I won’t lie. Every time I used to visit Mexico, I would dream of living there. But let’s also be honest, there are a lot of safety concerns about Mexico. So what are the safest places to live in Mexico?
- San Miguel de Allende
- Puerto Vallarta
- Playa del Carmen (and the whole Riviera Maya)
- Ensenada (Baja California)
But those are just a few of the top picks.
So in this article, we’ll explore all of those and more in great detail. After all, with more and more digital nomads, moving to other countries is becoming more and more common, whether that’s from the United States, Latin America, or elsewhere.
We’ll also take a look at the places where most Ex-pats live and what cities in Mexico have the lowest crime rate and cartel issues. And does Mexico City make the cut?
Let’s dive in and explore all 23 of my picks for the safest places in Mexico:
1. San Miguel de Allende
My mom used to basically live here in the summers when she was a tad younger.
That tells me this is a safe place as she and her late husband Frank didn’t know a lick of Spanish, were fairly well off, and couldn’t have defended themselves against anything.
But you’ve likely heard of San Miguel already. It’s one of the best-known Mexican cities for North Americans.
Great for wine, artists, fantastic restaurants, museums, open-air markets, food carts, and a big dose of not only Mexican and Spanish culture but a melting pot for a lot of cultures.
2. Puerto Vallarta
I love Puerto Vallarta!
There’s so much to do, and it’s easy to get everywhere on foot. And a visit to El Reppollo Rojo (the Red Cabbage Cafe) is a must if you go. For now, I’ll just have to settle for the cookbook I bought there years ago.
It’s a tourist town, of course, but as long as you live somewhere down the road from the hotel zone, you’ll still get plenty of authentic Mexican culture, food, and entertainment.
I’ve walked the streets at night there many times and never felt unsafe. Don’t forget to grab a mojito from La Bodeguita del Medio, the place that invented it.
Part of the Riviera Maya that also includes Playa Del Carmen and Cancún, Tulum is known for both beautiful beaches and Mayan ruins. And the pyramid at Chichen Itzá isn’t too far away either.
While overall very safe, it has seen an uptick in crime in recent years, much of which is tied to the drug cartels.
But most residents don’t find themselves crime victims. Petty crime is probably the most common issue. But if you’re living there, you’ll quickly learn what areas to avoid.
About an hour north of Puerto Vallarta lies this small town. It’s a beach town but it’s one of the best places and safest places in the area. It’s been a long time since I was there, but I loved every minute of my time there.
This is one of the very best places in Mexico to move to or retire in.
But it’s not just for older folks. It’s very family-friendly too with well-lit streets and a police force committed to keeping the town safe.
5. Playa Del Carmen
Generally speaking, the state of Quintana Roo (where Playa Del Carmen is) is the safest of the Mexican states.
Now Playa Del Carmen is a big tourist area and resort town, and sometimes that does attract petty theft like pickpocketing. There is probably some cartel activity here, but it’s not typically directed at tourists, and even if you’re now living there, many will still see you as a tourist.
Very little violent crime, and a beautiful Caribbean shoreline to top it off.
Ensenada is part of the Baja California Peninsula.
Of all the types of crime that could happen, the biggest risk here is auto theft. So if you’re moving here, make sure and have a garage or automatic gate to your home. And get full coverage on your auto insurance.
But all other types of crime are quite low here.
The plusses of living in Baja California Sur include being a port city but also surrounded by mountains. And there’s also nearby Guadalupe Island. It’s also a UNESCO world heritage site as well.
Mérida is the capital and largest city in the state of Yucatán. It gets hot here too, with an average high of between 90-100° F all year.
In terms of safety, Mérida actually has the honor of being considered the safest city in Mexico.
And even still, the safest area in Mérida is Paseo de Montejo. Mérida is flat topographically speaking as it’s not on the coast or in the mountains. But the good news is the nearest beach is only about 40 minutes away.
Piggybacking on my previous listing, Huatulco just might be the 2nd safest city in Mexico.
Pickpocketing tourists is probably the biggest safety concern here. Violent crime is incredibly rare here. Take a look at this chart showing the relative safety index for Huatulco and some other well-known cities in Mexico.
The higher the number, the safer the city!
|Playa del Carmen||69|
|Cabo San Lucas||68|
Beyond safety, you’ll enjoy hidden beaches, coffee plantations, and tons of waterfalls.
Truth be told, I’ve only been to Cancún once and didn’t care for it. Kind of Vegas on the sea.
But I was also mostly in the hotel zone. I did set off on foot one day to explore the non-tourist part of town, but given Cancún is kind of shaped like the number 7, it takes a while to walk around. It’s one of a few resort towns in the area.
