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Is Mexico safe? Five Tips for Choosing a Safe Destination

The Indigenous People's Pavillion at the Adventure Travel World Summit

The Indigenous Community’s Pavilion at the Adventure Travel World Summit. Local guides continually honored the indigenous communities.

I’ve just been to Mexico and the question I’m getting is: “Is it safe?”

It’s a fair question. Violence in Mexico has increased significantly in the last five years as described in this BBC news report from August. However, as the report also indicates, the violence is found in specific parts of the country and not in others. I visited San Cristobal de las Casas, in the state of Chiapas. I will share my experience concerning safety there but, if you will allow me, I’ll start in Northern Ireland.

Was Northern Ireland Safe?

I have family in Northern Ireland and I first visited in 1985 with my mother and eldest son (less than two years old at the time), then again in 1995 with my husband and three sons and most recently in 2002 on my own. The first two visits were during the period known as “The Troubles” though the tension was decidedly more evident in ’85 than ’95.

Northern Ireland was not a tourist destination in any of those years. The reports on the news were devastating and frightening. Why would anyone go there for holidays?

But when you have direct contact with a place through family, you have reason to go and are not so inclined to fear. My views were less affected by the news and more by my family who live in Whitehead about 17 miles north of Belfast.

Seventeen miles. That’s not far from a city rife with unrest. While I won’t say that there was no concern, I will say that people continued to live their lives and I continued to visit.

is Mexico Safe.

The lighter areas have the least violence. Chiapas is the lightest. This map was taken from the BBC news report mentioned above.

Is it safe to travel to Mexico?

By contrast to Northern Ireland, the distance from Ciudad Juarez (considered to be a center of the violence) to San Cristobal is (as the crow flies) 1481 miles.

If you look at the map on the right, you will see that most of the violence is many hundreds of kilometers away from where I was (at the bottom of the map).

So, the question: is Mexico safe? Yes and No. It is definitely safe in many parts of the country but not in others. One must be careful but oh, how unfortunate it would be to miss this entire country because of the hype in the news.

I was never worried in San Cristobal. Staying in the historic center of the city, it was lively in the evening and quiet in the morning. I didn’t wander by myself at night though I would have without fear. I did wander by myself in the early morning when I took the photos for this post. It was a peaceful experience.

Tips for Solo Travel Safety

I would never recommend that a solo traveler go to a destination that is unsafe. I am not that adventurous myself so I’m not inclined to suggest that others be so.

However, as indicated by the examples of Northern Ireland and Mexico above, just because a place is in the news for danger doesn’t mean that it is dangerous everywhere. If you want to go to a place that’s on the wrong side of safe according to the media, I recommend the following:

  • Check with your government’s website for travel warnings. Be aware that government warnings tend to be very broad geographically and they can be out of date as they have a greater urgency to put up a warning than to take it down.
  • Go to the Solo Travel Society on Facebook and message us about your destination. We post member questions every Monday and Thursday.
  • Go on Twitter and ask for people’s perspectives on your destination. Feel free to tweet me (@solotraveler) your question and I will retweet it for my 20,000+ followers.
  • Contact the tourist board for your destination. They certainly want you to come but they also want you to be safe. They don’t want to damage their reputation. They want good stories from their destination and should dissuade you if there is a problem.
  • Go on forums such as Lonely Planet’s Thorntree which can offer current information by travelers in the area.

Use information from people and organizations that are in the know about your specific destination to inform your decision. Take into consideration the sources of your information, balance all that you hear and then listen to yourself. If you are not confident. Don’t go.

By the way, I was in San Cristobal thanks to Mexico Tourism. If they were to invite me to travel solo through their magical country, I would do so, avoiding some places and lingering in others.

Tour guide San Cristobal

Tour guide, Patrick, in San Cristobal

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  • Monica Zamora

    Hello I´m Mexican, and I´m so glad to read this kind of articles where common people can talk better about my country than reporters or people from any department state. Thank you very much! I just can tell you that I love so much traveling alone all around my country and one of my most incredible experiences was exactly in Chihuahua (as you read one of the most dangerous states in Mexico) as a woman and traveling alone everybody thought I was in danger, but really, I can affirm -not because I´m Mexican- people in Mexico are very gentle, sweet and nice. They helped me so much during all my trip and I could not feel any fear. Finally it is as we say here: Bad people are like dogs if they feel your fear they will bite you, if you walk with confidence you will be safe, but always be cautious and prudent.

  • Annabrinks

    Growing up in Ireland in the 80′s I couldn’t believe it when visiting america I was asked “how can you live in a country at war?”. I genuinely hadn’t a clue what they were talking about. Yes, ‘the troubles’ were not pleasant but it only really affected a small area. The media often make things out to be a lot worse than they are. My family moved to the states when my youngest sister was 9. She told me that the teacher introduced her to the class as a child from a war torn country. She told me that she was really confused because even though she was young she was pretty sure there was no war where she had come from. Nowadays I travel a lot and when I tell people my destination the first question I am always asked is ‘is that not dangerous?’ The media need to make money and bad news sells so while obviously there are a lot of dangerous places in the world I’m wary of media reports and always look for more local advice. You’re right about the government warnings too. They tend to be out of date and I reckon they’re just covering themselves most of the time so they can’t be blamed for not warning you.

