexico is negligible compared to the United States. Robberies exist in both countries but the dramatic shootouts that make the international press are very different.
Instead of comparing Mexico City to a small pueblo like Yelapa or Sayulita, I will be examining similar categories such as the safest states in Mexico, the safest cities in Mexico, the best border crossings, the safest beaches in Mexico, and the safest small towns in Mexico.
Common sense isn’t enough to avoid dangerous situations in the popular tourist areas of major metropolitan areas. The popular scams in São Paulo right now probably look a little different from the scams in Mexico City. A part of enjoying safe activities is identifying the dangerous activities so they may be avoided.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the security situation can change quickly. Colima went from one of the safest places in Mexico to one of the least safe places in Mexico in less than five years. Currently, 87% of the population of Colima considers the city to be unsafe. Tijuana has a constant ebb and flow of violence. Guadalajara is a beautiful city that is constantly in the news for security problems.
I have been following the security situation in Mexico for more than twenty years. I have a bachelor’s degree in global economics with a specialization in Latin America from UC Santa Cruz and an unfinished master’s degree in finance from Monterrey Tec. I interned at the Institute of the Americas where I met former presidents, ambassadors, and high-ranking political figures working toward binational cooperation on issues including security. I am a long-time permanent resident of Mexico who has operated a business and I follow the local news closely and attend neighborhood meetings. I have also seen the violence first hand having been mugged, being stuck in traffic when the narcobloqueos broke out, and having a grenade go off at a bar across the street from my apartment. Security is important to me and my safety precautions have matured over time especially now that I have a family.
The Safest States in Mexico to Visit
Mexico is a really big country with very diverse travel experiences. There are both safe and unsafe experiences that can be very close together. The state of Jalisco for example has Puerto Vallarta which is a popular destination on the Pacific coast famous for beautiful beaches. In recent years the small towns along the border with Michoacán and Zacatecas have experienced an uptick in violent crime. Looking at the crime rate and specifically, the homicide rate statewide will give us a better picture of the regional security situation. Puerto Vallarta is lovely but there are pockets of instability in the Stae of Jalisco and one must be careful about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Interestingly, the number of homicides in these five safest states combined represents only 1% of the total number of homicides in Mexico. These states have some of the smallest populations in Mexico but they are also some of the safest places in Mexico to travel.
Before we get started let’s talk about the difference between the Yucatán Peninsula and Yucatán State. Yucatán State is the northern portion of the Yucatán Peninsula that is bordered on the east by Quintana Roo State and bordered on the west by Campeche State. Both the peninsula and the state are famous for white-sand beaches and Mayan ruins such as the iconic Chichen Itzá. Yucatán State is a great place to travel, backpack, and road trip in Mexico because there are lots of popular tourist destinations in a small area.
In 2021 Yucatán was home to 42 of Mexico’s 33,308 intentional homicides. There is a total population of 2.3 million inhabitants. The state population ranks 22nd in Mexico and the gross state product per capita is ranked 21st in the country. It is one of the smaller and least developed states in Mexico.
While English has become more common in the last couple of years, Spanish and Mayan are the two primary languages.
The capital city of Mérida has a minor airport and is in close proximity to the beach towns, ancient ruins, pueblos mágicos, and lots of great food. This is the perfect place to start an adventure in Mexico. It is the safest part of the country to travel around and explore a few different experiences.
My ideal road trip through Yucatán State would start in Mérida and probably finish in the state of Quintana Roo. It would include the Uxmal archeological site which is not as crowded as Chichen Itzá. I would visit the Pueblo Mágico of Izamal which is called the Yellow City because most of its buildings are painted yellow. After that, I would head to the beach.
Sisal is another Pueblo Mágico right on the water. Celestun is right on the Campeche border and is famous for its flock of flamingos. Then I would pass by the pink lake of Las Coloradas before finishing at Valladolid and Chichen Itzá. A trip to Yucatán isn’t complete without a picture of the iconic El Castillo pyramid.
Baja California Sur
Much like Yucatán State, Baja California Sur is a state within the larger peninsula. Baja California is the northern half of the Baja Peninsula and Baja California Sur is the southern half of the peninsula. Baja California Sur is very different from Baja California when it comes to safety. In 2021 Baja California Sur was home to only 51 of Mexico’s 33,308 intentional homicides.