One of the best things on my trip was renting a car and driving to Chichén Itzá and climbing the giant pyramid (which I don’t think they let you do anymore.
In terms of safety, it is relatively safe here as like with other tourist areas, the government goes to great lengths to crack down on crime.
Pickpocketing is probably the most common type of crime.
10. San Cristóbal de las Casas
San Cristobal de las Casas is one of the most landlocked cities on our list as many are beach towns.
San Cristobal, by comparison, is largely in the mountains in Chiapas. Baroque and colonial architecture abound, and the Cathedral of San Cristóbal Mártir was built over 400 years ago!
Also a very safe city, and drug violence virtually never happens here.
Another city in the state of Yucatán.
My favorite Mexican dish, cochinita pibil, comes from this area. It’s relatively hot, with an average high of about 90° F all year.
In terms of safety, most forms of crime rarely happen here and the most common issue is pickpocketing. But it’s still safe not only for tourists and residents but for families or solo females too.
Chichén Itzá is only 45 minutes away!
12. Puerto Escondido
A nice little small town in Oaxaca that is known for surfing.
As with Huatulco and Mérida I mentioned above, Puerto Escondido is also one of the safest cities in all of Mexico. And then the safest areas are:
- La Punta de Zicatela
But safety aside, you’ll enjoy the beaches, sunsets, and active nightlife here. But there’s also plenty of yoga, surfing, scuba diving, and snorkeling.
Another town that is nowhere near the beach.
Guanajuato is mountainous with a lot of narrow winding streets (many that cars can’t fit down). This is not the place to move to with an SUV!
More temperate than coastal areas, Guanajuato has highs that range between 70° – 90° F throughout the year.
In terms of safety, it’s difficult to get statistics as Guanajuato is both a city, but also the state that city is in. Guanajuato state does have some very dangerous parts with a lot of drug cartel action and gang violence.
Unlike most other cities on my list, I would not recommend Guanajuato for families or solo females. But for the savvy retiree, it can be a beautiful spot to move to.
Close to Mérida and basically due south of New Orleans in the Gulf of Mexico lies this little coastal town.
Lots of baroque colonial architecture but lots of Mayan structures too. Brick-lined streets and ornate trolly cars just add to the old-world charm.
Another UNESCO World Heritage site and like a few other cities I’ve mentioned is literally one of the safest cities in Mexico. Pickpocketing in tourist areas is not uncommon, and there are also occasional reports of carjackings late at night in the outer parts of the city.
15. Oaxaca City
Oaxaca is the capital city in the state of Oaxaca.
Don’t expect frequent visits to the beach here; it’s over 6 hours away. What you will find, however, are historic ruins that date to 300 BC, beautiful and colorful Baroque architecture, and you’ll be surrounded by mountains. The nearby Hierve el Agua hot springs are breathtaking too.
In terms of safety, while the state of Oaxaca is one of the poorest in Mexico, there is less disparity in Oaxaca City itself. And when there is less disparity of income, that typically means less crime.
Overall the crime rate here is very low and the low cost of living (the best in much of Mexico) helps keep it that way.
16. La Paz
La Paz is the capital of the state of Baja California Sur. As the name implies, it is located on the Baja California Peninsula. But don’t think about day trips to San Diego from here.
La Paz is WAY down the peninsula.
In fact, just to drive to Ensenada (on the list above), would take you 19 hours, and then it’s still a short drive to the border crossing from there.
Here you’ve got beaches, nightlife, seafood, coffee shops, amazing sunsets, a huge artist community, and the amazing 19th-century Nuestra Señora de La Paz Cathedral.
La Paz also has a large community of digital nomads.
Overall, La Paz, like much of the Baja Peninsula, is very safe, and petty theft and pickpocketing in the touristy spots are about the only real concern for most who live here.
17. Todos Santos
Even further down the Baja Peninsula from La Paz lies Todos Santos.
But unlike La Paz, which lies on the interior on the Gulf of California, Todos Santos faces the Pacific ocean. Art galleries, tons of street vendors, and museums abound here as do beautiful beaches that are great for surfing.
More a village than a bustling city, lots of ex-pats live here with a big emphasis on being environmentally conscious.
For safety, being close to the big tourist destinations of Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo, you don’t see much crime here. And in general, Tijuana excepted, the Baja Peninsula is generally one of the safer places in all of Mexico.
But the other unique thing about this part of Baja is just that it’s so isolated with the ocean on either side.
