Is it true, is Cancun safe? We swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth…
You’ve read the headlines, you’ve watched the news, you’ve seen the movies, but we’re here to tell you the truth: is Cancun safe?
What if I told you that…
- nearly as many Americans die from falling out of bed each year as total people killed in Cancun in 2018
- or that nearly twice as many people die from contact with powered lawnmowers each year than there were homicides in Cancun in 2018
Loss of life is both inevitable and tragic, and we want to prevent it from happening prematurely at all costs. However, does this mean we should stay awake 24/7 or let our lawns turn into a waste land of weeds and untrimmed grass? Of course not! With some added precaution and a bit of common sense we can enjoy restfull nights of sleep without fear, beautifully trimmed lawns and unforgettable Cancun vacations!
Let this article guide you through what is happening across Mexico (and more specifically Cancun), what the government is saying, how it has affected tourism and advice for staying safe in Cancun in 2019.
Cancun Crime: the statistics
It all started in 2006 when Mexico began an aggressive campaign which targeted the heads of drug cartels. Many of the country’s biggest drug kingpins were either jailed or killed, along with 80,000 other cartel related members who lost their lives in the process. This led to many of the cartels being fractured and depleted without a leader to provide control and a sense of direction. With no sense of authority and direction, the splintered cartels began to both diversify their operations and open more turf wars on drug trafficking routes to the US. With the changing dynamic of the drug cartels across Mexico, Cancun became vulnerable to such violence from these turf wars.
While fighting over trafficking routes comprises a lot Mexico’s crime and murder, the cartels also realize that tourists are consumers of drugs as well and see them as revenue generators. The power to sell in tourist destinations such as Cancun is part of the cartels’ diversification which stemmed from the 2006 campaign. With the addition of law enforcement widely known to be corrupt, the perfect mix was set in place for a booming crime rate.
However, don’t let any of this mislead you as Cancun continues to be a popular tourist destination and is very safe! While the murder rate rose from 205 in 2017, to a reported 540 murders (almost exclusively drug cartel members) in Cancun in 2018, it isn’t even in the top 10 most dangerous cities in Mexico. And when compared to the most dangerous cities in the US, it is far behind (murder information per city for 2018 is not yet available):
It is true, and the facts are the facts. However, according to the data, Cancun is safer than four of America’s biggest and most popular cities. We would still feel comfortable traveling to places like St. Louis, New Orleans and Kansas City with the understanding that we need to use common sense and stay away from dangerous areas of the city. Mexico is no different in that common sense should be used and you should be aware of which areas to avoid in Cancun.
In a January 2018 PBS NewsHour Special featuring world-renowned journalist Danny Gold (@DGisSERIOUS) about the violence in Cancun, Mexican Security Specialist Alejandro Schtulmann (@ASchtulmann) stated, “So much of the violence that we’re seeing in Cancun, as opposed to other places, takes place on the periphery of the city.” Police specialist Walter McKay (@wmmckay) also recently stated, “The violence, however, isn’t growing inside resorts…the violence is largely happening outside the resorts.” The same can be said for nearly every big city in the world, outside of those in war torn countries, that there is violence but it happens in isolated areas outside of the main tourist areas.
So, is Cancun safe to visit? Yes! While there is crime in Cancun, Cancun has less crime than some of America’s most famous cities and the crime is very localized to specific parts of the city. What’s more, crime and murders are almost exclusively between cartel members over turf and happen well outside of Cancun resorts.
Is it safe to travel to Cancun: what the government says
There’s not a more formal, and arguably more accurate source of information regarding international travel advisories than some of the world’s most recognized and reputable governments. Their goal is to advise and aid their own citizens when it comes to world travel, and provide accurate warnings concerning safety and security. So, is it safe to travel to Mexico right now? Below we will take a look at the Mexico travel advisory boards from both the United States and Canada, as well hear from the Quintana Roo Tourism Board.