While Baja California Sur occupies a rather large area there are very few people who live here. It is the state with the second smallest population in all of Mexico with 798,447 inhabitants or 0.6% of the population of Mexico. Baja California Sur is also the newest state admitted to the United States of Mexico, along with Quintana Roo, and is considered to be the 31st of 31 states.
Safety in Baja California Sur is less about violent crime than it is about being prepared for the wilderness. The Baja Peninsula is an amazing destination for outdoor enthusiasts because of its natural beauty. It can be dangerous because of the desert conditions and vast wilderness. A modern hospital could be a long ways away.
My ideal road trip through Baja California Sur starts in San Ignacio to admire the Jesuit mission and plan a whale-watching trip to San Ignacio Bay. From there I would embark on some crazy 4-wheeling trails to the world-famous Scorpian Bay surf spot. I would cross the peninsula to Loreto where I would get my scuba certification and dive into the Loreto Bay National Park.
From Loreto, it is a long drive down to La Paz to snorkel with the whale sharks and visit the most beautiful beach in Mexico, Balandra Bay. The foodie scene in Todos Santos is really exciting with destination restaurants like Jazamango by Javier Plascencia and Agricole Cooperativa which is a farm and restaurant.
Cabo San Lucas is a little crazy with nightclubs and excesses but there are tons of great beaches and the east cape is undeveloped for the time being. I would finish up in Cabo Pulmo to swim with the manta rays and look into some more scuba diving.
The State of Aguascalientes is a pocket of tranquility in a sea of violence. Neighboring Zacatecas is a mess right now. Lagos de Moreno on the Jalisco border needs a little security detail, and so does most of Guanajuato. Aguascalientes may not be on the cover of international destination magazines but that might be reason enough to visit. It is part of the Bajío region and is home to a lot of traditional Mexican culture.
In 2021 the state of Aguascalientes ranked third overall with the lowest number of homicides at 86. Just like Yucatán and Baja California Sur, Aguascalientes is a small state with a population of 1.4 million people which represents just over 1% of the total population of Mexico. Unlike Baja California Sur and Yucatán, Aguascalientes is more densely populated. It isn’t Mexico City but it is only three places behind the capital when it comes to population density (inhabitants per square kilometer).
The economy of Aguascalientes is good. The gross state product per capita is ranked 10th in the country. Ranching is big business and includes both agriculture and livestock. There is a huge automobile manufacturing industry that is visible from the toll roads coming into the state. The World Bank consistently ranks Aguascalientes as one of the best places to do business in Mexico.
My ideal trip to Aguascalientes would be in April or May for the Feria de San Marcos. This is considered to be one of, if not the largest state fair in Mexico. It is billed at the Feria de San Marcos, La Feria de México. There are typical fair events like rides, games of chance, concerts, and livestock exhibitions but the real draw are the bullfights. I would read the book Mexico: A Novel by James Michener to really get an idea of the draw that the event has had on people throughout Mexico but also including Spanish and US aficionados. I suspect the imaginary town of Toledo in Michener’s book was influenced by Aguascalientes but the name was changed to protect the innocent.
There is a great birria restaurant referenced in the Cronicas del Taco series on Netflix. The engraver and caricaturist José Guadalupe Posada was originally from Aguascalientes and there is a small museum dedicated to his work and legacy there.
Campeche is located in the southeast part of Mexico on the Yucatán Peninsula and is another under-the-radar international travel destination. Even within Mexico, it is a little under the radar. I think that Alan x el Mundo did a great job coving Campeche as well as Mariel de Viaje. The people that I know on the Pacific coast of Mexico probably don’t have Campeche on their travel list just yet.
The State of Campeche borders Yucatán, Quintana Roo, Guatemala, and Tabasco, and is only 10 km away from Chiapas in a couple of places. There are less than a million people residing in the entire state making it the third smallest population in Mexico. In 2021 there were 96 intentional homicides. Even petty crime in the capital is low by most standards. San Francisco de Campeche has a low perception of insecurity by its residents. People really like living there.
The city center of San Francisco de Campeche has cobblestone streets and brightly colored colonial architecture. It is a really nice town and one of the gems of the Yucatan Peninsula.
