Guadalajara is one of the most famous cities in Mexico and the birthplace of many cultural items we associate with Mexico, from tequila to mariachi music. Over 4 million people visit the city annually.
Guadalajara’s stunning historic center with colonial Spanish architecture is definitely the city’s primary draw. Take a stroll and look at the beautiful buildings such as the imposing Guadalajara Cathedral or the Hospicio Cabanas.
Lovers of nature can enjoy parks within the city limits, such as the Bosque Los Colomos, or easy day trips outside the city to Barranca de Huentitan.
Rub elbows with the locals at the famous nightlife street Market Chapu and the many stunning markets. The city certainly has a lot to keep visitors busy and offer a great insight into life in Mexico.
However, many big cities in Mexico have a reputation for being unsafe, and you may be wondering if Guadalajara is among them.
This travel guide can prepare you for traveling to the city safely. Keep reading for detailed information, including the crime rate and the most common safety issues; let us be your guide!
Is Guadalajara Safe to Visit in 2023?
No. Guadalajara is not the safest city in Mexico. It has a high crime rate and a high level of cartel activity.
It is possible to visit Guadalajara, and many tourists do so safely, but you definitely need to exercise precautions if you want to get around the city safely. As long as you prepare for what you might find, you should be able to have a good time.
The city is located in the state of Jalisco. Jalisco has a moderately high crime rate.
The state also gained notoriety because it is the home of the Jalisco Cartel New Generation, one of Mexico’s most feared drug cartels. This cartel now operates throughout the country, not just in Jalisco.
Guadalajara, Jalisco’s biggest city and Mexico’s second biggest city, is the cartel’s main base. As a result of heightened cartel activity, Guadalajara experiences a lot of crime.
Common crimes that occur in the city include:
- Bag snatching
- Sexual assault
However, the picture of Guadalajara is not as violent as you may think. Reading travel advisories complicates the situation a little bit. For Mexico, the United States divides its travel advisories by state.
It advises its citizens to reconsider travel to the state of Jalisco, the second highest possible travel advisory. However, when it lists areas of concern in Jalisco due to cartel violence, it includes smaller towns and highways, not Guadalajara.
There are actually no restrictions on the city of Guadalajara itself, not even for government employees (the U.S. State Department often issues separate, stricter restrictions for government employees when traveling to risky areas as they can be targeted for crime).
The UK government also advises against non-essential travel to parts of the state of Jalisco due to cartel activity. However, the more dangerous parts of the state are either in the north or near the Colima state border.
Meanwhile, the Canadian government doesn’t include Jalisco at all on its list of Mexican states where it doesn’t advise travel. This means that a safe trip is definitely possible.
While you shouldn’t walk around an unfamiliar district at 2 A.M. talking on your expensive smartphone in an alleyway, if you take the right precautions, you can avoid most negative experiences. Guadalajara is also a good choice for visiting Mexico during hurricane season.
As it is located on the western side of Mexico, closer to the Pacific coast than the Caribbean coast, and it is located further inland, it rarely gets hit directly by hurricanes.
The only natural disasters the city experiences is occasional flash flooding from heavy rain due to poor urban planning.
Crime in Guadalajara
Crime is definitely the primary concern when visiting Guadalajara. Like many Mexican cities, it has an elevated crime rate.
It also has some notoriety since it is the second biggest city in Mexico and many people know it as the seat of the Jalisco Cartel New Generation cartel. However, the reality is that Guadalajara is not nearly the most dangerous city in Mexico.
Cities closer to the US-Mexico border tend to be far more dangerous.
Smaller areas in the state of Jalisco itself also have higher crime rates as they are more under the control of cartels, have a lower police presence, and people have fewer opportunities besides crime.
According to Mexican statistics site elcri.men, the city has a homicide rate of 17.8 incidents per 100,000 people.
This is very high by the standards of many places around the world, but by Mexican standards, Guadalajara has a relatively low homicide rate. It doesn’t even make the list of 50 most dangerous Mexican municipalities.
Many of the homicides and other incidents of violent crime are driven by cartels. For example, in June 2023, the bodies of workers who tried to leave their forced labor at a cartel call center were discovered by authorities.
Most incidents of cartel violence are incidents of targeted violence and tend to occur in cartel-controlled neighborhoods, far away from touristy parts of the city (although civilians have been caught in the crossfire before).
Crime in Guadalajara is not just about cartel violence. The city has a relatively high rate of other crimes, at least according to survey reports by locals and resident expats.
According to Numbeo, Guadalajara scores a 73.02 out of 100 on the crime index, which is a high value. Locals are most concerned about corruption and bribery, followed by theft from vehicles, assault, and armed robbery.
Traveling to Guadalajara, like traveling to any part of Mexico, requires a lot of research and precautions. Chances are, you will feel less safe than you do at home as that is the unfortunate reality of traveling to Mexico.
However, it’s one of Mexico’s safest major cities. If you take the right precautions, it is absolutely possible to avoid being the victim of a crime.
As in most Mexican cities, petty theft is the crime you are most likely to encounter in Guadalajara. The Canadian government explains in its travel advisory that petty theft such as pickpocketing and bag snatching is common throughout Mexico’s cities.
