Safety in Mexico, specifically Mexico City?
February 11, 2018 7:53 PM   Subscribe

I'd love to visit Mexico city and see the amazing artwork, culture, history and eat the incredible food. But every tourist website I visit has a 'What to do if you're kidnapped" section that is freaking me out slightly. Do you have any experiences/advice for visiting, or would you advise just not visiting, as some of my American friends have?

I would love to spend 4 days or so in the city and also possibly get in a few days of beach time somewhere but... is it really that scary and dangerous? Is it a case of go to a beach resort and just never leave the resort?
We also had a friend visit who heard of people with automatic guns just stopping buses and taking everything from everyone. Is that a thing I'd need to worry about or scaremongering? Would we be able to take a camera or would that make us targets?
I can't find any Q's about safety in Mexico after 2011 and wondered if things had changed there since then? Also I am blindingly white, like I look like I died. So there wouldn't be any possibility of passing as a local if that would change things?
posted by everydayanewday to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't been there since 2012, but I felt totally safe then and had a wonderful time. I was looking into a return trip this winter (didn't work out) and the sense I got was that if you stick to the touristy areas (which on a first trip, you probably would since there's so much to see), and follow the typical advice for urban safety, you'll be as fine as you would be in any American city. After dark, stick to areas with lots of people, watch your drinks, etc.

Also, you'll likely be surprised at how diverse Mexicans are in terms of skin tone and hair color. I have a good Mexican friend who is blonde and whose children could be Scandinavian. In fact, I (blonde, blue-eyed) was once stopped by a Mexican woman in Mexico City and asked for directions - in Spanish! I was quite tickled. Also, there are a TON of tourists from around the world in Mexico City. You won't stand out unless you deliberately call attention to yourself or go wandering in outlying neighborhoods without tourist attractions.

I will say that when I was thinking about going this winter, I heard about buses ... But when I went before, I traveled all over the city without getting on a public bus. There are a lot of safe ways to get around the city. You can walk around the central tourist areas (Centro Historico, Roma Norte, etc) and take the metro to areas like Coyoacan. There's also a good hop-on, hop-off bus.
posted by lunasol at 8:24 PM on February 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

I live here, I’m from Long Beach, Ca. It’s totally NOT that scary. I’ve been living here for 15 years this month. The nice neighborhoods that lunasol mentions are places where you will enjoy yourself and feel safe, yet still def be able to enjoy culture and art, etc.

As for beaches, I recommend Mazunte or Zipolite, in Oaxaca. Very laid back, anti resort type beach towns. And safe, with other foreigners visiting or living their (Argentines and French come to mind).

It upsets me that Mexico City is perceived as being so scary. I have other American friends who have visited, everyone was safe and fine and they had fun. On the other hand, I have family that would never come visit, and they must think I’m crazy.

Also, yeah. Mexico does have its problems and they are big ones, but I feel the press distorts things. I walk around downtown daily and take buses and go on the subway, and sure, I take care of my purse or keep a close eye on who is around me, as one does in a big crowded city, and that’s it.
posted by Locochona at 8:41 PM on February 11, 2018 [10 favorites]

You should go visit Mexico City. It’s great. I was there with my kids a couple years ago. We took Ubers and that worked great. We stayed in Casa Jacinta in Coyoacán, which was very nice—you had the neighborhood experience in Coyoacán but then could go to the city center for the museums and architecture. We also took a boat trip in Xochimilco which was amazing.

