Is Playa del Carmen safe? I think this is the post I’ve put off writing for the longest time, but it’s also the question I get asked constantly. So, finally, after living in Playa del Carmen for almost 3 years, here is my Playa del Carmen safety guide.
Although a lot of the advice in this post is written for women, many of the Playa del Carmen safety tips are universal.
Safety in Playa del Carmen, Where to Start…
Firstly, I arrived in Playa del Carmen in 2018 as a solo traveler and 3 years later I just got my temporary residency. If Playa del Carmen safety was such a big issue then I wouldn’t still be living here. But it is Mexico, and there are common issues that are specific to this place. The last thing I want is to put anyone off visiting this beautiful country that I call home. But it’s important to know about the issues here so you can do a risk assessment for yourself and make a decision.
I recently did a self-defense course in Playa del Carmen with Boxing Camp Playa and I would highly recommend it. The course was 4 hours over 2 days and I learned so much! They run courses regularly so get in touch with them directly to get your name down for the next one. It’s recommended to do a course twice a year so everything stays fresh in your mind. This stuff only works if you are able to do it instinctively as reaction time is key. If you want to keep learning you can become a member of the guy and attend their daily classes (if so I’ll see you there!).
A little note on my safety in Playa del Carmen…
Before I go any further I need to let you know that I’m going to be as honest as I can in this post, but there are certain things that I do not feel comfortable speaking about publicly. There is a lot of organized crime here in Playa. It happens and it’s part of the day-to-day life here. Because I live here, I don’t want to draw attention to myself by speaking out publicly.
When things happen here it’s mostly kept out of the press, or if it does make the press it’s almost always full of incorrect information that puts blame sadly on the victim. This whole area relies on tourism so it’s an unspoken rule that you don’t draw attention to anything that could have a negative impedance of the largest source of income.
As local people, we get our news through word of mouth. We are well connected through Facebook, WhatsApp, and Telegram groups. When something happens we all know about it. But there are no official sources, it’s mostly just hearsay.
EDIT: If you are female and visiting Playa soon and want to connect with other women and safe taxi services then please join my Expat girls in Playa Facebook Group. I’m getting lot’s of emails and messages about safety, this really is the best place to connect with me and other women in the area.
Is Playa del Carmen Safe for Tourists
If you want a short answer, yes.
As a tourist visiting Playa del Carmen for a week or 2 doing normal tourist things like eating at restaurants, visiting Mayan ruins, and having some drinks and dancing salsa on 5th Avenue at night, you are very unlikely to encounter any issues with safety. Of course, if you decide to go looking for drugs or wandering outside the tourist zone you are much more likely to find trouble.
Tourists are off-limits in Playa del Carmen
This is something you will hear a lot when talking about safety in Playa del Carmen, and it’s mostly true. Everybody living here needs tourism so the unspoken agreement is that no one, cartels included, should do anything to put that at risk. Unlike other countries I’ve lived in where the crime is mostly muggings, pickpocketing, and bag stealing, Playa del Carmen doesn’t have a lot of petty crime.
In Medellin, I would NEVER leave my phone on the table. Here I do. Yes, sometimes things get stolen, but it’s really not very common. It’s actually one of the safest places I’ve lived in that respect.
The crimes here are organized and almost always cartel-related. The shootings mostly take place outside of the tourist areas and they are always very targeted. There have been a few shootings close to where I’ve lived which is always a little concerning but they are assassinations, not random acts of terror. In the USA and Europe, you have random terrorist attacks, in Mexico, we have these assassinations.
So yeah, it’s not pleasant but I feel less at risk here than I do in many other parts of the world.
Did You Get Travel Insurance Yet?
If you are planning a trip right now then you NEED to thing seriously about insurance. If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that you need to be prepared for anything! Travel insurance has always been high on the list of things to get before you travel but now more than ever it should be at the top of your list! I’m pretty sure we have all had travel plans messed up because of COVID and not all insurers covered this. So you need to find an insurer that covers travel disruption due to COVID-19, World Nomads and Safety Wing are the ones to go for. World Nomads is great for incidents that happen prior to your trip, so if you get sick or are unable to travel due to travel restrictions some of their policies will cover that as cancellation cover. Safety Wing goes the extra mile and covers quarantine outside your home for up to 10 days, they also have a really handy map on their website showing requirements and restrictions for each country. If you are doing shorter trips or a onger backpacking trip then WorldNomads is the best option. If you are a digital nomad or planning travel of at least 6 months then go for SafetyWing.