The ancient Mayan city of Calakmul and surrounding tropical forests are a protected region and Unesco world heritage site and a highlight of the state.
The history of Tlaxcala is really interesting because the original people of the region allied themselves with Hernán Cortez and the Spanish during the conquest of Tenochtitlán. They reaped some benefits because of it.
There was far more of the original history that was documented in the original Nahuatl because the Tlaxcalteca aristocracy was left in place during much of the colonial era. In contrast, the Aztec royalty was destroyed. To this day, Tlaxcala is a hub of indigenous cultures where Nahuatl is proudly spoken in public and perceived differently than it may be in other parts of the country.
Tlaxcala has a population of 1.35 million inhabitants making it the fifth smallest state in the republic. It borders Puebla, Hidalgo, and Mexico State. In 2021 there were 124 intentional homicides.
The most important tourist attractions in Tlaxcala are the archaeological site of Cacaxtla and the town of Val’ Quirico which looks like a medieval or renaissance era Italian village. In the mountain forest near Mexico State, there is a firefly sanctuary that is popular with 4×4 enthusiasts. There is great camping on some historic properties.
The Safest Cities in Mexico to Visit
I am going to change gears as we move from the safest states in Mexico to the safest cities in Mexico. Looking at the state-wide data we saw the rate of intentional homicides as an indicator of safety. As we move into the city data we are going to be looking at surveys that the National Statistics and Geographic Institute conducts on the perception of insecurity. The survey asks people if they feel unsafe where they live and has coverage in 75 of the largest cities throughout Mexico. These surveys are conducted quarterly and there are some national trends and correlations that we will cover later on.
The most common places that people feel unsafe are ATMs in public places, public transportation, Banks, local streets, and the highway. Places like home, work, and the mall rank much safer.
San Pedro Garza García
San Pedro Garza Garcia is one of the municipalities that comprise the Monterrey Metropolitan Region and has a population of 162,169. It is a very wealthy area where the median home price is approaching the equivalent of US$1 million. This is the southwest part of the Monterrey Metropolitan Region and it has been settled continuously since the 16th century.
In the first quarter of 2022, 11.7% of the population felt unsafe in their city. In the second quarter, the number increased to 15.1%. There is no other city of any substantial size with a perception of safety like that. Nothing else comes close.
There are plenty of new highrises with vanguard architecture. The main attraction is shopping at designer boutiques, technology stores, car dealerships, and high-end restaurants. PANGEA is consistently rated as one of the best restaurants in Mexico and Latin America. I would leverage any social capital available to play a round of golf at Club Campestre de Monterrey country club. It is an amazing course.
There are a lot of really enjoyable experiences in San Pedro Garza Garcia that aren’t always associated with Mexico, like golf. San Pedro Garza Garcia is a pleasant surprise for many travelers. Experienced business travelers may be in the know about the area but not many people outside that group will be recommending it as a tourist destination.
Benito Juárez, CDMX
La Ciudad de México is a major city with both safe and unsafe municipalities. Benito Juarez borders the Cuauhtémoc municipality which includes touristy Roma and Condessa. Benito Juarez is a local area that includes Narvarte, Del Valle, Tlacoquemecatle, and Xoco.
My wife has family in both Del Valle and Xoco, and we love visiting the area. There are some of my favorite restaurants in Mexico City like the Chamorros de Tlacoquemecatle, Tlayudas el Tasajo, and the Almanegre coffee shop. Xoco is right across Avenida Río Churubusco from Coyoacán. The municipality is as centrally located as Mexico City can be.
Once you have finished checking out Roma and Condessa make sure to spend a little time in Benito Juarez.
The state of Tamaulipas has a nasty reputation for crime and drug cartels because of the northern border region near Matamoros, San Fernando, and Nuevo Laredo. If you look at the map you will notice that Tampico is a long way away from the complicated US border region. The perception of insecurity by local residents was 20.4% in Q1 of 2022 and 27.6% in Q2 which is a stark contrast to the rates in Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo. Even the US State Department travel warning for Tamaulipas mentions that lower rate of violent criminal activity compared to the rest of the state.
