From My Inbox: Cancun Safety Concerns | The Truth About Mexico

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From My Inbox: Cancun Safety Concerns

A post by "RiverGirl " |

A Gringa web designer from Colorado writes about life in Cancun, Mexico. To see more posts by this author, click here.

Lately I’ve been getting a lot of email from people who are concerned about the safety of traveling to the Cancun, Mexico area on vacation. I thought that it might be helpful to others if I share one of these email exchanges publicly. Here is a typical email, my response is below it:

Thank goodness I found you, my wife and I are planning to visit the Cancun area soon. But because of recent news reports about violence in Mexico our families are scared and have asked us to cancel our trip.

What can we say to them to calm their fears and convince them that we will be safe while on vacation in Cancun, Mexico?

Jack in Seattle

Dear Jack – The data simply doesn’t support avoiding tourist areas of Mexico. There have been exactly ZERO tourist deaths in the Cancun area due drug cartel violence.

In 2008 more than 4.5 million international tourists arrived at the Cancun Airport. The vast majority of these tourists went home with nothing worse than sunburn and a hangover. Tourists do die here, just like they do in every tourist destination, but if you look at the statistics you see that they die from drowning (usually because they swim while drunk) or from heart attacks or sometimes they die in car accidents.

If you read the US State Dept warning carefully you will see that it warns people away from the border areas, primarily Tijuana and Juarez. Those areas are 1200+ miles from Cancun. Would you avoid going to Miami, Florida because of violence in Detroit, Michigan? I wouldn’t.

It would be a shame for you to cancel your trip because of worry over violence toward tourists here. Tourists need to use common sense here; there is the normal petty crime you find in any tourist destination. But there simply isn’t violence against tourists here in Cancun.

Hope this helps,

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35 Comments For This Post

  1. Cancun Says:

    We are sure the violence in Mexico is very far away from the tourist destinations. Probably Cancun is more secure than some United States cities. Thanks for the post.

  2. Henry McDonald Says:

    Of additional interest related to your Detroit vs Miami analogy is that the 2008 murder rate in all of Cancun’s state of Quintana Roo was less than 2 per each 100,000 people, a European-style statistic. Miami was 20. Should the Mexican government issue a travel warning for South Florida? For additional perspective, LA was 13. Washington DC was 35. Baltimore led the league at 45. USA newscasters desperately need better information and greater perspective about Mexico. Hopefully this new blog will serve those purposes.

  3. Liam Says:

    When tourists get off the plane and move about Cancun, and see the military patrolling in APCs and machine gun turrets – they’ll worry. Those things aren’t present in the city where I live, nor do the tourists in my city see such military activity. Visitors don’t want to be locked-up for safety reasons in their hotels – there are too many other places to visit where we don’t have to do that. Mexico/Cancun will have to overcome the perception that it’s living in a state of martial law. Best wishes as attempts are made to accomplish that goal.

  4. Nancy Says:

    I have been visiting Mexico for thirty years and there have always been trucks full of armed police driving around here and there. Guadalajara, Colima, Manzanillo, well, everywhere. It is just the way it is in Mexico. And yes, it is very different than NOB. But the fact that they are driving around like that doesn’t necessarily correlate to the area being high violence.

    Trucks with police & guns is one thing that is always commented on by visitors, and that I used to feel uncomfortable with when I first started coming to Mexico. Now I realize it is just the way they do it here.

    I’m sure someone will comment as to what it is actually like on the ground in Cancun. If there are more police visible, though, I would imagine that it is to reassure tourists that they are on the job keeping them safe!

  5. RiverGirl Says:

    Liam – The police presence in Cancun is more overt than north of the border, you are right. I see lots of cops around here but almost never see them do anything besides drive around, direct traffic and pull over tourists.

    When you are here for a while you see that much of the “military activity” you refer to is more representative of a cultural difference than it is an indication of more actual police activity. Mexico is showy about it’s cops, but that doesn’t mean the cops hassle more people or pull over more speeders or do more police work than they do in the States or Canada. In fact I think that often they just drive around with their guns showing and that’s it.

  6. John Pierre Says:

    Family getting ready to visit Quintana Roo April 11 – 17 for the second time in 5 years with two 17 year old girls. Flying in to Cancun and all inclusive hotel one hour south. Are we going to have to look over or shoulders frequently and be concerned about every decision we make about experiencing the area ? Want to visit Tulum beach again, and visit Cancun and Playa De Carmen shopping during the day.

