Editor’s Note: This article is a guest post by Alicia Briggs. Alicia is a full-time traveler and digital nomad who is currently based in Mexico.
Concerned about safety in the Riviera Maya? In this article, we’ll share a wealth of Riviera Maya safety tips to ensure you have a safe and comfortable trip.
The Riviera Maya is one of the most desirable places to visit in Mexico. Located on the Caribbean coastline, it boasts dreamy white sand beaches, year-round warm turquoise water, jaw-dropping Mayan ruins and renowned culinary experiences.
The Riviera Maya starts about twenty minutes south of Cancun, in the sleepy fishing village of Puerto Morelos. It ends roughly three hours further, in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere.
This region has become increasingly popular due to its diversity and culture, making it a must-visit destination for your Mexico bucket list.
Despite expats, backpackers, and tourists flocking to the region, many are left wondering: is the Riviera Maya safe to travel to?
- 1 1. Don’t Walk At Night
- 2 2. Use A Trusted Driver To Get Around
- 3 3. Keep Your Valuables Out of Sight in Public
- 4 4. Pack Theft-Proof Clothing & Safety Devices
- 5 5. Drink With Caution
- 6 6. Just Say No to Drugs
- 7 7. Do Your Research
- 8 8. Stay in Trusted, Reviewed Accommodation
- 9 Final Thoughts
How safe is the Riviera Maya?
While the news tends to play up the danger of the region, there are still very legitimate concerns and things you need to be aware of before buying that plane ticket.
Typically, your biggest concern will be petty crime such as theft or scams. However, there are occasional episodes of violent crime such as gunfire and kidnappings in the area as well.
Fortunately, these instances are few and far between. Violent crimes, in particular, are typically target individuals connected to cartel activity.
I mention all of this here just to make you aware, not to deter you from traveling to the Riviera Maya.
I’ve spent extensive time in this region, from Playa Del Carmen to Akumal, Tulum, and Puerto Morelos. Nothing has ever happened to me, but that doesn’t make me the rule– I could easily be the exception.
That’s why it’s so important to take safety precautions anywhere you go.
I would absolutely encourage anyone to come and explore this diverse and gorgeous region, but if you’re traveling solo, or as a female, there are definitely some things you need to consider.
Below are my top Riviera Maya safety tips and tricks for visiting the area.
1. Don’t Walk At Night
If you’re in the bigger cities like Playa Del Carmen and Tulum, it’s really not a great idea to walk at night alone. If it’s still early in the evening and you’re in a crowded area, sure, go for it.
However, once it’s officially night time, say 8 pm onwards, you shouldn’t be walking around alone. Take a car- the cost is minimal compared to your safety.
If you’re staying in the smaller towns like Puerto Morelos or Akumal, you definitely have a little more flexibility, although these aren’t very walkable areas.
You should still make sure you’ve researched the area and already know where you’re going before you venture out into the dark.
2. Use A Trusted Driver To Get Around
Taxis dominate the Riviera Maya, making it difficult to find transportation alternatives.
This would be fine if all taxis could be trusted, but unfortunately they can’t.
You may have heard the horror stories of travelers being abducted or assaulted in taxis, and if you hadn’t– well, now you have.
When traveling solo, you should be extra careful about getting in any unmarked, unofficial taxis.
The best option?
Hire a driver.
Most Airbnb hosts or expat groups, can recommend local, trusted drivers to use.
There’s also an incredible service called Chica Taxi in Playa Del Carmen. You just send them a text whenever you need a ride and a trusted female driver should be able to get you within ten minutes.
Drivers will typically give you a much better rate once you’ve developed a trusted partnership with them.
3. Keep Your Valuables Out of Sight in Public
This can be said for most major cities, and the majority of Mexico. A good rule of thumb is to never walk around with your phone just dangling in your hand.
You especially shouldn’t stand at crosswalks with your phone out. It’s so easy for someone on a moped to come and swipe it.
Additionally, avoid wearing flashy jewelry, and don’t whip your cash or money out in public.
Be discreet with your money and your valuables and you should be totally fine.
4. Pack Theft-Proof Clothing & Safety Devices
Theft-proof clothing is designed specifically to protect against pickpockets.
These garments have hidden pockets, making it easy to conceal your valuables while still keeping them where you can access them easily.
If you’re nervous about pickpockets, or just want to play it super safe, definitely pick up a couple of picket-pocket proof clothing items.
Clever Travel Companion is a brand that specializes in making clothing just for this purpose.
This t-shirt dress would be a super comfortable and theft-averse option for the Riviera Maya.
If you need more storage, a theft-proof purse is another great way to keep your valuables safe while you’re out and about.
Related Reading: 9 Travel Safety Devices You Shouldn’t Leave Home Without
5. Drink With Caution
With numerous bars, hip clubs, dance parties- this area is definitely catered to having a good time. However, you still need to proceed with caution.
As with anywhere, don’t ever leave your drink unattended and if possible, watch the bartender make it for you.
While it’s tempting to go crazy and enjoy yourself, try to monitor how much you’re drinking to avoid any uncomfortable or unpleasant situations.
If possible, avoid going for a night out alone. Instead, spend some time getting to know some fellow travelers and make it a group activity. That way, you’ll have some friendly faces looking out for you, and someone to turn to if anything goes awry.
