Is Playa Del Carmen Safe?
…get your information from the source, not the “news”…
When I first moved to Playa Del Carmen some of my buddies thought I was going to live in a war zone.
Honestly, they’d seen some stories in the media and thought that Mexico was on par with Afghanistan or Somalia, or any of those other countries that we only hear about when someone blows themselves up.
Most of Mexico is generally safe. Sure you have to use common-sense, but it shouldn’t put you off from coming.
Playa Del Carmen is probably the safest city in the whole of Mexico.
In fact I think it’s safer than the downtown areas of the two American cities I used to live in.
UPDATE: IN MID-2017, THE U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT ISSUED A WARNING FOR THE ENTIRE STATE OF QUINTANA ROO (HOME TO PLAYA DEL CARMEN, CANCUN, COZUMEL, TULUM, ETC…).
THE EXACT TEXT OF THIS WARNING IS BELOW:
“Quintana Roo (includes Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya, and Tulum): U.S. citizens should be aware that according to Government of Mexico statistics, the state of Quintana Roo experienced an increase in homicide rates compared to 2016. While most of these homicides appeared to be targeted criminal organization assassinations, turf battles between criminal groups have resulted in violent crime in areas frequented by U.S. citizens. Shooting incidents, in which innocent bystanders have been injured or killed, have occurred.” – US State Department (October, 2017)
So, what is my opinion of the warning? Should you be concerned?
YES and NO.
Does A Travel Warning About Quintana Roo (the State) Make Playa Del Carmen (the City) Unsafe?
There is no doubt, there has been some violence in Mexico, and even in the city of Playa Del Carmen itself.
If I had never visited Playa Del Carmen (and online news sources were my only reference), I would think it’s probably dangerous here.
Interestingly, I’ve talked to several families from around the world who have decided to cancel their children’s student exchange visits due to the “dangerous schools” in the US.
I told them they’re crazy. I know the EXACT situation in the US, and there is absolutely ZERO danger in 99.99% of schools there!!! However, if you only watched TV, you would assume that dodging bullets at high schools across the US is a new high school sport. Could anything be further from the truth?
It is EXACTLY the same in Playa Del Carmen.
There are only two areas that I avoid regularly here. NEITHER OF THEM ARE TOURIST AREAS. One of them I travel through on bike and OneWheel all the time (during the day). The other I’ve never visited–nor will you as a tourist!!!!
Some Parts Of Mexico Are Unsafe
Before discussing whether Playa Del Carmen is safe, it’s worth looking at the nationwide picture.
There are parts of the country that have a pretty bad reputation. Unfortunately, that reputation has unjustly spilled over to the rest of the country.
Take Ciudad Juarez as an example.
Last year they had 298 murders per 100,000 people.
Like all big cities, Mexico City has some no-go areas.
But according to the stats, it has less crime than Miami and Chicago.
There are places you wouldn’t visit in many US cities, and that’s the same here.
Acapulco is unfortunately not really safe at the moment.
It used to the jewel in Mexico’s tourist crown.
Now they have up to 10 murders a day.
It’s a shame because I remember going on vacation to Acapulco years ago, and I really enjoyed it.
It used to be where all the Hollywood celebrities hung out.
Other places that local sources tell me are worth avoiding are Veracruz, Guadalajara, Chihuahua, and Jalisco.
These states are at the heart of Mexico’s drug wars and towards the north & east of the country.
Playa Del Carmen is in the Gulf of Mexico on what’s called the Yucatan Peninsula, and the Yucatan Peninsula is definitely safe.
Mexican Drug Wars
Most of Mexico’s bad reputation comes from the drug wars.
Different cartels fight each other, cartels fight the government, and then some civilian vigilante groups turn up with guns as well.
You can’t blame the Mexicans too much for having drugs transferred through their country.
After all, if it wasn’t for all the Americans demanding to get high, the problem wouldn’t be that bad.
Wait! What am I talking about? Of course you can blame the Mexicans.
