With a vibrant culture, thriving cities, incredible food, ancient ruins, and some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, it’s no surprise that Mexico attracts such a huge number of travelers every year. But while the country is safe on the whole, the U.S. Department of State marks it as a Level 2 on its travel advisory scale, meaning visitors are encouraged to “exercise increased caution,” particularly when venturing beyond major tourist resorts. News reports of drug-related violence, cartel control, and lawless territory are enough to make even the most seasoned traveler pause before booking a trip, but arriving with some safety tips is a solid way to keep your vacation free of trouble. From simple common sense to region-specific pointers, here are 11 tips on how to travel safely in Mexico.
1. Research the area you plan to visit.
There are certainly some no-go areas for tourists in Mexico. States like Tamaulipas, Sinaloa, Colima, Guerrero, and Michoacan have a Level 4 “do not travel” travel warning, according to the U.S. Department of State. Violent crime -- such as murder, armed robbery, carjacking, and kidnapping -- as well as gang activity are among the concerns noted for these regions. Meanwhile, Quintana Roo (which includes tourist hot spots like Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and Riviera Maya) and Mexico City both have a Level 2 advisory -- the same number given to countries such as Italy and Germany. For more information on safety in Mexico City, check out our full story here.
2. Make copies of important travel documents.
Make copies of all important travel documents before departing for Mexico. Holding on to your identification might come in handy, in case of any problems, and carrying the original version is bound to weigh on your mind, especially in tourist areas that attract pickpockets.
3. Be wary of what you eat and drink.
It’s important to be cautious about where and what you consume in Mexico. From swanky establishments to sidewalk vendors, food safety is a concern. Street food is a large part of Mexico’s appeal, but wherever your culinary tour takes you, stick to stalls with long lines filled with tourists and locals. Also, take bottled water wherever you go and avoid tap water.
4. Keep a list of important emergency numbers.
Mexico used to have separate numbers for police, fire, and ambulance services, but last year, the country started using the same 911 system as the U.S. This makes things easier for emergencies, but having the number of the local American consulate on hand is another way to travel smart.
5. Drink in moderation.
Combine being on vacation with staying in an all-inclusive resort with the fact that you’re in a country in which tequila is practically the national drink, and you have a recipe for excess. Drink in moderation (particularly if you’re a solo traveler), never accept drinks from strangers, and avoid walking back to your hotel drunk and alone after dark. Sure, this seems like common sense, but after a few shots, your awareness checks out.
6. Use toll highways and stay off roads at night.
Avoid being in the wrong place at the wrong time by staying away from places where crimes are committed during the hours in which they are most likely to occur. Kidnappings and carjackings are an issue in some areas of Mexico, so avoid driving at night and stick to major toll roads when traveling from place to place.
7. Stick to registered taxis.
Always use registered cabs or transportation arranged by the hotel. Unregistered cars in Mexico may be fine, and possibly cheaper, but it’s not worth risking your safety for the sake of saving a few pesos. While in Mexico City, you’ll want to download Uber or another ride-hailing app (fares are cheap), or hop on the metro or Metrobus, which are safe, generally efficient, and cost-effective.
8. Use a reputable ATM machine and carry cash.
When we say reputable, we mean an ATM affiliated with a national bank as well as one that’s in a sensible location, like inside a mall or hotel. Some ATMs are set up to skim details from cards and others are a beacon for street robberies. It goes without saying that you should avoid looking for somewhere to take out cash at night. Once you’ve found an ATM, withdraw enough cash to cover emergencies. Plenty of doctors and hospitals -- as well as other businesses -- request cash over credit card.
9. Stay in a popular resort.
If you’re happy just experiencing a pristine beach and poolside margaritas, then a resort is probably the safest way to enjoy a trip to Mexico. Tons of resorts, especially those that are all-inclusives, have all you need to enjoy a vacation without having to leave the property. Plus, depending on where you stay, many hotels -- in areas like Tulum, for instance -- come with charming decor that complements their top-notch amenities.
10. Don’t share your travel itinerary or hotel details.
Tourists aren’t generally at risk of being kidnapped in Mexico. This particular crime typically affects foreign nationals working in the country or those with family residents who can pay a ransom. Even so, be careful not to share your travel itinerary to avoid opportunist crimes.
11. Wear a money belt (and don’t carry valuable items).
Pickpockets can be rife in even the most relaxed resort towns, so keep your valuables close to your chest -- literally. While wearing a money belt might seem a little paranoid, it will keep you safe from scams. Another simple way to avoid having your valuables stolen is to not carry them at all. Leave that expensive watch or pair of diamond earrings at home. Even hotel safes can sometimes be compromised, depending on the establishment.
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