Much of the media surrounding the city is sensationalized. However, there’s no denying that Tijuana is a dangerous city.
With the highest number of murders per 100,000 people, many news outlets call Tijuana “The Most Dangerous City in The World.” However, there’s a lot of nuance to the situation that makes Tijuana much safer to visit than you think.
Thousands of visitors cross from San Diego to Tijuana daily with no issue, and many tourists go home satisfied with their visit. You should have no problems if you avoid the bad areas and don’t draw unwanted attention.
Indeed Tijuana has a lot of great shopping, nightlife, and attractions to enjoy as long as you take some basic safety precautions. Stick to the touristy areas, travel in a group, and don’t listen to strangers on the street, and you can have a wonderful trip.
Is Tijuana Safe to Visit?
Yes, visitors from Tijuana are typically safe as long as they stick to well-patrolled touristy areas and avoid trouble. If you practice good safety, you should have a great time in the city.
However, Tijuana is still risky, and it’s up to you to decide how much risk you want to tolerate in a destination.
Crime in Tijuana
There are three important things you should look out for in Tijuana—petty crime, scams, and muggings. Petty crime like pickpocketing and theft is prevalent even in touristy areas, particularly in crowds.
Cons are everywhere, from the taxi to your hotel and even tours. Mugging isn’t as prevalent, and you must look out for it in the wrong neighborhoods outside touristy attractions.
However, all bets are off during the night when the most crime occurs, so you should strive to be indoors at your hotel or back in San Diego by the time the sun sets. If you lose anything due to crime, don’t expect to get it back.
Even if the police find your stuff (a miracle in and of itself), they’ll likely charge you to get it back. Most of the time, it’s just not worth it.
Of course, there are more than just these crimes. By and large, the majority of crime in Tijuana happens in working-class neighborhoods outside the city center. And it’s mostly centered around gang and cartel violence, where tourists aren’t targeted.
All in all, you’ll want to keep your head up and your eyes peeled. Staying aware of your situation and taking precautions is the best way to protect yourself while visiting Tijuana.
Avoiding Bad Neighborhoods
Avoid Sanchez Taboada and Camino Verde, along with the city’s neighborhoods. To protect yourself and your valuables, you should take extra precautions in Zona Norte’s red-light district.
There’s nothing you’ll want to see beyond the touristy areas, so familiarize yourself with a map of this city and where they are. Walking just a few blocks beyond these well-patrolled areas can land you in the wrong part of town.
If you must be out and about at night, Avenida Revolucion remains relatively safe, along with Paseo de Los Heroes and Calle Coahuila. These streets are regularly patrolled by officers and are marginally safer than the rest of Tijuana at night.
Stay in well-lit crowded areas, and don’t wear or show anything expensive to avoid becoming a target. Take only the cash you need for the day and leave all other essential items in your hotel safe no matter where you go in Tijuana.
Cartel and Gang Violence
The main reason for the astronomically high murder rate is the gang and cartel violence in the city. Gangs fight over territory, and cartels wage war over profitable smuggling routes in the US.
Tourists aren’t targeted for violence, but that doesn’t mean you should tempt fate. Keep to downtown, Playas de Tijuana, and Zona Norte, and you’ll avoid any interaction. And it should go without saying, but never under any circumstances buy drugs in the city.
For one, they are drugs. I’m sure you understand just how bad they are. And two, you don’t know who might be working with the police. A common scam is for a dealer to approach you to sell drugs.
Then, they turn around and tell their corrupt policeman friend about it. They arrest you, and you have to pay an arm and a leg and possible jail time.
The dealer gets a cut of the fine, and their racket continues with the next victim. So, don’t buy drugs in Tijuana. It truly is more trouble than it’s worth. Stick to the touristy areas, and avoid walking at night to prevent this kind of crime.
Food and Drink Safety
One of Tijuana’s best assets is the delicious food. There’s food from all regions of Mexico and some American fare since it’s so close to the border. However, food preparation laws are slack here than in America.
So you should carefully vet restaurants and food trucks to ensure they meet your standards. Online reviews are your friend in this situation, and you should only go to restaurants and food trucks with many customers, preferably locals.
You shouldn’t drink tap water, and it’s best to buy bottled water or water filters to prevent food poisoning. Restaurants and food vendors typically serve purified or bottled water, and the ice from these places is safe.
If you plan on using tap water for cooking or drinking, boil it first. Water from hotel vending machines is also safe as its purified water. If you drink at a nightclub or bar, watch your drink like a hawk.
Drink spiking is typical, and women should be extra cautious. In general, you should avoid seedy bars and stick to well-lit popular places within tourist areas.
Traffic and Taxi Scams
You can drive over the border, and your license is valid in Mexico. But you probably shouldn’t. For one, cars are expensive and just paint a larger target on your back. Two, traffic safety is rather alarming.
Laws and lights are frequently ignored, and speeding is common. And finally, you might get pulled over by a corrupt officer who will insist you pay a “fine” to them. Cars are the easiest way to get around the city, but you can get by perfectly fine on foot.
There are parking lots where you can park your car and then walk over the border to downtown Tijuana, so there’s no real need. Bridges over the border and across the Tijuana river become dangerous at night.
If you have to walk over the bridge, cross with someone else. If you take a taxi, negotiate a fare before you get in. Not all the taxis use their meters and can charge you a criminal price when you get to your destination.