Whenever you do leave the bar, this is the most important time to ensure you have trusted transportation home.
Don’t flag a taxi on the street. Use Whatsapp to call a radio taxi.
This service will dispatch a taxi to your location and give you the vehicle number so that you can ensure you get in the right car. They will also confirm the rate ahead of time so that you aren’t left to haggle over the price with the driver.
6. Just Say No to Drugs
Just like with drinking, there is a serious party crowd in places like Tulum and Playa del Carmen.
Unfortunately, the frequent demand for drugs in tourist hot spots has come with a price- cartels. This has caused a very recent spike in violence in Tulum, and somewhat in Playa Del Carmen as well.
So, if you’re deciding whether or not to take drugs on your trip, consider the danger you’re putting yourself in.
If that’s not enough of a reason not to, consider how your actions are truly affecting the lives of the people living in the towns you’re vacationing in.
7. Do Your Research
The Riviera Maya is an incredible region because of how many things there are to do! You have a variety of options so there’s something for just about anyone.
As such, whether you’re road tripping everywhere, or staying in one place, you should definitely put in some work and research where you’re going.
The good news?
Since this area is so popular, it’s pretty easy to plan ahead!
You can find endless blog posts about even the smallest of towns in the Riviera Maya. Anything you want to know, someone has written about and can give you some great insight.
There are also numerous expat Facebook groups and networks to find updated recommendations, meet cool people, and tap into local knowledge.
Here are couple to get you started:
Safety-related questions to keep in mind while you’re researching your trip might include:
- What is the safest method of transportation in the area?
- Which neighborhoods are the safest for travelers?
- How will I get from my accommodation to the sights & attractions I’m interested in and are the options comfortable for me? (ie. Will you be able to safely walk to everything you need, or will you have to cross a sketchy part of town to get where you want to go?)
- Where are some popular hangouts for other travelers where you might be able to make friends?
Related Reading: Solo Travel Safety Tips for Female Travelers in Mexico
8. Stay in Trusted, Reviewed Accommodation
Airbnb is my jam, price wise and comfort wise. Unlike a known hotel though, it can be harder to know what the neighborhood is truly like when using Airbnb.
This is where all that research you did comes in handy!
It’s not hard to quickly find out what safe and comfortable locations are best to stay in.
Places like Playa Del Carmen have very specific central areas, whereas Tulum is not walkable. So, where you choose your accommodation really matters.
Smaller towns are typically more spread out, which means understanding where the central area is, versus which suburbs are safest is important.
Smaller towns in the Riviera Maya don’t always have the best Airbnb options either, so I’ve found it really helpful to compare Booking.com and Airbnb to find my perfect accommodation.
While I recommend checking out whatever appeals to you in the Riviera Maya, both big and small, below I’ve summarized my personal favorite areas to stay that also felt safe and comfortable.
Once I arrived in this quiet, non-touristy beach town, I wished I had just come here from the start.
Since this is a more local area, the cost of accommodation and living is much more reasonable. You’ll find some of the best seafood in the region in lowkey taco joints and fish markets aplenty.
The beach side offers less crowded, lively beaches, unpretentious beach clubs, lowkey restaurants, and beautiful, brightly colored villas.
On the other side of the freeway, you’ll find Villa Morelos. Here is where the best food lives and you’ll find more affordable accommodation. We stayed in this area and loved it, and it was a bonus that we were the only tourists around.
Playa Del Carmen
While Playa del Carmen (PDC) has hit the news recently with an influx of crime, it still feels incredibly safe while you’re there.
The Riviera Maya’s largest city, PDC is also an expat haven. It’s filled with trendy rooftop bars, incredible and upscale accommodation options, cute coffee shops and restaurants, work friendly beach clubs and all still at a relatively reasonable price- especially compared to Tulum.
The vibe is very laid back, especially outside of 5th avenue, the main touristy street.
I suggest finding accommodation anywhere between 1 and 35 Avenida Nte. and between Av. Benito Juarez and Calle 44 Nte. These will be the most central, walkable areas.
We stayed next door to a great juice spot, Nativo, and that area was incredible. Only ten minutes walking from the beach, surrounded by locals and great locally-owned restaurants, but without all the tourists.
Related Reading: Incredible Beachfront Airbnbs in Playa del Carmen
A tiny little beach oasis, close to cenotes and the newly oh-so-trendy Tulum, we stumbled upon Akumal. It’s a great place to recharge and spend some time in nature, away from the cities.
Akumal has some of the most pristine, secluded beaches, with easy access to diving, snorkeling and water sports. Not to mention, the luxurious accommodations are top notch in this area.
Wherever you end up, don’t be afraid of coming to the Riviera Maya. You can absolutely travel solo as a woman, and do it safely.
Ultimately, the Riviera Maya requires similar street smarts and mindfulness as any big city in the world.
Always make the effort to stay alert, do your research, and you should have an incredible, incident-free experience.
A full-time traveler and digital nomad of three years, Alicia is a self-described extroverted introvert trying to balance her love of a great happy hour with her love of an isolated mountain top. She documents her travels on her blog, with a focus on responsible travel, wellness tips, and how to live and work in just about any country in the world. Connect with her on Instagram.