Street art in Oaxaca is a politically charged medium that highlights the tensions between the people and the government.

Is Oaxaca Safe? Crime, Tips & What To Expect In 2024

Last Updated on April 17, 2024 by Ashlea J. Russell

Is Oaxaca safe? I’m sharing the truth about travel in 2024

Oaxaca has been high on the list of travellers seeking “the real Mexico” for years, but is it safe? Many travellers will moon over Oaxacan food and talk about how Oaxaca is the ‘Cultural Capital’ of Mexico, but who’s talking about the risks involved? Or why Oaxaca is a sensitive place?

As a Mexico expert, I’ve spent a lot of time in Oaxaca and I’m here to tell you what you should and shouldn’t worry about, and how to stay safe while explore this beautiful area.

Is Oaxaca Safe In 2024?

Before I visited Oaxaca, much like before I visit anywhere, the first thing I looked into was how safe it is. As someone who travels alone, this is something I need to consider and take seriously when travel planning.

Unfortunately for me, a lot of the information out there about safety in Oaxaca didn’t reflect the experience I had. So, I’m here to tell you the truth, so you know what to expect for yourself.

Let’s get into it!

Is Oaxaca Safe for Tourists?

Yes, Oaxaca is considered to be safe for tourists. However, my experience in Oaxaca doesn’t totally align with what I’ve read and heard from other travellers.

While Oaxaca City is safe for tourists I found it to be a less friendly place than other parts of Mexico. I’ve travelled to about half the states in Mexico, which means I have a lot to compare it to. So, it could be that I’m more experienced in Mexico than some other people.

Oaxaca City is a complicated place that is the epicentre of politics in the state. There is a noticeable political charge in the city and it’s not uncommon to see pointed street art, demonstrations, and protests.

Street art in Oaxaca is a politically charged medium that highlights the tensions between the people and the government.

Don’t get me wrong, Oaxaca is a beautiful place but the reality doesn’t always align with the charming magic shown on Instagram.

During my time in Oaxaca City there was a garbage strike which meant mountains of garbage on every corner of the street.

There was also a major Indigenous encampment outside the government buildings which was using the main square as a bathroom. This encampment had been there for years yet somehow never made it to Instagram. 🤔

The majority of the issues in Oaxaca have nothing to do with tourists, but it’s important to know that this undercurrent exists and that political movements are possible at any time.

Is Oaxaca Safe for Female Travellers?

I visited Oaxaca as a solo female traveller and for the most part, my trip went without issue but there were a few things I wanted to note.

I found shopping in Oaxaca markets to be a more chaotic experience than elsewhere in Mexico. The sales tactics were much more pushy and I was often yelled at in an attempt to get my attention.

My personal space in Oaxaca wasn’t respected the way it was elsewhere in Mexico. In busy places I could feel people brushing against me and my bag. Although I wasn’t pickpocketed the lack of personal space at times in Oaxaca made me feel less safe.

To stay safe in Oaxaca take organized and reliable tours.

During a walking tour in Oaxaca (that I won’t name or recommend) I was followed by a man for about 20 minutes who was yelling at me. The guide and the other person on the tour knew what was going on, and other people saw it happening as well. Unfortunately no one tried to intervene or help.

I know I’m not the only person who has experienced this and if you check out this YouTube video, these guys had a similar experience right at the start of the video.

I don’t want to frighten you or put you off visiting Oaxaca. My trip to Monte Alban was one of my favourite experiences anywhere in Mexico, and a mole tasting at Los Danzantes is a lasting food memory.

I just want you to be aware that you may need to operate with a little more awareness and caution than in other parts of Mexico.

Is Oaxaca Safe to Live?

Yes, Oaxaca is a safe place to live but the main safety concern is break ins. Home break ins and property theft are the highest safety concern amongst residents of Oaxaca and that’s due in large part to the sky high poverty rate.

When you live in a place you quickly become accustomed to the way of life there, and this includes locking up your home securely when you go out and at night.

While break ins can happen security features such as installing cameras, befriending your neighbours, or even getting a dog can deter crime.

Oaxaca Crime Rate

Let’s talk numbers. According to Numbeo, the rate of reported crime in Oaxaca state is one of the lowest in Mexico. And the crime rate in Oaxaca City is lower than many US cities including Phoenix, Honolulu, and Denver.

Because Oaxaca is one of the poorest states in Mexico, the main safety concern in terms of crime is property theft. The good news is that’s a pretty easy one to prepare for.

