Is Riviera Maya safe? or Is it safe to travel to Mexico?
Those are the first questions that we ask before traveling to the country. No wonder why.
Safety and health are always a major concern when we travel, especially if our target destination is considered a developing country with travel warning alerts from both US media and government.
In this post, we will cover the following topics:
SAFETY IN MEXICO
In the last couple of years, Mexico has been appearing in the mainstream news for quite a number of violent episodes and cartel-related crimes. And it hurts to say it but everything you have seen in the news is true.
However, for atrocious and real those facts were, I believe we need to put things in perspective and give it a context.
- Mexico is a huge country with about 1.5 million square miles of territory. Which means that if something happens in Sinaloa it’s not even heard of in Quintana Roo, separated by 2000 miles, to give you an example.
- Drug-related issues happen among drug dealers and cartels so if you are not one of them and you have nothing to do with drugs, you are safe. Or, in any case, you are not a target.
- Being a developing country with a high rate of poverty makes it subject to a higher risk of petty theft and minor crimes which can be avoided with some common sense and smart practices. We will talk about it in the next chapters.
Now, the US government has released a travel warning statement where you can see a classification of Mexican Destination according to the level of life danger in relation to the latest registered crime issues here below is a summary:
The places with a Level 4 warning which means “Do not travel” are:
Other levels are:
Level 3: Reconsider travel
Includes the following states, among others
- Jalisco (Puerto Vallarta, Guadalajara)
Now, I need to add a personal note here. I have lived to Puerto Vallarta for 3 months and traveled through Nayarit and Guadalajara, and Chihuahua and I have never felt unsafe to the very least. According to my personal experience and judgment, I would put them in the Level 2 without a doubt. Many expatriates from all over the world, but mostly the US, live there and although they use the needed precautions they consider it quite a safe place to live and vacation.
Chihuahua is home of the famous Copper Canyon, about which I will talk soon in another post and I had the time of my life there, never, by all means, have I felt unsafe
In any case, consider that this is just a warning /suggestion and I would recommend to check out different blogs and forum to get a better idea. Turism have not decreased in the past year which means that there must be something good.
Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution
I interpret Level 2 as a green light but following some commonsense rules. Here you can check out all the necessary safety measures and common sense tips you need to use in order to prevent unpleasant situations, which I believe apply always even in the safest place, if that exists on earth.
The countries that belong to this cluster are the following states:
- Mexico City
- Quintana Roo (that is Cancun Riviera Maya, for those who are not familiar with Mexican geography)
SAFETY IN CANCUN AND THE RIVIERA MAYA
I have lived in Cancun for 7 years and I considered it a safe place if we are talking about criminality levels. It’s also true that more “accidents” had occurred in the past few months and we can’t deny it.
Here is what it’s mentioned in one of the recent articles on the New York Times.
“While most of these homicides appeared to be targeted, criminal organization assassinations, turf battles between criminal groups have resulted in violent crime in areas frequented by U.S. citizens. Shooting incidents injuring or killing bystanders have occurred,” the advisory stated.
Tourism authorities have responded by stepping up security. The Mexican navy patrols the beaches, federal police monitor the highways and the army is in charge of entry points into the region’s cities. Dario Flota Ocampo, the director of the Quintana Roo Tourism Board, said that 3,000 new surveillance cameras are being installed in the Cancún and Playa del Carmen areas.”
It’s still a very touristy place, meaning that tourism is their main source of income and they look after it. Then, “things” happen, as much as they happen in Milan, New York or your hometown.
According to STR, a travel research company:
“In the first quarter of 2018, hotel occupancy in Cancún stayed level with 2017 figures at a healthy 77 percent, even though the room inventory grew by 3 percent this year” (Source NYT)
It’s true that there are less safe places in Mexico that I would rather avoid. I have been traveling around Mexico for one year alone, avoiding certain specific states such as Tamaulipas, Colima, Guerrero and I have never felt unsafe at all. I actually visited Taxco, a beautiful Magic Town in the state of Guerrero and I have felt safe as in any other touristic town. Of course, there is a certain level of common sense that you need to follow of which I will talk about in the following chapter.
