Posted: 8/14/22 | August 14th, 2022
Cancún is the most popular city in Mexico for travelers, welcoming almost four million visitors in 2021 (pre-pandemic, in 2019, it was over six million). The second most popular destination, Mexico City, only saw half of that number.
With numerous direct flights from various cities in the United States and lovely beaches that hug turquoise waters, it’s not really a surprise that this city of nearly 900,000 people is so popular.
While the media tends to paint in broad strokes when it comes to Mexico and safety, there are plenty of safe places to travel in Mexico. Cancún is one of them.
It’s not like San Pedro Sula in Honduras or Ciudad Juárez on the Mexican-US border, where you might encounter robbers or violence just by strolling down the street.
That said, of the most dangerous cities in Mexico, Cancún comes in at number six in terms of the number of homicides per 100,000 people. To put this into perspective, the most dangerous city in Mexico is Tijuana, with 138 murders per 100,000 people. Cancún has 64.
While that may seem worrying, keep in mind that there are several cities in the US with comparable stats (St. Louis had 65 homicides per 100,000 people in 2019; Baltimore saw 58).
Fortunately for travelers, most of the violent crime in Cancún is the result of drug cartels and occurs far from the tourist zones (and rarely involves tourists). The vast majority of travelers will come and go without incident.
But that doesn’t mean you can travel carelessly here.
To help you understand more about the city and decide if you feel comfortable visiting, here is everything you need to know to stay safe in Cancún.
Table of Contents
- Is Cancún Safe for Solo Travelers?
- Is Cancún Safe for Solo Female Travelers?
- Are Taxis in Cancún Safe?
- Is Renting a Car in Cancún Safe?
- Is There an Issue with Gangs and Drug Cartels in Cancún?
- Can You Drink the Tap Water in Cancún?
- Can I Walk Around at Night in Cancún?
- 10 Safety Tips for Cancún
- So, Should You Visit Cancún?
- My Most Important Advice
Is Cancún Safe for Solo Travelers?
The Mexican government puts a lot of effort into making sure Cancún is safe, since it’s fueled primarily by tourism. If the crime rate suddenly spiked and news got out, people would stop coming; hotels, bars, and restaurants would close; locals would lose their jobs; and the town would devolve into utter poverty, which would then increase the crime rate even more. That’s how important safety in Cancún is to the government.
So, in short, yes, solo travelers should generally feel safe visiting here.
Is Cancún Safe for Solo Female Travelers?
Solo female travelers have additional concerns when traveling, and the general precautions you’d take elsewhere apply here: never accept a drink from a stranger and never leave your drink unattended when out at the bar, don’t walk around at night intoxicated, etc. Cancún is a party town, so be mindful about who you party with and be cautious about not overdoing it. Beyond that, solo female travelers should generally feel comfortable traveling here.
Are Taxis in Cancún Safe?
Yes, particularly in the hotel zone (zona hotelera). Expect to pay around 70-80 MXN (just under $4 USD) per ride within the area. If you go further afield, it is obviously going to be more expensive, and the level of safety is going to change as well. If you’re going out of the hotel zone, particularly to downtown, it’s best to call an Uber or Cabify.
Is Renting a Car Safe in Cancún?
Compared to other parts of Mexico, the state of Quintana Roo and the Riviera Maya south of town is safe for renting a car and driving (I’ve rented a car in the region myself). The roads are in decent condition too.
One thing to be aware of is a scam that happens occasionally in Mexico. Rental cars will be priced low, and you’ll reserve the car. But when you go to pick it up, the price will have doubled, from all kinds of added fees. The devil is in the fine print. If you’re renting a car with a price so low that it almost seems like it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Expect that there are going to be some added fees when you pick it up.
On a related note, car insurance is mandatory in Mexico, so that will be an additional cost you’ll have to pay when picking up the car. Expect to pay about $10-$20 USD per day for insurance.
To find the best rental car deals, use Discover Cars.
Is There an Issue with Gangs and Drug Cartels in Cancún?
Like many places in Mexico, there is an issue with drug cartels in Cancún. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. I know that’s not a pleasant thing to hear, but again, gangs and drug cartels are focused on each other. Not tourists. Much like in other countries (including the US), if there’s violent crime in Cancún, it’s not aimed at tourists, so you don’t need to skip a visit or spend your trip worried and in hiding. While gang violence has spread into the tourists areas from time to time, those incidents are still few and far between.
Is the Tap Water Safe to Drink in Cancún?
