If you’re planning a trip to Playa del Carmen or the Riviera Maya, you might be wondering – is Playa del Carmen safe?
As a female expat who’s lived in Playa del Carmen for over 3 years, it’s probably one of the most common questions I’ve been asked about living in Mexico.
In this post, I’m sharing my personal safety experience living in Playa del Carmen, honest advice, and my best Playa del Carmen safety tips for both tourists and long-term visitors.
Read on to find out how to stay safe in Playa del Carmen.
Is Playa del Carmen Safe?
When it comes to safety, Playa del Carmen is generally a safe place to visit. The town is one of the most popular beach destinations in Mexico and relies heavily on tourism, so the Mexican government takes security measures to ensure that visitors have a safe experience.
That said, crime does exist and you should always be aware of your surroundings and take precautions against illegal activity. However, as long as you use common sense, most tourists will not have any problems when visiting Playa del Carmen.
Playa del Carmen Safety Overview
Let me just start by saying that I absolutely love living in Playa del Carmen. It’s one of the most beautiful resort towns in Mexico with so amazing things to offer–beautiful white-sand beaches, incredible cenotes, and a welcoming community.
I wouldn’t have lived here for so long as a solo female expat if I didn’t feel comfortable or if it was super dangerous.
But crime does exist in Playa del Carmen and bad things do happen sometimes so I want to be as open and honest as I can about my experience.
I truly believe if you are more aware and follow some of these safety travel tips, you more than likely will have no issues visiting Playa del Carmen.
But once you know the facts, then you can make an informed decision if you feel comfortable traveling to Playa del Carmen.
Playa del Carmen Crime Index
Numbeo is an online global database of perceived crime and safety rates in major cities and countries throughout the world.
One statistic that Numbeo uses to measure crime rates is “Crime Index”, which is an estimation of overall level of crime in a given city or a country based on the following scale from 1-100:
- Very Low: <20
- Low: 20-40
- Moderate: 40-60
- High: 60-80
- Very High: >80
The reported Crime Index for Playa del Carmen is currently 49.45, which is considered a moderate level of crime. For comparison, Mexico City has a Crime Index of 69.14 and Chicago has a Crime Index of 65.98.
Compared to other large cities around the world, the Playa del Carmen crime rate is lower and is generally a safe destination for travelers.
Playa del Carmen Safety Index
In addition, another metric Numbeo uses is “Safety Index” which is basically the opposite of Crime Index. If a city has a high Safety Index, it is considered very safe.
Currently, Playa del Carmen is reported to have a Safety Index of 50.55, which is considered a moderate level of safety. For comparison, Mexico City has a Safety Index of 30.86 and Chicago has a Safety Index of 34.02.
Playa del Carmen Travel Advisory
Officially, the U.S. State Department has issued the travel advisory for the Mexican state of Quintana Roo (where Playa del Carmen, Cancun, Cozumel, Isla Mujeres, Tulum, and Riviera Maya are located) as a Level 2 -“Exercise Increased Caution” due to crime and kidnapping.
There are currently no restrictions on travel for U.S. government employees in Quintana Roo state but it is recommended to exercise increased caution after dark and to remain in well-lit pedestrian streets and tourist zones.
Many of the tourist destinations in Mexico currently have the same level travel warning as destinations in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain–demonstrating that traveling to Mexico is just as safe as a trip to Europe.
Smart Traveler Enrollment Program
It is also recommended for U.S. citizens to register for the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which allows you to submit your travel plans to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate in Mexico.
You’ll then receive news and safety alerts by email for the areas you’re traveling to. I’m enrolled and have found it to be very helpful and informative.
Mexico Safety Media Perception
It’s no secret that there’s lot of media hype about violent crime in Mexico, especially on American news channels and social media.
I’m not saying these stories are false but I do think that the media does a good job at blowing many of these incidents out of proportion.