U.S. Department of State Travel Warnings
Generally when the United States government talks, people listen. So what exactly are they saying about travel to Cancun and the region of Quintana Roo? Taken directly from the U.S. Department of State website, here is the most current Cancun travel advisory:
The U.S. Department of State uses a four level advisory system as you can see below:
So with Quintana Roo and Cancun at just a Level 2 Advisory, lets explore this interactive map and find out what other nations share this same advisory level according to the U.S. Department of State. As you can see on the interactive map, below are just a few countries which share the same threat level as Mexico:
- United Kingdom
Government of Canada Travel Warnings
The Government of Canada is another very reputable source. Whereas the U.S. Department of State provides travel warnings for every specific region of Mexico, the Government of Canada offers more general warnings with advice on areas to avoid. Here is their most recent Mexico travel warning:
Below is an explanation of the risk levels, which are very similar to those of the U.S. Department of State, barring the numbers and colors:
There are two conclusions we can pull from the Government of Canada’s travel advisory for Mexico: (1) there is no mention of Quintana Roo or Cancun in their list of areas to avoid and (2) their risk level system is very similar to that of the U.S. Department of State in that “Exercise a high degree of caution” would be comparable to a Level 2 warning from the United States government.
Quintana Roo Tourism Board
While the Quintana Roo Tourism Board doesn’t have a specific travel advisory board, they are very active in their acknowledgement of the situation in the area and want to make everything as transparent as possible for all travelers. Recently, Quintana Roo Tourism Board CEO Dario Flota Ocampo (@DarioFlota) had this to say regarding travel in the area:
The PR Newswire article continues to stress that the State of Quintana Roo remains one of the “safest, most welcoming, and friendly places to visit in the world.” We also heard directly from Mr. Flota himself, and he gladly elaborated on the current situation in Cancun:
“Zero tourists were involved in recent incidents which usually occur several kilometers away from the hotel zone. Some are targeted incidents between criminal elements and do not represent a risk for tourists. The State of Quintana Roo and its destinations continue to be among the safest, welcoming more than 15 million international tourists in 2018, an increase of 5.5% compared to the previous year.”
Mr. Flota also urged travelers to download the free Guest Assist application which provides information and guidance for travelers, as well as 24-hour assistance from trained staff who speak a multitude of language. The app also offers contact information for a variety of other support agencies, consulates and more.
When all is said and done, with the number of travelers increasing steadily in the area despite some of the negative publicity, the tourism board emphasizes that this shows the confidence people have in traveling to Quintana Roo. Furthermore, the municipal government is “committed to maintaining the safety in its destinations and will continue to take proactive steps towards this goal.”
We can ultimately gather that while there is undoubtedly plenty of crime in Mexico at the moment, it is clearly confined to very specific regions and is almost exclusively amongst cartel members. However, the most interesting point to take from the above findings is that popular travel destinations in Europe are also included under the same travel advisory warning, yet why is it that Cancun and Mexico are getting the brunt of the criticism?
As elegantly described by Harvard University students Carlos Quintero Herrera Lasso and Dante Pérez Esquivel in The Mexican Reputation, nation branding and stereotyping of Mexico has been happening in the US for years. They emphasize that as humans “we oversimplify the world to understand it… we create shortcuts that allow us to answer the hard questions with easy and often misleading answers.”
Power relations have been at the forefront of Mexican stereotypes and “represent our own, mutually held projections upon the world of our social power position.” Heading this movement for years have been both political agendas and the media, which at times can go hand in hand. The media tends to compound only the most extreme cases and mold them to fit that nations “brand.” With unlimited access to so many news sources these days via the internet and social media platforms, these extreme cases are fed to us constantly.
With the media and political agendas in the United States having shaped this misleading stereotype of Mexico, it is no wonder why Mexico is receiving such a bad reputation on a global scale. Now take a second and think about how you view countries like England, Germany and France, all of whom share the same Level 2 Travel Advisory…
Is Cancun safe right now?
The biggest question at the moment is whether or not Cancun is safe right now. After summer headlines of bodies being found in Cancun, and most recently a few nightclub shootings several miles from the tourist zone, the fire has been re-ignited regarding safety in Cancun for vacationers. While none of the victims were tourists, the incidents still produce an avalanche of headlines for news sources.
The summer incident occurred in a downtown neighborhood which is miles from the famous tourist area of Zona Hotelera. Dario Flota from the Quintana Roo Tourism Board insisted that “foreigners typically do not venture into this part of town…In general, there have been no incidents near the tourist area.” The most recent shootings also occurred in clubs well outside the tourist zone which rarely see foreign visitors.
Due to Cancun’s limited access – one entrance, one exit – along with heavy security throughout, Cancun is incredibly safe. Currently the federal police and Navy personnel patrol the beaches, the police and Army monitor the highways and surveillance cameras have been installed at the ferry piers. Government officials also inspect bags and utilize canines to add another layer of protection. And with spring break bringing more travelers to the region, the local government has added another 80 police vehicles to patrol the area, along with numerous military patrols.
