Is Cancun Safe? The Ultimate Guide To The Resort Town

Is Cancun safe
Photo by Michelle_Raponi/Pixabay
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Is Cancun safe for travelers? It’s something that you’re probably asking because you’re thinking about making a trip across to the sugar-white sands and glistening Caribbean seas of this much-loved Mexican resort. And you’d be right to do so, because there are things worth knowing about the hotel strips and towns of the Riviera Maya before you click book.

Yep, while this region is one of the most visited in the whole land of tacos and tequila, and the vast majority of trips here finish without issues, the resort of Cancun and the surrounding area isn’t without its worries. Everything from crime to tropical disease could be something to think about before hopping on the plane.

Cue this guide. It will run through the ins and outs of whether Cancun is safe for visitors in 2022, outlining the main concerns and risks that are out there. The aim? To help you plan your perfect vacation to the Mexican Caribbean and get back to the important things, like choosing which hotel pool tempts you the most or what Mayan temples you want to see while you’re on the ground.

Is Cancun safe for travelers in 2022?

Cancun downtown
Photo by Michelle_Raponi/Pixabay

Good question. As ever, though, the answer is far from simple. Generally speaking, Cancun is very safe. The vast proportion of vacations here go off without a single hitch. People come, they top up the tan, they drink too much tequila, they enjoy the lux hotels, they hit the reefs of Isla Holbox, and they go again. No worries. It’s all good. See you next time!

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However, that’s not to say that there aren’t issues in Cancun. There most certainly are. As with anywhere else in Mexico, crime is a major concern. This beach-fringed resort town certainly isn’t immune to the cartel violence that plagues much of the rest of the nation. In fact, rising crime stats (more on those below) belie that it might even becoming something of a hotspot for that sort of thing.

On top of that, booming visitor numbers to Cancun and the surrounding Riviera Maya also give rise to a number of smaller worries that can be a potential problem for travelers. They include common travel scams and taxi scams, petty theft and pickpocketing. Let’s dive in a little deeper…

Serious crime and cartel violence in Cancun

Cancun beaches
Photo by arteradar/Pixabay

There was a time in the 80s and 90s when it looked as though the sun-kissed beaches of Cancun and the Yucatan were going to be spared the same cartel-related violence that was a problem elsewhere in Mexico, particularly in the Pacific-side resorts of Acapulco and the border towns of Tijuana et al. Fast forward to the 2010s and 20s and that’s sadly not remained the case…

Today, this bustling resort and the Riviera Maya that stretches out to the south have seen a worrying uptick in violent crime, a rise that experts say is directly related to increased cartel activity in the region. It looks like the silent approach to business that the cartels once took in these parts has now changed and the groups are ever-more willing to bring their beefs out into the open.

Things have escalated for a number of reasons. Mainly, though, it’s thought that the fracturing of the Zetas Cartel that once ruled the region has led to in fighting between rival factions and groups who now vie for the drug routes through Quintana Roo, especially since the powerful Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel have joined the fight.

Sadly, the stats reflect all this. The beginnings of 2022 show that the town is on course to hit a startling murder rate of 36.81 per 100,000. That puts it firmly in the top 50 most homicide-ridden cities on the planet. It also makes it officially more dangerous than Johannesburg and Baltimore.

Most concerning of all is a spate of incidents that proves that the cartel violence in Cancun no longer operates in the underbelly of the city. Two tourists were caught up in gangland crossfire back in 2021 in the nearby town of Tulum. Gunmen even open fired on Cancun’s Hotel Zone beaches in an audacious jet-ski drive by in December of the same year!

It’s important to say that these incidents remain few and far between. However, it’s also important to be aware of the possibility of violent crime in these parts, even in the most touristic areas.

Safe areas in Cancun

Cancun Hotel Zone
Photo by Joseph Barrientos/Unsplash

Although there are increasing examples of the bad cartel violence spilling over into tourist areas in Cancun, the truth is that the vast majority of it continues to happen in lesser-known parts of the city. You can certainly up your chances of having a safe trip by opting to bed down in the mainstay quarters, and never venturing to neighborhoods beyond their boundaries.