Tamaulipas is one of those states where security can change quickly. A friend of mine who helps expats relocate to Mexico with their pets drives through Tamaulipas all the time. He says that everyone commenting on the security situation in Tamaulipas has never actually traveled to Tamaulipas. He says that the Mexican authorities have a strong presence along the freeways and the roads are in excellent condition. The CANACAR (National Chamber of Commerce for automobile cargo shipping) recognized Tamaulipas for having the safest freeways in Mexico in 2022.
Tampico isn’t at the top of my list of places to visit but I will admit that I was surprised that the perception of insecurity was so low. It just goes to show that there are a lot of destinations that we may make assumptions about without having all of the facts. Or that the facts have changed. 2011 was not a good year for Tamaulipas.
Saltillo is the capital of the northern state of Coahuila. Coahuila is known as the land of wine and dinosaurs. There is an excellent dinosaur museum in Saltillo as well as some nice wine bars. The Valle de Parras wine region is a resort town only an hour outside of Saltillo that was the first officially recognized winery in the Americas dating back to the 16th century. Both Saltillo and Coahuila were important theaters in the war of independence, the Mexican-American war, the reform war, and the Revolution
It is safe to say that Coahuila has a very different security situation than the neighboring state of Nuevo Leon. The corridor from Saltillo to Piedras Negras is considered to be the safest border crossing into Texas and quite possibly into the United States. In Q1 24.1% of the population of Saltillo reported feeling unsafe in the city. The figure rose to 29.8% in Q2
The Saltillo Cathedral is reason enough to visit the area. It is one of the finest examples of baroque and churrigueresco architecture in Mexico.
Los Cabos, Baja California Sur
I love Cabo. It is an easy, safe trip from the west coast of North America because there are so many direct flights. Cabo San Lucas can feel like a foreign country within Mexico because of the massive hotels and the English speakers outnumber the Spanish speakers.
San Jose del Cabo on the other hand still has the essence of a smaller Mexican city with the main square and a lot of options for nature lovers.
It is easy to still find virgin beaches just a short distance outside of the city. The east cape of the Baja Peninsula is famous for clear water and abundant marine life. In the summertime the surf is world-class and people flock to the beaches to test their luck. The best beaches get crowded but there are usually enough waves that everyone stays happy.
In the first quarter of 2022, 28.5% of the population of Los Cabos felt the area was unsafe. The number rose to 30.7% in the second quarter. Considering there were only 51 murders in the entire state in 2021, Los Cabos is easily one of the best cities in Mexico. I am planning another trip to Los Cabos and Baja California Sur right now.
We already talked about Yucatán but Mérida is often cited as the safest city in Mexico. With its lovely historic center and delicious regional food, it is no surprise that Mérida is one of the most enjoyable places to visit in Mexico.
It is very hot in Mérida so it is important to plan activities early in the day and late in the afternoon. It would be best to avoid the mid-day sun on a long photography walk. Try to maximize the golden hour.
One of the favorite activities in Mérida is walking the streets of the center to appreciate the historic architecture, restaurants, and boutiques. I don’t think that any trip to Mérida is complete without a sunset photo at the Monumento a La Patria traffic circle on Paseo de Montejo.
It is highly recommended to make time for a day trip to the beach, an archeological site, or one of the pueblos mágicos in the area. Staying for a night or two at one of the restored hacienda boutique hotels will easily be one of the highlights of your trip.
The perception of safety in Mérida is very good. In the first quarter of 2022, only 22.4% of the population felt it was unsafe. The number rose to 34.1% in Q2 but there was a note about the statistical margin of error due to the large change. No matter how you look at it, Mérida is easily one of the safest places to travel in Mexico.
Los Mochis, Sinaloa
I have been talking this article over with everyone in my orbit. Los Mochis and Sinaloa in general came as a bit of a surprise but after talking it over, the general consensus is that this part of Mexico is very safe. While Sinaloa has a reputation there is no struggle for control. There is one organization that controls everything, unchallenged. The state of Quintana Roo by contrast has multiple organizations struggling for control of the local drug trade.
Los Mochis is an important federal transportation hub with the ferry terminal in Topolobampo, the Chihuahua-Pacifico train line, and the Interstate 15 freeway. These are important pieces of transportation infrastructure and the federal government is invested in keeping them safe.
Much like the rest of Sinaloa, the history of Los Mochis is rooted in agriculture. There is an exceptional botanical garden in town. The best local museum is called El Trapiche Interactive Museum of Los Mochis in a reference to the history of sugar cane production which made the early caudillos rich.
