Playa del Carmen is a gorgeous resort on the Riviera Maya, a stretch of the Yucatán Peninsula famous for its beaches. Visitors to the town can enjoy pristine beaches with sandy shores and turquoise waters.
However, before booking your ticket, you will probably want to know the answer to an all-important question: Is Playa del Carmen it safe to visit? Is the town really as much of a paradise as the pictures make it seem? We’ll answer this and more below.
Is Playa del Carmen Safe to Visit in 2023?
Yes. Playa del Carmen is still one of the safest places to visit in Mexico and safe for tourists. But it did see an uptick in violence in 2021 and 2022, making it slightly less safe than it used to be.
The government has an interest in making sure that the security situation is stable, as tourism in the Riviera Maya is an important government source of government income.
Ready to Book?
Unlock Exclusive Discounts on Expedia.com!
The biggest danger to tourists is petty crime, such as pickpocketing, which is pretty much expected for any tourist destination worldwide.
However, Playa del Carmen is still in Mexico, and a lot of the problems that plague the rest of the country, such as kidnapping and cartel violence, do bleed into the mostly-sleepy town.
The United States State Department has a Level 2 travel advisory in place for the state of Quintana Roo, where Playa del Carmen is located. The advisory is heightened, in part, due to growing cartel violence, including shootings and kidnappings in the state.
While incidents of violence are more common in bigger places such as Tulum, it’s important to be aware of this threat. That being said, unless you are wrapped up in shady business, it probably won’t affect your vacation.
Common concerns tourists have about visiting Playa del Carmen include:
- Petty theft and pickpocketing
- Cartel violence
- Hurricanes and other natural disasters
- Bad water
You should be aware of these concerns and have some basic situational awareness as you move around Playa del Carmen to prevent yourself from having a bad experience. However, they shouldn’t stop you from experiencing this beautiful destination entirely.
Crime in Playa del Carmen
The main concern most tourists have before visiting Playa del Carmen, or any destination, is crime. People are obviously worried about being victims of theft or something worse.
The overall crime rate in Playa del Carmen is low, much lower than in other Mexican cities or even some American cities. To back this up, let’s look at a few numbers. According to data published by Knoema, the homicide rate in Quintana Roo is 11 per 100,000 people as of 2014.
For comparison, in St. Louis, the homicide rate per 100,000 people in 2019 was 67. It is true that the crime rate is increasing in Playa del Carmen. There have been a few high-profile incidents over the past few years, including a club shooting and an armed robbery that killed two Canadians.
Local media reported that the crime rate was increasing, although they didn’t give statistics, and that authorities were responding by increasing troop patrols.
The majority of crimes in Playa del Carmen are property crimes ranging from pickpocketing and purse snatching to more aggressive robberies such as break-ins and muggings.
There are kidnappings and homicides, which have increased in the past few years due to more cartel violence, but the majority of people who bear the brunt of this are locals, not tourists.
Yes, there have been a few high-profile recent incidents, so it’s probably smart to keep your wits about you. However, the reason these incidents stuck out is because of Playa del Carmen’s reputation overall as a safe destination.
Pickpocketing, Petty Theft, and Scams
The most common danger to tourists in Playa del Carmen is petty property crime. As in any tourist destination, especially one where visitors tend to be drastically wealthier than locals, pickpocketing is fairly common.
In a crowdsourcing survey done by Numbeo, risks of property crime in Playa del Carmen are moderate (keep in mind that this is based on public perception, which is not a very scientific method).
Pickpockets operate along crowded areas, such as La Quinta, or in public transportation hubs. The tips for avoiding getting robbed in Playa del Carmen are similar to the commonsense tips you would find anywhere else.
Leave valuables in your hotel safe, or don’t bring tons of cash or lots of valuables with you to Mexico in the first place. Avoid making yourself a target by flashing jewelry, watches, or cash.
Stay alert in crowded areas, and make sure you put valuables close to your body — never in your back pocket. Some people try to make a quick buck off of tourists using their wits, not brute force. Scams are fairly common in Playa del Carmen.
Some are similar to the ones you would find in any tourist destination. For example, taxi drivers are notorious for overcharging foreigners. Make sure that you agree on a fare with your taxi driver before getting in and that the meter is running.
Beware of people approaching you in public and offering you something. One common scam is the “bird poop” scam, where a couple tries to wash imaginary bird poop off of you and, in the process, steals your valuables.
Another is the “your face looks familiar” scam, where someone comes up to you to say they work at your hotel and offers you a deal, but really, they’re coercing you into buying from an overpriced shop.
Also, be careful when taking out money from ATMs, as some have card skimmers attached. Only use ATMs that are in bank offices or secure locations. It is true that theft and scams occur in Playa del Carmen, but they might even occur at a lower rate than in your hometown.