Here’s an example: After I first moved to Playa del Carmen, I saw a news story reporting a crime and every article that I read relayed drastically different information. From the crime location to the victim’s nationality, the “facts” were all very different.
One article alleged that the crime happened “blocks from the beach”. Keep in mind that the entire town of Playa del Carmen is blocks from the beach and the actual neighborhood where the crime occurred is not the safest neighborhood, or one that is frequented by tourists.
I think it’s important to remember that what the media portrays is not always accurate. And if local news stories can’t provide accurate information, you can only imagine how the information gets skewed on international news channels.
Crime in Playa del Carmen
Crime does exist in Playa del Carmen, as it does is most major cities around the world. These are the most commons types of crime in Playa del Carmen:
One important thing to remember is that Mexico is considered a third-world country. There are many people here that are struggling to make a living so the chances of theft and exploitation are high.
Petty theft is one of the most common crimes since Playa del Carmen is primarily a vacation town where tourists are more prone to relax and indulge in alcoholic beverages–making them an easy target.
However, as long as you take proper precautions and keep a close eye on your belongings at all times, you can avoid getting taken advantage of.
You’ll want to always be vigilant, watch your alcohol consumption, and never let your guard down. And always be sure to use your hotel safe and securely lock your hotel room or apartment rental at all times.
I’m not naïve to the fact that there are drug cartels in the Playa del Carmen, Cancun, and Tulum areas, which make them less safe than nearby island destinations like Cozumel or Isla Mujeres.
However, from my experience the drug-related incidents have been very targeted and are not directed at tourists.
That’s not to say that there isn’t a risk of injury for innocent bystanders but as long as you are not involved in drugs and illegal activity, you more than likely won’t be exposed to these dangers.
Related Reading: Is Cozumel Safe? Top Cozumel Safety Tips
Corruption and Bribery
Another unfortunate type of crime in Playa del Carmen is corruption and bribery by authority figures such as police officers and military personnel.
Now I’m definitely not saying that every authority figure in Mexico is corrupt–there are plenty of honest and hardworking police officials but there are also some bad ones out there that ruin their reputation.
Some police officers have been known to abuse their power for money–they will usually target intoxicated male tourists and threaten to arrest them if they don’t hand over their wallet.
These incidents are more rare and most tourists will not have much interaction with these types of figures or situations but it’s an important thing to be aware of.
Is Playa del Carmen Safe for Tourists?
If you’re visiting Playa del Carmen on vacation, you have very little to worry about in regards to safety. The entire region depends primarily on tourism so it’s generally safe for visitors.
But at the same time you also have to be a responsible traveler, take proper precautions, and avoid being a target.
There are millions of tourists that travel to Mexico every year and very few have any issues with safety.
Playa del Carmen Resort Safety
If you’re visiting Playa del Carmen or the Riviera Maya and don’t plan to leave the resort, you honestly won’t face many risks.
However, if you are staying at a Riviera Maya all-inclusive resort, you’ll want to be careful of your alcohol consumption and try not to stay out late alone–even if it’s just at the hotel bar.
There have been incidents at resorts in recent years where drinks have been drugged but this is definitely not the norm.
You’ll also want to utilize the hotel safe to lock up your valuables, credit cards, passport, and travel documents.
Don’t just assume your valuables will be safe in your hotel room. You never know who has access to your guest room including housekeeping, maintenance, security, and other resort staff.
Playa del Carmen 5th Avenue Safety
Fifth Avenue (Quinta Avenida) is Playa del Carmen’s most popular pedestrian-only street and main tourist area.
It’s a great place for shopping in Playa del Carmen, but it is a crowded and lively place which makes it an attractive location for pickpocketers.
Always be vigilant of your surroundings and hold on securely to your purse and cell phone.
For ladies, I would definitely recommend a crossbody purse or belt bag. Men should always keep their wallets in their front pockets.
