Mexico is an amazing country to visit…but it has something of a bad reputation. Is it actually safe to visit? What if you’re a solo female traveler? In this guest post, Kristin Addis from Be My Travel Muse shares her safety tips and advice to help you navigate Mexico with confidence as a solo female traveler.
The tastes, smells, sights, and sounds of Mexico are irresistible. It’s the first place I traveled internationally, and whenever I want a warm, welcoming adventure that’s easy and accessible, I think of Mexico.
But sometimes people with little to no Mexico travel experience will try to talk you out of traveling there solo. They’ve seen nothing but negativity on the news, and so that’s their impression of the entire country. After all, Mexico has an international reputation for having high crime. So yes, this is something you have to be aware of when traveling there, especially by yourself.
But let’s be real: lots of fantastic destinations — including many in the US — have a similar reputation. It doesn’t mean the entire country is “bad” or that you can’t have a great, safe time there. You just need to take certain precautions, just like you would in much of the world. That starts with being well informed.
To help you stay safe, here are my top tips for traveling safely in Mexico as a solo female traveler:
1. Choose your destination wisely
I tend to base my travel destinations on suggestions from others or photos that I’ve seen and saved, usually from Instagram. That’s how I ended up road-tripping in Baja California, checking out the cenotes of Tulum, attending a women’s retreat in Sayulita, and falling in love with Isla Holbox.
But lately, crime has increased in parts of the Riviera Maya, and tourist cities that used to be popular destinations, like Acapulco, have since become more synonymous with cartels. Just because something was popular ten years ago doesn’t mean it is a good place to visit now.
How do you know? If you’ve got someplace in mind, do a quick Google search for the town along with “crime” or “tourist crime.” Keep in mind: the media can really overplay things. I like to look at as many specific statistics as I can, when available.
I also like posting on message boards (like Trip Advisor’s) when planning trips to get the most current information. Local expat Facebook groups can also be helpful. Here’s one specifically for Tulum, for example. You’ll be able to ask people who are living or on the ground there what their experience is. This works for almost any major area of Mexico (and the world).
2. Choose centrally located accommodations
Especially if it will be your first time visiting Mexico or a certain city or town, choose a place close to the zócalo, or main square. These areas are always well lit, and there are usually plenty of police officers around, making it less attractive for criminals. (One exception to this is Mexico City, as there are so many neighborhoods to choose from besides the zócalo downtown.)
Although I haven’t made this mistake in Mexico, from time to time I have gotten this wrong when in other countries. I remember a situation in the Philippines where I was so far away from all of the things to do and other tourists that I spent a very lonely few days on the tip of an island, cut off from everyone and everything.
Coincidentally, that’s exactly when someone tried to break into my bungalow at night. I learned my lesson the hard way on that one: always read the reviews completely and have a good understanding of what is near your accommodation.
3. Learn some basic Spanish
Particularly when you’re a woman traveling solo, knowing some key phrases can help you have a smoother experience. You’ll be able to make friends with locals, get home safely more easily if the taxi driver doesn’t speak English, and understand when somebody is crossing a line when they’re talking to you.
What if you don’t know much? Well, my Spanish isn’t great. I thought it would be cool to take French in high school, even having grown up in Southern California, where Spanish would have been very helpful! So everything I know it’s just what I have picked up since then.
That said, the basics are often enough, and Mexico is a great place to learn more. Mexicans are generally very kind and forgiving toward those who try to speak their language.
Even if you just learn basic greetings and key phrases, you’re off to a great start. Duolingo is helpful with that, and you can also download Google Translate for offline use.
Speaking the language (even poorly) is a sign of respect and can help break the ice with locals, so why not give it a try?
4. Find travel friends to feel less alone
I love everything having to do with the ocean, so when I was in Baja California, I signed up to swim with sharks. On the boat, I randomly ran into a friend of mine with whom I’d swum with whales in French Polynesia! But even if I didn’t already know someone on the boat, I tend to make friends every time I do an activity, and that gives me a built-in group to have dinner with that night, or even hang out with and do more things with in the coming days.
