Mazatlán is an increasingly popular tourist destination and beach resort in Mexico. The city is located on the Pacific Ocean, with pristine beaches that let you enjoy the beautiful waters.
Mazatlán is also growing in popularity for cultural tourism. The historic old town, thriving cultural scene including the only coastal opera house in Mexico, festivals such as carnival, and the burgeoning food scene are attracting more and more visitors.
However, before you travel anywhere, you probably want to know about the reality beneath the photos that inspire wanderlust. Is Mazatlán safe to visit, or will your dream vacation actually turn into a trip from hell?
Here is all the advice you need to know about Mazatlán before booking your trip. We’ve done the research, including consulting different government advisories, to help you learn how to stay safe while in Mazatlán.
Is Mazatlán Safe to Visit?
The reality is that Mazatlán is located in a dangerous neighborhood. Its home state of Sinaloa is considered one of the most dangerous states in all of Mexico.
Not only are tourists vulnerable to the classic petty crime you can find at most popular tourist destinations worldwide, but you can also get caught up in cartel violence such as kidnappings and murder.
Northern Mexico is currently rocked by cartel violence. The State Department issued a Level 4: Do Not Travel advisory for the state of Sinaloa due to crime and kidnapping.
This means that the U.S. government may not be able to help you if you are in a sticky situation while in Mazatlán. The travel advisory is so high in this state because of high crime rates.
The government went as far as to close down its consulate in Mazatlán, but government employees are allowed to visit the touristy parts of town. Before you cancel your trip to Mazatlán completely, let’s look at a few other government advisories.
The Canadian government also advises citizens to avoid non-essential travel to Sinaloa but lists the city of Mazatlán as an exception. The Australian government only advises against non-essential travel to northeastern Sinaloa, while Mazatlán is in the opposite region of the state.
Informally, in the traveler community, the United States is known as the country that is most stringent with its travel warnings, so take that into account when you plan your trip.
You shouldn’t take the idea of traveling to Mazatlán lightly. Although the city has a much lower rate of violence than the rest of Sinaloa state, cartel violence, kidnappings, murders, and theft do occur.
Common concerns for tourists include:
- Cartel violence
The primary reason countries are issuing travel advisories for the state of Sinaloa these days is the increased threat of cartel violence, violent crime, and kidnapping over the past few months and years. Unfortunately, this trend hasn’t bypassed Mazatlán.
Crime in Mazatlán
The biggest concern for visitors coming to Mazatlán is petty crime. Tourists going anywhere can expect to be victims of pickpocketing to some extent, and there’s no harm done except a bruised ego and some lost cash when your bag gets snatched.
However, the most widely-committed crimes in Mazatlán are a much more serious affair. Governments warn their citizens against visiting Sinaloa due to the high risks of kidnapping, murder, and assault.
Although the city of Mazatlán itself is not as bad as other parts of Sinaloa, as reflected in the specific advisories by Canadian governments, incidents do happen.
In January of 2023, the city went on lockdown and the airports were shut down after the arrest of a high-profile cartel trafficker, Ovidio Guzman, caused violence in the city.
The mayor published a video encouraging tourists to come back, but we’re sure many people will think twice before visiting Mazatlán again. However, it is important to look at this incident within the wider context.
Compared to the rest of Sinaloa and even the rest of Mexico, the overall crime rate in Mazatlán is fairly low. According to a local news source, the homicide rate is 8.9%, much lower than that of most American cities.
It is hard to find concrete statistics for thefts in Mazatlán in English-language media, but public opinion surveys conducted by Cost of Living revealed that people have a moderate fear of theft and carjacking, as well as a perception that crime has increased in recent years.
Most people perceive the largest problem as corruption and bribery, a problem most tourists will rarely encounter.
Although the city of Mazatlán itself is mostly safe for tourists, violence and crime from the surrounding area do bleed into the city, and you should be aware of the risks should you decide to travel there.
Ironically, Mazatlán has a much lower rate of petty crime, such as pickpocketing and scams, at least according to anecdotal evidence, than other tourist destinations.
It’s common to see locals with their phones out and taking selfies, while in places prone to pickpocketing locals keep their valuables hidden. There are a few reasons for this. One is that due to violence in the surrounding state of Sonora, Mazatlán has a very high police presence.
The constant patrols of five different types of police officers, including very heavily armed ones, are enough to deter any petty scammer.
Plus, for the cartels, stealing someone’s phone or wallet is chump change compared to the amount of money they make with their larger illegal dealings. While petty theft is not something you have to worry about, more serious forms of theft do happen.
Tourists and locals alike can be victims of armed robbery, muggings, and even carjacking. Although violence is very random and anyone can be a victim, there are a few precautions you can take to avoid becoming a victim of theft.
Stick to well-trafficked areas and avoid any alleyways, side streets, or rundown locations. If it looks like somewhere criminals like to congregate, they probably do. Avoid flashing any jewelry or money, as that makes you a target.
It’s also good to be careful any time you are dealing with money. Only use ATMs during the day in secure locations such as banks. When paying for something that costs a large amount of money, cash is actually safer because credit card fraud is pretty prevalent in the city.
