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Safety & Crime in Playa del Carmen Mexico ~ 2012

Posted by Tony & Cheri on January 5, 2012

Tulum MexicoAs the last year came to a close and the new one has begun, many people considering a trip to Playa del Carmen still have the same question…is it safe?

We know this because the top phrases by which people are finding our blog include safety and crime in Mexico. We also know it from comments on internet forums, by the questions people ask in e-mails and by talking with our guests who invariably say they were warned by friends and family not to go to “dangerous” Mexico.

So even though we have blogged about this issue several times before, we thought it would be good to start the new year with a clear statement: Playa del Carmen and Mexico’s Caribbean coast are safe to visit.

Mexico is America’s Favorite Vacation Destination

One way to judge the safety of Mexico is to look at how many people come here without incident. In 2011 Mexico continued to be the first choice for travel among Americans visiting foreign countries for vacation.

“Put the numbers in statistical perspective. Mexico is the United States’ #1 foreign tourist destination, and more people will visit Mexico before noon today than visit London in a year. With more than 50,000 people a day visiting Mexico your chance of being involved in a violent act in Mexico are less than half that of being struck by lightning and more unlikely than winning Powerball!”, Looking at the Facts, Dec. 31, 2011 Update.

There is every reason to believe this will continue, as several travel publications and websites have listed Mexico as one of the most desirable vacation destinations for the coming year. For example, tourist industry giant Frommer’s has listed Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula (which includes Playa del Carmen) as one of the Top 10 Travel Destinations for 2012:

“It [the Yucatan Peninsula] remains the safest region in Mexico, with far less crime than travelers are likely to encounter at home. Even so, the Yucatán offers all that is best about Mexico — sublime beaches, a unique cuisine, joyous fiestas and exotic wildlife.”
Frommer’s, Top Destinations 2012

A Geography Lesson

Yes, there is crime in Mexico. And yes, there are areas of Mexico where drug wars have created a real danger to the people who live there. But as we have previously pointed out on this blog, the geographical area where that problem exists is far from the beaches of Playa del Carmen.

“Without a solid understanding of the geography (761,606 square miles) and the nature of the drug wars many foreigners assume that all of Mexico is a war zone. But it isn’t.”
Washington Post, Mexico: A Guide to Which Parts are Safe

The distance in driving miles between Ciudad Juarez (heart of the cartel violence) and Playa del Carmen (heart of Mexico’s Caribbean coast) is approximately equal to the driving distance between Chicago and San Francisco. Would you skip visiting America’s Pacific coast because of crime thousands of miles away in the country’s midwest? The same comparison can be made about Mexico.

Crime Exists in Everyone’s Hometown

Yes we have crime in Playa del Carmen. And there is crime in the city you live in. No matter where you live, there is crime in your own hometown. But in truth, Playa del Carmen probably has a crime rate lower than most North American cities.

NBC’s cable affiliate recently indicated that visiting the Riviera Maya may be safer than going to Disney World:

“Most tourist-popular areas, such as Mexico City and the resorts of the Riviera Maya, are considered safe for travelers. (In fact, statistics show that these regions saw even less crime in 2010, per capita, than Orlando and Washington, D.C.)”, To Go or Not to Go

Playa del Carmen and the Riviera Maya (Cancun to Tulum) are actually safer than a lot of American cities. In 2010 (the latest available statistics) the entire State of Quintana Roo (where Playa del Carmen and the all of the Riviera Maya is located) had fewer murders per 100,000 people than many US cities including Atlanta, Baltimore, Buffalo, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, Memphis, Miami, Newark, Oakland, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Tulsa and Washington DC.(based on FBI Uniform Crime Report statistics for the US and the statistics of the National System for Public Security of Mexico.)

Last Year in Playa del Carmen

BUT…some folks will say…there is violent crime in Playa del Carmen. Just last year wasn’t a tourist killed? Didn’t drug cartels murder the chief of the city’s police to stop his anti-drug campaign? Wasn’t the mayor assassinated? The answer to all three questions is “no.”

Last year there were two shootings in Playa which caused many people concern. We have discussed these previously. In short, a man from central Mexico who was involved in money laundering for the cartels stole money from them and then fled here to the coast, not as a tourist but to hide from his employers. His employers found him and killed him.

In a second unrelated incident the chief officer for the Tourist Police unit (not the chief of the city police) was killed. His killers escaped, and no motive for his murder has been discovered. The police officer was not part of any drug investigating unit, nor has any drug cartel claimed responsibility. These crimes targeted specific individuals for specific reasons. They were not random acts that threatened the general population–local or tourist.

A third incident which occurred last year was almost laughable in how the media and the internet reacted. It concerned an alleged shooting involving the mayor’s security team. It seems that after a trip by Playa’s mayor to Cancun, bullet holes were discovered in the SUV driven by the security team which accompanied the mayor. A local newspaper speculated about an armed attack on the mayor and the internet quickly was full of stories of an assassination attempt. Some even reported a successful assassination of the mayor. However, subsequent inspection revealed the shots came from inside the vehicle! It appears that a security team member’s gun accidentally discharged. No attack. No assassination. No crime.