With all of this, it is easy to see why tourism in Cancun hasn’t been affected. In fact, quite the contrary!
40 million people travelled to Mexico in 2017, and numbers didn’t dip in 2018 according to the Mexico Tourism Board. The first quarter of 2018 saw a record-breaking number 10.6 million tourists visit Mexico, an increase of 12.6% from the previous year.
When it comes to Cancun itself, Euromonitor International claims that 2016 saw the resort city receive 5.8 million international travelers. The same report expected Cancun to receive 6.8 million travelers in 2017, with a forecast of 7.6 million visitors by 2020 and roughly 9 million by 2025.
What to do before your next Cancun vacation
So you’ve realized that Cancun is safe and you want to plan an unforgettable vacation to the famous resort city, but what’s the next step? Whenever you travel abroad it is always smart to have your ducks in a row before ever leaving your home. Here are a few Cancun travel tips for your next vacation:
- Leave your travel itinerary and contact information with friends and family
- See your doctor before you leave to ensure you are in good health to travel
- Check medical insurance to ensure you are covered during your trip
- Make a list of relevant hospitals and U.S. Embassies in the area (see below for Cancun)
- Register your travels with the U.S. Department of State here
These are precautionary measures which should be taken whenever you travel, not just when traveling to Cancun.
How to stay safe in Cancun: top tips
Just as any big city or urban area, we’ve seen that there is crime in Cancun. However, the U.S. State Department ranks the risk of traveling to Mexico in the same category as the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy among other famous travel destinations. We have also seen that tourism continues to boom, media and stereotypes are at the forefront of how we perceive Mexico, and as always, the sun continues to beam down on the pristine beaches of Cancun!
So what can we do to ensure we stay safe in Cancun, and any other city for that matter?
- If Driving – Avoid isolated roads and use toll roads when possible.
- When venturing out of the hotel – Areas to avoid in Cancun normally include those outside of well occupied tourist zones. However, areas which are deemed safe by either the government or hotels are also ok to enjoy.
- At nighttime – Stay in well lit tourist areas at night.
- Money – Take money out of ATMs in well lit tourist areas, from well known national banks.
- Jewelry – Don’t wear fancy jewelry out.
- Nightlife – If you go out, keep your drink in your hand at all times.
- Taxis – Never hail a taxi. Let the hotel order you a taxi or call one yourself from a reputable taxi service.
- Scams – Never hand your passport or money to a police officer as they have been known to extort money from tourists. Ask for the officers name, badge and patrol car number, as well as a copy of the written fine which is payable at a later date.
- USE COMMON SENSE – If you use common sense, just as you would in any other city, you will have a truly wonderful vacation in Cancun!
Cancun’s safest areas
Just as any city, there are areas that are safer than others. While the crime rate is increasing in general in Mexico, and the area of Cancun, the government is providing the necessary security to ensure that the tourism industry remains strong and travelers are safe. Here are the safe areas of Cancun:
- Cancun Hotel Zone – Also commonly referred to as the Zona Hotelera Cancun, this area is heavily guarded and practically untouched when it comes to cartel activity. Explore Boulevard Kukulcán which runs through the heart of the Zona Hotelera and offers plenty of fun things to do in Cancun!
- Cancun Beaches – Again, these are practically untouched by the cartels, especially in the hotel zone. So relax and enjoy the beauty and warmth of the Gulf of Mexico!
- Isla Mujeres – A gorgeous island just 9 miles off the coast of Cancun, this remains a safe place for travelers to revel in the stunning scenery of the area.
- Shopping Areas – The nicer malls, especially in and around the Zona Hoterea, are quite safe. One great example is the La Isla Shopping Village.
- Day Trips – If they are recommended by the government or hotel, then they are safe! Places like Xel-Ha, Xcaret, Chichen Itza and Tulum are wonderful day trips. Take a look at a few cultural experiences in Cancun which are great for the whole family!
Areas to avoid in Cancun
Having mentioned the safer areas of Cancun, below are a few of the areas to avoid in Cancun, or at least take extra precaution when visiting:
- Downtown Cancun – While primarily safe during the day, be sure to stay in the most touristic parts such as Avenida Tulum and Las Palapas. Do not venture outside the touristy areas, especially at night.
