Common sense is your friend, but so is this guide to staying safe in Cancún.
Staying safe while on vacation is often a primary concern for travelers of all ages and it’s no different in Cancún, one of Mexico’s most popular resort and party cities. Situated in the Yucatán Peninsula, on the Caribbean coast of Mexico, Cancún is the largest city in the state of Quintana Roo and one of the safest in Mexico. Even so, it’s normal to be nervous, so here are some tips for staying safe in Cancún.
Safety in the City
Cancún is one of the safest destinations in Mexico—especially in the touristic Hotel Zone—and you should mainly exercise the standard precautions you’d take in any new city around the world: wear inconspicuous or minimal jewelry, keep your valuables out of sight (be careful if you’ve only brought a zip-free beach bag) and carry only the essentials. It’s not necessary—or wise—to carry your passport and visa everywhere in Cancún. Just carry photocopies.
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INSIDER TIPAvoid strip clubs—they’re often involved in illicit cartel activity—and don’t stray too far from the central stretches of Cancún’s downtown (a.k.a. the parts closest to the Hotel Zone).
Street Food Safety
If you’re going to eat at a street food stall in Cancún—which you absolutely should!—look for the places with the biggest crowds and keep an eye out to see if vendors are preparing the snacks on the spot. Does that taco stall have piles of pre-cooked meat waiting to be reheated? Is the vendor handling money and preparing the food? These practices aren’t uncommon, but perhaps steer clear if you have a sensitive stomach.
INSIDER TIPEven at your resort, you’ll want to be careful of buffet snacks sitting out under the beating sun all day.
Safety for LGBTQ+ Travelers
Cancún is generally considered to be one of the more LGBTQ+-friendly destinations in Mexico and there are plenty of queer travel bloggers that can attest to that. After all, same-sex marriage is legal in the state of Quintana Roo and there are more than a few official and unofficial gay hangouts, bars, and beaches in and around the central stretches of the city.
Safety in Taxis
Renting a car in Cancún really isn’t necessary, given that local buses are affordable and taxis are abundant. However, given the status of Cancún—especially in the Hotel Zone and central downtown region—as a solidly touristic city, taxi drivers will sometimes take advantage of visitors’ perceived wealth. When taking a taxi, try to go through your hotel or a legit taxi stand rather than flagging one down on the street. And make sure to agree your price up front because taxis in Cancún aren’t metered, although they should legally carry rate cards (in Spanish, of course). To gauge average prices beforehand, it can help to ask a member of staff at your resort for a rough guesstimate of the fare.
INSIDER TIPYou’ll lose money if you pay for your taxi in dollars instead of pesos. Also, Uber is available in Cancún but this doesn’t typically remain the case for very long. You can’t order an Uber from the airport.
Safety in Nightclubs
Cancún is a party city and many visitors come to spend their nights drinking and dancing at clubs like Coco Bongo and Mandala. However, late-night revelers—especially single women—can often be targets for pickpockets and other less-than-savory characters. As with the city itself, exercise the normal precautions you would at home by carrying only the valuables you need for the night, not letting anyone walk off with your card when you pay, and keeping your drink in sight at all times.
Drugs are readily available in Cancún, both in and out of the popular nightclubs. While it can be tempting to pick up some Class As for a lower price than you might be able to at home, uh, don’t. As with anywhere else in the world, you have no idea what you’re really buying and the easiest way to stay out of trouble in Cancún is to avoid anything drug cartel-related like the plague. And yes, that even means buying from your friendly neighborhood dealer. Who wants to fund a destructive drug industry anyway?
INSIDER TIPIf ordering table service, make sure your bottles are opened there and then at the table rather than back at the bar. This also applies when ordering beers in any other establishment too.
Stay Safe in the Water
Jet skis and other vehicles (this includes cars, scooters, and mopeds) are not always in the best conditions, so avoid renting them independently and instead go through a reputable company if you want to try your hand at some water sports in Cancún. When taking boat trips and catamaran rides, always make sure there are life jackets on board even if you’re not actively wearing one. (Often, tour leaders won’t insist that you wear one at all times, although you can request to do so if you feel more comfortable.)
Be careful on beaches when the red flags are raised and don’t go in the water if the conditions aren’t favorable—many people don’t realize quite how tricky and dangerous the Cancún undertows can be. Take special care if traveling with young children and not-so-strong swimmers. Finally, don’t leave valuables unattended on the beach or you might find yourself sans wallet and phone quicker than you might think.
INSIDER TIPCrocodiles are real and warning signs near bodies of water where they lurk shouldn’t go ignored.
Stay Safe as a Single Woman
Cancún is an excellent solo travel destination for men and women alike, although society constantly reminds us that we need to hammer home safety info for single women above all else. The short answer is: common sense is your friend. But if you’re really nervous about traveling alone, look into hiring a guide and keep friends and family back home updated on your whereabouts and plans for the trip. And if you want to stave off unwanted attention and advances, take Fodor’s Travel Editor Rachael Levitt’s admittedly un-feminist solo travel tip and wear an engagement ring and wedding band at all times.
Oh, and when you land at the Cancún Airport, ignore the timeshare salespeople.