Playa del Carmen is, overall, a relatively safe place to visit, but you should read this article carefully before going to make sure visiting this Riviera Maya destination is within your personal comfort zone.
While it was once a small fishing village long ago, today tourism is big business in Playa del Carmen. Due to this, the Mexican government has worked hard to maintain the state of Quintana Roo as a safe international destination.
I’ve spent 5 weeks traveling around the Yucatan Peninsula to date and, in that time, have had no safety incidents. Travel Lemming’s founder, Nate, is also currently based out of Playa del Carmen and has spent many months there without incident. That said, our experiences are obviously anecdotal. So, in order to stay as safe as possible, there are some important things you should know before traveling to Playa.
In particular, the global health crisis is still very much ongoing in Playa del Carmen. Many travelers test positive every day, including vaccinated travelers, so carefully consider carrying travel insurance to Mexico.
Ok, let’s try to equip you with as much safety information as possible to prepare for your trip to Playa del Carmen:
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Is Playa del Carmen Safe in 2021?
Though Mexico tends to get a bad rap in the media regarding safety, statistically speaking Playa del Carmen is generally safe for travel.
Mexico is a huge country and, as with anywhere in the world, there are things to avoid and location-specific issues to be aware of. In the Mexican state of Quintana Roo (where Playa del Carmen is located), there is very little violent crime specifically directed at tourists. As I mentioned above, this is because local cities like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum all Maya heavily rely on tourism dollars to maintain its economy and it’s in everyone’s best economic interest to maintain the area’s reputation.
That said, petty crime and robberies have been known to occur, and cartel-related violence (although rarely directed at tourists) is a reality of life in Quintana Roo. Overall, the easiest ways to keep yourself safe are to stay away from gang hotspots (which you are unlikely to accidentally stumble upon anyway), and to not be super flashy with your belongings.
👉 Are You Protected? Trip insurance is a must-have in a pandemic, in our opinion. Our favorite provider is World Nomads, but shop around using a comparison site like Aardy or TravelInsurance.com to find the best provider for you.
Key Things to Know About Safety in Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen Travel Advisories
Though an overall safe destination to visit, Playa del Carmen’s travel advisories by OSAC (Overseas Security Advisory Council) mention Covid-19 safety, water contamination, cartel relations, and natural disasters.
We’ll dive into each of these travel advisories below for a more comprehensive look.
As it stands, there is no COVID-19 testing requirement to enter Mexico, and the overall caseload and vaccination rates seem to be evolving quite rapidly. Mexico is currently in the midst of a third wave of the pandemic. But these numbers change quickly, so staying up to date on Mexico Covid-19 infection and vaccination rates is your best bet for determining how safe your travel plans will be.
One of the most important things to know before your Mexico trip is about Mexico’s four-tiered covid stoplight system. Quintana Roo is currently in the orange status, which requires restrictions for things like capacity limits, physical distancing, and mask-wearing. Note that Travel Lemming’s founder Nate, who is in Playa del Carmen currently, reports that these measures are being only sporadically followed on the ground.
👉 Pro Tip: To enter the USA or Canada returning from Mexico, you need a negative test. Get it at your resort, at the Cancun airport, or in the many well-marked stations in town. The USA’s CDC also recently cleared two at-home tests for travel, Abbot’s BinaxNOW and Azova’s Ellume test, which you might be able to do in your hotel. Check with your airline for re-entry requirements.
Crime, Cartels, and Scams
Scams and crime exist no matter where in the world you travel. Like most tourist hot spots, Play del Carmen is not exempt from this.
In particular, these are the most common scams to be aware of in Playa del Carmen, Mexico:
- 💳 ATMs – Random cash machines on the street tend to be unmonitored and can be tampered with. To keep your credit card safe, always use ATMs located at a bank.
- 🚗 Car Rentals – Renting a car in Mexico can be tricky, what with rental companies sometimes charging you for damage you didn’t create and for sky-high insurance rates. To combat this, I recommend using Discover Cars for all international bookings.
- ⛽ Gas Stations – If you’ll be driving in Mexico, then pay attention to the fuel meter when you first pull up at the pump. A common scam is for attendants to not zero out the meter, making you pay for more fuel than you got.
- 🍷 Unregulated Alcohol – As in many places, there have been reports of spiked or unregulated alcohol in Playa del Carmen. Always make sure you’re getting your alcohol from a legitimate source, and keep an eye on your drinks at all times. I can’t tell you how many times I was randomly invited into establishments by strangers making bootleg tequila in their bathtubs. I never accepted, obviously.
- ⚠️ Familiar Face Scam – I found this scam to be especially present on 5th Avenue, where people come up to you saying they’re the manager of your hotel, and that they recognize you. This is usually done to lure you into an overpriced shop and pressure you into making a purchase.
- 🐦 Bird Poop Scam – There is a well dressed couple that runs a scam in Playa del Carmen where they pretend to help you clean off “bird poop” from your hair. Of course, it’s all just a distraction so they can swipe your valuables during the commotion.