    Respect your honesty and assistance.

  7. Dangers Says:

    John~ I recently returned from an almost two week stay in Quintana Roo. Our travels included the area from Puerto Juarez south to Tulum and inland to Coba, along the way we spent significant time in Downtown Cancun, the Hotel Zone, Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Coba. During the entire visit there was not a single time I felt unsafe or concerned about my surroundings even while in the downtown both day and night or in the rural tropical forest areas. Police checkpoints on the roads were few and appeared no less threatening than a typical U.S. style speed trap.

    There is the possibility that during your trip, security will be heightened, it will likely be due to a potential visit of U.S. President Obama and Mexican President Calderon anticipated on or about April 17th if they don’t meet elsewhere in Mexico. Original news reports indicated a Meeting of State in the Federal District but rumors persist that Cancun may also on the agenda.

  8. RiverGirl Says:

    John Pierre – Honestly, this area is a safe as it was last time you visited. The problems along the US border have heated up since then. But here in Cancun and Quintana Roo things are much the same as they have been for the last few years. You do not need to curtail your plans or worry. Just use the common sense that you would use at home. Have a great trip!

  9. Huy Says:

    We and about 7 of our friends already booked our ticket to Cancun for July 4th. Some of our family members are showing concerns about the recent violence in Mexico and asked us to cancel our trip. How do I assure them that it is safe to go to Cancun. Please help!!!

  10. Sergio Says:

    What I tell people and friends, when they ask me about the violence in Mexico, is. If you are a drug trafficker, don’t come? If you are trying to do business, crime related, Don’t come? otherwise you are safe. I am also glad to know that the US, finally accepted that they are part of the problem. If the US did not buy the drugs, the cartels would not have the money they use to buy government officials (the famous corruption of Mexico), or the guns to kill everyone that is not good for the interest of the cartel. The killings that you hear about is just the cartels fighting each other, so if we hear that somebody you know is dead as a result, we would already know that person was in the crime industry.

  11. Nancy Edwards Says:

    I began visiting Cozumel in 1984 and have lived here full time since 1995 because it is so safe. We basically have NO VIOLENT CRIME. It’s an extremely safe island. I have a real estate company where sales and vacation rentals have dropped dramatically after the press in the US started reporting on the drug cartel crime in Mexico. My April newsletter coming out in a few days will be geared toward the safety of the area. Link: Believe me, this island hasn’t changed. It’s a very safe, wonderful place to visit and to live.

  12. RiverGirl Says:

    Huy – Cancun is as safe now as it has been for the 6 years that I’ve lived here. Tourists coming here need to worry about sunburns and hangovers, not narco violence. Honestly! Read the comments above and the other articles on this site and I’m sure you will relax. July is very hot here, so be ready for that.

  13. RiverGirl Says:

    Sergio – I agree with your comments. The narco violence seems, thus far, to be affecting only those in the drug trade. It’s natural for Americans considering traveling here to be nervous when they hear all the distorted news reports. But from my perspective, here in Cancun, it sounds just PREPOSTEROUS to think that someone would avoid coming here out of fear of narco violence. That’s like not coming here because you are afraid of sharks (we haven’t had any shark attacks on tourists either).

    Nancy – I know you are right. When I’ve been to Cozumel is was so sleepy and easy going and there was just not much going on at all. It is my hope that tourists will relax soon and realize that this area is just as safe as it has always been.

  14. Geoff Says:

    I have been traveling to Cancun and the area around it for over 30 years. Just got back from another great trip with no trouble at all. The people who were smart enough to go to Mexico on vacation were having a great time and the downtown area was as busy as ever. The exchange rate is also very good right now and we got a lot of value for our dollar.

    There is no doubt that the headlines and the economy have had an impact and some businesses are suffering from the reduced number of visitors.

  15. RiverGirl Says:

    Geoff – Thanks for the comment. It’s very true that a US Dollar goes a long way in Mexico right now. Seven months ago the peso was around 10 to 1 dollar, now it’s over 14 to 1 dollar…so you get quite a bit more bang for your buck in Mexico now!

  16. John Pierre Says:

    Thanks River Girl and all.

    John Pierre
    Can’t wait 12 days a fiesta y siesta !