The problem is not that the country has drugs in it – almost every advanced country does.
The problem is how incompetent the Mexicans are in alleviating the problem and disarming the cartels.
However, the fact is that Mexico is NOT a well-organized country.
Here, Incompetence is King – from the corruption of the police, the shabby construction of most houses, to the massive amount of littering that is dreadfully common in all but tourist areas, Mexico has absolutely no right to hold itself out as a competent country.
Believe me on this one. It’s true.
In the last six years, it’s estimated that over 100,000 people have been murdered because of the drug wars.
You can’t excuse that.
The Mexican government has really declared a war on the cartels, but their incompetence in fighting the war is readily apparent.
The cartels have lots of guns and lots of $$$.
They also know that the police here can be easily bribed.
So they fight back.
Some of the cartels have badass sounding names.
I wouldn’t mess with Cartel de Centro Nacro or La Resistencia.
But some of the cartels didn’t even try to sound hard.
Cartel del Golfo just doesn’t sound scary at all.
Isn’t that what you call those ridiculous buggies that badly-dressed people use when they can’t carry their golf clubs?
The Vast Majority Of Homicides Are Drug Related
Almost all the homicides in Mexico are drug related or jealously related (Mexican men are notoriously jealous).
It’s one of the cartels murdering someone from another.
So if you’re not involved with the Mexican cartels like Los Zetas, then the drug war shouldn’t affect you.
If you are, then you probably know a lot more about this than I do.
But be careful if some dodgy looking addict starts offering you a great job as a mule.
If you buy drugs from one cartel, then another cartel could easily end up murdering you.
One of the reasons Playa Del Carmen is safe is that the drug cartels don’t operate ostensibly here.
Crime Rates In Mexico
We’re getting bombarded with all these media stories about shootouts and murders.
“55 bodies were found dumped here,” or “Seventeen people were murdered there.”
In 2011 there were 27,000 murders in Mexico.
But the problem is that this violence all comes from just 9 of Mexico’s 31 states.
For example, Washington DC has a murder rate that is four times higher than Mexico City.
So while you could read some terrible sounding stats about crime in Mexico, the truth is that it’s confined to particular regions.
Some of these regions have never been on the tourist radar anyway.
But check out these stats.
The rates for assault are five times higher in the US than Mexico. Seriously!
Violent crime is higher in Canada than Mexico.
Crime Rates In Playa Del Carmen
So, is Playa Del Carmen safe?
Well if you want to look at murder rates, then the Yucatan Peninsula records 2 for every 100,000 people.
That’s the same as Wyoming or Montana.
That’s over ten times less than most major US cities.
So you’re not going to murdered if you come to Playa Del Carmen, despite what the US media might try and make you believe.
I mean, Wyoming?
I’m sure I read the front page of a local newspaper there, and the headline was something like, “Cat stuck up tree for seven hours.”
Playa Del Carmen is well-policed and there is no evidence that there are criminals targeting US citizens.
The worst story people usually have is getting so drunk they can’t remember getting home, but have lost their shoes.
I got my bike stolen. Shit happens.
What about the stories that say that Playa Del Carmen is not safe?
There is one terrible reporter that really gets on my nerves.
He started a blog with all these ridiculous stories.
He argues that you should avoid Playa Del Carmen because they found some drugs 100 miles away.
Or that everyone should avoid Cancun because two men shot each other in the downtown area that no tourist visits.
I mean, c’mon!
If Cancun was in America it would be the 17th largest city (by population).
Of course there will be some crime!
Most of the stories written are by people who haven’t been to Playa Del Carmen.
I live here and there is very little to report.
I checked this reporter’s site – he’s posting stuff direct from the States….. doesn’t even live here!
A couple of times a year there is something in the news about crime in Playa Del Carmen but it rarely involves American tourists.
Compare that with a major US city!
So why do the media manipulate the facts?
You might be thinking why would the media make stuff up.
Why would they tell me that Mexico or Playa Del Carmen is not safe?