We need to consider that Cancun and the Riviera Maya are basically built around and for tourism. They are a money machine and for as much as it is such an ugly image, that’s what it is.
Tourists are seen as walking dollars and operators are always trying to make an advantage over them. When you look for a trip to Mexico you will receive thousands of all-inclusive packages suggestions, offering you an en-suite vacation where you will stay eat and drink all day in your beautiful hotel (the golden cage, as I call it), you will be told that the only way to explore and travel safely is only with guided tours “because outside it is very dangerous”.
Although I reckon that traveling on an organized tour is less tiring as you don’t even have to think, organize, stay alert, or worry in anyways cause you will be picked up and carried around in safe hands and a protecting cage, I don’t believe it is necessary if you like adventure and prefer to go on your own.
I always promote car rental and do-it-yourself when the context allows it. And I consider the entire Yucatan Peninsula a safe place where to drive. I did it myself while I was living there for 7 years and before leaving, for 2 months. Here is my travel adventure.
As you can see in the article, I drove around and visited places on my own, just like many other travelers and I felt totally safe. You don’t need to be a hardcore adventurer in order to do it. For sure there are precautions that you will want to take and things that you will need to know in order to have a smooth and enjoyable journey, but you can definitely build your own trip, without having necessary to follow the ready-made packages. Drive around freely, checking out places and sometimes hiring a local guide to show you around and explain about its own place is the best way to discover this amazing country.
All this to say that travel safe is possible in the Riviera Maya and the entire Yucatan peninsula.
Now, having said that, there are a few things that you do need to take into consideration, otherwise, it might affect negatively your vacation and I will talk about it in the next chapter.
I found this meme on Facebook and unfortunately the source wasn’t mentioned otherwise I would have given the genius his/her credit. This basically summarizes my answer to all the questions I receive.
Now, having clarified this part, let’s look at the most important things that you should know…
HOW TO STAY SAFE WHEN TRAVELING IN MEXICO: COMMON SENSE RULES
These are actually common sense rules that are valid everywhere not only in Mexico. Even in your home county.
#1 DON’T SHOW OFF YOUR WEALTH
Although it might seem normal to own a laptop and a phone or whatever technological device you have, it might be considered a privileged commodity for the some of the local population especially if it as a bitten apple on it, and a targeted item for criminals. So be careful when you use it.
This is also valid for jewelry and any costly items you might possess. Besides, do you really need jewelry when you live in flip flops a bathing suit?
Also, avoid flashing wads of cash. This is never convenient.
#2 AVOID WALKING IN THE DARK
You want to have fun and enjoy the night, I get it, but seriously, do you need to walk in dark and isolated places, and by yourself? I don’t think soo. Get a taxi to get back and if you need intimacy, get a room. The beach in the night for as romantic it can be is never safe unless you are in front of your hotel and there is a security guard watching over you. and that’s related to the following point.
#3 TEQUILA MIGHT BE GOOD, BUT…IN MODERATION
It’s your vacation and the night is made to have fun, although I have other ways to have fun, I get it. You are in the land of the tequila and mezcal, you love it and you are enjoying your time with your friends drinking the night away. That’s fine but, make sure you are surrounded by people you know well and who love you enough to drag your drunk ass home instead of leaving you alone in the dark. Never, ever, walk alone, in the dark, let alone if you are insanely drunk.
#4 BE CAREFUL AT THE CASH MACHINES
When you are withdrawing money, avoid doing it at night and always look around you before starting the operation.
#5 USE THE SAFE BOX
Travel with little valuables and leave them in the safe of your hotel including your passport and other documents. Always carry a copy with you.
#6 WALK WITH LITTLE CASH
For the same reason as stated in #1 it’s always safe to look low profile and avoid flaunting wealth. Also if something happens you have little to lose.
#7 NEVER LEAVE YOUR BELONGING UNATTENDED
Not only to avoid getting stolen but also to avoid that somebody could hide an illicit substance in your belongings. It happened, not to me but I have read stories.