  17. kathy Says:

    If anyone is still worried – my parents just left after a 1.5 week trip here to Quintana Roo. We live about 15km south of Playa del Carmen on the coast. We took them to the biosphere (Sian Ka’an), Tulum, Valladolid, Cancun and hung out on deserted beaches. My (almost) 80-year old mother was a little taken aback when she saw the military stops (we were never asked to pull over, but they are SOP down here) but folks NOB seem to be really freaky about seeing large guns. Me, I much prefer to see the military toting large guns here in Mexico to the odd wacko concealing a weapon NOB.

    My folks had a great visit and were never concerned for their safety. Course, they weren’t running drugs, writing about drugs, nor were they Mexican politicians. Now that they’re back in the US, I’m rather concerned about them on their own and hope they stay safe.

  18. Juanita Stein Says:

    I am the editor of a print and on-line tourism magazine about travel to the Yucatán. It’s bad enough that the economic situation is causing people to travel less…but the recent negative publicity campaign by the media about violence in Mexico is just too much. I have written about the safety of travel to Yucatán on our website…please read it…

  19. Andy Says:

    I just got back from 10 days in Q. Roo. We own a house between Akumul and Tulum. I have been there many times and made trips inland and all the way up the coast. I have never felt unsafe. We go with our three children never have a worry. Like has been said the guns and military are to show that they “could do something” if needed, but it’s never needed. Mexico likes to show off to the people doing things illegal, that they mean business. Some people I work with came back from Playa Del Carmen right before I went, and they were told by the resort people that it was too dangerous to go to Akumul. I though “wow, something must have changed”. Now that I have been back to our house, I’m convinced that it was the resort peoples way of keeping them at the resort and spending their money. THERE IS NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT!! I feel safer in Q. Roo than I do in many major cities in the US.

  20. RiverGirl Says:

    Thanks for the comments Kathy, Juanita and Andy – I think that all of us who live in Mexico are bewildered by the idea that people would be scared to come here on vacation. I travel all over the state of Quinatna Roo, and I never feel unsafe. In fact I’m routinely struck by how peaceful and civil Mexico is.

  21. JerrysPhotos Says:

    One day i was ridding around with a friend, he was a traffic cop. This US guy was driving towards us, My friend waves his hand for the man to stop. He stops and my friend said See that sign?
    He points to a small arrow at the top of a building on the corner.
    He was driving against the arrow. My friend puts out his hand and said You have to buy me lunch. The two cars were side by side, )One going north and the other south) The guy put some money on his hand, my friend looks and said, with his hand out, No, I need a better lunch.

    As we drove off I ask about the bite! (Slang for Extortion) he said 1st time I get lunch,
    the 2nd time the bite is bigger, then if he still does not learn 3rd time, he gets a ticket.
    Now he has to appear in Court in a different town, about 15 to 20 min away, go in front of a Judge, maybe get a attorney and then there is a fine you might get. It’s more than lunch, I’m sure. Do not forget your wasted time. 4 to 6 hrs
    It is better to learn from the cost of a lunch. Than a ticket!

    Then I said to my self There is always two sides to every story Jerry

  22. KW Says:

    We booked a trip to Riviera Maya in June, and of course, I read this WSJ article on the safety of travel to Mexico and how Cancun (and this is a DIRECT QUOTE) “is smack in the middle of a major drug route to the U.S. Drug cartels,” — of course reading that– I’m freaked out! Since the Riviera Maya area is about an hour outside of Cancun, I still have to travel by shuttle for that one hour to and from the airport. In all honesty, HOW safe is this route, and do I truly need to be concerned?

  23. RiverGirl Says:

    KW – Well, look at a map. Cancun and the Riviera Maya ARE between South America and the US and yes, some drug runners do use this as a stop-over point. And security forces at the Cancun airport do sometimes detect shipments of drugs going through there. But does this affect tourists? Not at all.

    They detect shipments of drugs at the Miami and NYC airports all the time, but you wouldn’t hesitate to go to those places on vacation.

    The WSJ article was right that drugs flow through here. But they were wrong to make it an issue that scares tourists, because it doesn’t affect tourists and tourists never see any part of it.

    Please don’t worry about this. I live here and I don’t worry about it, because it doesn’t affect me.

