Mexico Travel Hotspot
The Mexican Caribbean, or Riviera Maya, is located on the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. It is a top destination for travelers and for good reason. It’s beautiful, it’s fun, and it’s cheaper than many other vacation havens. But a smart traveler will ask, “How safe is Mexico?”
Like many others, we thought it a great place to go. Using companion fares on Alaska Airlines helped make it very affordable to take our adult children for a winter getaway to someplace warm.
We flew in and out of Cancun and stayed in Tulum. By renting a car, we were able to travel through the two Mexican states of Yucatan and Quintana Roo. We just returned from our trip, and we had a good time. Stay tuned as I will be posting about our experiences at Xel-Ha, Ek Balam, and other fun stuff we did.
However, I think it’s important to be aware of some of the tourist safety issues in the Yucatan Peninsula if you are considering it for yourself. Being informed and taking precautions is the best way to ensure your safety in Mexico.
How safe is Mexico? The Cartels!
I did some research to find the latest news about the cartels in the Yucatan Peninsula. From what I gathered, in the past the crime organizations generally avoided causing problems in the tourist areas that include Cancun, the Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum.
Be that as it may, things have changed in recent years. The Jalisco New Generation cartel has moved in, and they don’t play by the old rules. Their reach is throughout Mexico, and they are one of the most violent cartels.
Police Presence for Tourist Safety
In an effort to preserve the lucrative tourist industry, the Mexican government has taken over many of the police forces in the area. However, crime rates are up despite the increased presence of the policia. Generally, though, the violent crimes are centered around cartel activities.
During our time in the states of Yucatan and Quintana Roo, the police seemed to be everywhere. I have to say that I felt safe. Certainly, their presence was felt, and it made me think that the Mexican government was prioritizing tourist safety in the Yucatan.
My husband met a fellow traveler from Vancouver, Canada who told him that Playa del Carmen was heavily influenced by the cartel. That was the first we’d heard about it, but it’s not too surprising. Our experiences somewhat confirmed this piece of information.
Playa del Carmen
We went to PdC twice. I really liked the feel and vibe of it. I personally did not witness any wrongdoing, nor did I feel unsafe in any way. If I were to go back, I’d actually want to stay there a few days.
That said, my male family members had stories to tell. On our first excursion to PdC, my daughter and I went to the Frieda Kahlo Museum while the boys walked around.
They strolled along the very popular pedestrian promenade (Calle Quinta Avenida) to the ferry pier to get some information about going over to Cozumel.
As they passed the stores selling souvenirs, tequila, and t-shirts, the vendors constantly beckoned them into their shops, which is totally normal.
You don’t want tequila? How ’bout my sister?
What was different, though, is that when the boys said, “No, thanks,” the vendors would then offer up their “sisters.” This happened on at least six occasions mostly around the pier. One guy went so far as to pull out some sort of brochure.
Other offerings included “weed” and “blow,” but again, this was only offered to the guys.
Cartel influence? I think, yes.
How to Be Safe
The best advice here is just say no if you’re approached by these guys. It seems they don’t pander to families walking together. So, there’s that.
From what I read, the nefarious activities tend to happen late at night, so just travel smart, and you’ll be fine.
How safe is Mexico? Thefts & Robberies!
We had two incidences of theft on our trip. Naturally, you have to be cautious about this everywhere you go, but robbery in Mexico is a valid concern when it comes to tourist safety.
Our Experience #1: Petty Theft
At the condo we rented in Tulum, we came home after lunch to a maid doing the cleaning. It was the first full day of our trip, and our host had told me when we checked in that cleaning would happen every three days. So…the host came in and told her to leave because she wasn’t supposed to be there.
Not long after (maybe 20 minutes), my daughter was looking for the money she had put in a small pocket of her suitcase before we went out for lunch. We had just been talking about this money as we walked up to the complex — she didn’t want to exchange all of it, but wanted to exchange some of it later in the day.
Her money was gone!
She distinctly remembered taking it out of her wallet and putting it into her suitcase, though. She looked everywhere just in case it had fallen out or something. But to no avail. We helped her look because we certainly didn’t want to make any false accusations. And, had we known ahead of time that she’d put her money there, we would’ve advised against it.
Making Things Right
When we called the host in to deliver the bad news, we could tell that he was not surprised by what we told him. To his credit, the next day, he gave my daughter the amount of money the maid had stolen. It came out of his own funds because he was not able to reach her by phone, and she was not there when he went to her home. She was fired, by the way.
We were lucky that we came home when we did and that we had been talking about her money just before walking in the door. Otherwise, it would have been gone forever along with a few other things, I’m sure.
