Wondering about Cancun crime and whether or not it is safe to travel there? You’re in the right place!
I lived in Cancun for more than 7 years and even though I am now traveling full time, I still consider it my home where I always go back quite often. So in this post, I will share my insights about this delicate topic, with the hope to help you understand more about it.
Whenever you tell someone you are traveling to Mexico, they will immediately ask you if it is safe.
Cancun is the most visited city in Mexico, and officials work hard to keep visitors safe.
Despite that, crime in Cancun is a problem in certain areas of the city. Keep reading to learn about crime in Cancun and what are the areas that you must avoid, such as Tres Reyes, Bonfil, and others that you can read about here below.
What is Cancun’s Crime Rate?
Compared to many cities in Mexico, Cancun is still relatively safe. It reports a homicide rate of 44.5 incidents for every 100,000 residents.
Number tracks the quality of life, including perceived crime rate and safety, and they rate the crime level in Cancun at 56.16, which is moderate.
Participants responded that the level of crime in Cancun over the past three years was increasing, with residents most worried about violent crimes, crimes related to drug sales and consumption, and corruption and bribery.
Unfortunately, the number of murders in Cancun has gone up in the past few years due to increased drug cartel violence.
However, every year millions of people visit Cancun. Most of them enjoy their holidays without any incident.
They relax at their resort, go out partying, and visit nearby attractions without worrying about crime.
So, it might come as a surprise to many that the crime rate in Cancun has been rising over the past few years.
Are There Cartels in Cancun?
Yes, there are drug carriers in Cancun. In the past few years, there have been many changes in the major cartels that operate in Mexico.
The Mexican government has made large arrests and broken apart former cartels, creating an environment where newly organized cartels are fighting for territory.
For drug cartels, Cancun is a profitable and desirable area to control. Tourists come to the area with cash, and along with the cash and party scene is a strong market for selling illegal drugs.
The fighting that happens between cartels is often far away from the tourist zones.
The cartels operate in parts of Cancun far away from the hotel zone and downtown, meaning your chance of getting caught in their violence is very slim.
The Mexican government knows how important it is to keep visitors safe from the fighting cartels.
In recent years they have increased police presence and even deployed the national guard to monitor popular tourist areas.
Which Areas Should You Stay Away From in Cancun?
As a visitor, it is always fun to get off the beaten path, find local hangouts, and experience how the locals live. You can safely do this in Cancun.
If you have time, it is a great idea to get out of your resort and head downtown.
There you will find authentic food, and have the chance to see how locals live. While most of Cancun is safe to explore, there are a few areas that you should stay away from while in Cancun which are listed below. But to be honest, you have no reason to go there, anyway.
Bonfil is located on the outskirts of Cancun. It is about 7 kilometers from the downtown city center between Cancun International Airport and Cancun and was originally designed to be an agricultural area to support the city.
Due to the rapid growth of Cancun, that plan was never realized, and the area is home to about 20,000 people, most of them who work in tourism.
Today Bonfil has the reputation of being where many cartel members live and recently had an increase in violent crime.
2. Colonia Tres Reyes
Colonia Tres Reyes is located about 11 kilometers from downtown Cancun on the Cancun-Merida highway.
It is a small town, made up of a few thousand residents. In recent years it has been in the news because of an alarming increase in homicides.
Last year the bodies of two men were found in this area.
3. Santa Cecilia
The Santa Cecilia area of Cancun is located 8 kilometers from downtown. It is near the Cancun-Merida highway far on the outskirts of Cancun.
Due to recent drug cartel violence, this area has seen an increase in homicides and violent crime. Last year, the police ministry did a large-scale operation in this area to try to find and arrest criminals.
4. Valle Verde
Colonia Valle Verde is located off the Cancun-Merida highway, several kilometers from downtown Cancun.
Valle Verde is an area you want to avoid because it has a rising level of violent and drug-related crimes.
In September 2023 police raided a few houses in Valle Verde, arresting several people and confiscating large amounts of illegal drugs, weapons, and cars.
5. Red Lights District
Red Light Districts are areas where you can find brothels and prostitutes.
There are a few areas in the outskirts of Cancun where you can find these activities, but they are not safe areas, and you should avoid seeking them out.
As you can see, there are several neighborhoods in Cancun that you should avoid visiting.
Unfortunately, they are unsafe, and have an increasing amount of violent crimes, mostly due to drug cartel activity.
This is a sad and scary situation for many residents who live in these areas, but the good news is that as a visitor, you should never find yourself anywhere near here.
All of these areas are located far from the Cancun city center, so you will not accidentally wander into these areas.
You can still confidently walk around downtown Cancun, without worrying you will suddenly be in a dangerous area.
Common Cancun Crimes & How to Avoid Them
Violent crimes make headlines, and, thankfully, most of the violent crimes that happen in Cancun are far from tourist zones. That does not mean that there is no crime you need to worry about while on vacation.
Things like petty theft and scams happen all the time in tourist destinations all over the world, and Cancun is no exception.