#8 DON’T BE NAIVE
It’s good to socialize. This is one of the reasons we travel, right? To meet new people, make friends, and mingle with locals. However, although we want to think nicely of anyone and avoid prejudice we don’t live in a fairy tale and there are also people with sad stories and bad intentions. We need to learn to discern who we can trust from whom we should avoid. It’s part of the instinct we develop when we start to observe people. But in doubt, it’s better to play safe and be over considerate.
HEALTH IN MEXICO
Healthcare in private hospitals is very expensive here in Mexico, especially for tourists. The majority of the high-end hotels have their own nursery and or trusted doctors on call or you can get directly to the hospital in case of an emergency. In all cases be prepared to spend a fortune, or make sure you have a good insurance that covers even the most basic issue.
Bear in mind that the pharmacists are not doctors here, they are just regular attendant so they won’t be able to suggest you the correct treatment ( I am saying this because in Italy, for example, they are professionals and for basic issues, they are able to suggest you what remedy to take). However, in some pharmacies, they also have a doctor office, where for 60 pesos (3 dollars) you can have a visit. Sometimes they are good and prepared. Some of them are work from 9 am to 6 pm some others are open 24hrs.
It always depends on the person, just like anywhere else. I am not suggesting here what you should do in case of need, just giving you information on all the options you have.
There is no compulsory vaccine requirement here in Mexico, wherever you go. Here is an interesting site where you can check for any country where it is necessary to have a vaccine otherwise they won’t let you in. In general, I never take any vaccine for personal reasons as I think they do more harm than good, but it is just my very personal opinion and I believe you should do what makes you feel more comfortable for yourself and consult your local doctor or health institution for suggestions, in case you are concerned.
HOW TO STAY HEALTHY WHILE TRAVELING IN MEXICO
Especially in the summer season, from June through October but also all year round temperatures can go up to 95 F and humidity is up to the stars. You need to make sure you stay hydrated (with water) and protected from the sun with a hat and sunscreen. By not observing these basic rules you can end up drained and dehydrated. Especially if you explore remote archaeological sites, they might not have water to sell, so make sure you go prepared and you always walk with your bottle of water. It doesn’t matter if the water gets hot, it will keep you hydrated.
#2 MOSQUITO RELATED DISEASES
Zika, Chikungunya and Dengue fever are a fact in Mexico, diseases that are provoked by mosquito bites (Zika is also sexually transmitted). So the most important thing to do is prevention, use mosquito spray, although there are a huge awareness and prevention policies among hotels and local communities. Zika, in particular, is not harmful unless you are pregnant (or planning to be soon, or you are the male partner and are infected), in which case it can put your baby’s health in danger. So it is very important to keep in mind when you are choosing where to travel. Especially in the wet season from May through October approximately, those are the months with more mosquitos due to the high levels of humidity. So please make sure you take your precautions.
#3 STREET FOOD
It’s very common to find vendors on the beach or on the street selling already chopped fruits or naturally flavored popsicles which are very inviting, especially under the hot sun. However, I’d suggest you should be very careful with that as they have been prepared in private homes and you don’t know under what kind of hygienic conditions. It is very easy to contract salmonella or other similar bacterial diseases in this kind of climate as well.
Tap water is not drinkable so make sure you have always a bottle of purified water or natural spring water (agua de manantial) with you. In theory, you can use tap water for brushing teeth, as I do, but it is advisable to still use the bottled water as well…just in case.
#5 SEA DANGERS
No worries, swim and dive in all tranquillity as there is no danger in the water. The only thing in Cancun, the majority of the cost present strong currents. This is why you will see many lifeguards. When there is a red flag on the beach NO SWIMM, please! The yellow one warns you to be careful, the green to go ahead. Always be careful and when you see that you are not coming back to shore start swimming sidewise and the current will take you to the beach. I have learned the lesson on my skin! Also don’t get in the water if you have drunk.
