Riviera Maya is one of Mexico’s most popular tourist destinations. The Riviera is a stretch of coast along Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula that features beautiful Caribbean waters, some of the Mayan ruins, and beautiful towns such as Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and Sian Ka’an.
Visitors flock to Riviera Maya for a beautiful, relaxing stay on the beach, which they can definitely enjoy with almost 100 kilometers of coastline.
However, Riviera Maya also offers much more. Check out the hippie vibes of Tulum as well as the ancient Mayan ruins, visit some of the local sinkholes called cenotes, and check out the spectacular natural beauty at the Sian Ka’an Nature Reserve.
When it comes to any new destination, you probably want to know if you will be safe there or not. Some people are nervous about visiting Riviera Maya since Mexico as a country has a reputation for being unsafe.
But don’t worry — our travel experts put together detailed information about traveling to Riviera Maya safely. Let us be your guide!
Is Riviera Maya Safe to Visit in 2023?
Riviera Maya is one of the safest places in Mexico, but you still need to exercise precautions as the rising crime rate overall in Mexico has affected this region as well.
Most tourists only encounter minor crimes such as petty theft and mugging, but there have been violent incidents in the past. Mexico has a (somewhat well-deserved) reputation as a dangerous country in the world.
However, it is a very big country, and the security situation differs drastically from state to state. Many countries, such as the United States, break down their travel advice for Mexico by state for a reason.
Riviera Maya is located in Quintana Roo, one of Mexico’s safest states. The United Kingdom travel advisory gives the green light for travel to the Yucatan Peninsula, including Quintana Roo and Riviera Maya.
The United States State Department is a bit more cautious, advising citizens to exercise increased caution in Quintana Roo, placing the state under a Level Two travel advisory.
Common problems that affect Riviera Maya and tourists there include:
- Bag snatching
- Armed robbery
- Drug-related crimes
Listed out like that, the possible dangers in Riviera Maya look daunting, but remember these are just possible incidents and that you are not likely to experience any of them.
While Riviera Maya is unfortunately not as safe as it used to be, it is still safer than most other parts of Mexico. Plus, it is easy to avoid trouble with some basic precautions. In terms of natural disasters, you don’t have much to worry about in Riviera Maya.
You should be cautious about visiting during hurricane season, which hits its peak from August to September.
Although the Yucatan is far enough from the Caribbean that it doesn’t get hit as badly by hurricanes, it still experiences bad tropical storms with rain, strong winds, and flooding. Time your visit to avoid coinciding with these storms.
Crime in Riviera Maya
Unfortunately, crime has increased in Riviera Maya and is becoming a problem here, just as it affects the rest of Mexico.
Crime statistics for Riviera Maya are hard to find (this is a tourist appellation, not an administrative region), but by looking at the crime rates for the state of Quintana Roo or individual towns that make up Riviera Maya, you can get a picture of the situation in the region as a whole.
For example, in 2022, the state of Quintana Roo recorded over 10,000 criminal acts. The three cities in the state that recorded the most crimes were Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Chetumal, making up over 80% of violent crime in the state.
Playa del Carmen is formally part of Riviera Maya, and although Cancun is not part of the Riviera, it is very close and sometimes the starting point for trips to the rest of the coast.
Besides violent crime, datasets show that crime overall in the state of Quintana Roo has been steadily increasing over the years. Robberies and property crimes often target tourists.
The United States Embassy issued a special travel advisory ahead of the 2023 Spring Break season, warning potential visitors that criminal incidents have occurred in downtown areas of popular destinations, including Riviera Maya towns such as Tulum and Playa del Carmen.
Although these crime statistics certainly seem alarming, tourists are isolated from most of the violence. Most crimes are carried out by organized crime groups, which either target local business owners for extortion or fight among themselves for control over territory.
Officials estimate 80% of homicides are drug-related. While this is a tragic reality for many of Riviera Maya’s residents, tourists are not targeted for these types of violent crimes — unless they are part of the drug trade.
There was a high-profile case of Canadians shot in a Cancun resort a few years ago, but it turned out that they were involved in a Canadian organized crime syndicate.
Tourism is in part responsible for this increase in crime, even though tourists are rarely directly affected. As Cancun attracted more and more visitors, it developed a reputation as a party haven and began attracting visitors in search of that experience.
That in turn created more profit for organized crime groups, and more and more drug cartels began working in the area, in turn driving up the violence.
You don’t have to fear for your life if you visit Riviera Maya, but it helps to have some awareness and knowledge about the crime situation as you don’t want to accidentally wander into a dangerous situation.
Cartel murders may grab the headlines, but you are far more likely to be the victim of a more mundane crime such as theft. Riviera Maya is just like most tourist destinations around the world in that petty theft can occur.
Keep in mind that there is a big income gap between most Riviera Maya locals and tourists, creating the perfect incentive for a bit of petty theft.
