Is Oaxaca Mexico Safe to Travel in 2020? (Top Safety Advice)

Sunset in the city of Oaxaca
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The state of Oaxaca (pronounced “wah-hah-kah” in case you were wondering) in Mexico is a traveller favourite when traversing this delightful stretch of South America. But, if you’re travelling alone or for the first time, you may be wondering about safety in Oaxaca for tourists. Luckily, we’re here to reassure you that it is safe to travel to Oaxaca, Mexico – and we even have some top travel safety advice to get you through your trip!

Synonymous with age-old Mexican culture, scenery in Oaxaca includes cobbled streets of multicoloured colonial buildings, framed by a background of towering mountains. However, perhaps a less familiar travel destination than popular regions including Mexico City and Tulum, you could be wondering how safe it really is. Many who visit feel comfortable living in and exploring the state’s neighbourhoods, with travellers mostly only reporting encountering petty crimes like pickpocketing and the theft of bags, which can easily be avoided by taking simple safety precautions.

So, whether you’re already planning places to visit or still researching whether to include this fascinating state in your trip’s itinerary, we have everything you need to know about staying safe when visiting Oaxaca. For the most up-to-date government guidance, you can also check the Department of State’s travel advisory.

Is Oaxaca safe right now?

Street at dusk in Oaxaca, Mexico
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The simple answer – Oaxaca is a safe destination for travellers in 2020. Although most of Mexico has a bad reputation with high crime rates, low confidence in policing and the threat of a powerful drug cartel, Oaxaca is one of the safest states. The capital of Oaxaca City is particularly tourist-friendly, with local people more than happy to stop and talk, or cheerfully point you in the direction of the best sightseeing locations.

On the opposite end of the scale, the port town and well-known surfing spot of Puerto Escondido has unfortunately seen crime rates rise in recent years. The unlit coastline acts as a hotspot for criminals to strike after dark, so it’s best to avoid any late night beach trips on your own – stick to the well-known tourist traps where crowds gather once the sun sets, and you’ll be able to experience Mexico’s magic worry free.

Is Oaxaca safe for solo female travellers?

Travelling alone can be scary, wherever you choose to go in the world. But, as we mentioned, Oaxaca is one of the safest states in Mexico and South America, so it’s easy to enjoy this culture-filled destination alone with minimal risk. The lively state is regularly buzzing with locals, tourists and passing day trippers, so there’s plenty of people around — some of whom may be in the same situation as you, so you could even make some new friends along the way!

For solo female travellers, exercising common sense is the simple way to stay safe; plan places to stay and transportation well in advance, purchase a local SIM card for short phone calls and GPS assistance, and keep your belongings secure and out of sight when visiting busy attractions or wandering the streets. If it is your first time travelling any unknown country alone, you may feel more comfortable going with a larger group — sharing accommodation, taxis and food can also help you cut costs too!

Woman overlooking view in Oaxaca
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Is Oaxaca safe to live?

Like most places in the world, some parts of Oaxaca are a safer place to live than others. Close to the capital city, there’s a never-ending list of neighbourhoods to choose to live in. Santo Domingo is a popular pick for many, located within walking distance of local nightlife and sightseeing favourites, while Zocalo is also a good option for those who want like to be close to the action.

The bustling atmosphere here means you’ll never feel alone, but it’s important to be aware of petty crime such as pickpocketing when you’re out and about. For somewhere more residential, Colonia Reforma is a safe and quiet area to reside in, with cosy cafes on most street corners and the city centre still only a 25-minute walk away if you’re looking for things to do.

One thing remains the same wherever you live in Oaxaca — the people! The Oaxacan community are warm, caring and deeply cherishing of their friends and family, often known to also invite travellers to discover their way of life. However, it’s best to learn some basic Spanish if you want to communicate with the lovely locals; English isn’t widely spoken in Oaxaca, so being able to speak and understand basic phrases in the native language can be super useful to know.

Group of travellers having sunset picnic
Photo credit: Arthur Poulin via Unsplash

Is Oaxaca safe at night?

Oaxaca City comes alive at night; the sound of lively local music fills the air, the city’s celebrated street food is served up from quaint stalls, and don’t be surprised to see a fantastic firework display seemingly appear from nowhere to light up the sky in early hours. From fiery salsa dancing shows to orchestral performances, lots of organised experiences in the city mean you can join others in safe setting to indulge in the colourful culture.

It’s easy to lose track of time – especially since many Mexican’s tend to begin their evenings later than most – but as long as you stick close to bustling bars and restaurants, you can safely soak up the atmosphere for as long as you like! However, wherever you do go in Oaxaca at night, it’s best to remain cautious; stay alert if you’re approached by a stranger, avoid flashing expensive items and keep any loose cash or credit cards you’re carrying safely tucked away. When it’s time to go home, it may be safer to get the bus or call for a taxi to pick you up from a well-lit area, rather than walking unfamiliar streets by yourself.

Is the tap water in Oaxaca safe to drink?