(The Saturday we were in Coyoacán there was a street market, and my daughters got this amazing cotton candy concoction that must have been a foot and a half wide. The guy made it in front of us, it looked like a flower.)
posted by leahwrenn at 9:06 PM on February 11, 2018

I'm an American who's been living in Mexico City for the past 1.5 years. I love it here. I feel safe here - and by that I mean out and about, riding my bike, and walking my dog late at night. I had a lot of the same questions you had before I agreed to the ex-pat gig. Drug-related violence is a real issue for the country (last year was a record homicide rate), but that activity is concentrated in states outside of Mexico City. Mexico City is rich with amazing food, amazing culture, and incredible things to explore. Plan to keep your wits about you, as you might in NY or Chicago or Baltimore or Detroit (you can Google crime rates; these last few US cities have higher ones than CDMX). Be smart. Don't go to Tepito. Hang out in La Condesa, La Roma, see the sights in El Centro, visit Frida's house in Coyoacán, and for sure the amazing painted boats in Xochimilco! Acapulco is a 4-5 hour drive for a beach get-away, or you can jump on a quick short flight to Huatulco, Chetumal (for Bacalar) or Cancun (Tulum is amazing).

As mentioned by lunasol - you can expect a range of skin, hair & eye colors (consider Spanish heritage as well as indigenous heritage). If your hair is suuuper blonde or red, however, that's for sure more of a rarity.

It's not scary here. Like Locochona, I too feel a little sad that it can be perceived that way, especially since it's such a wonderfully welcoming and affectionate culture. The everyday Mexican citizens out living their lives are just as bummed about cartels in the western part of the country, and will also tell you to be wary of pickpockets, to lock your doors, to never hail a taxi from the street (use Uber or a taxi stand).

But do come!! It's a pretty magical place.
posted by red_rabbit at 9:25 PM on February 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

I just want to say that it's not all hype. A friend's uncle who lives there was kidnapped over Christmas 2016 / New Year's 2017. We loaned money to help get him released. They suspect it was done by someone who knew he had relatives in the US based on the way that the kidnappers honed in on that right away.
posted by slidell at 9:38 PM on February 11, 2018

Response by poster: Just as a side note, I have faded pink hair right now but if you think that would make me stick out I can easily dye it brown for the trip?

slidell - oh my god :( I am now erring on the side of visiting after doing lots of research but that is sobering.
posted by everydayanewday at 9:47 PM on February 11, 2018

I was in Mexico City a few months ago and there were plenty of young people with cool hair colors. I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by k8t at 10:22 PM on February 11, 2018

St Louis, Baltimore, Detroit and New Orleans are among the top 50 highest-murder-rate cities in the world. Mexico City is not.

Regarding American or tourist-focused crime in Mexico City, the US State dept specifically says "there is no pattern of criminals specifically targeting foreign or American businesses/personnel."

On the US State Dept tourism advisory list from January 2018, Mexico is listed as a category 2 country, along with Belgium, Ireland, Germany, Italy and a bunch of other countries you'd visit without thinking twice. Turkey and Russia are both indicated as more dangerous than Mexico -- they're category 3. Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, etc are category 4.

There are lots of headlines about rising violence in Mexico. It's drug-cartel related, and no more likely to affect you than the crack epidemic of the 90s would have affected a Mexican tourist in Washington DC.
posted by mrmurbles at 10:33 PM on February 11, 2018 [14 favorites]

slidell - oh my god :( I am now erring on the side of visiting after doing lots of research but that is sobering.

If it's any consolation, they also clearly planned the kidnapping intensively. It wasn't like they just saw him walking down the street one day. So I don't know if it's a relevant story for you as a random person there for a short visit. It's a cool city, definitely worth a visit.
posted by slidell at 11:20 PM on February 11, 2018 [6 favorites]

I'm a middle-aged blond woman who walked around and took the subway in Mexico City for a week last summer, and would go back in a heartbeat. The anthropology museum is one of the wonders of the world. Do you drive or ride in a car? Check the research on auto accidents.
posted by cyndigo at 12:20 AM on February 12, 2018 [6 favorites]

I spent a semester in Mexico (Cholula, about 1.5 hours southeast of Mexico City) and I always felt perfectly safe. I was a 20 year old woman. I was there with three other women from my college and we went to Mexico City a few times, as well as to other states for sightseeing. We hitchhiked. We ate street food. We stayed in sketchy hostels. We all just took exactly the same precautions we’d take in any major city or tourist destination - keep an eye and hand on personal belongings. Nope out of situations that feel sketchy. Do research beforehand to learn things like “don’t hail a taxi from the street.” I’d have no issue going back again.
posted by olinerd at 4:00 AM on February 12, 2018

Mexico city is extremely safe right now. It is an amazing place and it is only the pollution really that keeps it from being a place I'd like to move to someday.