But despite the fact that no tourists have been involved or injured in any of the incidents we mentioned, and despite the fact the predicted introduction of the drug war to Playa never happened, many people reading exaggerated comments on the internet have been left with the impression that Playa is now a war zone. That is simply untrue.

Playa del Carmen is Not a Small Village

No one likes violent crime in their city. People in Playa were shocked and saddened by the crimes that took place. But keep in mind that Playa is not a small town. The most recent population number listed by the Municipio of Solidaridad lists the population of the Municipio at 173,266, with an annual growth rate of 6.8%. This doesn’t include the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit here each year.

Playa del Carmen and the surrounding municipality is larger than both Green Bay, Wisconsin and Topeka, Kansas. Playa is also larger than either Tempe, Arizona or Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It is about the same size as Providence, Rhode Island and as Knoxville, Tennessee. Playa is not a small village; it is a good sized city. And in any city of this size, regardless of the country, one would expect to find some incidents of violent crime. Yet overall Playa del Carmen continues to be free of the crime seen in central Mexico or even in some places north of the border.

Don’t Listen to Rumors

While we were writing this blog, we saw an individual on an internet forum state that she worried Playa was too dangerous to visit because there had been an assassination attempt on the mayor! And in that post we realize the real reason for Mexico’s reputation as being too dangerous to visit: Public comments by those ignorant of the facts, always founded in speculation and often based in prejudice, have created a popular but false perception that all of Mexico is dangerous.

We will say it now as we have repeatedly said it in the past. Do NOT listen to the opinions of your neighbors who have never been to Playa telling you to stay home, or the speculation of people who post on the internet with no expertise or experience who advise you to stay hidden behind resort walls. If you have questions, turn to the experts…those news agencies and governmental offices whose job it is to keep us informed with facts; and blogs written by people who live and work in the area. A list of articles, blogs and sources that we believe are reliable can be found in our previous blog on this topic: Safety & Crime in Playa del Carmen Mexico 2011: The Truth. And you can always find up to date information about Playa del Carmen and the surrounding area on the Facebook page of the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar.

Mexico is More than Sensational Headlines

Finally people also need to remember that Mexico, like the US and like any other country in the world, is a complex place, and no one part of it should be seen as representing the whole. We would not condemn the entire US as dangerous because of a crime wave in one section of the country. Yet that is what happens repeatedly with regard to Mexico. Last year when 14 people were killed in 14 days in Dallas, Texas not one person suggested America was too dangerous to visit. Can you imagine the outcry in the media if a similar crime wave happened in Playa?

Most of us view other places with a different perspective than we do our own country or home. And while that may be understandable it isn’t always fair or factual. Mexico is not black and white, good or bad. It is a tapestry of different lives, cultures and experiences. It would be a shame if people continue to paint all of Mexico with one brush and deny themselves the opportunity to experience the greatness that this country has to offer.

We have lived and worked in Mexico for almost seven years, and we can say with absolute conviction that this little bit of paradise known as the Mayan Riviera is beautiful, relaxing, welcoming and above all…safe.

And on that note we will leave you with this video made by the Tourist Board of Mexico about the Riviera Maya. We think that without saying a single word it explains perfectly why we and so many others think of Mexico as someplace very special.

This is where we live…come visit us at the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar.

Read our other blog entries about safety by choosing the “Safety in Mexico” category in the right column of this page, or simply click:
Safety in Mexico Blog Entries ~ Luna Blue’s Playazone

17 Responses to “Safety & Crime in Playa del Carmen Mexico ~ 2012”

  1. Dave O'Callaghan said

    Glad I found this one. Taking my whole family down here at the end of month including grand kids. Everyone has been mentioning bus tourists robbery incident by Puerta Vallarta (been there in the past and sorry to see this) and warning me not to go to Mexico, while others recently in Playa area sing the praises about it. Isn’t it sad that we have all these crime problems anywhere in the world? Just think how much money would flow into countries with tourists and help increase standard of living everywhere?

  2. Alex said

    My fiancee and I will be arriving in Playa Del Carmen (PDC) in four days. I am glad I stumbled upon this blog. It explains clearly what I have been trying to get across to the naysayers when they say I am crazy for going to Mexico. I also came to the conclusion that Mexico is a large country and the violence is very far away. I am no more afraid of the crime in New York City, when I am in Boston, than I will be of crime In Tijuana, when I am in PDC. Being a Police Officer for 18 years, my experience has been that the largest number of victims have made choices and gone places that significantly reduced their safety and exponentially increased their chances of being victimized. So for those considering travel to PDC, Mexico I say……..If you are not buying drugs, chasing prostitutes and getting blind drunk you are miles safer in any place in the world. Just a little awareness of your surroundings goes a long way towards making you safe. Knowing where you are and where you are going, before you go, is basic. There are warning signs when you are being targeted for street crime and the internet is a vast resource. While you are surfing the net for hotel and resort information, take a little time to learn about being safe wherever you go. Learn the language Yes there is crime everywhere. Let someone else less prepared, less aware, and more foolish be the victim….. not you! See you soon Mexico!