  24. Rebecca in North Carolina Says:

    Just because you personally have not been a victim (YET) of crime in Cancun does in NO WAY prove that it is not going on. The Police Chief of Cancun was recently arrested for his part in the brutal kidnapping, torture and murder of a retired General who had been hired only 24 hours earlier to lead a drug task force, due to the corruption within the police department.
    Also, there are over 20 sexual assault cases reported DAILY in Cancun. According to the website http://WWW.CIAMCANCUN.ORG ” Particularly in Quintana Roo, Mexico we at CIAM CANCUN work daily in exposing corruption and impunity of local and federal authorities. Transparency international issued a report of the inefficacy of the justice system. As a result we know that 82% of all crimes reported by citizens are never investigated and that leaves the victims of crimes in a more vulnerable state, even worst than that in which they were before the crime was committed against them. In Cancun and Acapulco, both touristy and high migration centers, 93% of all crimes go unpunished.”

    Now, I ask you does this sound like a place to send your child for spring break?
    Also, please take just a moment of your time and vist and and read stories of people who learned the hard way how UNSAFE Cancun really is.
    Don’t just give us the fluffy touristy crap, tell the truth!

  25. RiverGirl Says:

    OK Rebecca – You want the truth? The truth is that more than 4.5 million international tourists get off airplanes in Cancun each year. About every 10 days one of them goes home in a casket. The deaths come primarily from drowning, from heart attacks, the occasional car accident and once in a while someone jumps (or falls drunk) from a balcony.

    And yes, a few women do get raped while on vacation here, that happens. Does it happen more than in other places? Maybe more than some places and less than other places. It’s not a crime that I hear about often here. But I know from personal experience that many women who are sexually abused do not report it. I also know that in Mexico you need to be very sure of the source and methodology behind any statistics you see. I frankly don’t believe there ARE good statistics about crime in Cancun so I hesitate to make claims about crime rates here.

    I respect that you personally experienced a horrific rape while you were in Cancun. But that does not mean that other women who travel here are statistically more likely to have the same happen to them. Your personal tragedy, as horrible as is was, is not an indicator of what will happen to the millions of women who visit this area each year.

    What I know about Cancun is what I see and what I hear. I do not hear gunfire. I do not hear sirens. I live in downtown Cancun and keep my windows open year round. I frequently forget to lock my house. I walk my dog alone at all hours of the night and I feel safe. I have never been a victim of crime in Cancun. I have never felt threatened in Cancun. That’s what I know.

    The crimes that I hear about here are usually thefts, I hear of tourists who have had their wallets or passports stolen. People think that the room safes in their hotels are safe, but they aren’t always.

    The truth is that the VAST majority of tourists come here, have a great time and then go home with nothing worse than a sunburn and a hangover.

    p.s. My statistics come from the Mexican Immigration service (INM) which keeps track of numbers of international visitors to Mexico and also keeps data on the deaths of foreigners on Mexican soil. They also have to deal with people who have lost passports.

  26. Tina Says:

    I have been searching for an informative website about mexico for 3 weeks now.
    I will be arriving in Playa Del Carmen on Apr. 26th and have also been warned by friends and family about traveling to Mexico. I am so glad that I found this site. Ironically, i found it in the same place as I found I feel better now after reading the posts. I have been traveling to Mexico for the last 12 years and have never felt unsafe. My general feeling is that you should always be aware of your surroundings whether in Mexico or in the U.S. There have always been drugs in Mexico, “shakedowns” by police and accidents. This is nothing new , but unfortunately the media has scared a lot of people into not going to Mexico. ( I was almost one of them!)
    I feel a lot better now. Thanks for the comments good and bad.

  27. Sckef Says:


    I just made plans to visit the Riviera Maya resort on Labor Day weekend and am a little concerned about the violence in Mexico that I keep hearing. I have not finalized my travel plans yet, but would like some input if it’s safe to travel to this region. It’s about an hour away from Cancun and do I need to worry about driving on the road.

    Thanks in advance.

  28. specky Says:

    After reviewing the horror stories on it seems many of the problems stem from the response (or lack thereof) to emergencies by the staff at hotels. I have visited many parts of Mexico many times, and have long noted the poor service / tip grounging that goes on at most large hotels. It seems this non-responsive, no-taking-responsibility passive aggressive reaction also occurs with tragic consequences with respect to hotel guest safety (not calling an ambulance, not firing known criminals, generally not looking out for guests).

    In contrast, I have had very caring hospitality in the small b&bs / inns, which are typically run by expats. I think for quality of service and safety, visitors should carefully read rating and comments on tripadvisor and avoid hotels that get less than stellar reviews.

