An overly-cautious guide to staying safe in North America’s largest city.
Mexico City is a destination on the rise, although it’s one that often makes potential visitors (or, more accurately, the relatives of those visitors) fraught with unfounded fear. However, contrary to what many think, Mexico City is not an inherently dangerous place to be as a foreign tourist. Sure, as with any capital city—or city, period—there are spots you should probably steer clear of, especially as a tourist and especially if you don’t speak Spanish. (Tepito and Iztapalapa should be considered neighborhoods to avoid.) However, in the most tourist-traversed areas of the capital, like Condesa, Roma, and the historic center, the most prevalent danger you’re likely to run into is theft. With that in mind, here’s my advice (from a non-Mexican Mexico City resident) for staying safe in the capital.
Safety on Public Transport
Don’t let unwarranted, all-consuming fear deter you from visiting one of the coolest cities in the world.
Most people seem to fret about their safety on Mexico City’s myriad public transport options, from the rickety old peseros (minivans) to the underground Metro. Almost every Mexico City resident will be able to tell you a tale of the vendors who board buses to sell sweets, before instead demanding phones and wallets. However, rest assured that this is very unlikely to happen on the bus routes which circulate through Mexico City’s most tourist-friendly zones.
To stay safe on public transport in Mexico City, the best thing to do is use the same common sense you’d use anywhere. Keep your jewelry to a minimum, don’t take out your valuables unless you really need to, and keep your bags zipped at all times.
Safety in Taxis and Private Cars
The idea of taking a taxi in Mexico City scares the hell out of some people—usually those who’ve read too much about express kidnappings. Thankfully, the chances you’ll fall victim to an express kidnapping—where you’re whisked off and forced to withdraw all your money—are slim.
To stay safe when using taxis in Mexico City, look for taxi stands rather than flagging cars on the street. Official taxis and drivers should have white license plates and their laminated license card displayed on the window. And remember to ask whether they have a “taxímetro” (a meter) before hopping in.
However, if you’re nervous about using taxis, if it’s after dark, if you’re alone, or you don’t speak Spanish, just stick to rideshare apps like Uber or Cabify.
Safety on the Street
When you’re wandering around Mexico City, marveling at the Art Deco architecture and snapping photos of the street murals, it’s easy to get complacent. This is especially true in the most popular tourist neighborhoods, like Roma, Condesa, the historic center, and Coyoacán. However, to stay safe on the streets, follow all the common-sense rules mentioned in the above public transport section, and try not to wander down sketchy looking alleyways. Err on the side of caution and always look both ways when crossing the street to avoid being mown down by an errant pesero bus.
Food and Water Safety
Most definitions of safety omit food (and drink) safety. However, this isn’t something to be ignored in a city that’s renowned for its dining and street food scenes.
First and foremost, look for busy street food stalls. If it’s popular, there’s a reason (and that reason ain’t salmonella). Beyond that, you’ll want to see that meats are cooked fresh (rather than piled up waiting to be served) and that the vendors regularly wash their hands. Running water is a plus but not a given.
When drinking, make sure beer bottles are opened in front of you and, I can’t stress this enough, don’t drink the Mexico City tap water.
Tips for Keeping Yourself Safe
I’ve hinted at how to keep yourself safe in most of the above sections, whether that’s by keeping phones in (zipped) pockets or not strolling down empty backstreets; however, my biggest piece of advice is to learn some rudimentary Spanish. Not only will this help you if you do fall foul of a scam or get pickpocketed on the metro (more on that in a moment), but it will also help you move with (a little more) confidence through the capital.
What if Something Does Happen?
Let’s say you do get mugged. Or pickpocketed. Or express kidnapped. What now? Speaking from my own Mexico (not Mexico City) mugging experience, the answer is to keep calm. Easy in theory, but tough in practice, I know, but your safety is more important than your belongings, so hand over your phone and hand over your cash. Then, find the nearest phone or business and call 911 (although whether the authorities will prove helpful is up for debate). Then, cancel any cards and change any passwords, as necessary. If they took your passport, contact the embassy. Finally, report the crime and make a statement at the nearest police station because you’ll need one to file an insurance claim.
Is It Safe to Drive in Mexico City?
Driving in Mexico City is safe, but possibly misguided. After all, there are plenty of affordable public transport options available in this already smog-choked city.
If you’re set on driving though, aside from the other drivers, watch out for bribes. Maybe you get caught speeding and are pulled over. In lieu of, say, a ticket, you’ll instead be asked to hand over however much money you have in your wallet. It sounds unbelievable, but this is not an infrequent occurrence, one to which tourists (arguably) fall victim more often because of language barriers.
If this happens, the best thing to do is ask for an explanation of whatever infraction you’ve committed and get the officer’s badge number. Ask where to pay the fine. Hint: it’s never on the spot to the officials that stopped you. Oftentimes, you’ll simply be waved on if you’re not coughing up the cash.
Is It Safe in Mexico City?
Yes. And no. I’m generally skeptical of anyone who gives a blanket “Mexico City is totally safe/unsafe!” assessment because like any big city, there are questionable neighborhoods and lurking dangers.
Having said that, in the spots you—a tourist—will likely be visiting, that answer skews more to the “yes, Mexico City is safe” side of things.
Sure, keep a low profile and watch out for pickpockets. Take reasonable precautions to keep yourself safe, like toning down the jewelry and maybe leaving that hefty DSLR in the hotel when you go out at night. But don’t let unwarranted, all-consuming fear deter you from visiting one of the coolest cities in the world.