  3. ted r said

    Ted from San Diego say’s:
    My family has been coming to PDC every year since 2005. We rent our own cars and travel all over Quintana Roo, (ie. Chichen Nitza, Cancun, Coba, Hidden Worlds, Akamal, Cozumel…just to name a few), with no incidences in the last 11 yrs. Our largest group was about 50 people back in 2007. We shop, dive, snorkel and and play. We are not a stagnant group, staying only in our resort (Royal Haciendas), we go out and mingle with the locals and experience the culture. So based on my experiences in PDC I would highly recommend PDC as a safe vacation haven. See you in June 2012!

  4. Carrie said

    We have been visiting Cancun and Playa del Carmen once or twice a year for over 15 years. Still, we get “warned” by friends of how dangerous it is and asked how we can take our children to such a dangerous area. We are flying in next week for a 2 week vacation and once again a friend has “warned” us that last year a travel agent told him the Dept of Defense recommended they not visit Playa del Carmen. We live outside of Baltimore and I normally retort with the same line..Do you think Baltimore or DC is any safer??? I am forwarding this article to him.

    We were once in Mexico during an election year when they were worried if the wrong President was put into office there would be an uprising. Our resort took the time to let all their vacationers know what precautions they would be taking if there were any issues. We also frequently travel outside the resort areas to eat at various places and have never had an issue. We have been there for hurricanes, when the airports have shut down, as well. The employees at our resorts are always very frank and clear on what they believe is safe and we follow their advise. Never have we felt to be in danger.

    It’s sad that people have such an off persception of Yucatan Peninsula. They are missing out on a wonderful experience. Playa and Cancun top our favorite vacation spots. Gorgeous beaches, fantastic sucba diving, fabulous resturants and wonderful people! My entire family starts counting down to our next visit the second we hit the airport to fly home. However, at this moment we are counting down to our next visit…6 days!!! See you soon Playa!

    • Well said, Carrie. Enjoy your upcoming trip! There have been lots of changes in Playa in the past months (great new restaurants, etc.). Have fun, and stop by the Luna Blue & see us if you get a chance.

  5. victoria said

    I’m happy I found this site. I am traveling alone to take some Spanish courses there for two weeks. My family is concerned for my safety being a female, but I plan to only adventure with groups during the day. They forget that I have done this kind of thing before in other countries. Please let me know if you have any suggestions for travelers like myself. I am also looking for more group activities to keep me busy.

    • Irisht said

      Thank you all for your comments, I am going in 3 wks to riveria maya timeshare with 6 of my friends. My husband is overly concerned for my safety. I told him my friends and i are renting a car and exploring for our 7 days there ! Crime happens every day in Conn. where i am from, so i think a vaction in mexico is necessary.. Besides, who would be crazy enough to mess with 6 older females in Mexico 🙂

  6. Tracy Hackett said

    We are going back to Mexico for the third time in as many years and love the country and her people. We are looking forward to spending time in Play Del Carmen and have never felt unsafe during any of our travels.

  7. Susan said

    I’m headed back down for trip number 4 in a few weeks. Yes, I believe it is a safe place to vacation…..but let’s not tell EVERYBODY that because it will become more expensive and crowded. Let’s keep it our little secret;)

  8. Lou said

    I will be staying in Cancun for 2 weeks and then going to Playa Del Carmen for 2 more weeks. All I can say is WoW! – 4 weeks in paradise.

  9. Linda said

    Thank you all for the posts regarding Playe Del Carmen. Our family is taking a June 2013 vacation and we plan on stay at the Royal Playa Del Carmen. There will be 9 of as. We have been to Mexico in the past several times, and had a great time. Only once was there an incident involving my sister who had her room broken into at the resort and her camera was stolen along with some other items. The hotel compensated her with cash. The sad part was it was an employee and another person of the resort.

    We are still looking forward to the family vacation and love Mexico and the wonderful people who always make our stay enjoyable. If anybody has been to the Royal, would love to hear what you thought about it.

  10. I don’t mind people thinking Riviera Maya is dangerous, that just means more al pastor for me!;)

  11. Tracy said

    I felt completely safe in Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, and Cozumel (Jan2012) I was only scared when I got back to the airport in South Carolina. I walked, rode city bus, ferries and had no problem what so ever. I was even there alone with my teenage daughter. Had so much fun we are going again March 2014.

  12. Nonofurbiznis said

    Gosh Americans are so stupid…. Ive been to mexico 4 times and my next trip is in August this year.
    Place is safe. Go to Atlanta downtown 2 am and tell me if that place is safe. Ohh yeah go to detroid downtown and stop with your car at red light at 2 am really USA has the most dangerous citys and you try to say something about mexicans. Fuck u ignorant ppl.

  13. allie said

    How difficult is it to start a business there? We would love to make the move but worry about all the red tape … any info, links or ideas would be helpful!!

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