The border city of Tijuana is a common transit point for U.S. citizens visiting Mexico and receives many visitors from across the border. Over 11 million people visit each year, many of them from the United States, which is just a few miles away.
It’s popular among visitors for its lively spirit as well as its sights. The modernistic Tijuana Cultural Center and interactive El Trompo museum are popular attractions.
Visitors can also mingle with the locals at the markets, lively restaurants, and beaches, getting a taste of authentic Mexican life. Many U.S. citizens visit Tijuana to enjoy themselves and to access more affordable services that they can’t get back home, such as medical care.
However, the city has a bit of a reputation for being unsafe and is often in the news for negative reasons. With this reputation, you might be wondering if it is worth visiting at all.
Keep reading this travel guide to see if you should continue planning your trip to this city. We have detailed information about anything you might want to learn, including crime. Let us be your guide!
Is Tijuana Safe to Visit in 2023?
No. Tijuana is not very safe to visit due to the very high crime rate. In fact, Tijuana has one of the highest homicide rates in the world.
However, many people still visit because the violence rarely affects tourists. Most governments warn their citizens against visiting.
The United States issues a “Reconsider Travel” advisory, the third level of travel advisory, for the entire Mexican state of Baja California in which Tijuana is located.
The U.S. government specifically cites the high levels of homicides in “non-tourist areas of Tijuana” as a reason why travelers should be very careful visiting. The United States is not alone in issuing this warning.
The United Kingdom advises against all but essential travel to Tijuana, except for the airport and roads to the border. It also cites high levels of crime as the reason why tourists shouldn’t visit.
Common crimes in the city include:
- Petty theft
- Cartel-related violence
The high levels of violent crime are why many people think twice before visiting Tijuana and why many governments advise caution when tourists are planning trips to Mexico.
However, it’s not as much of a danger zone as you might think. Otherwise, millions of people would not visit each year! Many are repeat visitors, usually people from the United States that live close to the border and frequently make the crossing.
Even the travel advisories are a bit more complicated than they seem. Although the United States travel advisory mentions the high rate of crime, there are no travel restrictions for U.S. government employees that want to travel to that city.
This is not true for other formerly popular beach destinations in Mexico, such as Acapulco. The reason why Tijuana is simultaneously a city with high crime and high visitor numbers is the very stratified nature of the crime that occurs there.
Most violent incidents occur in poorer neighborhoods or seedier parts of towns where tourists (at least, the cautious ones) rarely venture.
For local residents, this is sometimes frustrating as they feel as if they are living out a tale of two cities — visitors see a vibrant cultural hub, while locals see a maze of dangerous situations.
However, for visitors, this means that the violence in the headlines rarely affects them. Besides crime, it’s a good idea to research some other potential dangers before visiting.
Although the Baja California peninsula doesn’t receive hurricanes or tropical storms nearly as often as Mexico’s Caribbean coast, they can sometimes happen. Powerful tropical storm Kay affected the Baja California peninsula in 2022 with heavy rain, wind, and some flooding.
Although you don’t have to worry about a disaster when visiting, a heavy storm could still ruin your trip. Be sure to check the forecast before you go, especially if you are visiting during tropical storm season (June to November).
Crime in Tijuana
Crime is the primary concern for people wanting to visit Tijuana, and with good reason. The city is infamous for its high crime rate, especially its very high violent crime rate.
Tijuana is the second-most dangerous city in the world, with a homicide rate of 105.15. In 2023, it is on track to maintain that high homicide rate. In April 2023 alone, 161 people were murdered in a city of just over two million people.
The biggest reason why there’s such a high homicide rate is cartel activity. Several cartels operate in the city, which is an important transit point for the international drug trade due to its proximity to the United States-Mexico border.
Most homicides are targeted cartel violence as several different groups fight for territory within the city. They confine their violent actions to poorer neighborhoods of the city.
There are other causes of homicides, such as domestic violence and femicides, but cartel violence is still the most common and the one that grabs the headlines. Many locals feel unsafe in their city.
According to Numbeo, Tijuana scores an 82.38 out of 100 on the crime index, which is a very high value. They report very high concerns about theft, corruption, and other crimes such as drug abuse.
However, the experience of most visitors is very different. The Mexican government heightened military and police presence in Tijuana as a response to cartel violence, particularly in wealthier neighborhoods and popular tourist destinations.
While most locals are frustrated by this as they see the disparate response in safety, and aren’t sure that the military is doing much, it does mean certain parts of the city are safe.
Plus, long-time visitors say that Tijuana is safer now than it was several decades ago.
The homicide rate was lower then, but it was more random, affecting even tourists and bystanders. It is still possible to get caught in the crossfire of a cartel standoff, but it is less likely as cartel homicides become more targeted.
The crime that affects tourists visiting Tijuana the most is robbery and other property crimes, such as theft.
While criminals are rarely interested in tourists for settling scores via homicide, tourists make for a very good target for robberies due to their relative wealth compared to locals and relative lack of street smarts.