Here are a few safety tips to protect against theft in Oaxaca:

  • Don’t carry all your cash on you
  • Keep valuables out of sight or in a safe
  • Lock your doors and windows when you leave
  • Stay where there are other people
  • Don’t walk around alone at night
  • Don’t overdrink
  • Do not purchase or seek to purchase drugs

Acts Of God In Oaxaca

Depending on where you are in Oaxaca, there’s a chance you could encounter an Act of God. We’re talking earthquakes, hurricanes, and storms. This may sound dramatic but these are a genuine safety concern in Oaxaca.

Earthquakes in Oaxaca

Mexico is situated near five tectonic places which makes earthquakes a really common occurrence. And, Oaxaca sees thousands of earthquakes every year, although not all of them are devastating.

If you intend on spending more than a few days in Oaxaca, it’s likely you’ll feel an earthquake. In fact, I was in an earthquake in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca!

The main safety concern during an earthquake is falling objects, or you yourself falling. If you feel an earthquake sit down and cover your head until it stops.

In Oaxaca earthquakes are so common, people will resume business as usual as soon as it’s over.

After an earthquake in Oaxaca stay safe by watching your step and looking out for broken roads and pathways.

Hurricanes & Storms in Oaxaca

Hurricane season in Oaxaca falls between June to October with the most activity during September and October. And along with that comes a lot of rain.

Because Oaxaca City is located quite far from the coast, it’s highly unlikely that a hurricane would make it inland that far, but they do see the effects by way of rainfall.

In 2022, Hurricane Agatha made landfall along the Oaxaca Coast and caused widespread devastation. The impact in Oaxaca City was torrential downpour and strong winds.

While hurricanes of this magnitude are rare, they are still possible.

The primary safety concern in Oaxaca when it comes to weather is the rain. I spent three weeks in Oaxaca during the rainy season and only saw rain on one day, but that day was torrential. The roads turned to rushing rivers and it was difficult to drive and impossible to walk.

Accidents happen and so does the weather, so make sure you always have travel insurance before you travel.

Getting Around Safely In Oaxaca

One of the main concerns when it comes to how safe Oaxaca is, is how do you get around? No one wants to feel trapped to a one block radius of their accommodation.

So let’s dig into how to get around safely in Oaxaca.

Is It Safe to Walk in Oaxaca?

Generally speaking, yes it’s safe to walk in Oaxaca. I walked all over Oaxaca when I was there (partly because the taxis were trying to scam me, but more on that later).

Unfortunately, in Oaxaca I had a bit of a scary experience where I was followed for about 20 minutes by a man who seemed to be suffering a mental health crisis.

A lot of people saw this happening and no one tried to help me or intervene. Eventually, I ducked into a store and waited until he left.

  • Note: In the rest of Mexico I have found people to be really willing to help and offer help. This is also the only time I’ve ever experienced anything frightening in Mexico.

As with anywhere, there are certain neighbourhoods you shouldn’t just wander into but the likelihood of you stumbling upon these is low.

Although it’s nice to roam around new places, in Oaxaca it’s best to have a general idea of where you want to go.

Taking a walking tour in Oaxaca will teach you where you can and can't safely walk.

The first thing I did when I arrived was take a free walking tour of Oaxaca. This is a great way to become oriented with the city and get first hand tips and recommendations from a local.

These are the best people to tell you where to explore and where to avoid.

Is Oaxaca Safe to Walk at Night?

Walking at night in Oaxaca is not something I recommend doing. Things in Oaxaca shut down pretty early anyways, so you won’t have much of a reason to be out late at night.

I did not always feel totally safe walking around Oaxaca during the day so doing it at night was out of the question for me.

With the exception of right downtown, Oaxaca is a bit of a ghost town at night and I think it’s safest to follow suit and just head back to your accommodation by about 9pm.

Is It Safe to Take a Taxi in Oaxaca?

Taxis in Oaxaca are considered to be safe but they are also known to try to scam riders. I took a total of two taxis in Oaxaca City, both with the same driver and the rest of the time I walked.

On several occasions I spoke to taxi drivers and they all tried to charge me extremely high rates for short journeys. They were pretty aggressive and not willing to negotiate much.

Unfortunately, while there is technically Uber in Oaxaca City it doesn’t really work. The Uber drivers are the taxi drivers, and they get a lot more money with direct fares.

To stay safe, use only authorized taxis in Oaxaca.