How to Be Safe
It really saddens me that this kind of thing happens a lot. Life for an average Mexican citizen is not an easy one. I’m not saying it justifies the crime, but sometimes it helps to look at what the Mexican people are faced with on a daily basis in order to understand the underlying causes of incidences like this.
The lesson here is keep your money and valuables with you or in a safe at all times.
Our Experience #2: License Plate Theft
At the end of our trip, we returned our rental car at the Cancun airport prior to our flight home. We were feeling good because we had taken pictures and videoed the entirety of the car when we picked it up.
This was after we saw another family drop off their car, and they were charged for scratches that were probably already there. No way was that going to happen to us!
Ha! So much for our self-congratulations! Turns out our front license plate had been taken, and we had no idea.
The rental company asked if we’d gotten a ticket because they said the transit police will sometimes take the front plate. WTF?
We didn’t get a ticket, and as far as I know, we always parked legally. But laws in Mexico seem to be more like guidelines, and the police seem to interpret things the way they like.
So, who knows when it happened or why? Was it the police? Was it someone else? We will probably never know the answer to this, but my husband believes that it happened in Cancun.
The most frustrating thing about it is that I don’t know of any way to avoid this happening. Other than not renting a car, I guess. Just be mindful of where you park.
Sadly, the rental company charged 2000 pesos to replace the plate, although they gave us a “discount” lowering it to 1300 pesos.
How safe is Mexico? Food & Water!
Montezuma’s revenge, traveler’s tummy, traveler’s diarrhea, or whatever you want to call it: no one wants to get it!
Any time you travel to a developing country, you have to be careful about this. This is no secret, but it’s helpful to review ways to prevent it and to pack some medications if Montezuma takes his revenge.
When it comes to tourist safety, water and food handling is really important in Mexico.
How to Be Safe
- Don’t drink or brush your teeth with the tap water
- Take a water bottle to refill with purified water — it’s also a good idea to have a bottle with a filter, but I never had to use mine
- Be careful at restaurants — ask if their ice is made with purified water & make sure all food is cooked thoroughly — if you get a bad vibe, go somewhere else
- Avoid fresh fruits & veggies — it goes against the grain of healthy eating, and it’s tough for me to say as a vegan, but unless you’ve prepared it yourself, there are no guarantees
- Avoid street food — although you can watch them cook it, & you can see if they are using safe food handling techniques
- Take treatment medications with you on your trip just in case: loperamide (Imodium) & bismuth subsalicylate (Kaopectate, Pepto Bismol) — there are pharmacies every couple of blocks if you forget to pack it
Food Safety & My Experiences
I have traveled to Mexico many, many times (too many to count really), but I have never had traveler’s tummy from going there. I think I am just not as susceptible to it as some people. Thank God!
In all my travels, I’ve only had two minor bouts (once in Thailand and once in Morocco).
But I digress…
I am generally cautious about what I eat and drink when I travel, but at the same time, I like to experience local foods. Many moons ago, when I was at university in San Diego, I used to party in Tijuana (TJ), Mexico. We always ate street tacos, and they were delicious. I’ve also eaten street food in other countries like China, for example.
If you are tempted by the cheap eats on the street, you just have to pay attention to how the food is handled and cooked. If you feel uncomfortable about it, keep walking.
Our Experiences on this Trip
None of us ate any street food, but we drank a lot of juices and smoothies. My favorite is agua de sandia (watermelon juice). I felt fairly comfortable doing it because the restaurants were in tourist cities. When we ate at a restaurant in Felipe Carillo Puerto, I asked about the ice before ordering, since it’s not so much a tourist town. Drinking bottled beverages is generally safe, of course.
Three of the five of us did have Montezuma’s Revenge upon our return, although nothing too serious. They think it may have been from the restaurant we ate at in the Cancun airport, but it’s hard to say. You just never know…
To be safe, my advice is to exercise caution, come prepared just in case, but do enjoy the local food.
My Takeaway as a Traveler to the Riviera Maya
So, there you have it. Was the trip perfect? No. Do I regret this trip? No. Would I go back? Probably. I would definitely read up on any current safety issues and go from there in terms of planning my return to the Yucatan.
I do hope I make it back at some point. Mexico is a beautiful country with wonderful people; it is also not without it’s political and socioeconomic problems. Because of this, you must take necessary safety precautions as a traveler.
Are you still asking, “How safe is Mexico?”
To check the current status of any of the areas in Mexico, go to the U.S. Department of State’s Mexico Travel Advisory. During our trip, the states of Yucatan and Quintana Roo were considered Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution. Interestingly, most of Europe, including France, where I travel to often, is also Level 2.
Travel is such a wonderful thing, and any trip will be what you make of it. No matter where you go, travel smart, take precautions, and explore this amazing planet of ours.
Until next time…