If you are staying in a hotel or resort, you will benefit from great security and the use of a safe for your valuables while you are out and about. When you’re exploring the town, basic common sense can stop you from getting pickpocketed.
A common concern people have when visiting any part of Mexico is cartel violence and organized crime. Mexico as a country has a reputation for a lot of organized crime, and this reputation is, unfortunately, based on truth.
Until recently, the state of Quintana Roo has not been a location where most of Mexico’s cartel violence occurred. While cartel activity was present, cartels here focused on underground activities such as money laundering and selling drugs to wealthy tourists.
However, the past two years have seen an uptick in cartel violence, although most incidents occurred in Cancún and Tulum, not Playa del Carmen.
In an analysis, Global Risk Insights explained that the rise in violence is due to the fall of the Zetas Cartel, which used to have exclusive control over Quintana Roo. Their fracturing means there are more cartels vying for control, leading to more violence.
While the uptick in cartel crime has caused many to reconsider their trips to Cancún or even Tulum, it’s mostly avoided Playa del Carmen so far. Cartel activity does occur, but usually far away from tourist areas.
The best way to avoid worrying about cartel violence is to avoid coming onto their radar at all. That means not buying drugs or indulging in them when you’re in Playa del Carmen.
The drug trade in Playa del Carmen is controlled completely by cartels. Not only are you giving your money to these people who ruin lives around Mexico, but you are also increasing your chances of getting on the wrong side of some cartel leader (or the law).
People will approach you offering to sell drugs, especially in nightclubs, but just turn them down politely, and they will move on. If you notice several people approaching you at once, you’re probably in a place where the cartels are very active, and it’s a good idea to move on.
Avoiding Bad Areas
One way to stay safe while traveling is to avoid bad neighborhoods. Unlike most big Mexican cities, Playa del Carmen doesn’t have a lot of bad neighborhoods that you really should avoid.
There are some poorer neighborhoods where crime rates are higher, such as Colosio, a neighborhood above 46th Street. Another bad neighborhood with a quickly deteriorating reputation is Villas del Sol.
Even these districts are fine to go to during the day, although it’s unclear why you would want to since they are far away from the beaches and any tourist attractions.
Generally, the main tourist area in Playa del Carmen, along the beach or between the beach and the highway, is pretty safe for tourists. The main drag, La Quinta, does have a lot of pickpockets and scammers who target tourists, so that doesn’t mean you should let your guard down.
When you move around Playa del Carmen, basic common sense and situational awareness will help you stay safe more than a list of unsafe neighborhoods.
When you’re traveling home at night after being at the club, take a taxi instead of stumbling home. Avoid smaller side streets or alleyways and stick to the main thoroughfares, which are usually crawling with happy vacationers at all times of the day.
Things to Consider
Here are some other safety tips to consider when visiting Playa del Carmen:
- The tap water in Playa del Carmen is unsafe, so drink bottled or filtered water only.
- Don’t do drugs or become overly inebriated while in town, especially if traveling alone, as that makes you an easy target for robbers.
- Day trips from Playa del Carmen to surrounding cenotes and the jungle are popular. Stay aware of local wildlife as there are dangerous animals such as crocodiles and jaguars. Go with a group and only enter a cenote if other people are already swimming. And be sure to read our guide to the best cenotes in Mexico!
- Summers get very hot, so drink plenty of water to avoid heatstroke.
- Playa del Carmen doesn’t get hit hard by hurricanes, but you still want to avoid coming during hurricane season.
Frequently Asked Questions
Other visitors to Playa del Carmen also want to know the answers to these questions:
Is Playa del Carmen Safer Than Cancún?
Technically, Playa del Carmen and Cancún are under the same safety advisory level by the State Department as the US government issues these advisories by state. However, anecdotal evidence and crime statistics show that Cancún has a higher crime rate, which is expected since it is a bigger city. Cancún also has seen a bigger uptick in cartel violence, so if you’re worried about safety, Playa del Carmen is a better bet.
Is There a Drug Problem in Playa del Carmen?
Playa del Carmen does have a drug problem, but that is mostly the fault of the tourists themselves. Cartels know that where foreign visitors come to party, there is a high demand for drugs, so the trade is strong in the region. However, you won’t have any problems if you don’t partake.
What Area in Playa del Carmen Is Safe?
Most tourist areas of Playa del Carmen are very safe. These include Downtown, North Playa, and Mayakoba.
Can You Walk Around Playa del Carmen?
Yes, you can walk around Playa del Carmen. Not only is it a compact city with great pedestrian infrastructure, but it is also perfectly safe for pedestrians.
So Is Playa del Carmen Safe to Visit?
Playa del Carmen is one of the prettiest and safest beach resorts in Mexico. While petty crime does occur and there is a cartel presence, some common sense is enough to ensure you have a great vacation. Happy travels!