Make it a point to stop and eat when coming through the area. There are good seafood restaurants and stalls on almost every corner. I loved Mariscos El Farallón and Mariscos el Tungar but there are tons of great places to eat both formal and informal.
Los Mochis is one of the best places to break up the drive down Interstate 15 because of the abundant hotels with safe parking.
San Nicolás de los Garza, Nuevo León
Monterrey has not one but two of the safest cities in Mexico. San Nicolás de los Garza is on the northeast side of the Monterrey Metropolitan Region. While the median home price in San Pedro Garza García is ridiculously expensive, the prices in San Nicolás de los Garza are much more reasonable. It is a working-class suburb of the second-largest city (metropolitan region really) in Mexico. Monterrey is considered the best city for industry and big business. The government has a very close relationship with the United States and there are a lot of US companies that have set up their headquarters in the area.
Cuajimalpa de Morelos
Nestles in between Álvaro Obregón and Mexico State on the far west side of Mexico City is the Delegation of Cuajimalpa. Many travelers will pass by Cuajimalpa on their way into Mexico City as they descend from La Marquesa on the freeway to Toluca. Few will stop.
The municipality includes neighborhoods like Cuajimalpa, San Mateo Tlaltenango, and Lomas de Santa Fe. Lomas de Santa Fe is futuristic and luxurious. San Mateo Tlaltenango is a wealthy suburban enclave and Cuajimalpa is a middle-class suburban area. My brother-in-law grew up in this area and has helped me maximize my time here.
Lomas de Santa Fe is an excellent place to use as a staging ground for accessing Mexico City. The traffic in Mexico City is nuts and there are certain times of day that you do not want to be on the road because of traffic and Hoy No Circula restrictions. When you are driving in from elsewhere you never really know what time you will arrive because of traffic considerations. Lomas de Santa Fe is right off the freeway and has tons of hotels with safe parking and awesome restaurants. This super modern part of Mexico City is probably something you weren’t expecting.
In the first quarter of 2022, the insecurity factor was 41%. In the second quarter of 2022, that figure dropped to 37%. These figures are significantly lower than most of Mexico City. Benito Juarez is the only other municipality with a similarly low perception of insecurity. Most other municipalities have rates twice that. 83% of residents in Azcapotzalco believe the area to be insecure.
The Safest Border Crossings in Mexico
Border crossings have a bad reputation for being dangerous places. Criminal organizations make lots of money by transporting contraband across the border. Drugs and migrants are smuggled into the United States while guns and cash slip into Mexico. I grew up next to San Ysidro and occasionally travel through Nogales and Ciudad Juarez. I also read the newspapers and know that Reynosa and Nuevo Loredo have horrible reputations. If you read Paul Theroux’s travelogue On the Plain of Snakes the first third of the book is about all the problems along the 3,000 km long border.
I was really surprised to learn that one of the safest cities in Mexico was the border town of Piedras Negras.
Piedras Negras, Coahuila
An acquaintance of mine in the On The Road In Mexico forum on Facebook had to set me straight. I thought all border towns were sketchy. It turns out that Piedras Negras is not only the best border crossing into Mexico but it is also one of the safest cities in the entire country.
In the first quarter of 2022, only 22.2% of the population considered Piedras Negras to be unsafe. The figure rose to 28.5% in Q2 but that is still one of the best perceptions of insecurity in all of Mexico, border city or not.
It seems that Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras have become the preferred border crossing to enter and exit Texas. When looking at the map it would appear that Monterrey to Nuevo Laredo would be the easiest route to San Antonio. Saltillo to San Antonio by way of Piedras Negras adds about 70 miles but is considered to be a much safer route with a more relaxed border crossing.
Tecate, Baja California
Tecate is a small town and designated Pueblo Mágico between Tijuana and Mexicali. It may not be the most magical of the Pueblos Mágicos in Mexico but it is the easiest place to cross in and out of Mexico from California. It is a little out of the way from San Diego but that is what keeps the crowds at bay. There isn’t the same volume of commuter traffic that major cities like San Diego and Tijuana see every morning and afternoon.