All those big media corporations are scumbags if you ask me.
We all know they manipulate the facts, although we can’t really do anything about it.
Perhaps it’s because they don’t like Mexico.
A rivalry between neighbors we could call it.
Or perhaps they want to stop Americans going abroad and make sure they spend more money in the US.
They’re probably paid by Walmart or Disneyland to write all this nonsense.
Tourism Is Very Important To Mexico
Tourism is essential to Mexico’s economy.
In fact, it is the fourth largest source of foreign exchange for the country!
Not many people understand this or even want to understand it, but ~60% of tourists visiting Mexico are Americans.
Not only are Americans the most numerically abundant, but they also spend the most money.
Combined, this makes for some EPIC SPENDING!!!
Consequently, the Mexican tourism industry is HEAVILY dependent on the US – more so than most people realize.
This is only tourism and DOES NOT include product exports – 80% of which are destined for American consumption.
Of course, not a single Mexican would ever admit US dependency, but it’s the truth.
What is known as “high season” in nearly every tourist destination in Mexico directly correlates to the time of year Americans visit.
This is even true in Playa Del Carmen where a very large percentage of the tourists are from Europe and South America (South Americans spending relatively little money here).
The government here also fails to publicly acknowledge this fact.
Mexican “pride” I guess.
While simultaneously displaying blatant ingratitude to American tourists, the fear of losing tourists is why I always see the Mexican president making speeches about how the war on drugs is not affecting the Yucatan.
For once in his life, he’s telling the truth!!! We should give the guy a Nobel Peace Prize for honesty!!!!
Despite all the stories about crime, 52 million foreign tourists visited Mexico’s five southern states in 2012.
That was more than double 2011.
The Mexican government has really invested in protecting the tourist areas.
Protecting tourists is in Mexico’s best interest.
If I saw a news item that said they had confiscated a load of drugs in Cancun I would think it was good.
It would show they are on top of any problem.
Mexico needs tourists and prioritizes safety in the main tourist areas – i.e. Cancun and Playa Del Carmen.
Are There Any Parts Of Playa Del Carmen That Aren’t Safe?
That’s a good question to ask.
I would recommend sticking to the tourists areas.
Most cities around the world have areas or neighborhoods that shouldn’t be visited.
There are really none of these extremes in Playa Del Carmen, but I would prefer you stick to well-worn tourist areas.
Not because neighborhoods here are ostensibly dangerous, but because poverty affects most non-tourist communities and impoverished people do stupid things.
The “locals” residential areas (far away from the tourist areas) are mostly on the other side of the highway.
I can’t think of any reason for tourists to go there, but it’s probably worth being a little cautious of.
No matter where you go, you’ll be fine if you stick to some basic precautions:
Stick to well-lit tourist areas if you’re alone and it’s late at night.
The main streets are well-lit at night, and there is generally always people around, so this statement runs the risk of sounding ridiculous to those who have visited here already.
But it’s a good suggestion the same.
Remember you can always take a taxi as an alternative to walking anywhere.
Don’t buy drugs from a street vendor (if you happen to be approached).
It’s probably wise NOT to start negotiations with any street dudes trying to sell you drugs.
It’s not really an industry you should get involved with on the street.
If you must have drugs, build a relationship with a bartender/server/host at a bar or club and then ask them if they can get something for you.
You’ll probably have to pay a tip, but it beats the hell out of trying to exchange money for small bags on a busy street corner!
If you need some more information about staying safe in Playa Del Carmen, then try this article I wrote.
It covers some basic precautions for your vacation here.
Trust me, Playa Del Carmen is safe!
I feel like I’m banging on a bit now.
But I love living in Playa Del Carmen, and I know that it’s safe.
You only need to remember the same precautions you would make in any US city.
Don’t let the stories scare you away.
Come to Playa Del Carmen and find out for yourself how safe it is.
I will see you here soon…
Lots of love,
It’s your turn. Tell us if this city is safe or not! Please leave your comments in the section below!