Sometimes signing up for a retreat is also a good way to go. I usually find these through influencers I follow. I did this toward the end of my trip in Sayulita a few years ago, which gave me a good balance of time with people and also solitude before and after.
As a solo female traveler, this is my absolute favorite way to make sure that I meet other people. Do you love food? Sign up for a cooking class or even a food tour with great ratings on Google or TripAdvisor.
5. Opt for rideshare apps when you can
Sometimes taxis can be sketchy depending on where you’re traveling to in Mexico. In Mexico City and Playa del Carmen, for example, riders have even been kidnapped and extorted. In other cities, however, taxis are totally safe. Mérida, Cancún, San Cristóbal de las Casas and San Miguel de Allende are all fine places to take taxis in.
Rideshare apps are generally a safer option, especially at night. These apps make it possible to hold drivers accountable for any misdeeds, making it far less likely that they would commit any crimes. Plus, no actual money is exchanged, and they’re less likely to add extra mileage to make the bill higher since you can see right on the app what the suggested route is.
Uber is available in some cities in Mexico, but not all. There is almost always some kind of taxi app (like DiDi, for example) or WhatsApp taxi service available in any significant city, but if you’re visiting a small town or village, these options likely won’t be available.
6. Avoid being flashy
Wearing flashy jewelry and designer clothes will draw attention to you, almost anywhere you go in Mexico. One exception is Mexico City, where people generally dress up more in specific neighborhoods. Almost anywhere else, wearing extravagant clothing could make you a potential target for theft.
Although I own them, you won’t catch me with designer purses abroad, because I just don’t want to make myself the most attractive target.
The same goes for having your nice smartphone in hand on the street. There are two reasons for this: one, it can be a big distraction for you, and two, it’s something very easy to quickly steal out of your hand.
7. Vet tour companies beforehand
There are hundreds of tour companies in Mexico, and not all of them are reputable or safe. I almost never book a tour directly from a seller or right off the street. I always want to look at reviews first.
If you want to go on a day trip with a particular tour company, see if you can look it up online and read actual reviews before you hand over your money. Next, I check if they have websites and social media, such as a Facebook page.
If you don’t have a specific company in mind, Google the activity you’re interested in and see which companies offer it and follow the same advice. Chances are there will be some Google reviews, and if someone has had a bad experience, they’ll probably leave one to warn other travelers. You can also check TripAdvisor.
Another great way to make sure a tour is legit before you book is to go through a third-party site, like GetYourGuide. On those platforms, you can see reviews from other customers and make a more informed decision on which tour is safest and worth your time and money.
Additionally, beware of a common scam in which sketchy tour companies rent equipment to customers and then blame them for extensive damages. This is most common with scooter rentals, segway tours, and even snorkeling equipment rentals. To avoid this, make sure to ask what the policy is for any damage to equipment to make sure you won’t be held liable. You should also take photos of anything you rent before using it. That way you can prove that you haven’t made any damages.
8. Tell a friend where you are
If you’re traveling alone, tell a friend or family member at home your itinerary and with whom you can check in regularly. Before I started traveling internationally 10 years ago, I added my mom to my bank account, so that if it were ever locked while l was overseas, she could easily call and approve the charges. She has saved me many times, including when my bank tried to block my card repeatedly during an overland trip in Africa. There was no way I would’ve been able to call, but she knew that those withdrawals were made by me by quickly checking in with me.
Personally, checking in with someone every day or sharing my location with them would drive me absolutely bonkers, but so many solo female travelers have recommended this in comments on posts I’ve written over the years that I know that, for some people, the peace of mind is worth it.