- Markets – Exploring the famous Mercado 23 and Mercado 28 is certainly ok, but make sure you hide wallets, purses and jewelry as pickpocketing does happen. We also advise staying away from these market areas after dark.
- Outskirts of Cancun – Our basic advice is don’t venture to the outskirts as that is where you are more likely to find crime. Be sure any excursions or day trips are organized through the hotel and your transport is reputable.
- Driving – We recommend arranging a driver or trusted taxi, but if you choose to rent a car, then we advise renting one without rental car stickers so that you blend in. Also, avoid isolated roads and driving at night. Take toll roads when possible as they are generally more secure.
The bottom line is use common sense and don’t venture into areas outside the zona hotelera after dark. Be smart with your actions and always be aware of your surroundings. We highly advise consulting reception upon arrival to your hotel to ensure which areas you can and cannot travel to during your vacation.
The following are quotes taken from travelers just like yourself who have gone to Cancun and shared their experiences with travel expert Mark Murphy on Travel Pulse:
“I unequivocally tell them that from my own experience that I’ve never had any trouble down here whatsoever. I’ve never felt uncomfortable. And I encourage them to go off the property if they want to go shopping…” -Patrick Rogers, Mexico Tourist
“With our kids and everything we haven’t felt in danger at all.” -Ryan Theuer, Mexico Tourist
“Normally even at home I don’t go places by myself, even here I’ve been completely comfortable taking the kids and walking places by myself.” -Katie Theuer, Mexico Tourist
“I feel very safe. I keep coming back. Why would I keep coming back if I didn’t feel safe and I didn’t love it?” -Ana, Mexico Tourist
“All the experiences were great here and I never felt unsafe at all.” -Alex DeSouza, Mexico Tourist
“It’s very safe here. I walk home by myself every night.” -Kimberly, American Expat
The following is another quote from a former tourist now turned expat:
“Visited for 25 years, live there now. I feel safer in Cancun than in many places in the US.” “I feel very strongly that Cancun is one of the safest resort areas in North, Central and South America and it is important that everyone gets this message.” –Terri Lane, Mexico Tourist (Follow her at @terter1990)
“I have been here more times than I can recount and I never once had an issue with safety despite what you’re hearing on the mainstream media, who tends to sensationalize things.” -Mark Murphy, travel expert (Follow him @murphytravels and TravelPulse)
“Mexico isn’t violent in the “right areas,” just as Canada and the United States aren’t. Mexico is “as safe as it has ever been,” at least where tourism is concerned.” –Walter McKay, Vancouver B.C. based police specialist
“So much of the violence that we’re seeing in Cancun, as opposed to other places, takes place on the periphery of the city.” –Alejandro Schtulmann, Mexican Security Specialist
“Importantly, while the rising homicides in Cancun have generated significant concern for the region’s tourism sector, recent violence has been largely removed from Zona Hotelera on Mexico’s western coast.” -Cassius Wilkinson (Follom him at @CassiusKumar), Analyst, Mexican Politics an Rule of Law
What to do in case of an emergency
We are confident absolutely nothing will happen on your next vacation to any of the stunning all inclusive Cancun resorts, but it’s always comforting to know what to do in case of an emergency:
- Dial 911 in case of an emergency
- U.S. Embassy, Consulate General and Consular Agent
- U.S. Consular Agency Cancun
Blvd Kukulkan Km 13
Torre La Europea, Despaco 301 ZH
Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico 77500
- U.S. Consulate General Merida (for emergencies)
Calle 60 No. 338-K x 29 y 31
Col. Alcala Martin Merida, Yucatan, Mexico 97050
- U.S. Consular Agency Cancun
- Tourist friendly hospitals in Cancun:
- Hospiten Hospital Cancun (998-881-3700)
- Hospital de las Americas (998-881-3400)
- Hospital Galenia (998-891-5200)
- Tourist friendly dentists in Cancun:
- Clinica American Smile (998-887-4521)
So… is it safe to travel to Cancun?
The bottom line is yes, Cancun is safe!
Traveling to Cancun is no different than traveling elsewhere, because at the end of the day we need to use common sense. Cancun remains a booming tourist destination for world travellers and shows no signs of slowing down. As with any other urban area, stay away from the well known dangerous areas and don’t let media or stereotypes guide your decision. Use our Cancun travel tips and enjoy an absolutely unforgettable (and safe!) vacation to Cancun. Your next wonderful all inclusive Cancun vacation to the Occidental Costa Cancún or Occidental Tucancún resort awaits you!