  • Sara

    Great article, thanks!!! I found a cool page: http://www.globalcheck.se (global alert system) and daffla.com (secyruty travel plan)
    /Sara

  • http://www.facebook.com/vacaytips Vacay Tips

    It seems this will always be the question. No matter if one day all the violence came to a halt Mexico will always have a negative connotation to it. It’s unfortunate because I have been at least 4 times and planning on a 5th and I have had nothing but a great experience. So much as so that I plan on moving there next year to take a 1 year hiatus. Hopefully things will change. Mexico is a wonderful place with a wonderful people.

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  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience and knowledge Janette. It’s very helpful.

  • http://www.bbontario.com Janette H.

    Hi Donna, I’ve been to Dolores Hidalgo but have only visited solo during the day. I was there for an overnight once with a friend. It’s a good place for pottery and rarified ice cream (shrimp anyone?).  I’ve heard no stories about it being unsafe and I regularly visit the also-safe, and nearby, San Miguel de Allende for the winters.  San Miguel would be the much-preferred spot to hang your hat for awhile. Or the former silver mining town of Guanajuato. Both are just fine for solo travellers.
    Janette

  • Donna J

    We are planning on going to Dolores Hidalgo in the State of Gto in December. Has anything been heard about that area ? 

  • http://twitter.com/writefortravel Carol Ann Quibell

    Excellent article – this has been a topic of conversation among a lot of us and I believe it comes down to being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  However, if one uses common sense the chances of running into difficulty is greatly reduced.  I live in an area that is considered very very safe and yet there was a gang shooting downtown on a sunday afternoon.  There was also a murder (shooting) in a shopping lot 1/2 mile from where I lived 2 years ago – and this was a quiet residential area.  

    Be informed, be aware, be careful, have fun.

  • Kevin S Hawley

    That would be wise as my plan to follow the coastline after exiting the Ferry came largely from word of mouth…that was 9 months ago when violence seemed to be confined to the interior of Mexico.  It does seem to have spread closer to the coast and when I saw those numbers on your map, I realized I should revisit that leg of the trip and locate Safe Havens to stop at for the night & areas just to avoid & take the long route around.  I like adventure, but there is a limit…

  • Anonymous

    Aw, great photo at the end. That was a very good couple of days. We’ve travelled to Mexico 4 times now and have had nothing but wonderful experiences. The people have always been incredible and welcoming. 

  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh

    Thanks Scott. Your experience is exactly why I suggest using many sources to inform your decision about the safety of an area.

  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh

    The trip sounds fabulous but I’m not an expert on every detail of where it is safe. I would do a little research using the sources I recommend in the five tips.

  • Kevin S Hawley

    @SoloTravelerBlog:disqus  And in many cases you can avoid the town altogether, although you may lose a little time.  Safety first though.

  • Kevin S Hawley

    I’m planning a driving trip from U.S. to Panama & have decided bypass all border towns, except Tijuana to crossover. Two reasons, always wanted to drive Baja and hopefully avoid violence alon the border. Plan now is too catch a Ferry from Santa Rosalia to Guayamas or from  La Plaz. Your map shows Northern Baja a little spooky, but I don’t hear much from that area, Southern Baja where I would depart looks good. Then after PV, follow MEX 200.  This would most likely be a Solo Driving trip, ant thoughts on this, safety related?

  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh

    Safety is certainly a function of where you are. That applies to where you are in a specific town as well. Even if you are in a safe town, you must be aware of which neighborhood you go to. Like any place, there are better and worse parts of town.

  • http://www.theorangebackpack.com The Orange Backpack

    So glad I found this article! I’ll be in Mexico in December and heard a lot about the safety situation. Always good to get the information from someone who is there (or was just there).

  • Scott

    I was once bound for India, and with not much to do before departure, decided to check on what our government had to say about “safety” in India.  Not quite sure what official site I visited, but my interpretation of it would have had me running for anyplace else.  I stayed the course and went anyway.  What was happening were elections, and in India they take their elections seriously.  Delhi was preternaturally quiet (even for 2 A.M. when I arrived.)  More police presence than usual.  Beyond that, no worries, and the rest of my journey was – as India always is for me – exquisite.  Chaotic and cathartic.  

  • http://www.artofbackpacking.com Michael

    I went to Mexico a few months ago and absolutely loved it. I definitely felt safe in Mazatlan. Most of my family and friends were worried about me going. I drilled them when I came back. It’s a shame Mexico still has such a bad image. One of these days I want to take a trip all throughout Mexico. So much to see there.

About Janice Waugh and Tracey Nesbitt

I'm an author, blogger, speaker and traveler. I became a widow and empty-nester at about the same time. And then, I became Solo Traveler... Here's the full story. >>

Tracey Nesbitt I’m a writer, editor, food and wine fanatic, and traveler. On my very first trip abroad I learned that solo travel was for me. Here's the full story. >>

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