The borderline in Tecate is consistently shorter than the wait in San Ysidro, Otay Mesa, and Mexicali. Tecate has been my parent’s favorite way to access the Valle de Guadalupe wine region for some years. I am not 100% sure how my mom heard about Tecate but I am so glad she shared this hidden gem with me. I am used to the chaos and heavy border traffic of Tijuana but I wouldn’t want my mom crossing at rush hour. When you know the border wait is going to be long it is well worth the extra drive out to Tecate.
Rancho La Puerta is an amazing resort and spa that would make a great first stop on a trip down the Baja Peninsula.
The Safest Beaches in Mexico
An interesting characteristic of Mexican geography is that the major metropolitan areas are usually located in the center of the Country. Mexico City, Monterrey, and Guadalajara are all a long drive from the beach. Much of the coast is made up of small towns that do not have a population large enough to be considered by the national surveys on security.
Bahía de Banderas, Jalisco and Nayarit
Puerto Vallarta is one of the safest and most treasured parts of Mexico to visit for good reason. But in addition to just visiting the city of Puerto Vallarta, I recommend traveling around the entire bay area. From Cabo Corrientes in the south to Punta Mita in the north, there are dozens of spectacular beaches for each type of travel. And they are ALL safe. There has been an uptick in the instances of petty theft but overall, Puerto Vallarta and the surrounding areas are one of the safest places to visit in Mexico.
Once upon a time, Puerto Vallarta was a small fishing village nestled between the Sierra Madre Mountains and the Bay of Banderas. John Huston, Elizabeth Taylor, and Richard Burton changed everything in the 1960s. When Richard Burton was cast as the lead in Night of the Iguana he brought his famous girlfriend along to the set. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton had just fallen in love on the set of Cleopatra but they were both married to other people. The international celebrity gossip went into overdrive and the international paparazzi swarmed. Puerto Vallarta got so much publicity it inevitably became the next hot Mexican beach destination.
Puerto Vallarta has remained enchanting after all of these years. The town has grown like crazy but the Romantic Zone still feels like you are stepping back in time. It is easy to find secluded beaches hidden in the jungle or watch the mega yachts land at the marina. There is something for everyone.
Puerto Escondido is the surfing capital of Mexico and during the summer months professional surfers and photographers from around the world set up camp here. While there is some petty theft the biggest danger in Puerto Escondido is the ocean. It is not safe to swim in Playa Zicatela for most of the year. Swimmers must use the beaches closer to town that are protected from the open ocean swells.
Playa Zicatela is the main surfing beach with big waves and strong currents. On the south end of the beach is La Punta Zicatela surf spot where the waves are a little smaller and more predictable because they break off of a point. A little bit closer to town there are beaches Playa Manzanillo and Playa Carrizaillo which are the safest beaches for swimming. All of the beaches in Puerto Escondido are stunning.
It is important to observe the ocean conditions before getting into the water in Puerto Escondido.
Holbox is easily one of the most beautiful beaches in all of Mexico. The size of the island has restricted some of the big-box development that is prevalent in other parts of the Riviera Maya such as Playa del Carmen and Cancún. The population of full-time residents is little more than 1,000 people and the whole area is an ecological reserve called Yum Balam.
The island is little more than a sand bar just 7 km off the coast. There is a ferry connecting the mainland but no cars are allowed. The best way to get around is on bikes or golf carts.
Even though Holbox is an incredibly small and laid-back destination there are quite a lot of activities to dive into. The Caribbean waters are warm and shallow making them safe for swimming. There are whale sharks, bioluminescence, kayaking, cenotes, and excellent snorkeling. It is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts.
The town has a lot of style and there are a fair amount of murals and interesting small businesses to keep you occupied for a week or longer. The friendly locals love their island and want to protect it from becoming overdeveloped like Tulum.
Todos Santos is a tiny town situated on the Pacific coast of Baja California Sur in the municipality of La Paz and located one hour north of Cabo San Lucas. It is more like three towns because Pescadero, Cerritos, and Todos Santos are just a few minutes away from each other by car. The area is an oasis in the middle of the desert and is known as a boutique destination for outdoor enthusiasts with particularly good food. This is one of the best places to learn to surf in Mexico because of the consistency of small waves perfect for beginners.