Other things you should watch out for are taxi drivers taking the long way to your destination, trying to convince you that your hotel or restaurant is full and recommending another place.
Taking the scenic route to your destination runs up the meter, and they receive a kickback from any hotels or restaurants they take you to. The places they recommend are typically more expensive as well.
Uber is a better alternative since Uber sets the rates. However, you should keep your head low and not make Ubering obvious, as many taxi drivers hate Uber and think they’re taking business away from them.
There have been altercations between taxi and Uber drivers, and while passengers haven’t been targeted, you don’t want to be the first. Colectivos are another great option. They’re like buses but don’t have a set schedule.
They sit at their stops until they have a full bus and then stop. They have routes throughout Tijuana. It’s very cheap compared to the other forms of transportation available, so it perfect for those visiting Tijuana on a budget.
While it isn’t as bad in recent years, there’s no denying that the police of Tijuana is still very corrupt. They can stop you on the street and pat you down to find something to charge you a “fine” for.
They’re there to prevent violent crime against tourists, not to help you. Mainly, you want to avoid confrontation and eye contact with them. If they accuse you of a crime, the best response is to get a paper ticket and then head to the police station to pay it.
The ticket is then read by a judge who often lowers the price. The money goes to the station rather than the corrupt officer’s pockets. However, most of the time, it’s too much trouble for them, and they drop the matter entirely.
You can also call the number for reporting police corruption, but it will probably make them angry. Or you can try and play the dumb American tourist who doesn’t understand one word of Spanish.
They might get so frustrated they simply leave. You can also pay the bribe. While it’s the easiest and fastest way to end the situation, you’re perpetuating the cycle and telling the police officer it’s okay to shake down tourists
In the end, you should try and break the process to prevent more corruption in the future. However, try to negotiate the price if you choose this option.
Most of them list the fines as 5,000 pesos ($500), but you can argue them down to 500 to 1000 pesos ($25-$50). The corruption is rampant, but that doesn’t mean all the police officers are out for a buck.
There are good police officers, and if you break the law, you should pay a legitimate fine or jail time. Plus, being a police officer in this tough city isn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
Avoiding Scams and Con Men
When you get to Tijuana, everyone will try and scam you. People will come up to you on the street and play the victim for a handout, a food vendor will try to short-change you, and even hotels will try to fleece you with extra fees.
You’ll likely be targeted for a scam at least once. So, count your change, ignore people approaching you on the street, and look at hotel reviews before you book. If prostitutes come to you, they often try to distract you by touching you before pickpocketing any valuables you have.
The people who approach you on the street often speak perfect English. Many used to live in the US before they were deported for crimes. They act friendly and nice before launching into a sob story.
Ignore them altogether and keep walking. People often give their services without being asked and want to be paid for them. Politely tell them no, thank you, and they’ll move on.
Night Safety: Take an Uber
Be safe in your hotel or across the border. You don’t want to wander around Tijuana at night. Hail a taxi or summon an Uber if you have to go somewhere after the sun goes down.
Tijuana is known for its nightlife, but drunks are frequent targets, especially walking alone. It’s just a good idea to take a vehicle, which goes double if you don’t know the streets of Tijuana that well.
Even on streets regularly patrolled at night, you still risk becoming a victim. So, once the sun ducks below the horizon, you should be solidly inside your hotel.
Things to Consider
Tijuana is a tough town, no bones about it. But if you’re just visiting and stick to the touristy areas, you can have a great time while staying safe.
- Don’t stay out after dark
- Stick to crowded touristy areas
- Don’t carry valuables
- Dress casual. Expensive-looking clothes mark you as a target
- Don’t walk around drunk
- Stay in a group
- Wear clothing with secure pockets
- Don’t use your back pocket
- Carry your backpack in the front
- Ensure foods are cooked all the way through
- Avoid food that’s been sitting out in the open
- Avoid unwashed fruits and vegetables
- Never buy illegal drugs
- Don’t talk to anyone you meet on the street
- Don’t be overly paranoid. Enjoy your trip!
Frequently Asked Questions
Despite the danger, many travelers have no issues when traveling to Tijuana. So, don’t let the possible threat keep you from visiting.
Why is Tijuana dangerous?
Tijuana is dangerous because of cartels and gangs. The city is famous for profitable drug smuggling routes into the US, and cartels fight tooth and nail over them. Gangs fight for territory in the city and control dealers on the street level.
Is Tijuana safe for families?
Oddly enough, yes. Families are less likely to be targeted for crimes. However, keep children from wandering off. Tijuana has human trafficking because of the cartels, and you don’t want your little ones becoming victims.
Is it worth going to Tijuana?
For short trips, yes. If you’re just planning on spending a day or two in the city, head back, and you can have a great time. Tijuana is also perfect for day trips from San Diego.
Is Uber safe in Tijuana?
Yes, Uber might be even safer than taxis in Tijuana.
What should I know before going to Tijuana?
Don’t let its fearsome reputation get to you. Tijuana is safe to visit if you take suitable precautions. The only visitors who shouldn’t come are solo female travelers, who would be better off taking some companions with them.
So, Is Tijuana Safe to Visit?
For tourists, yes—Tijuana is safe. If you practice good safety and stick to crowded areas, you can have a great time on your trip. Happy travels!