What are the main safety concerns in Playa del Carmen?
Ok, so I’m not going to go into the normal solo travel safety concerns, these are pretty universal and I’ve written about them many times. You can read more in my book. This list is just of things specifically in Playa del Carmen.
Scams in Playa del Carmen
There are some scams in Playa del Carmen, but they really are no different from scams in other tourist places. Just follow the rule of not trusting anyone trying to sell you something on the street and you will be fine. Book your tours through a reputable company like Kay Tours, yes of course you will pay a bit more than you would if you buy a tour of some guy on the street, but I can guarantee that you will not be getting a quality tour.
Probably the biggest scammers in Playa del Carmen are the car rental companies. Those guys are the worst! They put all kinds of extra charges on that they insist you have and they also have a nasty habit of putting a hold of a few thousand dollars on your credit card and not releasing it for months. Oh and be sure to take videos and photos of the car before you take it and of how much gas is in the tank. It’s common for them to give you a car with an empty tank of gas, so just return it in the same condition.
I wrote a whole article about it that you can read here for more information about how to avoid rental car scams in Playa del Carmen. If you are thinking of renting a car then book through my friend Vanessa via whatsap, she can also sort our airport transfers and any tours in The Riviera Maya you want to take. Mention my name and she will give you a special price 🙂
Overcharging for Gas
This brings me nicely onto my next scam, overcharging for gas. Now, this has never happened to me, in fact, every time I’ve gotten gas the attendants make a point to get my attention to show me that it’s on zero. But do just check because it does happen that they don’t reset it and then you have to pay more.
Service charges and extra items on the bill
Everyone gets caught with this one. Firstly service charges are 100% optional in Mexico. Of course, you should always tip, but you don’t have to, and they are not legally allowed to add on the tip and charge you unless you agree. It’s the law.
As a rule of thumb 10% is the standard tip locals leave. 15 – 20% is what tourists or locals that can afford it should leave.
Then there are the old extra items on the bill scam, this has happened to me way too many times, yes, sometimes it’s a genuine mistake, but not always.
Another thing to watch out for is when you are in a group and you want to pay separately. In most restaurants they won’t do this, they will insist you all pay on one bill. If this is the case make sure you check how much cash you are handing over before you give it to them. The last time I was out in a big group they told us we had not given them enough money, which we absolutely had, and then we all ended up having to pay more because we hadn’t counted it out in front of them.
Is It Safe To Take A Taxi In Playa del Carmen
Taxi drivers get their very own section. Because on the whole, they are some of the worst scam artists around. That said, personally, 90% of the interactions I’ve had with local taxis have been positive. In fact, I really enjoy chatting to taxi drivers here, they are on the whole super friendly, one even offered to marry me once so I could get my residency haha. But I always flag taxis off the street and never get in one of the taxis parked up around 5th Avenue.
Here’s the thing about the taxis in Playa del Carmen that the scammy ones don’t want you to know, they run on a set tariff. That’s why there are no meters.
If you live here then you know how much the fair is to for your journey. I personally never ask as I know the fairs so I just give them the correct money. Or as I’m getting in I’ll say $35 pesos, they always agree. I have never had any issues.
If however, I’m taking a taxi from around the ADO bus station or the supermarket, I know I need to pay an extra $10 pesos on top of my fare as that’s the rule if the taxi is parked up. But sometimes these guys like to try and rip you off, so I always agree on a price before I get in.
Looking for an honest taxi driver in Playa del Carmen? Daniel is the most trustworthy and honest driver I know, click to send him a WhatApp.
Personally, I would try and stay somewhere where you can easily get around without the need for a taxi. I wrote a very detailed guide about the different areas of Playa del Carmen to stay in, read it here. I also linked some places in the best areas at the bottom of this post.
