The beautiful town of Tulum is on the Caribbean coast of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. This city used to be an underground hotspot for hippies and people looking for spiritual reconnection.
In recent years, however, it’s become more and more popular with tourists looking for nice beaches in a slightly quieter location than the party cities of Cancun and Cabo San Lucas.
With the rise in popularity, the town has become more developed with luxury hotels, beach clubs, and an amazing food and drinks scene. However, along with the development has come more crime, especially related to the illegal drug trade.
If you’re planning a trip to Tulum, you’ll have an amazing (and perfectly safe) time, as long as you follow the following tips to prevent becoming a victim of crime.
We’ll cover the most common crimes, neighborhoods to avoid, and tips for staying safe!
Is Tulum Safe to Visit?
Tulum is safe to visit as long as you keep aware of yourself and your belongings. Like anywhere in the world with a lot of tourism, petty crimes like pickpocketing or purse snatching are somewhat common to run into if you aren’t paying attention to your surroundings.
As far as more serious crimes go, fatal shootings involving members of gangs and drug dealers are a problem in Tulum.
Tourists have also reported more and more robberies involving weapons and people trying to sell them illegal drugs like marijuana, cocaine, and ecstasy. Apart from crime, there are a few other safety concerns to keep in mind when visiting Tulum.
Drinking tap water can lead to stomach bugs or parasites. Plus, during hurricane season, between June and November, big storms can cause serious damage to buildings and infrastructure.
Read on for a more in-depth look into all of the safety concerns including tips on how to avoid falling victim to them.
Common Crimes in Tulum
While Tulum used to be one of the safest destinations in Mexico, an uptick in violent crimes has a lot of visitors rethinking their upcoming trips. Below we’ll cover the most common safety concerns in Tulum, so you can make the most informed decision possible.
Places with high tourism rates almost always have pickpocketing and non-violent theft issues.
From snatching purses off the backs of chairs in outdoor dining areas to stealing your wallet from your back pocket without you even noticing, it’s easy to fall prey to opportunity crimes if you’re not paying attention to your surroundings.
Many times, thieves will create a distraction or reason to be close to you to steal without you noticing. One of the more popular scams involves pickpockets pretending you have bird poop on you and “wiping you down” while stealing your items.
To avoid becoming a target, never look lost or uncertain about where you’re going, be aware of the people around you, and don’t stop if people start to create reasons to touch you. Be firm, say “no”, and walk away while keeping your items close to you.
Some people prefer having safety wallets strapped inside of their shirts, but not putting anything in your back pocket or unzipped purse will go a long way in protecting your items.
Gang/Drug Trade Violence
The Maya Riviera, which includes Tulum, Playa del Carmen, and Cancun, used to be relatively protected from the gang and cartel violence seen elsewhere in Mexico.
However, with the COVID-19 pandemic making economic conditions worse, an increase in the hard-partying scene, and shifts in cartel territories, Tulum became a place with horrific gang violence. Sometimes, that violence unfortunately spills over into tourist areas.
There was an 80% increase in intentional killings in 2021. While it once was easy to avoid cartel violence if you stayed away from drugs in Mexico, shootings involving cartels in clubs and restaurants popular with tourists have become common.
In October 2021, tragedy struck after a gang leader ran into a popular restaurant at peak dining hours to avoid a rival gang member shooting him. Instead, the shooter followed him in and killed two tourists and injured three more.
Then, in February 2022, two rival cartels began a street shootout in front of the popular Art Beach Tulum restaurant leaving two dealers dead. These shootings both occurred without any warning and show no signs of stopping.
The head prosecutor for the state of Quintana Roo, which includes Tulum, told the New York Times that ten different gangs are fighting for control of the drug trade in Tulum. This means it’s likely that shootings will continue despite crackdowns from police and the National Guard.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any surefire ways to avoid the violence. It ultimately comes down to luck.
Gang violence has erupted in restaurants, all-inclusive resorts, and beach clubs all popular with tourists, so it’s not about avoiding any particular areas. Instead, staying alert to the people around you can give you a few extra seconds to run or hide to protect yourself if a shooting begins.
