As one of Mexico’s top destinations, is Oaxaca safe to travel to? What about safety at night? Crime rates?
The first night after moving to Oaxaca as nomads, we were told by two tourists in our Airbnb, “Two people we know were mugged by dudes on motorbikes just a couple of months ago. Don’t walk at night!”
Our reaction was something like: “Oh, yikes, okay… Thanks for letting us know.” 😳
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links that may earn me a small commission should you decide to click through and make a valid purchase (at no extra cost to you). Thanks so much for your support!
That same night, Paul and I went out to grab food and were extremely anxious. I swear I jumped at every moving shadow—and I felt guilty about it!
At that point, I had lived in Mexico on and off for nearly three years. The Mexico that I know is pretty safe for tourists regardless of what the media portrays. But their heeding of danger dug its claws into my core and made its nest in my stomach.
For the next two months, Paul and I walked back to our apartment—a 10–15 minute jaunt outside of the historic center—multiple nights a week after getting dinner or drinks.
And I’m happy to share that we felt very safe.
Apart from that first night, we felt safe the entire time in Oaxaca City, even at night (and, most importantly, despite the scary warnings of “true stories” from those tourists).
Of course, could we have gotten lucky during those two months and escaped danger? Sure!
But luck is not the whole reason.
The simple truth is that Oaxaca City and the State of Oaxaca remain among the safest places to visit in Mexico.
In this guide, I’ll tell you more about how to stay safe in Oaxaca—including safety smarts for Mexico travel in general—and why Oaxaca is worth visiting.
Complete Guide to Staying Safe in Oaxaca, Mexico
First and foremost, why should you trust the advice I’m about to spill about safety in Oaxaca (and in Mexico, for that matter)?
The simple answer is that I have lived in five out of the thirty-two states of Mexico.
In other words, I am quite familiar with Mexico’s diverse cultures and regions.
And while there is certainly crime across Mexico, I have felt comfortable and safe traveling/living in-country as a female tourist.
That said, I am not guaranteeing your safety in Oaxaca or in Mexico at large.
You still need to stay aware and be mindful of best safety practices, which I will list below.
But for now, let’s look at actual crime rates and official resources to further glean how safe Oaxaca really is.
(Because, while you are welcome to rely on my advice/experience, I’d prefer that you know the stats for yourself, too.)
Oaxaca Crime Rates & Types of Crime
To give you an idea of hard crime in Oaxaca, the map below shows homicides from the year 2022 throughout Mexico.
As you can see, the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas are among the least affected.
Dark red circles indicate a greater number of homicide rates.
But that doesn’t prevent people from living in and visiting San Diego (the biggest dark red circle of all…).
👉 While Oaxaca is not completely free of crime—both petty (e.g. theft) and hard (e.g. homicide)—it is far from a no-go zone.
It’s also worth noting that homicides are usually a direct consequence of drug-related violence.
Tourists very, very rarely will experience cartel or drug-related violence while visiting Oaxaca or other popular tourist destinations.
That doesn’t mean, in some (again, rare) instances that such awful events occur.
For example, the year after I was living in Tulum, Mexico, a California-based travel blogger was killed in the crossfire of cartel-caused gun violence downtown—on the same street/in the same bar I used to frequent regularly.
Of course, that is awfully tragic and seriously unfortunate.
And it could have happened to anybody.
Sadly, that story is what international media spread out to the world (which doesn’t help Mexico’s reputation abroad).
That is one reason why it is very wise and recommended to check the local situation on the ground before you visit your destination (whether it’s Oaxaca or elsewhere), in case the safety situation changes abruptly.
As for the nature of crime in Oaxaca against tourists, it is mostly theft related. While it doesn’t turn violent, the mere threat of it can be.
For example, robberies with deadly weapons are usually just a display to coerce you (albeit terrifyingly and forcefully) into giving them (aka the robber) what they want (aka money or valuables).
This isn’t Oaxaca-specific, however. Anywhere you go in the world—Paris, New York, Rome, Sydney, Tokyo—petty theft can and does occur.
👉 So, to stay safe in Oaxaca you can take small but smart actions—like not flaunting expensive cameras, jewelry, phones, watches, etc., staying aware of your surroundings, and not wandering into unlit corners of the city—to help prevent becoming a target of such assaults or crime.
Oaxaca’s Peace Index
You might be relieved to know that Oaxaca has maintained, in recent years, a relatively low profile in terms of crime, and a moderately fair score on the Peace Index.
The map below shows Oaxaca’s scores on the Mexico Peace Index from the year 2021.
Oaxaca scored 2.29 and ranked number 14 out of 32 for most peaceful states (indicated by the yellow state in the south, next to Chiapas which is black).
In 2022, Oaxaca’s peace score stayed the same which is a good sign that, while, yes there is crime, things are pretty stable.
Also, it’s important to mention that the pandemic of 2020 halved Mexico’s international tourists (compared to the year 2019), which direly affected millions of Mexicans’ livelihoods. People living in poverty increased from 51.9 million to 55.7 (data from the 2022 report).