9. Get a Mexican SIM card
If you’re from the US, you may have cell phone service while in Mexico at no additional cost. If not, consider picking up a Mexican SIM card when you arrive. A Telcel card only costs 150 pesos ($7.50 USD) and you can easily load data onto it online or at any OXXO (24-hour convenience store).
I pretty much always get local SIM cards because they work better and are so much cheaper that using your regular SIM. I just ask a friend or person I meet at a hostel who is bilingual to help me get mine in Mexico, as my Spanish is not good enough to get the job done.
But after that, I’m set in terms of navigation, making local calls when needed, and always being connected.
10. Don’t indulge cat-callers
I know from personal experience how difficult it is to not snap back at a cat-caller who has disrespected me, but it’s not a good idea to pay any attention to them in Mexico.
In typical machismo fashion, a man who will cat-call you on the street could become aggressive or even violent if shown any kind of resistance. It’s a sad truth and one that pains me to say. But letting a disrespectful person know they’ve crossed a line does not always have the desired effect of making them stop what they’re doing.
11. Be careful on dating apps
A lot of travelers use dating apps like Tinder and Bumble to meet people (even just as friends) while on the move. I’ve had friends rave about it in Europe and have run into people on the road who tell me that’s how they met. This could potentially be a cool way to see Mexico from a local’s perspective, but it also makes me nervous. What if they have expectations? What if you’re not on the same page?
There are a few ways you can vet someone before deciding to meet up. First, look at their social media for any red flags. Next, make your intentions clear from the get-go. If you just want to make a new friend and see the city, let them know. Then, agree to meet up in a public. You can also have a friend on standby to check in with you mid-date to make sure you’re alright.
There are also Facebook groups that you can use to meet up with others. I run one specifically for solo female travelers called BMTM Solo Female Traveler Connect. There’s also Meetup.com and Bumble Friend, which is specifically set up for platonic situations.
12. Trust your gut when it comes to food
Let’s be honest, nobody wants to spend their Mexican vacation in a hotel bathroom. Sometimes getting even just a little sick in a foreign country is unavoidable, but there are a few things to look out for to keep your tummy in working order in Mexico.
I’m not suggesting that you avoid street food and stick to only restaurants. The worst food poisoning I’ve ever had was from a fancy restaurant in Mexico! Plus, I absolutely love street tacos there, and I’m always on the lookout for them. But I have some rules.
First of all, trust your instincts with street food. If a stall looks unsanitary, it probably is. On the other hand, If you’re unsure of where to eat, pick the taco stand with the longest queue. If there’s a huge line for a particular place, it’s probably because the food is great. Locals really know best on this one.
There’s a reason why you’ll find so many women traveling through Mexico on their own. It’s a beautiful and culturally rich country that is full of surprises, making it perfect for the adventurous heart. I’ve met amazing people in Mexico, many of whom have become friends far beyond the time I spent in the country.
Each time I go back to discover a new area, I’m reminded of just how wrong the media has it when portraying Mexico. Just like any other country, it has its fair share of safety concerns, but by being prepared and following some simple guidelines like the ones above, I’ve had beautiful experiences swimming with sharks, dunking in crystal-clear cenotes, eating amazing food, and making connections that I would have missed out on had I listened solely to all the bad news.
Kristin Addis is a solo female travel expert who inspires women to travel the world in an authentic and adventurous way. A former investment banker who sold all of her belongings and left California in 2012, Kristin has solo traveled the world ever since. There’s almost nothing she won’t try and almost nowhere she won’t explore. You can find more of her musings at Be My Travel Muse or on Instagram and Facebook.
Book Your Trip to Mexico: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner. They are my favorite search engine because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned!
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the largest inventory. If you want to stay elsewhere, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all the ones I use to save money when I travel — and I think will help you too!
Want More Information on Mexico?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on Mexico for even more planning tips!
The post How to Stay Safe in Mexico as a Solo Female Traveler appeared first on Nomadic Matt’s Travel Site. For more on travel.