The state dept. has several no-go areas in Mexico. This does not include Mexico City but does include more rural areas such as the entire state of Michoacan where there has been a lot of gang acitivity. My family is from Michoacan and my parents go 2-3 times a year, they drive around, visit other towns, eat incredible food. I'd probably advise caution if you were thinking about Michoacan, but not Mexico city, not at all.

If you stick out it won't be because of your skin color. It will be because you dress/act/speak like a tourist. As others have said, Mexicans are diverse. My mother's side of the family is all white and emigrated from Spain only a couple generations ago. I have lots of blonde cousins on both sides of my family.

A few weeks ago my mother called me and was very worried. She had seen that there were shoot-outs near where I live and asked if I was safe. It does tell you something about international news that this shooting made it to news in Southern Californa. This shooting. I live in Amsterdam.
posted by vacapinta at 4:23 AM on February 12, 2018 [7 favorites]

Mexico City is amazing and you absolutely should go. I felt quite safe when I was there in 2012 and 2017, including on the (excellent!) subway and bus system. Eat all the street food, it is freaking awesome!! One thing that hasn't been mentioned, though, is that there is some street harassment/comments from guys towards lady-type people. It's not much more than in many other cities I've been to in Europe and the US but worth being prepared for. If you are a lady-type person, it helps reduce this to dress fairly conservatively and to ride in the lady car of the subway (usually the front car, it'll be clearly marked).
posted by LeeLanded at 9:59 AM on February 12, 2018

Acapulco is a 4-5 hour drive for a beach get-away

I’d also recommend visiting Mexico City, and agree with all of the above, but just to note that Americans should think carefully before visiting Acapulco - the entire state of Guerrero is under a Level 4 travel warning from the State Department (i.e. “Do Not Travel”) and that may void travel insurance policies. It’s a shame, because I drove to and from Acapulco and spent Xmas and NYE there, and it was fine, but without travel insurance, you’re running the risk that your appendix bursts or you hurt yourself waterskiing or whatever and find yourself without cover for your medical bill.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 10:44 AM on February 12, 2018

If you stick out it won't be because of your skin color. It will be because you dress/act/speak like a tourist.

Yes, this. Please don't dye your hair. Also: don't expect to pass for a local (anywhere, really) if you aren't one. It's okay to be a tourist :-)
posted by red_rabbit at 11:23 AM on February 12, 2018

An acquaintance of mine has been kidnapped. But he is from a wealthy Mexican family and it was clearly a targeted kidnapping. I did not regard it as likely to happen to me, just visited a month ago. You may need to be a little bit more streetwise than walking around a city in a developed country. Get a good guidebook, read its safety advice and follow it.

Some tips:
  • Don't hang around unfamiliar or deserted neighborhoods at night
  • Don't wave cash around
  • Don't keep stuff in your back pocket
  • Don't leave bags in a place where someone could easily grab them
  • Don't get into a taxi waiting on the street
  • Do have a phone set up with Uber so that you can get picked up anywhere at anytime
Definitely go, it is a great place!
posted by grouse at 12:45 PM on February 12, 2018

Yes, go to Mexico City. Looks like you're in China? It is definitely less safe than most big Chinese cities, but still pretty damn safe compared to border towns. Don't throw money around, don't get drunk in places you don't know, don't act like an ugly tourist and you'll be fine. Pay attention, remember that you are in a big city, ask people's advice about where to go. Sounds like you don't have any Spanish? Try to learn a little Spanish before you go; you can easily get around without, but people will be nicer to you.

You know it's nowhere near any beaches, right? If you're going to the beach Quintana Roo is the safest state in Mexico and Cancun/PDC are English-friendly if/because quite touristy.

Don't bother dyeing your hair.
posted by aspersioncast at 4:16 PM on February 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

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