Mexico is one of those countries that has a reputation that precedes it. When you think of Mexico you often think of beaches, tacos and tequila but unfortunately people also associate it with drugs, crime and danger. When I told people I was planning an extended trip to Mexico the number one response I got was “Be careful.”. So after six weeks in Mexico and over two weeks in Mexico City I think it’s time to address the top question: Is Mexico City Safe?
Museo Nacional de Antropología, CDMX
When I was planning my trip to Mexico I initially only set aside three nights in Mexico City, or as the locals call it CDMX. I figured because my flight had to land there anyways, I would take a look around but I didn’t think it was somewhere I really wanted to spend time. Due to a last-minute flight change with Aeromexico I ended up losing my first night in CDMX and arriving at 5am. The panic started almost instantly upon entering the terminal.
I had done some research in advance about the best way to get to my accommodation. I had booked a serviced apartment from Casai in the neighbourhood of Roma Norte. From what I had read, Ubers are reasonably priced and readily available and if that failed there were authorized taxis inside the terminal that were priced flat-rate by zone. When I exited into the main arrivals hall it was still very much nighttime outside and I was greeted by a wall of male drivers staring at me. Scanning the arrivals hall there was no obvious indication as to where Ubers would be so I asked an airport employee. This was when I realized that people in Mexico really don’t speak any English and I really didn’t speak Spanish at that time. I’m not talking about fluency either, I’m talking about any form of basic English. During my time in Mexico I would say probably less than 10% of all the people I encountered understood or spoke any English at all so I was fortunate to pick up Spanish quite quickly. After a very brief and awkward non-conversation about Ubers I found myself at the authorized taxi kiosk.
I had heard, like most people, that Mexico really wasn’t safe for foreigners. Now here I was, stood in the taxi bay, sticking out like a sore thumb having to open my bag and my wallet, exposing my laptop, tablet, phone and money to about 15 people who were all watching me. I was given a ticket to give to the taxi driver and loaded into a car by an enthusiastic older porter and then we were off.
Taxi drivers in Mexico are a bit like taxi drivers anywhere, they know their town and city and they don’t use GPS. I hadn’t considered this at the time of booking but I had selected an unmarked apartment in a tiny historical corner of Roma Norte, up a poorly lit, dead end back lane. The taxi driver got us to the general neighbourhood using the address I’d provided but neither of us knew where it really was and neither of us could tell the other that. Luckily, the previous day I had done a Google Street View walk from my apartment to a nearby café and I recognized the end of the lane. I got into the apartment, climbed into bed and told myself it would look different in the daylight.
View from the Apartment, CDMX
And it did. With two hours of sleep under my belt it was time to join the free walking tour of Roma and Condesa I had previously booked. The meeting point was about a 3-minute walk from my apartment and this was when my perspective on Mexico really changed.
At this point, I had travelled to almost 40 countries and hundreds of cities and I felt more safe in CDMX than I’ve felt at times in London, Paris, New York and Barcelona, to name a few. I can honestly say that in all the time I was in Mexico I never once felt watched, threatened, stood too close to or unwelcome.
One of the reasons why CDMX feels so safe is because it actually is. A few years ago the city appointed a female mayor and her perspective on safety in the city brought forth a lot of change. For example, the city has introduced measures such as CCTV cameras in most neighbourhoods as well as panic buttons on streetlights that connect directly to the police. If you push the panic button they instantly know where you are, can look for you on the CCTV cameras, dispatch police to be with you in a matter of minutes and can communicate with you through a two-way radio. They also launched a CDMX app for your phone which has the panic button built-in as well as a way to hail city authorized taxis and track public transport to get you moving safely.
As a female in the city, you get a little special treatment when it comes to public transport. Women are welcome to ride on any train or bus but there are also designated trains and areas on transport that are for women only. The city also focused on installing plenty of lighting on the streets as well as in the many green spaces to improve safety at night for pedestrians. And finally, there is good, free WiFi provided by the city almost everywhere you would go so you are almost always connected to the internet. From a practical standpoint CDMX is doing a great deal more than a lot of other cities. I live in Toronto, Canada and we actually don’t have any of the safety measures in place that CDMX does.
Couples Dancing, Plaza Rio de Janeiro, Roma Norte, CDMX
Another reason why CDMX feels so safe is because of the people and the culture. En masse Mexicans are a very proud and respectful people, and that attitude extends to those around them, whether you’re local or not. In fact, it actually took a bit of getting used to because where I live most people go through life looking straight ahead and ignoring those around them. For example, if you enter into a restaurant in Mexico and people are already sitting at a table they will say hello to you and they’ll say goodbye when they leave. People will also greet you when you enter most establishments and thank you when you leave.
Shoe Care Vendor, Roma Norte, CDMX
One of the things I had prepared myself for was avoiding scams and having to haggle but I found this to be a huge overreaction. Most places, including markets have prices listed or on signs and the vendors are incredibly helpful, offering sizes, colours, options but without pressure to purchase. One afternoon I decided to purchase some shoelaces from a street vendor. I asked him how much they were, and he said $20 pesos, so I picked out my pair of shoelaces and handed him $40 pesos, thinking he meant $20 pesos per lace. It was actually $20 pesos per pair and although he could have very easily doubled his money on me, he handed me back my change with a chuckle.
Even the poor community, operate with such respect. People very rarely beg unlike what I’m used to in North America. Instead of this they offer something in exchange such as selling small items or playing some music. This is very normal in Mexico and you could find yourself approached ten or twenty times a day, even when inside restaurants and cafes. Many Mexicans do donate to these people and if they do not they simply thank them with a smile and the person moves on to the next table. Almost every business, no matter how small operates with a great deal of pride.
Busy Shopping Street, Centro Histórico, CDMX
This pride even stretches to the streets which are spotlessly clean. CDMX actually removed most of the garbage cans from the streets because they found that they would fill up and overflow but when they removed them people were so reluctant to litter that they would carry their garbage with them until they found somewhere suitable to dispose of it.
This is not a place where you need to hide your phone or wear a money belt. People walk around everyday with smart phones and smart watches without fear. In restaurants they actually provide bag trees which are little, short coat racks that sit beside your table where you can put your belongings, bags, jackets so they are off the floor and right in your eyeline.
Trust Your Gut:
I’m not going to say that you are free to roam the streets of Mexico, leaving a trail of hundred-dollar bills behind you and you’ll be fine, but Mexico truly is not a place to be feared. Like any city, CDMX has rougher neighbourhoods and some unsavoury people but the city is so huge it’s very unlikely you would be near them. As with anywhere in the world you need to trust your gut and intuition, however that speaks to you. If you find yourself somewhere you think you shouldn’t be then leave.
Palacio de Bellas Artes, CDMX
By the end of my three days in CDMX I had fallen so deeply in love with it that I booked a flight back for another two weeks. It’s this really interesting blend of European architecture and Mexican culture that makes it feel so unique. CDMX and Mexico in general have so much to offer in terms of history, culture and unforgettable experiences. This false reputation of being “unsafe” is standing in the way of so many people exploring this incredible part of the world.
So however you want to ask the question: Is Mexico City safe? The answer is yes. Regardless of where you come from, what you look like or who you are, everyone is welcome.
She Roams About