Along with more shootings, there are also more armed robberies than there used to be. Most of the time it’s committed by groups of 3-5 young men who have or claim to have a gun at night. They will ask or forcefully take your items from you.
If this happens to you, do not try to fight back or argue. Instead, hand over your items. Once you get back to your hotel, borrow a phone to cancel all your cards. It’s a pain, but it isn’t worth your life.
To avoid losing everything, bring only small amounts of cash with you when going out. This way your cards and passport will all be safe at the hotel allowing you to get more money and travel back to your home country.
Also, avoid walking in dark places at night, especially alone or intoxicated. It’s better to pay for a taxi from door to door than face the threat of violence.
There are no published crime rates about sexual assault by the government of Mexico and travel sites like TripAdvisor have reportedly been deleting warnings about rape, but amongst female travelers, there are warnings of violent sexual assaults.
Many say to avoid going out at night alone, getting too intoxicated, or accepting drinks or drugs from anyone.
The perpetrators are both locals and other travelers, so don’t assume you’re safe just because you’re with a fellow hotel guest. Keep your wits about you and be wary of anyone trying to get too close.
Avoiding Bad Neighborhoods
Because Tulum is a smaller city and the violence is not restricted to certain areas, there are not particularly good or bad places to stay in terms of safety.
The popular tourist areas of South Tulum, the Hotel Zone, and near the Mayan ruins have all equally seen an uptick in violence. The less popular city center isn’t any more or less safe than the tourist areas.
Instead of avoiding certain neighborhoods, it’s important to avoid isolated areas (particularly Airbnbs in the jungle) as they are more likely to be targets of armed robbery.
Throughout the city, avoiding dark places, the beaches at night, and drug hotspot areas will all help you stay away from violent and property crime.
Safety Concerns in Tulum
Aside from crimes, there are a few other safety concerns you should be aware of while in Tulum. Read below for information on them and ways to avoid them.
Tainted drugs and alcohol
Since 2017, across Mexico, there has been an increase in reports of tainted alcohol making patrons sick or die. Many of these reports are from resorts and hotels popular with foreign tourists in busy tourist areas like Tulum and Cancun.
It’s become such an issue that the US State Department issued a formal advisory warning Americans to beware of drinking alcohol from all-inclusive resorts.
To avoid parasites, E. coli, and other bacteria, do not drink tap water in Tulum. It’s safest to drink only bottled water during your stay. If drinking an iced beverage, make sure the establishment uses purified water to make their ice or you’ll risk getting sick when the ice melts into your drink.
Hurricanes can cause widespread devastation between June and November. If you’re traveling during that time, check the weather reports and storm watches before your trip.
If you notice a large storm developing, it may be safest to delay your trip. If not, staying in well-built hotels off of the beach on a lower floor is the safest accommodation option.
Frequently Asked Questions
Have a few more questions? Check below for more information:
Is it safe to travel to Tulum right now?
Yes, it is safe to travel to Tulum right now as long as you avoid walking alone at night, partaking in drugs, and do not stay out past dark. The US State Department has not issued any travel advisories for Tulum for crime-related reasons. They do, however, officially urge citizens to exercise increased caution
Is it safe to walk in Tulum at night?
No, you will become an easy target for robbery. Walking on the beach or in isolated areas at night is especially dangerous.
Is Tulum safe in 2022?
Yes, but it is less safe than it was five years ago. Following our tips above will keep you and your property as safe as possible. Current gang violence is high, and COVID-19 numbers are high as well.
Is Tulum safer than Cancun?
Yes. Tulum is smaller than Cancun, which means there’s less crime overall. Plus, the most popular bars and clubs in Cancun can be hotspots for pickpocketing, robbery, and sexual assault.
Are taxis safe in Tulum?
Yes. Taxis are the safest transportation option, especially at night. If you rent a car, you can become a target for police looking for bribes.
So, Is Tulum Safe in 2023?
While the uptick in violent crimes is certainly worrying, Tulum is still a safe tourism destination in Mexico. To avoid falling victim to violent and property crime, keep aware of your surroundings, stay in your hotel past dark, and do not get overly intoxicated.