In Guadalajara, these threats are present, as they are in other Mexican cities that attract large crowds of tourists. Pickpockets tend to be most active in areas that have plenty of crowds and are popular tourist attractions.
Locals advise visitors to be especially careful of their valuables in the popular Mercado San Juan de Dios and on Avenida Chapultepec, a popular nightlife spot where thieves take advantage of drunk people leaving clubs.
Use the same precautions to prevent theft that you might use anywhere else in the world. Don’t flash lots of cash or expensive items that might single you out as a lucrative target.
Put valuables somewhere where they are harder to access even for experienced pickpockets, such as a zipped inner bag compartment or front pants pocket. You’ll rarely see locals wearing shoulder bags as they walk close to the street, or letting their bags hang off the backs of chairs at restaurants.
That’s because bag snatching is a common crime. Make sure that you have a physical grasp on your bag at all times. Theft from vehicles is one of the most common crimes in Guadalajara.
Thieves will smash windows to grab anything they see in cars, including loose change. Many locals leave nothing in their cars when they park, not even small bags.
The best way to prevent this crime is not to have a car at all in the city. The traffic is notorious anyway, and you’re better off walking or taking public transportation to get where you need to go.
It is true that cartel violence exists in Guadalajara, so the city’s dangerous reputation has some basis in reality. The Australian government includes the state of Jalisco on its list of states affected by gang and drug violence in its travel advisory for Mexico.
In its travel advisory for the state of Jalisco, the U.S. State Department warns that territorial battles between different cartels have taken place in upscale and touristy areas of Guadalajara.
Cartel violence is usually targeted, but cartels don’t discriminate in the methods they use, resulting in civilians getting caught in the crossfire. However, your risk of getting caught up in cartel violence is fairly low.
Cartels are rarely interested in tourists. Mexican and local authorities have stepped up law enforcement presence in central parts of the city, meaning that most cartels confine their criminal activity to peripheral neighborhoods.
Violence can break out at any time, and there have been recent violent incidents.
In August 2022, the Jalisco Cartel New Generation erupted in a night of violence, stampeding through the city and burning cars in response to the arrest of a high-profile cartel member.
While no civilians were killed, the property damage was high. These incidents don’t occur very frequently in Guadalajara, but there is a chance that they can still happen.
Follow the news before and during your trip to the city and follow any government alerts about potential violence. Follow the lead of locals — if you notice locals suddenly leaving an area, follow them and ask questions later.
Avoiding Bad Areas
Sticking to safe areas is key to leaving your vacation in Guadalajara with no bad experiences. The dangerous areas of the city tend to be towards the outskirts as the downtown and historical district is heavily policed to make it safe for visitors and locals.
Locals also say that the eastern end of the city tends to be sketchier as the city has long been stratified by income — wealthier people to the west, poorer people in the east. Stick to the west of Calzada de Independencia in your exploration.
Some dangerous neighborhoods in Guadalajara include:
- Colonia Jalisco
- Santa Fe
- Tlaquepaque (around the edge)
- El Cerro de Cuatro
Things to Consider
Here are a few other safety tips for traveling to Guadalajara:
- Don’t drink the tap water. The pipes in Guadalajara are often old and not well maintained, which means the tap water is not always safe to even brush your teeth! Opt for bottled water instead.
- Use Uber to get around, especially at night. Guadalajara’s taxi drivers are notorious scammers. You can get a decent deal sometimes if you haggle, but that requires a lot of extra effort (and some taxi drivers rob passengers as well). Uber is safer and more efficient.
- Don’t flush toilet paper. Like many cities in Mexico, Guadalajara has older plumbing systems that can’t handle anything other than waste, including flushable toilet paper. Most places have a trash bin next to the toilet for depositing paper. You don’t want to deal with the embarrassment of clogging the restaurant toilet!
- The metro and bus systems are safe during the day. They do have pickpockets, so make sure you keep valuables safe. Public transportation gets less safe at night, so opt for Uber instead.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a few common questions people have asked about visiting Guadalajara before:
Is Guadalajara safe to visit in 2023?
Yes, Guadalajara is safe to visit in 2023. Although the crime rate is still high compared to other parts of the world, it is relatively low by Mexican standards.
Is Guadalajara or Mexico City safer?
Despite being the bigger city, Mexico City is slightly safer than Guadalajara. It has a lower violent crime rate, although the rate of petty theft may be higher.
Is Guadalajara safe for female travelers?
Guadalajara is safe for female travelers who take the right precautions. It is not safe for female travelers to wander around most places in the city at night, and some neighborhoods even during the day. You should also prepare for high levels of catcalling, which is sadly common throughout Mexico.
Is Guadalajara safe for solo travelers?
Guadalajara is safe for solo travelers, and many visit the city each year. However, only go out at night with other people.
What is the safest place in Guadalajara?
Popular tourist areas of Guadalajara are usually the safest. Wander around the Centro Historico, Zapopan, and Colonia Americana.
So, Is Guadalajara Safe to Visit?
Guadalajara is definitely a city where you need to take some precautions due to high levels of crime, including cartel violence. However, it is not that dangerous by Mexican standards, and it is possible to visit it safely.
So, with so much to see and do, what are you waiting for — book your trip today and experience for yourself all that Guadalajara has to offer (of course being very mindful of the safety concerns we’ve listed above). Happy travels!