The Tourist Charges
There are two different kinds of taxi drivers in Playa del Carmen, those for the locals and those for the tourists. The ones for the tourists won’t even take me, I’ve literally been asked to get out of a taxi and the driver told me he was just for the tourists after I told him where I was going (my home rather than a hotel).
As an example, that driver wanted to charge me $110 pesos for a journey that should cost $40 pesos max. Because he was parked up at ADO I knew I would be expected to pay a tourist price but $110 is ridiculous! So he pointed to some taxis a bit further up the road on the other side and told me to go there. I did and he charged me $80, which is still double, but what I was expecting. Normally I would walk along 10th Ave to take a taxi and only pay the $40 pesos, but I was moving back home after 2 months in Cozumel and I had a lot of luggage with me.
The Tourist Tax
If you want to save yourself paying the ‘tourist tax’ know most places within el Centro you shouldn’t be paying more than $40 pesos, so just hand that over to the driver. If you are going further check first. Not all taxi drivers are bad in Playa, Daniel was my trusted taxi driver who is as honest as they come. You can send him a WhatsApp here.
Always flag down rather than taking a taxi on the street, and avoid paying in USD. Playa is split into zones a way you can easily check the prices using this website, you will need to know the zone you are traveling from and 2, but it’s a great way to get a good idea of the prices.
If you are staying in Playacar or at one of the big resorts it’s hard to avoid the tourist pricing.
I had one taxi driver insisting the fee to The Fives was $250 pesos, even though it’s right next to Balam Tum which I know is an $80 peso fare. He even got out a laminated sheet with the price on as proof. I gave in in the end as the taxi was for my family staying there and it wasn’t like they couldn’t afford it. $250 pesos is about $10 USD. They didn’t have pesos and asked to pay UDS, he told me $20 USD haha. I joked that was some math he was doing and managed to talk him down. Really I should have just told him to forget it, but sometimes it’s not worth the row… which brings me to my next point regarding taxi drivers.
You may notice a few things…
There is no Uber in Playa del Carmen – they tried but it was too dangerous the taxi drivers made it impossible
A lot of taxi drivers get shot in organized assassinations
That’s all I will say, you can read between the lines.
Is it safe to take a taxi at night in playa del Carmen?
No. Not if you are alone.
I would rather walk home alone at night than ever get in a taxi after dark by myself. It’s not worth the risk. If I’m with others, no problem, but alone, no way.
In addition, don’t ever sit in the front of a taxi if you are on your own. I’ve heard from multiple people that the taxi they were in stopped to pick up a ‘friend’ who got in behind them and then put something around their neck until they handed over their money. This generally happens to guys though, and there are often beatings that go along with the strangulation and robbery.
Sorry, I know this is worrying stuff. But as I said, I want to be as honest as I can. and these things do happen enough for me to not take taxis at night.
Do I take taxis during the day, yes, all the time?
Have I personally had any issues? No, never.
But I also speak pretty good Spanish. I know the fairs and I’m clearly not a tourist or someone new in town. I also don’t take taxis at night and I always flag them down on the street or use WhatsApp taxi. In all the years I’ve lived here I have never got in a taxi parked up around 5th, and I never will.
Most taxi drivers in Playa del Carmen are good hard-working people, sadly those who are not, give the rest a bad name.
Dealing With The Police in Playa del Carmen
The police in Playa del Carmen, uff.
Where do I even start?
What can I say that won’t get me in too much trouble?
Ok, so the police are not well paid here in Mexico. They get very little money for doing a difficult and often dangerous job. This lack of decent wages obviously causes issues. It makes the police in Playa del Carmen susceptible to corruption.
Good news is if you want to get away with something as you can often pay a little propina (tip) and your problems will disappear.
But bad news if a crime happens to you.
The police are also very well known for robbing people, especially drunk gringos.
Girls, it is rare for this to happen to us, mostly because we aren’t wandering the streets drunk after dark. But this happens all the time to guys.
It often goes something like this:
Police stop you walking alone at night and accuse you of something, normally being in possession of drugs, whether they find any or not they will tell you they found something and then threaten you with 36 hours in a Mexican Jail. Of course, you will protest, they will then offer you a deal aka take all your money. Or when they are searching you, they will just take all your money and give you back an empty wallet.
