Is Cancun Hotel Zone safe? It’s a question asked by thousands of travelers each year. We certainly can’t blame folks for wondering…Mexico hardly has the best rep on the planet. There are always stories of gang-related violence, Netflix series like Narcos haven’t exactly helped to paint it as akin to the Amalfi Coast, and the cautionary tale of Acapulco (once a tourist mecca, now a cartel hotspot) is still fresh in the minds of many US travelers.
That’s why we’ve put together this guide, to help anyone coming a-pining after the white-sand beaches and wild party nights that this resort on the Quintana Roo coast is known for. It’s an in-depth look at whether the Cancun Hotel Zone, the most tourist-friendly and built-up part of the city, is safe.
We’ll talk about the potential dangers you might encounter here, give a rough roundup of the various crime rates, and look at what the official channels (the Department of State, the British Foreign Office) say about staying out of trouble when traveling in this corner of the globe. So, is the Cancun Hotel Zone safe? Here’s your answer…
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Is Cancun safe? What the official crime stats say
Before we get stuck into answering is the Cancun Hotel Zone safe, let’s take a look at Cancun more generally. This is one of Mexico’s most popular resort towns. In 2019 alone is attracted a mind-boggling 6.15 million foreign visitors. To put that into perspective, that’s only a third of the number that went to Bangkok, which is the most-visited city in Asia, and a whopping six times the number of people who went to Aspen for skiing.
So, it’s popular. And while that’s a hint that the town is probably safe, it’s hardly a guarantee. Still, visitor numbers do tend to go up and down with the crime rates and the perceived dangers of a particular place. Just look at what happened to Acapulco – jet-setter destination in 1955, world’s seventh-deadliest city by 2016. Needless to say that visitor numbers plummeted when the cartels took over, and there were even US news segments dedicated to warning people not to go.
But back to Cancun. Statistic collator Numbeo shows that the picture isn’t actually all that rosy. Crime is on the increase here generally, the city is rated “high” for corruption and bribery and drug crime, and it scores a moderate (or, shall we say, hardly-inspiring) 50 or so on the overall danger meter. Cancun is also on the US State Department’s list of warning destinations in Mexico, albeit pretty low down, under the heading “Exercise Normal Precautions When Traveling To”.
For us, though, the most thought-provoking stat of all is that Cancun still reigns quite high on the overall list of the world’s most dangerous cities. It’s there between Nelson Mandela Bay in South Africa and Cali in Colombia at 25th, with a rate of 45.5 homicides per 100,000 head of population each year. Not good, eh?
Where is the Cancun Hotel Zone?
It’s worth getting some bearings, because the Cancun Hotel Zone is a very distinct part of the city. Shaped like a number 7, it starts on the eastern edge of the Centro and Puerto Cancun districts before shooting directly eastwards into the Caribbean Sea. About four miles along the Hotel Zone suddenly bends southwards and runs for another 7.5 miles before rejoining the mainland at the end of the Nichupté Lagoon.
Although the Cancun Hotel Zone is considered a single homogenous area, it’s actually got several sub-neighborhoods that are worth knowing about, especially if safety is your number one concern. Going from north to south, they include:
- Playa Tortugas – One of the most beautiful beaches on the Hotel Zone, but also the site of some violent gang activity in recent years.
- Punta Cancun – The nightlife hub of the Hotel Zone, and one of the highest-risk areas for conventional dangers, such as alcohol-fueled crime and pickpocketing.
- Playa Chacmool – A mix of family hotels and spring break bars, often busy but still beautiful.
- Playa Delfines – A more relaxed part of the Hotel Zone that can have strong waves but hardly anywhere near the crowds further north.
- Punta Nizuc – The most luxurious part of the Hotel Zone, where the resorts are predominantly five star and adults only.Probably the safest area of the district as a whole.
Is the Cancun Hotel Zone safe?
Let’s get one thing straight: Cancun is not the Cancun Hotel Zone. In fact, the bulk of the city isn’t anywhere near the popular resorts of this uber-popular traveler area. The truth is that most visitors will simply never stray to the more dangerous parts of town. Moreover, the vast majority of vacations here come off without a single hitch, which offers a hint as to why this remains one of Mexico’s most popular neighborhoods within one of Mexico’s most popular resorts.
It’s certainly the case that crime rates in the Hotel Zone are lower than crime rates in the wider city of Cancun. Local tourist board spokespeople noted that travelers were involved in zero (that’s right, nada) incidences in recent months, and continue to point out the growing numbers of visitors who look this way for their fix of R&R (tourist numbers to Cancun are thought to be increasing by between 1.8% and 5.5% year on year!).
Is there violent crime in the Cancun Hotel Zone?