Jesuit priests built a mission here in the early 1700s called Santa Rosa de las Palmas de Todos Santos. That mission was destroyed by the natives ten years later. The mission that stands today was built by Dominican priests in the 1800s and has been modernized ever since. In the post-colonial period, Todos Santos was an important center for sugar cane production. The town is so picturesque because of the 19th-century buildings that have been restored and painted bright colors. It reminds me a lot of a much smaller version of Mazatlan’s historic downtown.
Many people are just passing through Todos Santos on the way to or from Los Cabos. It is worth it to stay for a few days just to eat at all of the restaurants in town. There are high-end places like Javier Plascencia’s Jazamango and simple shacks selling some of the best fish tacos you will taste in this lifetime. Doce Cuarenta, the local coffee shop, looks historic from the outside and ultra-modern on the inside.
If you are thinking about learning to surf then Todos Santos should be at the top of your list of places to give it a try.
Puerto Escondido may be the capital of the professional surf industry in Mexico but Sayulita is the best place for beginners to catch their first waves and hone their skills. There are lovely beaches in every direction and lots of fun things to do in Sayulita.
Sayulita is located in the state of Nayarit just one hour north of Puerto Vallarta. The Puerto Vallarta International Airport makes the trip to Sayulita very easy because of the large number of direct flights from across North America. It is a reletively safe destination devoid of most violent crime. The biggest concern is petty theft and scams at the gas station on the way in to town. I was blown away reading the Google Maps reviews how many people, Mexicans and tourists alike, who have short changed.
Sayulita has the best nightlife in the area. Punta Mita is a 25 minute drive down the penninsula and has a lot of waves but the not as much nightlife for a younger crowd.
Some Surprises in the Data on Safety
I really enjoyed spending time looking over the data about the perception of the safest places to visit in Mexico. There were a number of surprises that I was not expecting. The worst cities for security are in the state of Zacatecas which is right next to where I live in Jalisco. We are constantly reading about problems near the border and it was no wonder that Fresnillo and Zacatecas City were at the top of the list.
The perception of security in Guadalajara is poor. So bad that I will have to update my article on the security situation in Guadalajara. 85% of residents consider the area to be unsafe. I noticed an uptick in the perception of insecurity during the pandemic but I didn’t realize how bad it has gotten. The 85 percentile is right in line with Toluca, Tijuana, and Uruapan.
Cancún is another popular tourist destination that 82% of the locals consider to be unsafe. I have seen a number of high-profile crimes in the newspapers but I didn’t realize how bad the perception of crime in Cancún has gotten. When you think about it, it makes sense. People go to Cancún to party and there is an active market for drugs in the party destinations along the Riviera Maya. Tulum is too small to be on the list for perception but there are way too many homicides for such a small town. Lots of people go to Tulum to do drugs and that creates a problem. Cartels are going to fight for control of the drug market.
Lastly, I was really surprised to see Ciudad Obregón in the top three places for the perception of security problems. Obregón is a popular stop along the Interstate 15 freeway from Nogales to Mexico City. Navajoa, 70 km to the south, gets all the talk about corrupt cops in the On The Road In Mexico forum on Facebook. There is a new libremiento freeway that allows travelers to bypass the city of Ciudad Obregón. I wanted to get some pictures of the monument to the Yaqui dancer on the north side of town but after pulling into the rest area I got a bad feeling and left quickly.
Some Final Thoughts on the Safest Places to Visit in Mexico
I hope I come off as somewhere in between denialist and sensationalist with the tone of this article. I think that safety and security are important to enjoying Mexico over the long term. We need to be honest about the activities that we engage in and the choices we make when it comes to security.
And just because a place isn’t safe doesn’t mean that we have to avoid it altogether. I spend plenty of time in places that are considered to be dangerous but we need to know what the honest level of risk is so that each person can make the best decision for their individual situation. I like getting tacos late at night but I don’t want to bring my little kids to a sketchy neighborhood late at night to eat tacos until they are a little older.
Lastly, I hope that my methodology has been consistent. The goal is to combine statistical data with personal experience to give a more nuanced look at the safest places to visit in Mexico. I know that just because I haven’t been carjacked in rural Michoacan that it isn’t a concern of the local population. We need to look at the issue from the perspective of a local living in the area and a tourist visiting the area for the first time. They both have valid information.
It is time to get out there and start visiting Mexico. Enjoy!