The places to consider booking hotels in include:

  • The Hotel Zone – Aptly named, the Hotel Zone is a long, dogleg-shaped region that spreads south from the main town in a medley of resorts, condos, and villas. It’s generally thought to be one of the safest parts of Cancun and is where most visitors go.
  • Isla Mujeres – Go here to escape the buzz of Cancun proper and get some nice diving reefs on the doorstep. Isla Mujeres is very laid back and there’s less serious crime incidence than on the mainland.
  • Centro – The vibrant core of downtown Cancun is a lived-in place of cantinas and taco-scented parks. It’s often considered a good budget option for travelers and the safest areas are typically around the Parque de las Palapas.

Petty crime and scams in Cancun

Holbox Cancun
Photo by ale_calvillo/Pixabay

While cartel violence is understandably the main thing that worries would-be visitors to the sugary beaches of Cancun, it’s nowhere near the most likely sort of crime to occur. That dubious honor goes to the small-scale scammers and thieves that ply their trade pretty much anywhere on the planet where there’s a tourist dollar. And it’s the same in these parts…

There are lots of ploys and scams to be aware of, including:

  • Privately owned ATMs – Dodge using any ATM that’s not owned by a bank. There are some that are privately owned and they can sometimes charge astronomical rates for just retrieving money.
  • Credit card billing – Never hand over your card to be charged out of eyesight. Sometimes, establishments will up the bill without you knowing and simply swipe the plastic through.
  • Check the bill carefully – Check that items you didn’t order haven’t been added to the bill and make sure all things that are listed are the price that they say they are on the menu.
  • Taxi scams – Super common taxi scams either involve inflated rates for trips, fake meters that count too high, or even bespoke deals where the driver promises to reimburse the fee you pay. Don’t listen to any of them. Always check that taxi drivers are fully licensed and agree a price beforehand!

Is Cancun safe from tropical disease?

A beach in Cancun
Photo by KinEnriquez/Pixabay

While Cancun is very low risk for malaria, there are other tropical diseases that you might want to prep for before jetting across. The most common is probably dengue fever. It presents very similar ly to malaria and is also transmitted by the bite of a mosquito. Symptoms come after about 5-14 days of exposure and include skin rashes, high fever, headaches, and even partial body paralysis. AKA – it’s not nice at all!

Unfortunately, Quintana Roo – the state where Cancun makes its home – has some of the highest incident rates of dengue of anywhere in Mexico. More unfortunately, there’s no pill prophylactic you can take to fend it off as you can with malaria. Instead, we’d recommend a strong mozzie repellant and vigilance at key bite times like dawn and dusk.

Chagas disease – a parasitic ailment spread by kissing bugs – and zika – another mosquito-borne sickness that can cause severe complications in pregnant women – are also risks in the Cancun region.

Environmental worries in Cancun

Beach resorts in Cancun
Photo by Michelle_Raponi/Pixabay

It might seem obvious but the number one environmental worry in Cancun is the sun. We know, we know, people often come here specifically for the endless rays that bake the beaches and warm the seas. However, things can get VERY hot on the Mexican Caribbean. We’re talking mercury highs of over 100 F and blistering sun with high UV levels. Be sure to hydrate properly and always take a strong sunscreen.

Another phenomenon to know about if you’re looking at booking a trip to the Riviera Maya is the so-called Sargassum Season. A period of about three months that lasts from April to June, it’s also known as the Seaweed Season because it’s when huge blooms of algae wash up on the beaches around Cancun. The only places that are immune are the west-facing reefs and coves of the Isla Cozumel and Isla Mujeres. There’s no specific health hazard here but the seaweed can sometimes be left to rot on the sands, causing unpleasant smells.

Is Cancun safe? Our verdict

Is Cancun safe? Yes, and no. Sorry but that’s the truth. Relatively speaking, the town is pretty okay for travelers. Millions upon millions flock here every year, especially for the wild spring break parties and a Christmas in the sun. The vast proportion of those trips happen without a problem. However, it wouldn’t be true to say that there haven’t been incidents of violent crime in these parts – some have even seen travelers caught in the crossfire. On top of that, there are some tropical diseases to know about (dengue, zika) and dangers from the environment besides.

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Joe has been a freelance travel writer for over nine years. His writing and roaming have taken him from the colonial towns of Mexico to the chowks of Mumbai to the Southern Alps of New Zealand. When he's not putting together the next epic blog on the best Greek islands or ski fields in France, you can usually find him surfing or hiking – his two top hobbies.