Gold outdoor tap
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Although the government claims drinking from the tap in Oaxaca state is safe, you’ll find many people still prefer to drink bottled water — even the locals! If you visit a restaurant or café during your trip, you’ll usually always receive a bottle when you order water (but it’s always best to clarify) while food preparation and hot beverages usually utilise water that’s been pre-boiled, or professionally purified out of the city. If you’re particularly worried about the risk of water quality or have a sensitive stomach, it’s sensible to brush your teeth with bottled water too.

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Are taxis in Oaxaca safe?

Similar to many states in Mexico, the roads in Oaxaca aren’t the safest — pot holes, blind bends and dangerous drivers aren’t hard to come by! So, if you do need to travel somewhere further than walking distance, it’s best to hail a cab than get behind the wheel yourself. You’ll usually be be able to spot taxis waiting in the street or close to commonly known tourist traps, but you may feel more safe by having your hotel or hostel reception call one for you.

The cabs in Oaxaca are often unmetered, so fares may vary from driver to driver, although they’re always cheap. Crime rates in Oaxaca typically increase at night, so it’s not unusual to see opportunistic drivers hiking their prices between the after-dark hours of 10pm and 5am — but can you really put a price on getting home safely?

People walking in Street in Oaxaca, Mexico
Photo credit: Max Bohme via Unsplash

How to get to Oaxaca, Mexico

Including Oaxaca on any travel itinerary in Mexico is easy, whether you plan to a couple of days exploring or stay for the long haul. Flying directly from Mexico City be an hour-long flight, or you could travel by road which would take a much-more-lengthy six hours (depending on traffic and how many stops you make en route). Travelling in a group – whether on a bus or in a pre-organised rental car – is often the safest option for the journey, as the state’s roads can be unpredictably dangerous.

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Our Top 9 Safety Tips For Travelling To Oaxaca

Two local women carrying baskets in Oaxaca

So, thinking of going to Oaxaca? We don’t blame you, the mouthwatering food, timeless culture, clever street art and beautifully historic buildings here are enough to entice any intrepid explorer! But, knowing how to stay safe in the state is important too.

Before you go, here’s our top nine travel tips for looking after your safety in Oaxaca:

  • Keep your valuables, gadgets and money out of sight –  Ideally, don’t bring any unnecessary valuable items with you to Mexico in the first place! Leave what you can securely locked up in the in-room safe at your hotel. If you do need to carry items with you when out and about, keep things secure in zipped compartments, or you may even want to consider purchasing an anti-theft bag or purse — this state is a pickpocket’s paradise!
  • Try not to publicise yourself as a tourist – When in the city, on a day trip or visiting local attractions, don’t draw attention to yourself; stay in the crowd or group that’s nearby, and keep a low profile to avoid making yourself more vulnerable to thieves or scammers. By living like a local when you travel alone, you’re guaranteed to have a more authentic experience too!
  • Protect your personal documents (and make copies) – Before you travel, it’s worth making digital copies of your important documents incase they’re lost or stolen. From your passport and flight details, to your travel insurance and hotel confirmations, store it all on your phone or in an accessible email folder. Remember, keep the physical documents safe once you arrive in Oaxaca state too!
  • Be extra cautious at night – After dark is the most important time to consider your safety in Oaxaca. If you go out, it’s good practice to attend organised events and to visit restaurants and bars bustling with other tourists and local people. When it’s time to call it a night, remember a taxi or bus is much safer than walking.
  • Use local knowledge to your advantage – The people of Oaxaca are your best source of safety information — and the best news is they love to help! Born and raised in the state, they know neighbourhoods and places to avoid, the best way to get around town day and night, and how to see the sights with safety in mind. Like we’ve already mentioned, it’s a good idea to get to grips with Spanish to communicate more easily!
  • Avoid crime hotspots if you can – Although most neighbourhoods are relatively safe day-to-day, try not to travel to places associated with elevated crime rates, including the aforementioned Puerto Escondido. Tread the tourist trail where possible, and if you do want to explore somewhere off-the-beaten-track, don’t travel alone — go on an organised tour, or with someone who’s familiar with the area.
  • Don’t drink the tap water – Most foodborne illness in Mexico originates from contaminated water, whether that’s drinking straight from the tap or consuming raw fruit and vegetables that have been washed. It’s best to only drink bottled water and to avoid asking for ice in your drinks, but you may want to pack some nausea and diarrhoea tablets just in case.
  • Common sense is key for safety – Your instincts usually never lie; if you feel a situation is unsafe or potentially threatening, always walk away while you still can. You should also never be reluctant to seek help if you need it, whether that’s from a passer-by, the staff working at your hotel or the police in an elevated situation.
  • If you’re still unsure, travel in a group – Although Oaxaca and Mexico are both safe for solo travel, if you’re still feeling uncertain about your trip, find safety in numbers. Invite fellow travel-loving friends to visit Oaxaca with you, or look at an online travel forum to see if there’s anyone in a similar situation to yourself — plus, sharing a new travel experience with others can make it even more exciting!

If you’re planning to further explore Mexico or the United States, it’s worth reading more of our travel safety tips! The Yucatan Peninsula is beautiful, so why not take a look at Is Merida Mexico Safe to Visit in 2020? (Top Safety Tips)

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