👉 This is the belt bag I personally use and recommend for traveling safely in Mexico
Also, you will more than likely be offered drugs while walking down 5th Avenue. Just ignore it and keep walking. As I mentioned, if you avoid the drug scene in Playa del Carmen you will avoid trouble.
Playa del Carmen Beach Safety
Many of the beaches in Playa del Carmen will be very crowded and have no shortage of vendors trying to sell you their goods and handicrafts.
Never bring valuables to the beach and keep an eye on your belongings at all times. It’s an easy environment for bag snatchers to make a quick getaway.
Whenever I go in the water, I always secure my beach bag and keep a close and watchful eye on it.
If you want to be extra cautious, you can use a Pacsafe, which is a portable safe you can strap to a beach chair or permanent fixture.
Playa del Carmen Nightlife Safety
This is not something I’ve heard of a lot but it does happen, sadly as it does in many bars around the world. Watch your alcohol consumption and never accept drinks from strangers.
Playa del Carmen Water Safety
It’s important to know that the water in Playa del Carmen (and all of Mexico) is not safe to drink for both tourists and locals. It’s best to stick to bottled or purified water while visiting.
I would also recommending bringing along a collapsible water bottle to stay hydrated during your trip. It can be very easy to opt for soft drinks and alcoholic beverages so having a water bottle on hand can be a huge help.
Or if you really want to save money, you can buy a water purifier bottle to remove contaminants from tap water.
💧 Check out my full Playa del Carmen water safety guide for all of the answers to the most frequently asked questions about drinking the water in Mexico.
Playa del Carmen Taxi Safety
Another safety concern in Playa del Carmen is around taking taxis. I have taken a lot of taxis in Playa del Carmen and have personally never had any bad experiences but unfortunately it does happen.
Many of the taxi drivers are friendly and are just trying to make a living but there are also not-so-friendly taxi drivers that give them a bad name.
I’ve also heard one too many stories of bad things happening–like kidnapping and thefts at knife point. So I just never really feel comfortable taking a taxi alone if I can avoid it.
But if you do take a taxi, be sure to follow these safety tips:
- Confirm the price upfront: Always confirm the price of the taxi before getting in. Taxis drivers will definitely overcharge for tourists.
- Try to speak Spanish: If you can speak Spanish with the driver, you are more likely to get a fair rate.
- Never sit in the front seat: This sets you up for someone to hop into the backseat and attack you from behind. Also don’t get in a taxi if there is someone in the passengers seat. Chances are they are working together.
- Record the taxi number: It’s a good idea to save the taxi number in your phone or send it in a quick text message to a friend in case of emergency or if you leave anything behind.
- Double check for personal belongings: Always be sure to check the backseat of the taxi before exiting for any items that may have been left behind. If you do leave something, chances are you will not get it back.
- Don’t take taxis from 5th Avenue: The 5th Avenue taxi zone will be charged the tourist rate which will be double or triple the normal price. In most cases, you can walk one block up to 10th Avenue and hail a taxi at the normal rate.
Rental Car Safety in Playa del Carmen
If you want to explore some more off-the-beaten-path locations around the Yucatan peninsula during your trip, you can consider booking a rental car for the freedom to drive places on your own.
Rental Car Scams
While there are several rental car companies available at Cancun International Airport, I would be very cautious about picking up your car there.
There are a lot of rental car scams and horror stories about Cancun Airport car rentals including long wait times, not getting the car you booked, and extreme upcharges for insurance.
You may be tempted by advertisements online for Mexico car rentals as low as $1 per day but then you’ll get nailed for all the added fees and insurance premiums.
The safer option is to pickup your rental car once you get to Playa del Carmen. I recommend using Discover Cars because you can compare multiple car rental companies and see detailed ratings for overall value, ease of pick-up, efficiency of agents, car condition, and overall time spent.
Just be sure to read the fine print and check reviews as rental car scams are unfortunately common in Mexico.
👉 For a hassle-free experience, book your car through my favorite rental service Discover Cars by clicking here!