It takes a while to get to and there’s not an easy way to get back, so gang and cartel activity are pretty minimal if it even exists here at all.
18. Cabo San Lucas
The furthest point of the Baja Peninsula just a bit further from Todos Santos lies Cabo San Lucas.
Everyone has heard of Cabo San Lucas (sometimes just called Cabo) and its nearby sister city San José del Cabo. They are likely the best-known tourist towns in the state of Baja California Sur. Collectively, they get called Los Cabos.
But Cabo is really unlike the rest of the Baja Peninsula.
Yes, like other places on the list it has great beaches like Playa El Médano. But it’s also a bustling resort town with tons of restaurants and a place where a number of celebrities have 2nd homes here or come here with great regularity.
Those celebs include:
- Drew Barrymore
- Cameron Diaz
- Justin Timberlake
- George Clooney
- Jessica Alba
- Oprah Winfrey
Compared to the other cities I’ve listed along the Baja Peninsula, Cabo San Lucas has slightly more crime. But it’s still very safe overall for a city in Mexico.
Pickpocketing happens a lot here and the other crime that is common is where someone calls you pretending to be a relative in trouble who needs money.
Take a look at this chart showing the relative safety index for Cabo and some other well-known cities in Mexico.
The higher the number, the safer the city!
|Playa del Carmen||69|
|Cabo San Lucas||68|
19. Lake Chapala
Now this town is safe, but it’s worth pointing out that Guadalajara is only 45 minutes away. And while Guadalajara is definitely changing and becoming more of a tech town (think Silicone Valley of the south), it’s still not terribly safe.
I had a 9 millimeter pulled on me once just for trying to change lanes while driving. But that was also several years ago.
But Lake Chapala is very safe in and unto itself and has a large ex-pat community.
20. Querétaro City
Everyone in the United States has heard of San Miguel de Allende. But you may not have heard of this gem located just 40 miles away.
One of the strongest economies in Mexico for the past few decades has led to many moving here from all over. But there are also a lot of international employers here in the tech, financial, and aerospace industries.
Like a few other places I’ve mentioned, Querétaro City is extremely safe for both locals and tourists. And Querétaro City has the lowest rate of drug cartel-related deaths in all of Mexico.
Vandalism is one of the top crimes here.
4 hours south of Cancún lies this gem, also in Quintana Roo.
Right near the border of Belize, this is a tropical paradise. The town basically sits on the Lagoon of Seven Colors which features stunning turquoise waters.
Bacalar is very safe, and far enough away from Cancun and Playa Del Carmen to avoid some of the touristy petty theft that can happen in big tourist towns.
Ironically the biggest threat to Bacalar comes from the rapid growth due to its inherent beauty.
Much of the area is somewhat fragile ecologically speaking. And the large influx of both tourists and ex-pats has created some challenges in keeping trash out of the lagoon.
About 6 hours north of Puerto Vallarta lies Mazatlán.
Like its sister city to the south, it is a beach resort town with a bustling malecón (boardwalk). You’ll find an active life living here with tons of nightlife and restaurants.
Now technically, the US does currently have a “do not travel” travel advisory for Mazatlán.
But that’s largely due to issues outside the city. Do exercise caution if moving to the city just as you would if moving to a big city in the US like New York.
The Golden zone, Old Town, and the Malecon are considered the safest areas. Lots of ex-pats and families live here, and most love their life here and never have an incident.
23. Mexico City
The surprising truth is that Mexico City is relatively safe.
Sure it’s a BIG city and tourist destination, and there are some dangerous places in Mexico City. But really, it’s not going to be any more dangerous than any large city in the US.
And again, drug cartels, which are responsible for a fair amount of violence, don’t want to kill the tourism industry. So they tend to commit fewer crimes in cities like Mexico City that are big tourist destinations.
Frequently Asked Questions
Now that you’ve seen the list of safest places in Mexico, popular tourist destinations, and beautiful beaches, it’s time to answer some additional questions you’re likely asking yourself (or should be).
Where is the cheapest and safest place to live in Mexico?
Mazatlán has a lower cost of living compared to many cities in Mexico, and yet remains one of the safest cities in Mexico to live in. But Bacalar is also very inexpensive and safer.
Mazatlán is a resort town along the Pacific coast in the state of Sinaloa.
By comparison, Bacalar is in Quintana Roo, and, in fact, is the largest city in Quintana Roo. In many cases, tourist towns tend to be safe since the cartels and other criminal organizations don’t want to mess with the tourism dollars that flood their country.
But sometimes the opposite is true.