    Mexico can be a great place to visit and live, but the author of this site seems a bit defensive about any acknowledgment of problems in Mexico. It would be far more helpful if — as a local resident– she provided information about the best private run hospitals in Yucatan, how to access them, which travelers health insurance they accept. This practical information can actually help visitors have a better outcome when trouble inevitably strikes. A better response to emergencies would have changed the outcome on most of the horror stories documented at

  29. marisol koenkamp Says:

    Yeah, Specky, no one ever dies on vacation in other cities in the world. Your post as well as the histrionic one by the other loca in this thread are just thinly veiled racist rants. By all means, don’t go to Cancun if you’re so shrill and scared. No one will miss you.

  30. Robin Says:

    I plan to visit Cancun in June.I been concerned about going to Mexico.Thank you for the clearing up some of my fears.It was nice to find a site with good info and I don’t feel so silly in my concerns.It is so sad to see our nieghbors to the south suffering with this violence.It is no fun for us noth of the border as I have seen crime rise up in the city I live.

  31. lmnop Says:

    I’m considering where to vacation this summer. The prices for all-inclusive resorts in Cancun are almost too hard to pass up. My safety and especially the safety of my teenage daughters is of paramount importance, though. I really want to go on the theory that all the violence reported about in Mexico is really in the border areas and that the resort areas are just getting a bad rap because of general association with Mexico. My problem is that the State Department website specifically lists danger in Cancun. How do you address these specific allegations by the US State Department? The next two paragraphs are cut and pasted from the State Department website

    Crime in Cancun, Acapulco, and Other Resort Areas: There have been a significant number of rapes reported in Cancun and other resort areas. Many of these have occurred at night or in the early morning. Attacks have also occurred on deserted beaches and in hotel rooms. Acquaintance rape is a serious problem. Hotel workers, taxi drivers, and security personnel have been implicated in other cases.

    Street Crime: Armed street crime is a serious problem in all of the major cities. Some bars and nightclubs, especially in resort cities such as Cancun, Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, Acapulco, and Tijuana, can be havens for drug dealers and petty criminals. Some establishments may contaminate or drug drinks to gain control over the patron.

    I’m hoping that you can address these specific US State Department allegations as I really would like to get comfortable with going to Cancun. The price is right. I would just like to feel safe.

  32. Michelle H Says:

    I appreciate so much what you are doing here River Girl..I came to Cancun at 23, bought properties on the beach and 15 years later I can stay at home here on the beach and not have any worries, we are always renting. I just came up from the beach with my guests and their kids, under 10 years of age. Its 10pm and it didnt even occur to us that it could be unsafe to set the turtles off into the sea … because we know that it is safe. We locals shake our heads when people are scared to come here. I travel 50 nights a year worldwide and I remember heading to Miami one time to take a cruise when there was a sniper in downtown Miami!!! they told us not to go there on another cruise when Elian Gonzales was there as well…..please, nothing will keep me from cruising to Europe every few months from Miami…the crime we encounter abroad is crazy…In Paris they are always trying to steal from me….
    Violent crime exists everywhere in the world…if people actually think its that bad here well then I guess more of the beach for me. Its really sad that the media is scaring people that much. But anything they can do to keep tourist dollars in the USA they will do . We saw it last year with the invention of swine flu…what a joke that was. But locally we enjoyed the beaches and night clubs, specials in restaurants like never before…so if potential tourists want to stay “safe” and lock themselves in their home states, well, thats their loss.

  33. pensieve Says:

    Cancun is a large city but tourists have been safe using common sense. Use the same judgement you would use in our largest american cities – don’t be out late at night alone, for example. Don’t be alone, period.

    If you are at an all-inclusive, you will likely stay mainly at the resort and not be out exploring. Any tours are very organized and are generally on large tour busses with a guide, so you are supervised.

    Cozumel is one of the safest places you can visit as a tourist, and is just a short way from Cancun. It is an island that is more laid-back and if you are apprehensive at all, I would try going there in place of Cancun. It is a big tourist destination so there are ample all-inclusives and other lodging options.

  34. Meredith Says:

    Has anyone traveled to Cancun recently…is it okay?
    We have plans to be there in a week…

  35. Marisol Koenkamp Says:

    Meredith: Yes, it’s ok.

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