Is Mexico Safe to Hike and Backpack?
Author: Casey Marriot from "MEXLocal"
Colorful Mexico is fast becoming a hotspot travel destination, even the once-perceived “crime-ridden” Mexico City which National Geographic nominated as the #1 trip to take in 2019. Yet, in international news feed, all people get are horror stories of cartel crime, robberies and murders. No wonder people get confused trying to mesh these jarring images in their minds. So the big question remains: Is Mexico is safe to travel?
In a short answer: yes, Mexico is safe enough for the 100+ million residents who go about their daily life – just as you do. But the bigger picture is as complicated as saying, sure, New York is safe, but.... you would avoid back alleys and certain neighborhoods at night. To put this into perspective, some American cities ranked higher than certain Mexican cities on Business Insider’s list of the top 50 most violent cities.
The same rule works for Mexico. The bulk of cartel crime, for example, is concentrated in the transport corridors where they operate (in short, east and west coasts and a couple of central states; but you should read the full list of the safest and most dangerous states in Mexico, plus the types of crime to avoid for an accurate picture). Just avoid those states, and you’ll avoid the majority of the crime that you see on TV.
Taking this question to the next level: Is Mexico safe enough for remote, outdoor activities like hiking or camping? What about backpacking, using local transport?
Is Hiking safe?
This is harder to answer, because any remote area in Mexico is going to pose some problems. While certain hiking areas are safer than others, it doesn’t account for being in the ‘wrong place, at the wrong time.’ Petty crimes, like theft, can happen at random – although, that this is not unlike any country in the world. Even in the more tried-and-tested hiking trails, for example in Desierto de Leones in Mexico City, there has been an increase in reported thefts in recent times.
Hence, there is some advice that should be taken into consideration before you take off:
Certainly, you should stick to touristic hikes, where there is a higher likelihood of other hikers and well-marked trails. Hiking in very remote areas is not advised.
Wandering ‘off-track’ is not advised in any case, unless you are with a local guide or a large guided group.
Hiking alone is not recommended, even less so for females.
Doing overnight hikes and camping ‘out in the open’ is not advised, only if there are designated camping grounds.
Never take valuables with you; in the unfortunate event that you do get robbed, don’t hold onto your valuables. Many thefts here end without incident if you comply.
This, by all means, shouldn’t scare you off hiking. Mexico is a treasure-trove of natural wonders, as long as you take the proper precaution when you go to remote areas.
Is Mexico safe for backpacking?
This is easier to answer, assuming backpackers stick to the tried and trodden routes. There are many hostel options in the larger cities, although the quantity is probably less than what would you see in Europe, for example, which is more popular with backpackers.
Besides the ‘no-travel’ states, Mexican highways between most cities are safe for driving or public transport. Traveling by bus in Mexico is even a luxury, with low-priced tickets for quality coaches – some bus companies even take pictures of their passengers beforehand as a security measure. Even locals will typically recommend to stick with the higher luxury buses for this reason.
There are also shared mini vans (called ‘colectivos’), which you’ll see being used between smaller towns. In the main touristic areas these are generally safe – although there have been sporadic reports of when drivers and robbers are in cahoots, who stage orchestrated ‘hold-ups.’
That means, if you can afford it, using an official taxi can be a better option for short trips (even up to an hour, or a full day, can cost as little as USD 50–100). It’s important to use taxis from official taxi stands, though, as there are some scrupulous drivers who pose as fake taxis for the very reason of kidnapping and extortion. Never take a taxi off the street, especially at night.
Hitch-hiking isn’t recommended, although you may see the odd person doing it. However, Mexicans are very friendly – they’ll happily come over to chat in a matter of minutes, so you just might find yourself a free ride in no time.
As in any country, if you take the proper precautions, you’ll discover what a wonderful country Mexico is. We recommend these following articles:
Maybe the horror stories are even a good thing – as least for the locals, who can keep Mexico’s amazing hotspots to themselves... just a little longer.