In its most recent alert update for Mexico, the U.S. Embassy warned about higher rates of crime in certain Riviera Maya towns, specifically the downtown areas of Playa Del Carmen and Tulum.
The alert applies to violent crime as well as petty theft. While you should still visit those areas, you might need some additional situational awareness, especially after dark.
Some basic precautions can help you prevent being the victim of theft in Riviera Maya. Keep the income gap between locals and visitors in mind and avoid activities that draw attention to yourself, such as flashing a lot of cash.
Never leave your valuables unattended, not even when you go swimming on the beach as someone could rifle through your things.
You don’t need to have a money belt or other very secure bag (except for on public transportation maybe), but a bag that zips well while moving through markets and other busy areas of town goes a long way to helping you feel protected.
Choosing the right accommodation can also help you avoid being the victim of theft, as hotel room break-ins do sometimes happen. Make sure that the place you are staying at has a good reputation for safety by reading previous traveler reviews.
Try to book a place that has a hotel room safe so you can leave valuables there while you are out and about and prevent them from getting stolen.
If you look at the headlines, it’s very clear that petty theft is the least of the problems of people in Riviera Maya. The rate of violent crime, from assault to kidnapping to homicide, is rising.
The Canadian government warns in its travel advisory that violent crime is increasing in popular tourist areas of Riviera Maya. While most of these violent crimes are connected to cartel fighting, tourists have sometimes gotten caught in the cross-fire.
There are certain situations where tourists have been targeted, such as for kidnappings and express kidnappings, a risk which the US State Department warns about in its advisory.
Try not to flash money around as that can put you on the radar of potential kidnappers.
Be careful when using ATMs as express kidnappings, when robbers force victims to drain their bank accounts at ATMs, are common throughout Mexico. Situational awareness and trusting your instincts can help you a lot in Riviera Maya.
If you are in a situation where it feels dangerous, get out first, ask questions later. Tensions can turn into shooting at a moment’s notice, and you don’t want to stick around to find out if something did end up happening.
Avoiding Bad Areas
Some parts of Riviera Maya have had a worse time with crime than others. The town of Playa del Carmen has seen the highest crime rates in the region after Cancun.
You can still visit, but you will have to be more careful than you would elsewhere. Be careful at night in Tulum as the downtown areas have seen an increase in crime.
If you decide to indulge in the nightlife, make sure that you go with a group and stick to well-lit areas. If you venture into nearby Cancun, avoid some of the neighborhoods north of Lopez Portillo and poorer neighborhoods towards the outskirts of the city.
Things to Consider
Here are some additional safety tips to keep in mind when you visit Riviera Maya:
- Do not indulge in illegal drugs under any circumstances. Mexico has strict drug laws despite its reputation for hedonism, and you don’t want to end up on the wrong side of the law. Plus, using drugs means putting money in the pockets of the violent cartels and potentially attracting unwanted attention.
- If you check out the nightlife, go with a group. There is safety in numbers after dark.
- Never leave your drinks unattended and always watch bartenders making your drinks as there have been incidents of drink spiking in clubs and bars.
- Most tap water is unsafe to drink, so stick to bottled water, even for brushing your teeth.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some questions other travelers have asked about visiting Riviera Maya:
Is Riviera Maya safe right now?
Right now, Riviera Maya is safe to visit. However, the crime rate is higher than it used to be, so make sure you take adequate precautions to protect yourself when you visit.
Is it safe to go to the Mayan Riviera?
If you are visiting Mexico and concerned about safety, the Mayan Riviera is one of the safest places you can visit. However, you should be careful not to get mixed up in a sketchy situation.
Is Cancun safe right now?
Although Cancun is not technically part of Riviera Maya, it is close enough that it often is considered an honorary part of the region. Although Cancun is mostly safe to visit, you should still be careful since it has the highest crime rate in the state of Quintana Roo.
Should I go to Cancun or Riviera Maya?
The answer depends on what you are looking for. The beach and party lifestyle are better in Cancun, but the experience is calmer in Riviera Maya. Plus, Riviera Maya is safer than Cancun.
How is crime in Riviera Maya?
Riviera Maya is one of the safest regions in Mexico, but it still struggles with crime. Crime is increasing in recent years due to an increase in cartel activity. Although most crime incidents don’t directly affect tourists, some foreigners have been caught in the cross-fire in the past.
So, Is Riviera Maya Safe to Visit?
Riviera Maya is not as safe as it used to be, and tourists have to be cautious due to an increase in crime, especially violent cartel-related crime.
However, it is still safe to visit as incidents directly affecting tourists are rare. The best way to keep yourself safe is to avoid partaking in illegal activities that might get you on the radar of cartels.
So, with a very safe atmosphere (especially if you stay on your resort), what are you waiting for — experience all that Riviera Maya has to offer by booking your trip today!