One major problem that tourists worry about when visiting Mazatlán, with reason, is cartel violence. The notorious cartels, or drug-trafficking gangs, of Sinaloa are behind a lot of the violent crime in the city.
Kidnappings, assaults, armed robberies, and even shootings are tied to the cartels that operate in Mazatlán. The strongest cartel in the area is the Sinaloa Cartel, which is notorious worldwide for its drug trafficking and other illegal activities.
The Sinaloa Cartel ramped up activities starting in early 2023 after the Mexican government arrested El Chapo’s son, the aforementioned Ovidio Guzman.
While most of the violence was concentrated in Culiacán, the center for cartel violence in Sinaloa, some did bleed into Mazatlán. However, cartel violence and gun violence in Mexico, in general, function very differently from the same crimes in the United States.
Random shootings are far more common in the United States. Cartel violence in Mazatlán is more targeted, or at the very least, they avoid tourists because they know that will raise the ire of local authorities further.
Random assaults do occur, and violent robberies linked to cartels sometimes happen in Mazatlán. However, there are a few things that you can do to lessen your risk of running into the cartels.
The primary thing to avoid is buying or consuming drugs. The drug trade in Mazatlán is completely under the control of the cartels. By buying, you are attracting their attention, potentially getting yourself mixed up in unsavory business.
As much as you might like to indulge, it is simply not worth it in this city. You can also avoid cartel violence with some situational awareness. Avoid dangerous parts of Mazatlán (more on that later).
Do most of your sightseeing during the day, especially for day trips around the countryside. Driving in the Sinaloa countryside at night is so dangerous even locals don’t do it.
Finally, if you see an argument or fight, don’t stop to watch. Make like the locals and get out of there as quickly as possible. You never know when something might escalate, or someone might decide that you’re looking at him too funny.
Avoiding Bad Neighborhoods
If you decide to risk traveling to Mazatlán, staying in the safer areas such as the Golden Zone and the Old Town is a great way to experience the best of Mazatlán without exposing yourself to too much risk.
These areas are so safe that even the U.S. State Department allows employees to visit there. Mazatlán contains a few neighborhoods that have higher crime rates.
Those tend to be further away from tourist attractions, so you probably won’t wander into them by accident. There are some areas, even in the popular tourist neighborhoods, that locals don’t recommend going into at night.
The Malecón is Mazatlán’s famous seawall, but south of Valentinos, it gets sketchy at night. Walking along the beach at night, especially alone, is also unsafe. Finally, make sure that you’re not leaving the city at night.
The countryside can get really dangerous, with kidnappings, carjackings, and other violent crimes common, especially targeting tourists as they are wealthier than locals. Book that flight for mid-morning and make sure you return from your day trips nice and early.
Things to Consider
Before you book your trip to Mazatlán, here are a few things to consider:
- Never leave the city at night. We’ve said this a few times, but it’s worth repeating, as not even locals will brave the Sinaloa roads.
- Don’t buy drugs or consume them, as not only will you attract the attention of cartels, but you will also become an easy target if you are incapacitated.
- Ask your hotel concierge or staff for advice on which neighborhoods to avoid. They are locals, so they will know best.
- Book your airport transfer ahead of time. The road to the airport is not always the safest, and many scammers like to take advantage of tourists flying in by offering rides that are too good to be true. Also, remember that Uber does not do airport transfers, so don’t rely on the app.
- Download Uber for transportation around the city. It’s a quick and affordable way to get back to your hotel if you realize you’ve wandered into a sketchy area.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some other common questions people have before visiting Mazatlán:
Is Mazatlán safe for tourism?
It really depends on who you ask. Mazatlán still attracts thousands of tourists each year, so it’s got to have something that keeps all those people coming back.
However, there have been violent incidents, such as cartel violence affecting tourists, and governments, such as the U.S. government, advise citizens against traveling there.
What areas of Mazatlán are safe?
The main areas where tourists go in Mazatlán are safer than the other parts of town, but we still advise again going to these.
What is the safest part of Mexico for tourists?
If you’re looking for an alternative to Mazatlán, here are some of the safest tourist towns in Mexico. The list includes Tulum, Puerto Vallarta, and La Paz.
Do they speak English in Mazatlán?
A lot of people do speak English in Mazatlán, especially those who work in tourism. There are also many American and Canadian ex-pats in the city who speak English amongst themselves.
That being said, Mazatlán is still a city in Mexico, a country whose official language is Spanish. Learn a few phrases to communicate with people, and you’ll be met with a lot of goodwill.
What is the best month to visit Mazatlán?
The best time to visit Mazatlán is in the fall, from October to November. The weather is best then, and you’re still outside the peak winter season when prices and crowds go up.
So Is Mazatlán Safe to Visit?
Mazatlán is a tourist attraction in contradictions. It is in a state so dangerous that the U.S. State Department advises people not to visit—yet it is a popular attraction for retirees from the United States and Canada, who are hardly known for their zeal for adventure tourism.
Although it is in a state notorious for cartel violence, the situation in the city of Mazatlán itself is not that bad. If you have experience traveling in Mexico and you want to see the city, do your research before you go, and you should have a good time. Happy travels!