Most people do nothing about this, they just give them their money and forget about it. If you speak good Spanish, you can try and argue, threaten to call your lawyer, etc., etc. But honestly, it’s easier to just give them some money and then go home. If you can make a note of their name, and report them the next day. But it likely won’t do any good.
If you have a problem and need help from the police I would advise calling the tourist police over the federal police. Also, there are a few very good lawyers here. My first call would always be to one of them (feel free to contact me for contacts).
The Tomato Ketchup Setup
This is an old trick that comes around every now and again. Mostly to older people. Basically, someone will squirt ketchup on your back in the supermarket. They will then inform you that you have a back full of tom sauce. You will dash to the bathroom to clean yourself up and they will relieve you of your bag/ wallet/ phone/ whatever else they can get their hands on!
Drink Spiking in Playa del Carmen
You have no idea how much I hate writing all of this bad stuff about the place that I love.
But I also feel like I have a duty of care to the women who look to me for advice. Drink spiking happens all over the world. My little sister’s drink was spiked in the UK. Colombia and Bali are both rife for it. Sadly it is something that happens here too, although thankfully it’s not that common.
Always, always keep an eye on your drinks.
Ask the bartender to open your bottles at the table. Try to also watch them pouring them if you can. Don’t accept drinks from strangers. I’m sure you already know all this, but it can’t hurt as a reminder. This happened recently to someone in the ex-pat community. It shook us all up. I won’t go into any details as this is not my story to tell but it did not end well and as a result, we have all started being far more cautious when we go out at night.
So please be careful ladies and if you need a safe ride home there are a few women offering this service, but for safety reasons, they don’t advertise. Contact me and I can pass you the WhatsApp phone number.
Buying Drugs in Playa del Carmen
Do you know how people say dumb stuff like don’t get kidnapped by the cartel when you visit Mexico?
Well, there is a really easy way to avoid the cartels here, don’t go looking for drugs.
Seriously, if someone offers you something say no. It’s pretty simple. I’ve lived here for 3 years and successfully avoided any contact with the cartels but simply staying away from drugs. I have nothing more to say. Say no to drugs kids. Go do plant medicine instead!
Jungle Parties in Playa del Carmen and Tulum
Underground/ secret jungle parties are a common thing here. There are always drugs, which means cartels, which can mean trouble. If you go just be aware you are putting yourself in danger. I have many friends who go to these parties all the time. I also have a friend whose friend was shot in the leg after getting caught up in a shootout in Tulum at an illegal jungle party just a few weeks ago so, yeah. Up to you, but you won’t find me at a jungle rave anytime soon.
Hurricanes in Playa del Carmen
You know, if I’d have written this piece a year ago, I probably wouldn’t have even thought to include hurricanes as a section in a Playa del Carmen safety guide.
But it’s October 2020, and so far this month there has been a nasty tropical storm (pretty much a hurricane) a category 2 and 1 hurricane, and I’m currently watching 2 separate depressions that have a 70 and 80 percent chance of forming hurricanes that will come right for us in the next week.
So yeah, hurricanes are a danger here.
Don’t want to be in a hurricane? Avoid visiting in October and early November, those are normally the worst months, although hurricane season does last from July to November.
Like I said at the start, I’ve hated writing this post. I love Playa del Carmen, it’s my home, so writing negative things about it makes me feel icky. If you have read anything in this post that has put you off visiting, please reconsider. In all the years I’ve lived here nothing bad has happened to me, Bad things happen everywhere. All we can do and all I’m trying to do, with this post is bring more awareness to some of the more common safety issues in Playa del Carmen so you can be better prepared.
Please, if you have any concerns, or have any specific questions reach out to me. I am always more than happy to talk things through with other solo female travelers to help put your mind at ease.
Looking for somewhere to stay in Playa del Carmen?
I wrote a whole guide to Accommodation in Playa del Carmen you can read here. I also recommend booking one of these Airbnb’s. They are all in great locations and are super reasonably priced.