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Policia | © Sean and Lauren/Flickr
Policia | © Sean and Lauren/Flickr

10 Essential Tips for Staying Safe in Mexico City

Picture of Lauren Cocking
Updated: 15 January 2017
Mexico has a notoriously dangerous reputation, and while that is still the case in states closer to the US border in particular, Mexico City is actually a pretty safe holiday destination, despite what many newspaper reports say. Of course, as with anywhere it’s essential to have your wits about you as well as not let your fears get the best of you. With that in mind, here are our 10 top tips to staying safe in Mexico City.

Use public transport in the day and private transport at night

The public transport system in Mexico City is chaotic and crowded but very affordable, and using it as much as possible will add to your experience of visiting the metropolis that is the Mexican capital. It’s worth noting that women should take advantage of the ‘women and children’ carriages available on the Metro, too.

However, at night, and especially if you’re travelling alone, you shouldn’t hesitate to order an Uber to get you back safely. Taxis are also reliable, but try to only take them from sitios rather than hailing one down on the street, and always make sure they use their taximetro so you’re not ripped off with the fare.

Stay away from dangerous neighborhoods

This should go without saying, but many articles romanticize dangerous neighborhoods in Mexico City (Tepito, we’re looking at you), when they should actually be avoided at all costs. The aforementioned Tepito is the obvious one, as are the areas of La Lagunilla and Mercado Merced after dark as they’re known prostitution zones. Other areas to be wary of include Doctores, as well as outlying barrios like Ciudad Neza and Iztapalapa to name a few. Stick to well lit, central streets and you’ll be fine.

Learn basic Spanish

Having some knowledge of basic Spanish will help you immensely on a trip to Mexico City. The capital is neither Cancún nor Puerto Vallarta, and the number of people who speak good English is far lower than in both those places. Therefore, learning some basic phrases will make you seem far less ignorant, and will hopefully help you avoid being scammed.

Basic Spanish | © Pixabay

English is not widely spoken in Mexico City, so learn some basic Spanish | © Pixabay

Be cautious with your cash

This tip entails everything to do with money and cash-carrying while you’re in Mexico City. Obviously, don’t carry around every peso you brought with you, because if you get robbed, you’re going to be left with nothing. Only carry what you’ll need for the day and preferably in two different locations; for example, take 200 pesos in your purse and another 200 in an inside pocket. Similarly, if you need more cash, go inside the bank to use the ATMs as they’re far safer and you’re away from the prying eyes of potential thieves.

Mexican pesos | © Pixabay

Be sensible with Mexican pesos, don’t leave yourself open to thieves | © Pixabay

Keep your valuables hidden

This kind of goes hand in hand with the previous point, but don’t make yourself an obvious target for muggers. Keep jewellery to a minimum – no flashy earrings or designer watches – and please carry your camera in a bag rather than slung round your neck. That DSLR probably set you back a chunk of money, so you wouldn’t want to have it snatched within your first few hours in the city. On a similar note, keep wallets and purses out of pockets that are in easy reach, as cramped, rush hour Metro travel will see them swiped in the blink of an eye.

Flashy camera | © Pixabay

Don’t wear expensive cameras – or jewelry and wallets for that matter – for all to see | © Pixabay

Know your emergency numbers

This is a crucial piece of advice for anyone traveling in a foreign country, whether it’s Mexico City or mainland Europe. Keep a list in both your phone and on a separate piece of paper (should your phone get lost or be stolen) of all necessary numbers. In Mexico City, the police can be reached by dialling 911 and ambulances and fire services are available on 066 or 080, although it’s worth adding that you’ll need to know Spanish to communicate with any of these services. You should also add the number of your home country’s embassy along with any emergency contacts, too. It’s far better to know it and never need to use it than caught in a situation where you need it.

If something does happen, don’t fight back

If you are unlucky enough to be mugged, or worse, kidnapped while in Mexico City, you should never resist. Allow the attacker, as frustrating as it might be, to take the possessions they want. Purses, phones and money can all be replaced, but your life and health can’t. Similarly, if you’re kidnapped, do as the kidnappers say and don’t try to resist what is happening, however horrible it may be. While we’re on the subject, make sure your insurance covers such eventualities.

Valuables | © Pixabay

If you get mugged in Mexico City, be compliant – belongings can be replaced | © Pixabay

Blend in

Many travelers come to Mexico City expecting the tropical weather of Cancún, and while the country is definitely not cold all year round, you should make an effort to do as the locals do. The likelihood is that if you’re tall, pale and have anything other than black hair, you’ll already stick out like a sore thumb, so try not to wear shorts, sandals and vest tops when everyone else is in jeans and jumpers. That’s not to say you need to be uncomfortable, just don’t dress for a day at the beach when you’re actually just exploring the city.

Keep copies, not originals, of important documents with you

It’s always a good idea to keep a copy of your passport and visa/tourist card with you at all times. However, instead of carrying the original which could cause some serious problems at either the airport or immigration if one of them goes astray, just take a decent quality photocopy instead. If anyone asks to see your documents at any point (unlikely, but it sometimes happens), show them the photocopy and explain the original is at your hotel.

Passport | © Pixabay

Carry copies of personal documents with you and keep the originals in a safe place | © Pixabay

Be careful with the cuisine

Finally, we’re moving away from safety tips that will help you prevent robberies and onto the kind of safety tips that will hopefully prevent an upset stomach. Mexico in general has a reputation for excellent, but sometimes dodgy, street food. To avoid getting ill, stick to the stalls that have people flocking to them, especially if those people are locals. That way, you know they’re reputable and affordable. Also, don’t drink the tap water! It’s not filtered in the same way as at home – it won’t taste good and is likely to make you sick.

Tap water | © Pixabay

Do not drink Mexico City’s tap water if you want to avoid a poorly belly | © Pixabay