Here are the most common Cancun crimes and how to protect yourself from them:
Petty theft is a problem in big cities and tourist hot spots all over the world. When you are in a new area you can easily be distracted, making it easier for someone to steal from you.
Plus, people often get ‘vacation brain’ and do things like leave phones or cameras on tables in restaurants, or leave valuables in an unlocked rental car.
The good news is that there are many ways to protect yourself from petty theft. Try to never carry too much cash with you, and never flaunt it when taking out your wallet.
And remember to always pay attention to your belongings.
Remember to lock your car, and do not leave valuables unattended on the beach or in restaurants. Thieves are always looking for easy targets, to stay alert and you should not have any problems.
💸 Money Scam
Even the increased police and National Guard presence cannot stop scam artists from trying to rip people off.
Most scam artists have practiced their scam over and over, and have tricks for cheating innocent people out of their money.
The best defense against scam artists is knowing the most common ways they trick people and being on the lookout for them.
Another common scam to protect yourself from is the bill swap. You will probably find you need to use cash in Cancun more than you normally do at home.
If you have pesos, you will notice that some of the different denominations look similar to each other, for example, the 500 pesos bill and 20 pesos bill are both blue.
Scammers will take your cash and replace the bill you gave them with a lower denomination.
Avoid this scam by paying close attention to the different bills and stating out loud how much money you are handing over to them.
I have to say when my mum came to visit we fell into that trap as well. We were in a souvenir shop in the Cancun Hotel Zone and she paid with a 500 pesos note, there were a lot of people and noise around and it was easy to get distracted. The shop attendant kept insisting that she paid with a lower bill and didn’t give her the change.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t paying attention so I didn’t insist. The loss was not a lot but still, it left a bad taste in our mouth, as you don’t expect this kind of treatment.
🚌 Tours scam
When booking tours, most people are looking for the best deal.
Scammers take advantage of this and will try to sell you tours for great deals. They will show you pictures of their ‘product’ whether it is a luxury yacht or flyer for a tour, and offer you a great deal if you pay in cash.
Once you pay, this person will disappear and you will quickly realize that you were scammed and the person did not have the right to sell you a tour.
Avoid this by purchasing tours through trusted sources, such as your hotel concierge, or booking online at well-known sites such as viator.com.
You can also check out my favorite tours in Cancun in this detailed article.
🥴 Drug-Related Crimes
Wherever you go in the world, if you try to buy illegal drugs, you are opening yourself up to dangerous situations.
Buying and consuming drugs is against the law in Mexico, so if you are caught with them you could face criminal penalties.
Not only do you need to worry about the police catching you with illegal drugs, but buying drugs on the streets puts you at risk for other problems, such as the drug dealer trying to rob you (leaving you in a very helpless position) or, even worse, finding yourself in the middle of a cartel war.
That is besides the negative effects of drugs themselves of course, but that goes without saying.
Keep yourself safe and out of trouble by refraining from purchasing or using illegal drugs while in Cancun.
🏧 ATM Fraud
Keep yourself safe while using ATMs in Cancun by not using free-standing, privately owned ATMs on the street.
Free-standing ATMs can be fitted with card scammers and sometimes even have people hanging around them who will try to rob you after you get your cash.
Use ATMs that are inside large grocery stores or at the bank, and try to make your withdrawals during the day when there are plenty of people around.
Never accept help from someone at an ATM.
There is a scam called ‘card carving’ when someone offers to help you with an ATM, tries to switch your card for a fake, and hopes to see you type your PIN into the ATM.
Stay alert when using an ATM and make sure no one can see you type your PIN into the machine.
Also, avoid using ATMs in hidden areas or at night.
On another note about ATM, if you need to withdraw cash, I would recommend withdrawing Mexican Pesos, because the US cash machines charge you very heavy commissions.
🚕 Taxi Scams
One of the most common scams you will encounter in Cancun is taxi drivers who try to overcharge people.
Taxis in Cancun do not have meters, and there is a rate chart they should follow when charging.
However, many taxi drivers take advantage of the fact that visitors do not know the going rate and try to overcharge them.
Protect yourself from this scam by asking your hotel staff what a taxi should cost to get to a destination, so you have an idea of the cost before flagging one down.
Always agree on the rate with the driver BEFORE getting into the taxi, and if they try to quote you a high price, simply do not get in.
If possible, try to have your airport transportation to your hotel planned before arriving.
Taxis at the airport are notorious for overcharging visitors.
They pressure visitors into taking expensive taxi rides, and the best way to avoid this scam is to prearrange your transportation and know your options.
Alternatives to Cancun High-Risk Areas
As mentioned above, the dangerous areas in Cancun are not places you will accidentally find yourself in.
They are far away from the beaches and tourist centers and they are not attractive in any possible way. There are plenty of areas of Cancun that you can explore without needing to worry about violent and drug-related crimes.
Please though, keep in mind that anywhere you go you should stay aware of your surroundings and keep an eye on your personal belongings. Petty theft is a thing not only in Cancun or Mexico but everywhere, unfortunately.
Anyway, here are some safe places where you can spend time in Cancun.