I highly recommend staying somewhere that’s walking distance to wherever you want to be.

If you find a fair taxi driver who you like, get his WhatsApp number and deal with him directly. I found a great guy toward the end of my trip and used him to take me to the airport for an excellent price.

Driving Around Oaxaca

Driving around Oaxaca is absolutely doable but it’s not something I recommend for everyone.

To drive in Oaxaca City is a major challenge because of the narrow, one way system and this really isn’t somewhere you need a car.

A safe alternative to driving around Oaxaca is to take the bus.

If you are looking to rent a car to drive around Oaxaca state there are a few things you should be aware of:

  • Purchase a paper map or download Google Maps Offline, especially when leaving town
  • Never run low on gas and carry cash to fill up
  • Watch for speed bumps, chains and spikes on the road
  • Be prepared for construction and detours
  • Do not drive out of town at night

Safety Tips for Oaxaca

How safe you are or aren’t in a place is due in large part to your own choices and how you choose to operate.

Now don’t get me wrong, even the most careful and cautious person can find themselves in challenging situations. But I’m talking about doing your part to keep yourself safe.

Unfortunately, during my time in Oaxaca I did run into a couple of safety issues that I haven’t experienced in other parts of Mexico. So I’m going to give you some of my top tips for staying safe in Oaxaca specifically, based on my own experiences.

Read the Room

This is my number one safety tip for anyone, anywhere in the world: READ THE ROOM. If you plan to travel the world and don’t have an internal alarm system, you need to work on that asap.

Reading the room isn’t about being scared or suspicious all the time, it’s just about training yourself to pay attention.

When you enter anywhere, pay attention to the people. How do they look at you? How do they interact with you? Do you have everyone’s attention or do they just carry on with what they’re doing?

To stay safe in Oaxaca be aware of your surrounding and how people react to your presence.

If you enter somewhere you’re not supposed to be, people will be surprised that you’re there.

I love Mexico (obviously) but Oaxaca is one of the pushier places I’ve been in Mexico. If you feel like you’re getting too much attention or you don’t like the type of attention you’re getting, just keep it moving and make your way out.

Learn the Language

Obviously, casually learning another language is a tall order. I’ve been learning Spanish for over a year and I still have moments where I rely on context to figure out what on earth is going on.

Languages are big, complicated things but at a minimum you should learn some really basic ways to be polite and get by.

Hello, goodbye, please, and thank you are the absolute minimum you should be learning before you head to Oaxaca, or anywhere in Mexico.

You will also find things a lot easier if you understand numbers. And “Qué es esto?” (what is this?) will be your best friend.

Try Duolingo as a way to get yourself started, or better yet if you have the time take some classes with a native Spanish speaker.

Keep Your Opinions To Yourself

When I say ‘keep your opinions to yourself’ I don’t mean you can’t express anything, ever. I’m actually referring to the political landscape of Oaxaca.

As someone who comes from a place with serious political turmoil, I feel like I’m pretty qualified to tell you that your opinions about this topic are not welcome.

Tensions between the government and the Indigenous groups of Oaxaca have been running high for as far back as you can imagine.

During my time in Oaxaca I encountered multiple large-scale demonstrations and protests, including striking and encampments.

One of the best ways to stay safe in Oaxaca is to stay out of local problems, even when you’re coming from a good place. If you’re not a local, you’re speculating and uninformed opinions can be unintentional touch paper.

Operate with Modesty

Contrary to what you see on the beaches of Cancún, Mexico is a super modest place! With the exception of a few beach towns, almost everywhere you go you’ll see men in jeans and button down shirts, and women in jeans, dresses, or long skirts.

Walking around somewhere like Oaxaca in flip flops, shorts, or skimpy clothing is going to make you stand out in not the best way.

In Oaxaca, you want to dress appropriately to avoid any negative attention, particularly if you plan on visiting any churches or religious sites.

Jeans and closed-toe shoes are the safest bet for fitting in in Oaxaca. Women should also avoid low cut tops and short skirts.

  • Due to the broken roads and sidewalks I highly recommend you stick to comfortable flat shoes!

Listen To Your Body

Oaxaca is located in the mountains which means cool mornings and evenings, but prepared for some serious direct sunlight during the afternoon!

It’s also important to remember that Oaxaca City sits at an altitude of 1,555m/5,102 ft and if you’re sensitive to altitude, you may need a day or two to adjust.

