Fear or fact: Is Oaxaca safe or a no-go zone for travelers?

“Is Oaxaca safe” is one of the top questions that I receive not only from solo travelers but from all types of travelers. In this op-ed, I will share with you all my personal experiences in Oaxaca safety – I come here twice a year!

📧  Hi Trisha! I know your blog is mostly about solo travel but I love your content so even if I am not a solo traveler, I will write to you anyway! We are a family of 5. My husband and I have three teenagers. We heard so many good things about Oaxaca and want to give it a shot. Is Oaxaca safe for families? Are tourists frequently targeted for crimes? How does Oaxaca compare to other cities in Mexico in terms of safety? I already booked a call with you next week to chat about this but I want you to have an idea of my concerns. Thank you so much and keep it up!

Natacha Ratliff, United States
is oaxaca safe

Hola Natacha!

I am glad you are considering Oaxaca for your first trip! Look, if you are not searching “is Oaxaca safe,” then it probably means that you are not getting ready for your trip.

This is actually great and positive! It is not easy to arrange a family travel, especially if you have children who are dependent on you but believe it or not, you don’t have to worry about safety in Oaxaca.

In this post, I will share with you all my experiences about safety in Oaxaca (I travel alone and I am a woman). Your experiences might be different so don’t rely on my experiences – make your own!

These safety tips, stories, and narratives are forms of sharing so you’ll know what to expect. Either way, I know you are going to have a great time!

Good luck and I hope you push through – I’ll talk to you next week!

Xx, Trisha

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Is Oaxaca safe?

Safety perceptions are often subjective and can vary from person to person. What safety means to you does not necessarily reflect how I look at safety.

Personally, I never felt unsafe in Oaxaca and the petty crimes (i.e pickpocketing, theft) that I heard were not even firsthand but from people I know, which made me realize that pickpocketing and theft happens everywhere, not just in Oaxaca.

With this, I will give you a few points below on why the question “Is Oaxaca safe” always pops out:

Media reports on crimes in Mexico

Negative media coverage of crime rates in Mexico as a whole can influence perceptions of individual regions like Oaxaca, even if these areas have a different safety landscape.

Reports of drug-related violence, kidnapping, or other forms of crime can cause travelers to assume that Oaxaca is also unsafe.

is oaxaca safe

The media plays a pivotal role in shaping public opinion, and this is especially true when it comes to travel safety. Unfortunately, negative stories often get more attention than positive ones.

While it’s true that some parts of Mexico are grappling with serious crime issues, such as drug-related violence and kidnappings, these problems are not universally present across the country.

Oaxaca, for instance, is often considered relatively safe compared to other regions. But a cursory scan of headlines might not make that distinction clear, causing travelers to lump all parts of Mexico together as “unsafe.”

Government travel advisories

Some government websites issue travel advisories that caution travelers about visiting certain parts of Mexico due to safety concerns.

While these advisories often focus on specific areas and not necessarily on Oaxaca, they can contribute to a generalized sense of fear or risk.

Travel advisories issued by various governments can carry significant weight, particularly because they are often seen as unbiased, factual sources of information.

is oaxaca safe

These advisories may caution against travel to specific regions or entire countries due to a range of issues from political instability to health concerns.

While these advisories are generally well-researched, they can also be broad in scope, leading travelers to assume that all areas within a country are risky.

It’s essential for potential travelers to dig deeper into these advisories to understand which specific regions are flagged and why.

ASK QUESTIONS. Don’t just take the advisory in. Take note of the term “advisory.” These days, we fail to use our innate ability to question. We easily believe what the Internet says.

Online forums and social Media

Personal accounts and anecdotes shared on online platforms can skew perceptions.

A single story of a negative experience can be amplified and generalized to represent the entire area, leading people to think Oaxaca is unsafe for travelers.

While online platforms can offer valuable first-hand accounts and insights, they can also amplify anecdotal experiences to seem like widespread truths.

Believe me, I know! I’ve been doing social media for the last 15 years of my life! Some, unfortunately, use it not for spreading the truth but for earning money and catching attention.

is oaxaca safe

Social media stories are often true but they are INCOMPLETE.