✔️ Cancun Hotel Zone
The Cancun Hotel Zone is the most popular place for tourists to hang out. It is a long stretch of land that reaches out from the mainland in the shape of the number 7.
It is bordered by the Nichupte Lagoon and the Caribbean Sea- where you will find the amazing white, sandy beaches with turquoise water that Cancun is famous for.
There is so much to do that it is possible to spend your entire vacation exploring the area and never leave the hotel zone.
You will find a considerable police presence in the hotel zone.
They are there to deter crimes and quickly respond to any incident that arises.
✔️ Playa Mujeres
Playa Mujeres is a great option for people who want a relaxed atmosphere, away from the party zone.
Unlike some of the areas of the hotel zone that can have big waves, the water is usually calm around Playa Mujeres.
Playa Mujeres is a safe place to visit. Most hotels and resorts have security guards to cut down on petty theft and other crimes.
Playa Mujeres is located on the way to Isla Blanca, a beautiful deserted beach, which I would avoid at night, but it’s a great place to spend a couple of hours.
✔️ Downtown Cancun
If you want to get off the beach and away from large resorts to see where locals live, you can safely visit downtown Cancun.
Downtown Cancun is filled with delicious restaurants- you can find everything from small taco stands to restaurants serving regional specialties.
Just like any big city, when you are in downtown Cancun make sure to pay attention to your belongings.
If you travel on a crowded bus, pay close attention to your bag to prevent pickpockets from stealing your phone or wallet.
Like anywhere, it is a good idea to avoid walking alone late at night in downtown Cancun and always pay attention to your surroundings.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it Still Safe to Travel to Cancun Right Now?
Yes, it is still safe to travel to Cancun now. Unfortunately, there are certain areas of town that have seen an increase in violent crime in recent years.
While this is a sad situation for Cancun residents, the areas that are seeing an increase in crime are far away from tourist areas.
Visitors can still go to Cancun and enjoy their vacation as they always have.
As always, when you travel you need to be alert for petty theft, and scams, and should never drink in excess or try to buy illegal drugs.
What is the Safest Part of Cancun to Stay?
The safest parts of Cancun are the hotel zone, Playa Mujeres, and downtown.
These areas all have a strong police presence to deter crime and respond quickly whenever there are incidents.
Most hotels and resorts have security guards too.
Whenever you are out and about make sure to pay attention to your surroundings and avoid walking alone late at night.
Is Cancun Safe For Solo Travelers?
Yes, Cancun is safe for solo travelers. If you plan to stay out late at night as a solo traveller it is a good idea to arrange safe transportation back to your hotel.
Cancun attracts many solo travellers and there are many hotels and resorts that cater to them.
If you are traveling solo, remember to use common sense: never take a drink from strangers, do not get drunk, and trust your instincts.
As always, you will need to pay attention to your surroundings, but if you do these things you should not have any problems.
Is Cancun Safe for Female Travelers?
Yes, Cancun is safe for female travelers, both in groups and solo travelers.
Women travelers should take simple precautions to keep themselves safe such as paying close attention to their surroundings, not consuming recreational drugs or drinking alcohol in excess, and never accepting drinks from strangers.
Is Cancun Safe at Night?
You can leave your hotel or resort to go out and enjoy the nightlife in Cancun, but you should take a few extra precautions after dark.
You can walk at night in the hotel zone, but it is best to keep to well-traveled, well-lit areas.
It is also a good idea to not walk alone at night, anywhere in the city.
If you want to sit on the beach and enjoy the night sky, do so only if your hotel has security and stay close to them- do not wander to a dark, secluded area on the beach.
Is it Safe to Drive in Cancun?
The traffic is the heaviest in Cancun, once you get out of town there is not much traffic to deal with.
All over the roads are well maintained and clearly marked- making it an easy area to navigate.
Is Public Transportation Safe in Cancun?
Yes, it is safe to use public transportation in Cancun.
Public buses run from downtown Cancun the entire length of the hotel zone and are an easy and affordable way to get around town.
Whenever you ride on a crowded public bus make sure to keep a close eye on your belongings.
Final Thoughts: Cancun Crime
In recent years violent crime has risen in Cancun. These incidents get huge media attention and people are correct to wonder if it is still safe to go to Cancun.
Most areas in Cancun are still safe, including the hotel zone, Playa Mujeres, and downtown.
There are a few areas where most of the violent and drug-related crimes are centered, and as a visitor, you should avoid these areas.
If you avoid these areas and stay alert to protect yourself from petty theft and scams, you will have a safe and fun time in Cancun.
Before You Go…
Here are some useful posts that you might be interested in:
- The Ultimate Guide to Traveling to Cancun Mexico
- The Best Time to Visit Cancun 2023: The Ultimate Guide
- The Most Instagrammable Spots in Cancun: Top 29 Attractions You Must Visit in Cancun 2023
- 15 Best Apartments in Cancun Rentals (2023)
- Mexico All-Inclusive Packing List: What You Need to Bring With You to a Cancun All-Inclusive Resort