With Bacalar, because it’s NOT a tourist destination, it also tends to be extremely safe. It also features the Lake of Seven Colors which is a giant lagoon that goes on for over 25 miles.
What is the safest expat community in Mexico?
The safest ex-pat community in Mexico is San Miguel de Allende in the state of Guanajuato. But Lake Chapala near Guadalajara is also very safe with a large ex-pat community.
Beyond those 2 cities, Todos Santos down the Baja Peninsula near La Paz is also a great choice for ex-pats looking for a great and safe place to live.
What city in Mexico has the lowest crime rates?
Some of the larger cities in Mexico with unusually low crime rates are Mérida, Campeche, Puerto Escondido, and Huatulco.
But in truth, it’s a lot harder to find data on safe cities in Mexico compared to unsafe ones with high crime rates.
Tijuana, not surprisingly, is the least safe city in all of Mexico, with a high murder rate. But here’s a handy list of several well-known Mexican cities and parts of Mexico you may want to avoid, and the homicide rate.
|City||Homicides per 100K||Average Annual Homicides|
Where do most foreigners live in Mexico?
Most foreigners who move to Mexico live in Lake Chapala in the state of Jalisco, Ensenada in Baja California, Mérida in the Yucatan peninsula, and the Riviera Maya in Quintana Roo.
Baja, of course, provides the easiest access to the US as it’s fairly close to San Diego.
But it’s got beautiful beaches and is a popular tourist destination too. The low crime rate makes it a great place to live or visit.
What part of Mexico is safe from cartels?
Typically the safest areas in Mexico in terms of cartel violence are the most touristy areas such as Cancún, Playa Del Carmen, Puerto Vallarta, and San Miguel de Allende. This is because Mexico relies heavily on tourism dollars and the cartel doesn’t want to lose that.
In general, some of the worst areas in Mexico in terms of cartel violence include pretty much the whole state of Sinaloa, but also Uruapan, the second-largest city in the state of Michoacan.
Can an American move to Mexico?
Americans can move to Mexico easily. With a visitor’s visa, Americans can stay in Mexico for up to 6 months. However, that is the maximum time, and the officer in charge could mandate less time. They then leave the country and re-enter. Long-term options include temporary and permanent residency.
It used to be that visitors automatically got 6 months and then could just hop across the border for a couple of days and then get another 6 months.
But the events of 2020 tightened those limitations.
Now, there’s no guarantee they will grant you 6 months, and many find they only get 40 days. The options for temporary or permanent residency also can allow for work permits.
That, of course, isn’t really needed for retirees or digital nomads.
Check out this page (not affiliated with me) for more info on temporary and permanent residency in Mexico – https://immigrationtomexico.mx/pros-cons-temporary-or-permanent-residency-in-mexico/
What are the problems of living in Mexico?
The biggest issues facing those who move to Mexico include:
- Government corruption (sometimes having to bribe police officers)
- Time-consuming government red tape (permits, visas, opening bank accounts)
- Pollution in big cities
- Bad traffic in big cities
- Not being able to drink the tap water
- Internet can be expensive (despite the overall low cost of living)
- A big disparity in income of the natives (and a very classist system)
- A complicated system for foreigners to buy land located near the beach or national parks (a bank trust is needed). But the old rules about foreigners not being able to buy property directly largely went away in 1993.
How much money do you need to live comfortably in Mexico?
On average a couple moving to Mexico can live comfortably on $2,000 per month due to the low cost of living in Mexico. Expect expenses in Mexico to be roughly 50% lower than the average in the United States.
Living in Mexico does mean paying income tax. If you buy a home you’ll also pay property tax (thankfully quite low). Then there is the V.A.T. sales tax which is 16% in most of the country on most purchases.
Bear in mind that unless you actually become a Mexican citizen, you’ll also likely still be required to pay income tax in your home country too.
So you want to move to Mexico?
I can’t blame you although Costa Rica also tops my list of places I would love to move to. But unlike CR, Mexico is a lot more varied; both good and bad.
So in this article, we explored the best (and some of the worst) places in Mexico to move to.
And we explored crime rates, common problems for US citizens living there (and European citizens too), as well as cartel issues, and how much money you need to live comfortably.
That way you can make an informed, and hopefully safe, choice!
Photo by Hugo Derramadero from Pexels, Image by StevenReid from Pixabay Image by jcesardelapaz from Pixabay Image by pennakyp from Pixabay Image by Joaquín Enríquez from Pixabay Image by Kevin Alexandro Reyes Casillas from Pixabay Image by Alvaro Bejarano from Pixabay Image by studiokca0 from Pixabay