A single negative event narrated by a traveler can, through the virality of social media, become a de facto representation of an entire region.

Such stories, while valid for the individuals involved, may not give an accurate picture of the safety conditions in Oaxaca.

When considering information from online forums and social media, it’s crucial to look for patterns and corroborate information from multiple sources rather than taking isolated incidents as indicative of broader trends.

Remember that we are all unique individuals. What happens to a single person does not necessarily mean it will happen to you too.

Cultural and language barriers

Visitors who are not familiar with the local culture or language may feel vulnerable and consider that as a safety issue.

Not being able to communicate effectively or understand local norms can lead to situations where a traveler might feel unsafe.

Feeling “at home” in a new place often hinges on your ability to understand the local culture and communicate with residents.

is oaxaca safe

For travelers who don’t speak Spanish or aren’t familiar with Mexican culture, Oaxaca can feel intimidating. This perception of vulnerability can be mistaken for actual safety risks.

In reality, many parts of Oaxaca are quite welcoming to tourists and offer a range of services in multiple languages.

However, it’s always a good idea to learn a few basic phrases and familiarize oneself with local customs and etiquette to navigate more comfortably.

Generalized concerns about safety in Mexico

Oaxaca, being part of Mexico, might be bundled with concerns that travelers have about safety in Mexico in general.

Issues like petty crime, pickpocketing, and scams in other parts of the country can influence travelers’ perceptions about the safety of all regions, including Oaxaca.

Unfortunately, Mexico often gets painted with a broad brush when it comes to safety concerns.

Persistent stereotypes about crime and instability in the country can easily influence perceptions about individual locations, including Oaxaca.

is oaxaca safe

While no destination is completely devoid of risks, many areas in Mexico—and Oaxaca is often cited as one of them—are largely safe for visitors who take common-sense precautions.

By taking the time to investigate each of these points, you can make a more informed decision about your safety while considering a trip to Oaxaca.

Bottom line: Crimes happen everywhere, not just in Mexico. Mexico just seems to be the star of this conversation. But surely, you are aware that crimes happen in first-world countries (like France or many parts of Europe), too.

🙋🏽 Is Oaxaca safe for solo travelers?

I’ve had different experiences on every visit. The first time, I didn’t feel paranoid and completely felt safe walking around the city on my own.

However, during the Day of the Dead, there were many incidents of theft that involved guns so I became extra vigilant. Nothing happened to me but one of our friends got mugged. That’s the closest personal experience that I can share.

is oaxaca safe

Day of the Dead is a big event in Oaxaca. With many people on the streets (mostly partying drunk), it’s very evident that petty theft can happen.

On normal days, I am always with Mexican friends. Many of them shared with me that nothing bad has happened to them through the years they have living in Oaxaca so these unfortunate events during Day of the Dead were a little surprising to others.

Honestly, Oaxaca has the lowest crime rate in all of Mexico because it’s such an affordable city to live in, a factor that minimizes the crime rate.

I will give more Oaxaca safety tips later on, including some personal experiences so keep reading!

🚶‍♀️ Is Oaxaca safe at night?

I wouldn’t encourage it, especially if you are alone. Oaxaca has a very walkable terrain so it will make you think twice about spending on taxis. But never walk by yourself at night!

There is a big difference if you are walking as a big group (or in pairs) so during our massive day of the dead group trip, we implemented a buddy system.

is oaxaca safe

When I am visiting Oaxaca on my own, my local friends always walk me to my hostel and if I am alone, I always take a taxi.

I recommend you always take a taxi after 9:00 PM. It’s less than $5 USD and they are very safe. Later on, I will explain to you the difference between the colors of the taxis in Oaxaca so you’ll know which is safe to take. I can also recommend a local driver to pick you up at the airport for a cheaper price!

🪭  Why I feel safe in Oaxaca, Mexico

I have many friends in Oaxaca

Trips are always different when you are visiting friends. You have a more secure vision of how your trip will be like and you won’t even think twice because you are going to see friends!