When driving around Playa del Carmen and the Riviera Maya region, you’ll also want to drive very carefully, avoid going over the speed limit, and abide by all traffic laws.
It’s not uncommon for there to be traffic checkpoints along the major highways where police officers or military personnel will stop and search vehicles.
As long as you are not doing anything against the law, you more than likely will just be able to slow down and drive past these checkpoints.
⚠️ You’ll also want to be careful for speed bumps (“topes”) in Mexico–they are extremely common and can sneak up on you!
Is Playa del Carmen Safe for Solo Female Travelers?
When it comes to safety for solo female travelers, Playa del Carmen is a relatively safe place to visit if you take proper precautions.
As a solo female expat who’s lived in Playa del Carmen for over 3 years, I have learned to be super cautious and now know what to avoid in Playa del Carmen.
Since the town is such a busy tourist destination, solo travelers can feel safe during the day being out and about, shopping, or going to the beach.
It’s best to stick to the main streets and tourist areas closer to 5th Avenue, as there are usually a lot of other people around.
However, solo female travelers should be careful about staying out late alone. It is also important to watch your alcohol consumption, as this can make you more vulnerable to crime.
I’m not saying female travelers can’t have any fun but it’s best to be careful not to become a target.
For the most part, I have never had any major safety issues in Playa del Carmen as a female but I have learned from others’ experiences and have always erred on the side of caution.
Common Scams in Playa del Carmen
These are a few common scams in Playa del Carmen–most of these are more likely to happen to locals but it doesn’t hurt to know what to be on the lookout for.
Airport Transfer Scam
When exiting the airport and looking for your prearranged airport transportation, someone will approach you and tell you that your Cancun airport transfer has been canceled and that no other vehicles are available.
They’ll even call the alleged “transfer company” and have you speak to an accomplice on the phone that acts as a reservation agent. They’ll then offer to drive you to your destination at an exorbitant rate.
The ADO is the airport bus and one of the largest bus companies in Mexico. I’ve taken the ADO bus many times and have never had any issues but I’ve heard of people’s belongings being stolen from the overhead bins.
The thief will walk down the aisle with their hands up for stability and move the overhead items along with them.
If you can, don’t use the overhead bins and keep your luggage on the floor in front of you or on your lap.
Overcharging or Added Service Charges
If you are dining at one of the restaurants in Playa del Carmen, it’s not uncommon for them to add an automatic gratuity or service charge.
In fact, it’s actually illegal in Playa del Carmen for them to add an automatic gratuity to the bill.
Always take the time to review your restaurant bill carefully and speak up if it’s incorrect. And if paying in cash, be sure to count your change to make sure it’s correct.
Yes, the ketchup scam is a real thing! It’s a scam that happens while you are waiting in line at grocery stores such as Mega, Chedraui, Sam’s, or Costco.
Basically, someone comes up behind you and “accidentally” spills a ketchup packet on your shirt or clothing.
They then offer to help you clean it by escorting you to the bathroom, where another accomplice is waiting to steal your money. So if you see ketchup or any other kind of stain, it’s a red flag alert–literally!
Bill Swap Scam
Mexico recently released a new $500 MXN bill that is blue in color. Since $20 MXN bills are also blue, I’ve heard that gas station attendants will try to return your $500 bill with a $20 bill in the hopes that you don’t notice.
It’s also not uncommon for card skimmers to be placed on ATMs, especially on 5th Avenue.
If you need to withdraw cash, the safest places are inside a local bank such as Scotiabank, CiBanco, Santander, or Bancomer.
When using ATMs, you’ll want to go during the day and avoid withdrawing huge amounts of cash.
Playa del Carmen Mexico Safety Tips
Here’s a recap of some of the safety tips I mentioned in this post and a few other recommendations of things I have learned on staying safe in Playa del Carmen:
- Keep valuables in your hotel safe: Be sure to keep any valuables locked in your hotel safe. For added security on the go, I would also recommend purchasing a Pacsafe, which is a portable safe that can be secured to fixtures in your hotel room or beach chair.