On my first couple of days in Oaxaca City I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath after walking up the hills throughout the city. One day I was walking up a hill in the heat of the day after a walking tour and I hadn’t had enough water.

To stay safe in Oaxaca remember to cool off during the day by drinking water and resting.

I ended having to go spend the rest of the day cooling off in my hotel pool.

Listen to your body and carry a bottle of water with you wherever you go. Don’t be afraid to sit down and take a break if you need to.

Skip the Airbnb

One of the most common safety concerns I hear from fellow travellers these days is about Airbnb accommodations.

In fact, I have heard this from so many people lately that I feel like I have to mention it.

Many travellers are being followed to their Airbnbs or someone waits outside the Airbnb (because they already know it’s an Airbnb) and they are robbed of their money.

This is a trend I have heard specifically about Oaxaca. To avoid falling victim you should:

  • Stay somewhere with staff, like a hotel or hostel
  • Don’t carry all your cash with you
  • Be aware of your surroundings

Oaxaca FAQs

You’ve got questions, I’ve got answers.

Is Oaxaca or Mexico City Safer?

In the battle of Oaxaca vs Mexico City the question of safety comes up a lot. Statistics will tell you that Oaxaca is safer than Mexico City, but it’s important to remember that Mexico City is the largest city in North America. This means it’s basically destined to have more crime.

In my personal opinion I found Mexico City to felt a lot safer. It was an easier place to blend in, the people were a lot more friendly. I spent more combined time in Mexico City than anywhere else in Mexico and I have never had a safety issue there.

Is There a Cartel Presence in Oaxaca?

Cartel is a scary term. The TV shows and movies makes it out like a cartel turf war could break out at any moment, anywhere in Mexico, but that’s not a legitimate concern.

Yes, there is cartel in Oaxaca. But that shouldn’t frighten you.

Think of a drug cartel as a business operation. Unless you’re looking for drugs, buying drugs, or getting involved in cartel business you’re probably never going to notice any cartel activity.

Is Oaxaca Mexico Touristy?

I believe there is a difference between a place being touristy and having tourists. Oaxaca definitely has tourists. Walking around Oaxaca you’re going to see backpacks and travellers roaming around. Oaxaca is not an undiscovered place by any means.

But I wouldn’t call it touristy. Touristy to me means that a place caters to tourists and loses some of its authenticity in exchange for “attractions”. Oaxaca definitely doesn’t do this. Oaxaca and the people who live there are as real as it gets.

Is Oaxaca Worth Visiting?

Oaxaca is definitely worth visiting for most people. Whether you’re looking for the culture of the city, beauty of the coast, or magic of the mountains, there’s something in Oaxaca for everyone.

How Many Days in Oaxaca is Enough?

Three days in Oaxaca City is enough time to get a feel for the city and see the major sights. If you want to do a couple of day trips, five days should be enough time in Oaxaca City.

If you want to add in some beach time, tack on a few days in beautiful Puerto Escondido.

Can You Drink Tap Water in Oaxaca?

No, you cannot drink the tap water in Oaxaca. Mexico doesn’t have a universal clean water program so general speaking, you shouldn’t drink tap water anywhere in Mexico.

But this doesn’t mean you’re at risk of dirty drinking water at every turn. Believe me when I say, the people of Mexico do not want you to get sick.

The safest way to avoid dirty drinking water in Oaxaca is to drink sealed, bottled water which is widely available.

Most restaurants and hotels will also have something called a garrafón which is essentially a big jug of drinking water. Kind of like an office water cooler but more basic.

Restaurants usually have this in the back and hotels will have it at reception or somewhere communal so you can fill your bottles. This water is usually free, room temperature, and totally safe to drink.

  • Ice In Mexico: Almost anywhere that offers ice in drinks or blended drinks will buy in clean ice in bags and this is safe.

The only time to avoid drinking water is if it is served in a cup from a very basic establishment. If this place has plastic chairs, no card machine, and food being served from a cooler, go for bottled water.

If you’re ever unsure you can ask for drinking water by saying “agua para tomar por favor“.

Summary: Is Oaxaca Safe?

So after all this, is Oaxaca safe? Oaxaca is a beautiful, culturally rich, historically important part of Mexico that is definitely worth visiting, but caution should be used.

Oaxaca is not a place so unsafe that I would recommend skipping it. If you follow general safety tips (which you should be doing anyways) and use common sense you should have a great time exploring this cultural haven.