However, I became friends with these people after already traveling solo to Oaxaca. Through regular visits, I have developed a community and all that took effort.

is oaxaca safe

I didn’t just wake up and suddenly have local friends in Oaxaca! The more I strengthened this community, the more I was able to feel confident about going around on my own because whatever I know about Oaxaca now, I learned from them.

If this is your first-time traveling to Oaxaca, I don’t expect you to build a community like I did, especially if you don’t have any plans on coming back.

But be open-minded, ask questions, and use your ability to investigate to find the truth. Rely on yourself, not on other people’s information (or the Internet’s).

I speak Spanish

Speaking a language is always what I’ve regarded as a superpower. I love learning languages and I proved that you will have a different and more meaningful travel experience if you spoke their language.

I first learned Spanish when I went backpacking South America, which was easier because all South American countries spoke the same language: Spanish.

Look, you don’t have to be fluent. My trip to South America was for 3.5 years which gave me the opportunity to really practice my Spanish.

is oaxaca safe

But I hope you at least know some basic phrases and try to use them during your trip, especially in Oaxaca where English is not widely spoken yet.

Navigating a local language always makes me feel safer and not different and this always gives me the confidence to travel to anywhere I want to go without worrying about my safety.

My friend Chelsea is an American who is super fluent in Spanish. She’s lived in Mexico and Guatemala and you can probably learn Spanish from her easier!

🤟🏽 Check out Chelseas’s Spanish learning programs and make sure to tell her to offer you a program that is focused on traveling. Don’t overwhelm yourself with a new language and focus on what you only need.

I visit Oaxaca quite regularly (twice a year)

Like many things in life, exposure gives you experience. From visiting Oaxaca regularly, it was clear to me that the same safety precaution that I exercise in other destinations is no different from Oaxaca.

oaxaca tour

Every time I visit, it’s always been FUN!

Nothing bad happened to me in all my trips to Oaxaca alone. EVER! If something did, I probably would be extremely paranoid, paint Oaxaca with a negative picture, and never come back.

📍 Safe areas in Oaxaca

Oaxaca Centro

Most of your time in Oaxaca will be spent in Centro. This is the center of the city where you will find all the famous landmarks and attractions.

is oaxaca safe

Honestly, if you are not looking to explore Oaxaca deeper, stay in this area. However, even if centro is safe, I still don’t walk here after 12:00 midnight (unless I am staying in centro).

Jalatlaco

Jalatlaco is a little bit far from the center but as Oaxaca solo travel is becoming popular, more and more people choose to book their accommodations here.

is oaxaca safe

Jalatlaco is my favorite neighborhood in Oaxaca for for its vibrant streets and crazy nightlife. It is quite small so you can just visit it for half a day but if you want a different kind of Oaxaca, consider spending the night here – their hotels are super cute!

Xochimilco

Xochimilco is another most-visited Oaxaca neighborhood. I particularly love visiting this area during day of the dead as the neighborhood transforms into a splash of color!

It is more or less the same layout as Jalatlaco but it is quieter and smaller. American expats in Oaxaca love to live here which makes it one of the safest areas in Oaxaca City.

oaxaca map

Travel to Oaxaca with all my recommendations in the city. This Oaxaca map includes over 600 places, divided into different categories!

✨ Oaxaca safety tips

Only use yellow taxis

You will see two taxi types in Oaxaca, the white and the yellow. Since Uber is not used in Oaxaca, you will have to hail a taxi but only choose the yellow ones.

is oaxaca safe

The yellow taxi companies are certified and are way safer. I have over 10 driver contacts on my phone book through my visits in Oaxaca and I can pass them on to you if needed!

The Jalatlaco location is wrong on Google maps

If you want to go to Jalatlaco, do not follow the Jalatlaco location on Google maps as it will tell you it’s a 45-min walk! I had the mistake of following this destination twice and it’s ridiculously long.

oaxaca itinerary

If you are going to Jalatlaco, better choose a popular restaurant spot (like Pisa Pizza) as it is a more reliable location and walking guide.