- Keep your personal belongings close at all times: When walking on 5th Avenue or in crowded touristy areas, I would recommend wearing a crossbody purse or belt bag with zipper closures. If you want to be extra cautious you can buy a travel pouch to wear under your clothes.
- Never leave your purse out of sight: Always keep your purse in your lap or in close sight when dining at restaurants. It’s common for thieves to snatch bags left on the floor or hanging behind chairs.
- Keep your passport in the hotel safe: It’s better to keep your passport locked in the hotel safe. Instead, you can carry a photocopy of your passport or have one saved as a picture on your phone.
- Don’t carry large amounts of cash: Only carry the amount of money you’ll need for the day’s activities as flashing large amounts of cash around can make you a target.
- Keep at least one credit card at the hotel: Don’t carry of all your credit cards with you so you still have access to funds if your wallet were to get stolen. This happened to me in Mexico City and I definitely learned my lesson!
- Don’t buy drugs: As I mentioned, avoid the drug scene in Playa del Carmen and you will avoid trouble. If you are offered drugs while walking down 5th Avenue, simply ignore it and keep walking.
- Don’t walk home alone: Use the buddy system if you can and avoid walking home alone late at night. If you have to walk home alone, be sure to text a friend that you arrived safely.
- Don’t accept drinks from strangers: Drink spiking can happen so it’s best not to accept drinks from strangers or at least ones that you haven’t seen prepared.
- Stay in safe neighborhoods: If you’re not staying at a Riviera Maya resort, then you’ll want to stay in downtown Playa del Carmen (Centro), which is the main tourist area and the safest place for walking around and being out and about during the day and night.
- Abide by the traffic laws: Always drive safely, at or below the speed limit, and abide by the traffic laws to avoid being pulled over and targeted for a bribe.
- Watch your alcohol consumption: By all means let loose in Playa del Carmen–it is your vacation after all! But you’ll want to be careful of your alcohol consumption and make sure you are with people you trust and drinking in a safe environment. Intoxicated tourists can make easy targets.
- Don’t be a target: Avoid wearing expensive clothing, flashy jewelry, and accessories which can make you stand out as a target for theft, exploitation, and getting overcharged.
- Stay hydrated: Since you can’t drink the water in Playa del Carmen, it can be harder to stay hydrated when you have to rely on bottled water. Make a conscious effort to stay hydrated during the hot days and pack a collapsible water bottle to take with you while you’re at the pool or beach.
- Learn some basic Spanish: It’s a good idea to learn some basic Spanish before your trip to Playa del Carmen. There are a lot of English speakers in Playa del Carmen but knowing some Spanish can definitely help you to avoid getting taken advantage of.
Do you need travel insurance for Playa del Carmen?
Travel insurance is absolutely essential for any trip to Mexico, as there is always a safety risk whether it be from the food, water, or another type of unfortunate accident.
Most insurance companies in your home country do not cover incidents abroad, which is why travel insurance with international coverage is so important to have.
I recommend using Travel Insurance Master, which is a handy travel insurance marketplace where you can compare policies and find the best coverage for you.
👉 Get a FREE QUOTE from Travel Insurance Master by clicking here!
Conclusion: Playa del Carmen Safety Guide
So, is it safe to travel to Playa del Carmen? It’s no secret that crime does exist in Playa del Carmen, as it does in many popular tourist destinations around the world.
But as long as you are cautious and follow some of these safety tips, I do believe it is safe to travel to Playa del Carmen.
As I said, I love living in Playa del Carmen and don’t want to discourage you from visiting because the destination has so many amazing things to offer.
But I also want to be transparent. Do your own research and travel only if you feel comfortable. Safety is never guaranteed but you’ll more than likely have an amazing time.
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