Most robberies occur at night. Thieves and robbers tend to take advantage of intoxicated tourists as well as the relative anonymity of darkness.
Many tourists, especially Americans, come to Tijuana to party and check out the illicit red light district, and they often overindulge, making them vulnerable to robberies. Avoid walking at night unless you are with a group in an area you know is safe.
However, robberies can also occur during daylight, so there is no time when you can truly throw caution to the wind. Make sure that you take precautions to prevent getting robbed.
Avoid anything that might make you a target. Don’t wear jewelry or wave around lots of cash or an expensive smartphone. Be discreet and don’t take out your valuables.
You can also avoid looking like a potential target by making sure you are cautious with your valuables. Never, ever leave your bags unattended, even for a few minutes.
Don’t keep valuables in a place that is easily accessible as Tijuana is home to expert thieves that can slip your phone out of your pocket in seconds. If you do get robbed, do not try to confront the robber or follow them to get your things back.
There have been many cases where robbery victims were assaulted when trying to fight back.
Your best course of action is to hand over your things, focus on getting away safely, then report the crime (just don’t expect immediate action by law enforcement — the police force is fairly overwhelmed).
Cartel-related violence is the most common type of crime that grabs headlines in Tijuana and plagues locals. As local cartels splintered over the past few years, homicides and violent crime incidents increased as gangs fought for territory.
There have been situations where cartels terrorize the whole city. In August 2022, the cartels, particularly the Jalisco New Generation cartel, started a wave of violence and arson, burning the cars of locals.
In response, the city shut down for days, with residents afraid to venture out of their houses and the government sending in the National Guard.
The incident was unusual as in recent years, cartels in Tijuana have normally confined their activities to the city’s poorer areas or to targeted hits. Bystanders, particularly foreigners, are rarely targeted, although plenty of locals get caught in the crossfire.
As a visitor, you are unlikely to get caught in cartel violence as long as you follow the right precautions. Stick to popular tourist areas and avoid neighborhoods with a reputation for violence.
If you notice that a situation is tense, trust your gut and leave. Follow the lead of locals — if you notice locals boarding up doors and closing their shutters, it’s time to get away as soon as you can.
Avoiding Bad Areas
Since the crime rate in Tijuana differs so drastically depending on where you go, it is crucial that you avoid bad areas to stay safe.
Areas with more crime include:
- Zona Norte
- Zona Rio
- Colonia 3 de Octubre
- Camino Verde
- Sanchez Taboada
- Mariano Matamoros
- Lomas Taurinas
Zona Norte is Tijuana’s red light district, with popular clubs, including the notorious multi-story Hong Kong Gentlemen’s Club. While many tourists venture here for illicit thrills, the area is a crime hotspot, and many cartels fight for control of the drug markets in the clubs.
Avoid dark or deserted side streets after dark, even in areas that are considered safe. Some locals also say to avoid areas around the river at night.
Things to Consider
If you decide to risk it and go to Tijuana, here are a few additional safety tips:
- Don’t buy drugs. Buying drugs gives money to the cartels that have been ruining the lives of locals for years and is highly illegal in the city.
- Keep a decoy wallet. Have a fake wallet with some cash and a few fake or expired cards that you can hand over in case you get robbed or mugged. Put your other cash around your body. Leave most of your valuables at home or in your hotel safe.
- Take Ubers or call a taxi. Hailing a taxi on the street makes you vulnerable to scammers and robbers posing as taxi drivers.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some common questions people have asked about visiting Tijuana in the past:
Is it safe for tourists to go to Tijuana?
Tourists might be safer in Tijuana than locals. Popular tourist areas are heavily patrolled by police and visitors are not often affected by violent crime. However, you should still take precautions as the city has a very high crime rate.
Is it safe to walk across the border to Tijuana?
One of the reasons why Tijuana gets so many visitors is that it is walking distance away from the United States border. However, it is not safe to walk this stretch, especially not at night.
Where should you avoid in Tijuana?
Avoid dangerous neighborhoods in Tijuana, such as Camino Verde and Sanchez Taboada. Ask a local for detailed advice on which areas to avoid.
Is it safe to cross into Mexico at Tijuana?
If you are just using the Tijuana border crossing to get into Mexico, that is safe. The border checkpoint is one of the most heavily policed in the world, so the likelihood of an incident happening is very low.
Is Tijuana safe at night?
Tijuana is not very safe at night. If you venture out after dark, do so with a group and stick to areas you know are safe.
So, Should You Visit Tijuana?
Tijuana has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, so any visitor will need to take precautions to stay safe. However, the city still receives millions of visitors a year, in part because the crime rarely directly affects tourists.
Regardless, we always recommend using your good judgement; if a destination sounds like it could be dangerous, it’s best to find somewhere else to travel. But don’t worry — there’s plenty of great places to travel in Mexico.
So, with so much to see and do, what are you waiting for — book your trip today and experience all that Mexico (the safe parts) has to offer. Happy travels!