PRACTICAL TIPS AND USEFUL INFORMATION FOR YOUR WORRY-FREE VACATION IN MEXICO
In almost every region it is requested not to flush toilet paper in the WC because the pipes are narrow and paper can get stuck causing damages to the system.
The local currency is Mexican Pesos (MXN) which you can exchange in the Casa de Cambio or banks although the first ones usually have a better exchange rate. It’s always advisable to exchange your currency into the Mexican pesos because even if in shop or supermarket they accept USD the exchange rates are most of the time unreasonable.
Almost everywhere credit and debit card are accepted, except in Tulum in many restaurants and hotels or in remote towns where there are still many places that only accept cash. So keep it in mind if you plan to visit the area ( which I heartily recommend).
If you want to withdraw from the cash machine please be aware that if you get dollars, you will be asked to pay a commission of 50 USD per each withdrawal, which to me is insane. I would rather get a small amount in Mexican pesos (check with your bank how much they charge for the withdrawal ) or bring some cash with you and exchange it here for local expenses on the road. Bear in mind that if you rent a car, sometimes at the gas station they don’t accept credit cards, for some reasons. You should better ask before getting gas.
I see this question coming over and over and although it is really difficult to quantify, let me just give you some example. Local restaurants in the non-touristic areas might charge as low as 6 USD for enough tacos and 3 for a glass of wine and an Angus steak or a ceviche can go from 12 to 15 USD. In the hotel zone, a full meal with wine can start from 40 USD onward. A bottle of purified water (1l) 75c. A bus ride from the hotel zone to the town of 60c (12 pesos). A car rental from 30 USD per day (without insurance- check this post for more info on driving in Mexico).
#4 PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
To connect from Cancun to the Riviera Maya you have different options.
The ADO coach size buses, connecting all the main cities in Mexico and of course along the Riviera Maya. Bring a blanket and socks because you are going to freeze. Other than that they are very comfortable.
The minivans, “colectivos”, that literally fly on the “Carretera federal” the main coastal road, they are more practical, leave continuously, so you don’t have to wait and they do different stops if you wish to visit different spots along the way.
To travel around Mexico is very easy and comfortable as well, besides a good choice of airlines you also have the options of many bus lines, local and national, that connect the main cities and towns. This website is an aggregator and can help you to find your connection.
There is this myth that driving in Mexico is dangerous. I am not sure about the other parts of Mexico but I can surely tell you that in the Yucatan peninsula it is really doable and danger free. I have dedicated a separate article on this topic since I have seen it is a big concern for many travelers. So if you wish to know more about driving in Mexico you can click here. If you wish to go straight to a car rental price match you can check this out.
#6 WIFI AND COMMUNICATION
Well, I am presently writing from a remote zone where wifi is crap and I feel bad to tell you that you can find wifi pretty much everywhere. Let’s say in the most touristic area there is no issue at all. If you go in more remote places you will certainly have a better connection with nature than your devices. Time for a detox. In the majority of the hotels and hostels they do have WIFI, so no worries.
#7 SPICY FOOD
Whether you love spicy food or not just be careful when you read the word HABANERO, because that is the king of all spices, or so they say. I don’t even dare try. If you are like me and hate any kind of spices make sure you be careful when they say “It’s just a little spicy” (in Spanish: Pica poco) because they have their own sense of “little” and it means to us that it will set our mouth on fire. You can just ask if it contains chile. If so it is going to be spicy.
These in the picture are the sockets in Mexico if your plugs have a different shape you need to get an adaptor. You might find something here but in order not to waste time from your vacation, I would suggest you should get one in your trusted store. It will work also without the round one in the bottom.
# 9 VISA REQUIREMENTS
You need to apply for a visa if your passport is from the country listed on this page. If your country is not on the list you can enter Mexico with your valid passport and get a 3 to 6 months tourist permit. To work here is more complicated and you should put it in the hands of a good lawyer that can look after all the paperwork for you and spare you all the hustle and headaches.
THE END! 😉
Ok, so I think I have covered it all. Do you agree with me now that it is easy to travel safely in Mexico? If you have more questions please feel free to contact me ..happy travels!!