It is not. The tap water all over Mexico is notorious for not being as clean as it could be. Cancún is no exception. That goes for ice cubes too. Find out first if the water in restaurants is filtered and then ask if the ice cubes are too. Cancún can sometimes be sweltering in heat, and sipping iced drinks might be refreshing, but it would be even worse to be stuck in your hotel room with stomach issues because you drank tap water or an iced drink that was contaminated with tap water.
Bottled water isn’t the most eco-friendly thing, but when in Cancún, stick to it, just to be safe. You can also bring a LifeStraw bottle, which has a built-in filter to ensure that your water is always clean and safe to drink.
Can I Walk Around at Night in Cancún?
Definitely. While Cancún has a population of almost a million people, the areas where the tourists congregate (the hotel zone, for example) are very walkable, day or night. In the evening, the one alarming aspect is that the street lighting is not particularly bright. It’s something to be mindful of when making plans.
If your itinerary or the night involves several stops, it’s probably wisest to hit the farthest destination first and then slowly gravitate to the nearest spot to your hotel as the night goes on.
10 Safety Tips for Cancún
Cancún is one of the safer tourist spots in Mexico, but you should still exercise caution, particularly when you leave the heavily touristed areas of town. Here are some things to keep in mind:
1. Keep your phone out of the reach of others – Pickpockets love to prey on careless tourists, so keep your phone out of the reach of others at all times. If you walk around swinging your smartphone all over the place, you might find that item suddenly missing.
2. Keep your valuables at home – Similarly, if you have a lot of nice jewelry and/or an expensive watch, keep it at home or in the hotel room safe. You don’t want to attract the wrong kind of attention.
3. Be cautious at night if you’re traveling alone – Cancún isn’t the most dangerous place at night, but in some places, it’s not as well lit as it should be. Don’t walk around alone late at night if you can avoid it.
4. Download an offline map – If you don’t have international roaming, download an offline map to use for navigation. Just be sure not to pull your smartphone out too much, lest it get stolen.
5. Learn some Spanish – Uttering a few words of the local language is always a good thing. It can open doors and help you fit in (ensuring you’re less likely to be a target). It’s also good to learn some Spanish in case of emergency. The emergency number in Mexico is 911.
6. Be mindful of your money – Don’t carry every peso you have in your wallet or pocket. Spread it around (some in your wallet, some in the hotel safe, some in your backpack) so that if someone steals your wallet or robs you, you will still have money secured elsewhere.
7. Download the Prey app to your phone and laptop – If your phone or your laptop gets stolen, the Prey app allows you to track where it is. You can install the app for free and then upgrade to a paid version (it’s just $5 USD) if you need to track your stolen device. Prey can also activate your phone’s camera and take a photo of the thief.
8. Stay alert – When walking around, especially at night, stay very alert and mindful of your surroundings. Do your best to fit in.
9. Be careful when using ATMs – Only use ATMs inside a bank. Not only can skimmers be placed on outdoor ATMs (to steal your PIN), but robberies are much more common at outdoor ATMs. To stay safe, only use indoor ATMs.
10. Watch out for riptides – While the beaches here are stunning, the riptides can be dangerous. Never stray too far from shore, just to be safe. If you’re not a strong swimmer, stick to the pool.
So, Should You Visit Cancún?
Yes! Cancún can be a fun place to travel to. It’s a party destination, so you have to come with the right mindset (and budget). If you’re looking for a quiet place or a more local vibe, go elsewhere.
In terms of safety, Cancún is pretty safe for travelers. While the city does experience some violence, it’s mostly directed elsewhere, other than at tourists. For most travelers, the most dangerous aspects of Cancún might be hangovers, sunburns, and drinking the tap water.
…But Before You Go
Buy travel insurance. We never think that something is going to go wrong on trips. But it does sometimes — which I’ve learned from experience. I’ve lost luggage in South Africa, had my gear break in Italy, and popped an eardrum in Thailand. I was also knifed in Colombia.
While it’s not fun to think about, bad things can happen while you’re traveling.
That’s why I never leave home without travel insurance. You shouldn’t either — especially if you’re heading to Mexico. For just a couple of bucks a day, you’ll get a safety net that ensures that you won’t go bankrupt should something bad and unexpected happen.
Don’t cheap out on your health and safety. It’s not worth the risk.
Cancún is synonymous with partying, spring breakers, resorts, and beautiful beaches. While touristy, it’s also a fun place to let loose and soak up the sun. Just make sure you follow the tips above, so that you can enjoy your trip safely and with confidence. After all, it’s always better to be safe than sorry!
Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner. It’s my favorite search engine because it searches websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- SafetyWing (best for everyone)
- Insure My Trip (for those over 70)
- Medjet (for additional evacuation coverage)
Ready to Book Your Trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.