Safe and Dangerous Places in Cancun

Areas to Avoid Cancun


Cancun is an alluring blend of tropical delights and enticing beauty, but it can also occasionally prove to be more than a tourist can handle. While Cancun and Mexico's other tourist destinations are considered by the United States Department of State to be reasonably safe for travelers, Mexico has seen an alarming increase in drug cartel-related crimes, especially along its northern border with the United States. Fortunately, the Mexican government, in order to protect its profitable tourism industry, has been actively working on keeping resort destinations like Cancun safe. The following are five areas to avoid in Cancun and five areas that are generally safe places for Cancun tourists.

Cancun Safe Areas

1. The Hotel Zone

Travelers visiting Cancun usually stay in the area known as the Hotel Zone, which contains several safe places for visitors. This 14-mile stretch of land lies between downtown Cancun and the airport, and also between the Caribbean Sea and Laguna Nichupte. Kukulcan Boulevard, its main road, is lined with beautiful, luxurious resorts and many restaurants that cater to visitors.

Tourists commonly walk around this area during the day and even at night, although the Department of State does warn United States citizens to take precautions when it gets dark. Tourists, especially women, are advised to travel with at least one other person while out and about at night.

2. Cancun Beaches

Beaches are generally safe areas in Cancun and very beautiful. The sand is powdery and sugar white, while the sea is an azure blue. Walking the sands and checking out the other hotels that line the beach is a safe activity. If there are no warning flags, it is also safe to play in the surf.

However, it is important to heed any warning flags flying on the beach. A red flag - or signs that warn "peligro", which means "danger" in Spanish - means that the weather conditions are bad and caution should be used if entering the ocean. A black flag means do not enter the water since conditions are too dangerous for swimming. The beaches around Cancun can experience rough surf and also very strong undertows. In bad weather, beaches are therefore areas to avoid in Cancun.

3. Isla Murales

Isla Murales is a small island about nine miles from Cancun which can be reached by public ferry. Visitors to this island can walk around its small town and maybe do a little shopping or enjoy one of Isla Murales' beautiful beaches. It is one of Cancun's safe areas in which to spend a relaxing day.

4. Shopping Malls

The nicer malls, such as La Isla shopping mall, are generally very safe for tourists. These malls have a lot of American brand-name restaurants and clothing stores as well as stores selling local crafts.

5. Safe Day Trips Around Cancun

Xel-Ha, Xcaret, Chichen Itza, and Tulum are all popular day trips from Cancun and are safe areas for travelers to visit. Xel-Ha and Xcaret are large tourist parks that offer activities such as snorkeling or a swim down an underground river, while Chichen Itza and Tulum are both important Mayan ruins.

Areas to Avoid in Cancun

The following are five areas where some caution should be taken, but it does not necessarily mean that these are dangerous places in Cancun that should be avoided altogether. Please remember that - as with any city - situations are fluid and can change at any time. It's always best to seek local advice on safe areas and dangerous places before venturing out.

1. Some Parts of Downtown Cancun

Downtown Cancun, especially the area closest to the Hotel Zone, is relatively safe for tourists. However, the farther you get from the Hotel Zone, the less glitzy and less touristy it becomes. The Department of State recommends that travelers try to stay in areas of Mexico that are tourist-oriented.

While Cancun has, for the most part, been spared the types of gang cartel-related attacks that have plagued other parts of Mexico, there was a Molotov cocktail attack on a downtown Cancun bar in August 2010, about three miles from the Hotel Zone. It was at a bar that catered to locals, eight of whom were killed in the attack.

2. Cancun Mercados

There are several large "mercados", or open-air shopping areas, in Cancun. While these are great places to find local crafts and try your hand at bartering, tourists need to be careful while shopping in these areas. For instance, it is wise to check out crafts at your hotel gift shops and at malls before going to the mercado. The storekeepers purposely start prices off high, anticipating bartering, so if you don't know what an item is worth, you could end up spending a lot more than it is worth or possibly even paying more than you would at a mall with set prices. Check your change carefully and you may want to refrain from using your credit cards in these small shops. Some tourists have claimed their card numbers were used without their authorization after using them at the mercados.

Also check your merchandise before leaving a shop. Some less than honest shopkeepers will wrap up cheap plastic pieces that look like stones instead of the real turquoise or lapis lazuli stone jewelry a tourist thought they were buying. By the time a tourist realizes they have been duped, they usually can't figure out where they had purchased their jewelry from, as the mercados are a maze of stores.

3. Vehicles

If you are renting a vehicle, the streets or water can be dangerous places to you or your wallet. The U.S. Department of State warns that mopeds, jet skis, cars and other vehicles are often not well maintained in Mexico, which can lead to breakdowns. The Department of State also expresses concern that some operators will intimidate renters into paying exorbitant amounts of money if a vehicle is damaged. It also cautions that if you are in an accident, you could be arrested and held in custody until you have paid for all damages arising out of an incident.

4. Anywhere If You Are Intoxicated

Cancun is a party town and criminals, as with any big city, are looking for those tourists who have decided to lose control of their senses. With bar staff blowing whistles and encouraging their guests to down shot after shot and onlookers hooting and hollering, it is often very easy to get drunk without realizing. However, tourists, especially women, should realize that they are not only in danger of being taken advantage of by local criminals, but also by fellow tourists. Drunk patrons are easy targets for purse snatchers, pickpockets and rapists.

5. Outskirts of Cancun at Night

The Department of State does not recommend driving at night on Mexican roads or straying outside of well-known tourist areas. The Hotel Zone is generally safe to drive at night. Although the Yucatan Peninsula, where Cancun is located, is generally considered safer than northern Mexico, it is best not to tempt fate as kidnappers have been targeting U.S. citizens throughout Mexico and then asking for ransoms from their presumably rich families.

All of this may sound scary, but Cancun is a safe city for those who use their head and proper caution. Personal responsibility is key to having a good and safe time in Cancun. Before going to Cancun, however, it is wise to check both the U.S. Embassy website for Mexico and also the Department of State website.
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