Many Oaxacans suffered as a result, and we were told by a local when moving there in early 2021 that Oaxaca City had seen a few “dark months” directly caused by the pandemic.
A part of being a responsible traveler is staying mindful of the local situation before, during, and after your visit.
With all that said, let’s look at more concrete ways you can practice being safe in Oaxaca and beyond.
Essential Tips to Stay Safe in Oaxaca
1. Be aware and mindful of yourself & others
Repeating this one because it is truly the number one safety tool to stay safe no matter where you are in the world!
2. Feel the vibe out first (& slowly)
Oaxaca City can be sprawling and loud at times. If you aren’t familiar with Mexico, or Oaxaca, then take your time to get adjusted.
Explore during the day, take frequent breaks, and be very observant.
Don’t be scared to do things outside of your comfort zone, but stay conscious of how you feel (and the vibe that other people around you are giving off).
If you don’t feel safe, don’t push your limits.
3. Avoid wandering in unfamiliar neighborhoods alone at night
As I said above, Paul and I walked home at night often. But we are familiar with Mexico and “the vibe of the neighborhood.”
Sometimes we would take a different, well-lit street if the other looked empty and dark.
For example, we would wait for DiDi rides/taxis (the Uber alternative) under a lamp post in front of a market or store—small but conscious acts like that can prevent an ugly situation.
4. Hail a taxi (or better, a “didi” in oaxaca)
There is no Uber in Oaxaca, but there is another service called DiDi and it works great.
In fact, it’s even a safer ridesharing app than Uber, as it has GPS tracking and automatic voice recording. You can share your ride with friends/family in real-time and you can pay hassle-free by connecting your credit card or PayPal.
Rides in Oaxaca City are cheap and safe. You can expect to pay around $50–75 MXN pesos for rides within the city.
That said, we took plenty of local taxis and always had exceptional service. It does help to speak Spanish, in that case.
5. If you feel something’s off, trust your gut
Never ignore that gut feeling that something is weird or off. And I really mean anything!
The “off vibe” could be coming from an unmarked/unfamiliar street, an unlit corner, a suspicious person, car, etc.
Walk the other way, go into a store and call a DiDi, or find a group of people and walk close to them. Just don’t stay in a situation you shouldn’t be in.
6. If you see a rowdy bunch or individual, don’t engage
At times, you may cross paths with a person who is passed out on the sidewalk or drunk on the street.
In those rare cases, don’t engage and keep walking or change your route.
If it feels dangerous, or if you feel like a target at any point, find a safe spot to go assess and then take action.
7. Don’t show off your valuables or money
I never felt targeted in Oaxaca carrying around my camera. But I also hid it well, and took it out and put it back when I was through taking photos.
Most of the places you visit in Oaxaca City are very touristy, so the biggest threat there is pickpocketing.
If you are traveling around the state of Oaxaca, don’t keep valuables in your car (or backpack) and leave it in sight or unattended.
General smart/safety tips you’d do at home apply abroad!
8. Make conscious efforts to integrate (Don’t be an obnoxious target)
Something that can really help you stay safe in Oaxaca (and in other destinations) where your first language may not be the national/local language, is to learn the basics.
And I mean beyond the, “Los baños, por favor?”
I mean really try to connect with locals. They are the ones that will watch out for you and help you out in case you are in need.
9. Keep your hotel or family/friends informed
If you are traveling solo in Oaxaca and would like to feel safer, you could leave your plans for the day and your contact info with a hotel staff member or your friends or family.
10. When in doubt, stick to groups
Whether I am traveling by myself as a woman or am walking next to Paul, I always think about trailing groups.
Groups of families, groups of friends—it doesn’t matter, as long as it is two or more people that look friendly and I can stick nearby so I don’t stand out.
Final Thoughts About Safety in Oaxaca
Oaxaca City is very used to seeing tourists both national and international.
You won’t feel out of place as there is always a restaurant, cafe, or shop nearby.
And you won’t need to wander far away from the center anyway as most of the things to do in Oaxaca City are concentrated around there.
Not to mention, the best boutique hotels in Oaxaca are mostly in the heart of the city, too, which means you will be within easy walking distance to most historic sites, restaurants, and attractions.
If you plan on visiting beyond the city, you can go on one of Oaxaca’s day trips or tours (to Hierve El Agua or Tlacolula, for example) so that you feel safer traveling in a group.
By now, I hope you feel safer already in your plans to one day visit Oaxaca!
It’s okay if you might still have some travel anxiety about visiting, especially if it’s your first time. That is understandable. But I am confident you will feel very differently (and safe!) once you go and see what Oaxaca is really like for yourself.
Lastly, I leave you with this: I have felt safer in Oaxaca, Mexico than in many other destinations around the world and much safer than in most US cities. And I’d go back to living in Oaxaca in a heartbeat!
If you have any questions or would just like to reach out for trip planning/advice, please drop a comment below. Safe travels!
Leave a Reply