However, it’s not right to say that there aren’t any serious dangers in the Cancun Hotel Zone just because it’s located away from the main city and generally considered a tourist area. The most we can say is that violent crime is unlikely here. In fact, there have even been more reports of cartel crime in the area, coming to a head with two very notable incidents in the last couple of years:
- In June 2021, two shooters sprayed bullets onto a beach in the Hotel Zone from a jet-ski, injuring an American tourist and killing two vendors on the beach itself.
- In April 2018, a similar attack involving shooters on jet skis took place on Playa Tortugas.
The main driver behind all that is that Cancun and the Hotel Zone in particular remain centers for drug trafficking. The influx of party-hungry tourists has proven a fertile market for Mexico’s cartels. Some experts have said that the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) and the Gulf Cartel (CDG) are two of the most active in the region today.
On top of that, there have been violent incidents in the surrounding region of Quintana Roo. The murder rate in the state as a whole has skyrocketed more than 300% overall, and there have even been gun fights on the streets of the nearby town of Playa del Carmen.
What about other crime in the Cancun Hotel Zone?
Although it does occur, violent crime in the Cancun Hotel Zone makes up just a tiny part of what goes on here. The truth is that most travelers are at a far greater risk of falling victim to a more common sort of danger, including…
- Drug crime – Cancun is a pretty wild place, especially during spring break. Drug arrests, even for small amounts, are common in the area. Our advice? Just don’t get involved. It’s simply not worth the risk.
- Alcohol-related crime – Everything from fights to falls occurs because of alcohol, a lot of which is drunk in the party mecca of the Cancun Hotel Zone.
- Pickpocketing – Common tourist crimes are rife throughout the Hotel Zone, but more so in the busier parts to the north.
- Scams – Taxi scams, bar scams, and bill scams are all common in the bars and clubs of Cancun, especially around Punta Cancun.
- Traffic dangers – Generally speaking, the traffic isn’t that bad in the Cancun Hotel Zone, but there are frequent accidents on theBlvd Kukulcan and the main north-south highway.
Natural dangers in the Cancun Hotel Zone
Crime and violent crime are by no means the only worries in the Cancun Hotel Zone. You should also think about any natural dangers that might be present here. They could include…
- Sargassum blooms – The whole of the Riviera Maya suffers from terrible sargassum blooms that have been getting worse year on year thanks to global warming. The coast guard now puts out warnings when they’re on their way to Cancun and surrounding resorts. The seaweed itself isn’t actually dangerous but can harbor microbes that can cause skin rashes. More than that, it positively stinks! Sargassum usually occurs between April and August.
- Sharks – There have been sightings of sharks around the beaches of the Cancun Hotel Zone, but attacks are extremely rare and many of the shark species are actually harmless to humans.
- Snakes – Snakes aren’t a huge worry in the Cancun Hotel Zone. The area is just too built up to harbor any significant populations. However, venomous snakes do exist in this part of Mexico. You’re much more likely to encounter them on jungle treks into the Yucatan Peninsula, though. Chichen Itza, anyone?
- Storms – One of the things that tourists love about Cancun is that it’s so far away from the main Atlantic Hurricane Belt. But that doesn’t mean that tropical cyclones don’t come. When they do, the water will be rough and there be heavy rainfall and, occasionally, flooding. Storm season is typically between August and October.
Conclusion: Is the Cancun Hotel Zone safe?
So, is the Cancun Hotel Zone safe? Well…that really depends on your definition of safe.
There are bound to be risks, just as there are in any destination in the world. However, it’s worth pointing out that the region of Quintana Roo has suffered from some pretty shocking cartel-related violence in the last few years, and tourists in Cancun have been caught in the crossfire. What’s more, because Cancun is a big party destination with lots of nightclubs and a huge underground drug scene, you can expect to deal with all sorts of other crimes, from pickpocketing to alcohol-related incidents.
On the flip side, the vast majority of trips to this beach-fringed city end without a single issue. What’s more, the fact that it’s still gaining popularity shows that it remains one of Mexico’s top resorts, despite the dangers that might exist. That means plenty of people are willing to overlook the risks to chase those white-sand beaches and all-inclusive hotel deals. The question you need to answer is: Am I one of them?
Is the Cancun Hotel Zone safe for solo female travelers?
Traveling anywhere as a solo female presents its own challenges and dangers. Thankfully, the Cancun Hotel Zone is still probably the safest part of the city for women who are going it alone. That said, we’d recommend taking extra precautions around the nightlife hub of Punta Cancun after dark, particularly during the spring break season.
Is the Cancun Hotel Zone safe for families?
Generally speaking, the Cancun Hotel Zone is very safe for families. Thousands of family travelers come here for their sun-soaked holiday each year. That said, there are unique dangers with being in Cancun, like the small risk of violent crime, and alcohol-fueled violence because of the party crowd. It might be a good idea to research some of the more family-friendly parts of the resort before traveling.