Tijuana has a bit of a reputation where safety is concerned, so if you find yourself wondering “Is it really as dangerous as people make it seem?” when considering a visit, that’s totally fair. The truth is, Mexico in general can get a bit of a bad ‘rap and with crime rates rising in the last few years, tourists have more concerns than ever about whether or not it’s a good idea to travel there.
The divide between tourist and non-tourist areas in Tijuana is quite drastic, which means the perception of tourist safety can be skewed when only looking at recent crime statistics.
This article on the ins and outs of safety in Tijuana will help you to understand the reality of the situation, and what you can do to have a relaxing holiday in this primo destination.
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So…Is Tijuana Safe?
Tijuana has a fairly high crime rate and is considered to be a pretty dangerous city. BUT, that is not necessarily the case for tourists. Petty crime and scams can still be found in tourist areas, but for the most part, these hotel-dense, highly-patrolled areas are perfectly safe to explore. In fact, thousands of tourists visit every day without a hitch. As long as you avoid bad neighborhoods, and follow best safety practices, you should be able to enjoy the food, art, and culture at your leisure.
Most Common Crimes in Tijuana
High/low crime rates can be an important indicator of the overall safety of a city, but looking at the breakdown of the most common crimes in Tijuana can help us to better understand how this impacts tourists:
- Corruption and Bribery
- Petty Theft
- Drug-Related Charges
Top Tips for Staying Safe in Tijuana
We know that seeing a high crime rating for your upcoming destination can be jarring, so here are a few ways you can help protect yourself for a little peace of mind:
Avoiding Petty Theft
- Make use of your hotel room safe. Only bring small sums of cash out day-to-day and keep electronics or other valuables locked up when not in use. You might also want to keep your passport stowed away and keep a printed photocopy on your person instead.
- Wear a money belt or otherwise secure your cash out of sight, rather than in a flashy purse or stuffed pockets
- Keep your ID and credit cards in a scan-proof wallet
- Double-check that car and hotel room doors are locked when you go out
Tijuana Tourist Scams
- ATM Scam: When using independent ATMs, you might be approached by a local offering to help you avoid local bank fees, or offer assistance when your card doesn’t work. The goal here is to watch you enter your pin in combination with a card scanner to make fraudulent charges later. Always cover the pin pad when entering your code and say no to any assistance.
- Photo Scam: If a local asks you to take their photo, you might want to think twice before taking their camera and snapping a pic. Perhaps the most common scam in Tijuana, they will then drop the camera when you try to give it back to them and demand reimbursement.
- Bird Poop Scam: When out in a crowd, someone may throw white paste on you, and then offer to help you clean off the “bird poop” while playing the role of a friendly local. This is actually a distraction/hands-on opportunity to pickpocket. Be sure to follow our tips above to avoid attracting pickpocketers and refusing any help.
Police Corruption in Tijuana
Police officers will occasionally stop tourists, on foot or by car, and demand a bribe payment. This may also be called a “mordida”. They will give a “reason” for stopping you, but it will be completely fabricated and may be very serious in order to generate fear. The amount could range from $100-$500 and could change if they see that you have a lot of cash on you.
If you are stopped, stay calm, and take note of badge and license plate numbers. Try to avoid carrying large sums on your person, and ultimately, you might have to sacrifice the cash you do have. Some tourists find it helpful to stall by asking for directions or pretend you don’t speak the language, or insist that they take you to the police station to pay the fine with a written citation.
Cartel Presence in Tijuana
This might not be what you want to hear, but the cartel has a pretty significant presence in Tijuana. Staying in tourist areas, exploring during daylight hours, and avoiding any illicit activities should help you avoid any run-ins. It’s also recommended that in the event of petty crimes like pickpocketing, you don’t fight back in order to avoid escalation- you never know who you’re dealing with so it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Avoiding violent crimes
The most horrific crimes, such as homicide, in Tijuana, are almost always linked to cartel drug activity or gang territorial disputes. Armed robbery is also a problem, but is not common in tourist areas. As long as you don’t go flashing large sums of cash or expensive items around in non-tourist areas of town, this shouldn’t be a major concern.
What are the safest neighborhoods in Tijuana?
So, now you need to figure out where these “safe tourist areas” are. Zona Central (also known as the downtown core), Playas de Tijuana, and Zona Rio are all considered good options. These areas are built-up with plenty of people around, and the hotels have excellent security. Many tourists say that amongst the group, Zona Rio is the place where they felt the safest.
What are the most dangerous areas in Tijuana?
Perhaps more important than the safe places to stay is the list of dangerous places to avoid. Besides generally avoiding remote areas and back alleys, you can protect yourself by staying away from Sanchez Taboada, Camino Verde, and the city’s other eastern neighborhoods. Zona Norte is one of the more debated neighborhoods. This red-light district is where much of the clubbing action goes on, but there are certain streets that are less seedy than others.
Safety After Dark
Tijuana has a wild nightlife scene, so it’s totally normal if you find yourself wondering, “Is it safe to join in?” Our first piece of advice would be to avoid drugs entirely and be mindful of alcohol consumption. Obviously, you aren’t going to hit the clubs without imbibing a little, but ensuring you are still coherent enough to be aware of your surroundings is super important if you want to party safely in Tijuana.
We also recommend sticking to well-lit, highly patrolled tourist areas, rather than venturing further into local hot spots. Avenida Revolución, and Calle Coahuila in Zona Norte, are both considered reasonably safe options for hanging out after dark.
Is Tijuana Mexico Safe? – FAQs
Is public transportation safe in Tijuana?
When you can, it’s best to avoid TIjauna’s public bus system as a rule of thumb. It’s not terribly dangerous during the day, but this is particularly important advice come nightfall. Taxis and Ubers are both considered safe options, with many tourists preferring Uber since the company vets drivers, and their photo/ID/license plate/location are all being tracked; acting as an extra crime deterrent. You could also drive yourself around in a rental car, but it’s highly recommended that you stick to main thoroughfares and avoid remote locations if you do.
If you plan to travel in Tijauna with your own vehicle, you can find our top tips here.
Are solo female travelers safe in Tijuana?
For the most part, yes. With the caveat that you should follow all the normal safety rules and take every precaution you normally would, Tijuana is considered safe for solo female travelers. Solo women do not seem to be targeted for crime any more than other tourists.
Are tourists targeted in Tijuana?
Petty crime – yes, violent crime-no. That’s not to say tourists never end up involved in violent crimes, but when they are it’s usually by accident (a wrong place, wrong time situation), or because they were not following safety advice. Staying away from drugs and seedy areas should be enough to protect the average tourist. Most homicides (which is the most concerning crime stat) are targeted and related to cartel activities.