Be mindful of crossing the streets

I live in Cabo and cars here are pretty great with pedestrians. They always stop. But in a big city like Oaxaca, drivers have different behaviors.

I always had the experience that even if I am on a pedestrian lane, most drivers won’t care and won’t let you cross. You know, people’s driving behavior in the city is always different.

is oaxaca safe

It was just strange to me because in Mexican beach towns, drivers always prioritize pedestrians. Sometimes, I don’t even have to look!

But Oaxaca is different so look left and right, check the lights, and be careful when crossing the streets!

Don’t bring a lot of cash

Credit cards are widely accepted in Oaxaca. You only need cash for street food (less than $2 USD) or taxis which are under $5 USD.

is oaxaca safe

If you need cash, just go to the Zocalo where all the ATM machines are but remember, during festivities like day of the dead, the ATMs always run out of cash!

For more ATM options, try the San Felipe neighborhood which is also the central business district of Oaxaca.

Do not buy drugs at all costs

Is Oaxaca safe? People always ask this question but the only reason why you’ll be in trouble in Oaxaca (and all over Mexico) is when you buy drugs.

day of the dead in oaxaca

Believe me, you won’t need drugs to enjoy Oaxaca. Avoid getting into this business at all costs and ignore the locals who will sell you drugs on the street. Do not interact!

Join my yearly day of the dead tours

I do my day of the dead tours every year (for 15 people only) and most of the participants of my tours are solo travelers! If it’s your first time to visit Oaxaca, this can be a good warm-up for you to be comfortable traveling here.

day of the dead in oaxaca

It will be a week of fun and we will do many local things that are beyond the travel guides. We will also be joined by my local friends in Oaxaca whom you’ll surely get along with!

I can also arrange your trip for you!

One of the things I do for travelers (mostly families and groups) is arrange their trip so they will feel safer during their trip to Oaxaca.

oaxaca itinerary

I can customize Oaxaca itineraries and sign you up with tours that support the local community. This way, you don’t have to worry about your trip – I’ll plan everything and all you have to do is enjoy!

Consider your source

When researching “is Oaxaca safe,” only get advice from people who have been to Oaxaca or foreigners who lived there.

Oaxaca itinerary

Mexico is currently home to 1.2 million Americans, not even counting the Europeans and other nationalities that are living there.

I mean who wants to live in an unsafe place? These foreigners who live in Oaxaca won’t really choose Oaxaca if they feel that it is not safe, correct?

Get travel insurance

DO NOT travel to Oaxaca without travel insurance. If you can’t afford insurance, it absolutely means you can’t afford to travel as well.

oaxaca travel guide

My favorite travel insurance is SafetyWing (for digital nomad and long-term travel) and Ekta Travel for comprehensive medical insurance starting at $0.99 USD!

Get in touch and I will introduce you to some friends in Oaxaca!

If you are going to Oaxaca alone for the first time and need some local insights, I can introduce you to some of my greatest friends who live there (a mix of Mexicans, Europeans, and North Americans).

Oaxaca itinerary

Just get in touch with me and I will definitely make an intro! You’ll love them and most of them are in the photos of these posts.

⁉️ FAQ: Safety in Oaxaca

First, Oaxaca is not only visited by Americans. You’ll see many European tourists here and even Asians. It attracts travelers from all over the world so there is no specific tip for safety for Americans. Sure, you’ll get some attention from being white but it does not mean that Americans are targeted. Oaxaca is safe for all types of travelers as long as you practice the usual safety precautions that you’d do anywhere else.

ABSOLUTELY! Oaxaca is a family-friendly destination. You’ll see many children playing in the parks tile late (mostly locals). Unlike any other city in Mexico, Oaxaca is still deeply rooted in its Mexican culture and you will often see that with local Oaxacan families.

Women, unfortunately, have different experiences than men and this is not only in Oaxaca but all over the world. I have traveled to Oaxaca many times and nothing bad happened to me. Ever. There are no special safety precautions for solo female travelers to Oaxaca. Just do your normal safety routine as in any other destination you’ll visit.

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