Mexico City resident and city guide Carlos San Roman said the biggest misconception people have about his hometown is that it’s unsafe.
“It’s like every other city. It has its problems. There are places I wouldn’t dare to go at night,” he said. But in general, Carlos said visitors won’t encounter trouble as long as they stay diligent and stick to the beaten path.
This was good to hear. Truthfully, we were a little nervous about our trip.
Mexico City is still fighting a bad reputation developed in the 1990s, when the country’s economy collapsed and violence erupted in the capital.
In 1996, an average of three murders a day were reported in Mexico City, according to an article in the Atlantic. In 1998, the U.S. State Department warned that crime in Mexico City “had reached critical levels.”
Carlos said he remembers when the city’s nightlife ceased operation during those crime-ridden days. Bars, restaurants and theaters shut down because residents were scared to leave their houses at night.
“Mexico City has made a lot of improvements in the past 15 years,” he said.
We spent five nights in Mexico City and had an amazing, crime-free time. But we did our research in advance.
Here are three safety takeaways from our trip:
How to Hail a Cab Safely in Mexico City
All the tour books recommend you only take taxis booked through authorized sitio taxi stands. This is great advice, providing you can find one.
If you have to hail a cab off the street, look for the following on the vehicle:
- Driver’s license in the back window.
- A license plate that starts with A or B.
- A working taximeter.
If you see none of the above, say “no gracias” and walk on. Read more about Mexico City cab safety »
Stay in a Safe Neighborhood
We rented an awesome apartment in Roma Norte, a neighborhood near the popular area La Condesa.
Our research said this was supposedly the hippest and safest spot in the city and we were not unimpressed. Bars, restaurants and parks were all within a short walk. People cruised the streets well into the night.
Our guide Carlos said this was a good area as long as you stayed on well-lit streets.
“Well-lit” is apparently in the eye of the beholder. By American standards our neighborhood was anything but, with streetlights few and far between. Still, we felt safe and I highly recommend this area to anyone visiting Mexico City.
I’d move there in a heartbeat.
Learn Some Spanish
Most of the cab drivers and service staff we encountered spoke very little English. Fortunately we’ve been studying Spanish through Rosetta Stone (that’s an Amazon affiliate link) for about two years.
We’re by no means fluent, but our basic Spanish skills made the trip much smoother.
If Rosetta Stone is a little too rich for your blood, check out Mango Languages. I use it for a basic language introduction before any trip. It’s not as comprehensive as Rosetta Stone, but it may be available free through your local library system. Check here »
There’s also LiveMocha, which I can’t vouch for personally but have heard good things about.
So Is Mexico City “Safe”?
Mexico City is amazing. But I don’t want to sugarcoat reality here. There’s danger in any city. And perhaps it’s beneficial to be extra diligent in Mexico City.
Crime is still an issue outside of the city, where drug cartels are a major problem. Residents and tourists have been victims of gruesome beheadings, kidnappings and rapes.
If you’re planning a trip, it’s also wise to check the US Department of State’s Mexico travel guide for the most recent advisories.
Have questions about Mexico City? Post below. I had a great time there and am happy to share any tips or advice.