In addition to these common scams, cartel (gang) violence is undeniably present in Playa. A quick internet search will tell you that homicides have been increasing in the area in recent years. These are very rarely directed at tourists, but it does happen.
In general, unless you’re using drugs, purchasing drugs, or are involved with people who are affiliated with cartels, chances are you won’t be the victim of a cartel-related incident.
📚 Related Reading: Is Tulum Safe?
Where To Avoid in Playa del Carmen
In general, most tourists choose to stay in the areas close to La Quinta (5th Avenue) and within a few blocks of Playa del Carmen’s beach. The general advice you’ll likely hear is to avoid going further from the beach than the highway.
However, after wandering around many neighborhoods and doing a ton of research on the subject, I have to say there are no distinct areas to avoid. Yes, some areas of Playa are nicer than others, but the data shows that this doesn’t necessarily correlate to being more or less safe.
Rather, many of Playa del Carmen’s safety-related incidents tend to be situational and occur when common travel tips are ignored.
That said, especially at night, it’s smart to stick to the busy areas and avoid poorly lit alleyways and public transport stations. Always be aware of your surroundings, go where other people are, and trust your instincts when it comes to leaving uncomfortable situations.
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Can You Drink the Water in Playa del Carmen?
When considering water safety, the short answer is that the tap water in Playa is not considered safe to drink.
Now for the long answer:
Though there are robust water treatment facilities in the Yucatan, the issue arises in the piping system used to deliver the water to homes and businesses. A lot of these pipes are prone to bacteria that infiltrate the water and, upon consumption, make people sick.
If you’ll be staying in private accommodation such as an Airbnb, then my advice is to not drink the tap water and source it elsewhere. Every OXXO convenience store sells large jugs of water. Or, if you want to help save the environment, consider investing in a water filtration bottle (I reviewed the Grayl Geopress, which you can buy here).
That said, if you’ll be staying at a major hotel or resort, then chances are the water coming out of the tap has been locally filtered and is safe. Double-check with your hotel on this, but it’s a generally accepted rule of thumb.
Additionally, any time you order a beverage at a restaurant it should be made with purified drinking water. Restaurants don’t want their patrons getting sick, so you don’t have to live in fear every time you go to a restaurant.
Safety Tips for Playa del Carmen
Tip #1 – Dress Casually
Often when incidents such as petty theft and muggings occur in Playa, it’s because thieves find a vulnerable tourist with an obvious display of wealth.
In order to keep yourself safe from theft, dress casually, leave the expensive-looking jewelry and accessories at home, and don’t flash around electronics. Try not to pack anything for Mexico that would cause you major heartbreak if you did lose it.
Tip #2 – Don’t Overdo the Alcohol
A travel tip you’ll get almost no matter where you’re headed, getting overly drunk while on vacation in Playa is a big no-no.
Even though Playa has great nightlife, being publicly inebriated in Mexico (especially while alone and at night) will make you an easy target for theft, assault, drink spiking, and bribery, and as much as we wish it didn’t — these situations do happen.
By all means, have some fun while in Playa, but don’t go so overboard that you make yourself a vulnerable target.
Tip #3 – Avoid Recreational Drugs
As I mentioned above, drug trafficking and turf wars are very common in Playa, and foreigners who find themselves mixed up in these things leave themselves exposed to increased risk. Not to mention, doing recreational drugs will open you up to the same vulnerabilities as getting overly drunk.
Tip #4 – Be Aware of Wildlife
Though it’s a bustling city, make no mistake — Playa is a mere stone’s throw from the jungle and the vast array of wildlife that lives there.
Though you’ll have to leave the downtown core to find a wild jaguar, crocodile, or spider monkey, these animals do exist not far beyond the limits, and it’s a good idea to be conscious of their potential presence.
For example, if you’ll be visiting a cenote without a ton of other people there, just do a scan for crocodiles. Incidents are rare, but you don’t want to be “that person”.
👉 Pro Tip: Stay away from the vendors trying to sell you animal photos or experiences. Animals in these establishments usually have to be tranquilized to be considered safe around humans and generally have a pretty low quality of life.
Tip #5 – Know Basic Spanish
While most people in Playa’s tourism industry speak English, I still recommend learning at least a few basic phrases in Spanish.
Not only will this help you get around and show your respect for the locals, but it could also be valuable when in a sticky situation.
Tip #6 – Keep Valuables Locked Away
I don’t recommend bringing a ton of high-value items on vacation to Mexico, but those that you do have should be kept locked away when not in use (think Passports, immigration cards, electronics, etc.)
This tip is made easy if your accommodation has a safe, but I personally always travel with a PacSafe Portable Safe that I can secure to an object in my room. It’s really handy!
Tip #7 – Be Taxi-Savvy
Though rare, taxi scams in Playa have been reported. In particular, incidents happen either when a tourist gets into an unmarked car, or when the price isn’t negotiated and agreed upon upfront.
Only get into a taxi that has obvious signage, and always settle the price with the driver before you get in the car.
👉 Pro Tip: Rent your car through Discover Cars to avoid scams. It’s a search engine that shows review for different rental agencies, so you can avoid the ones with a bad reputation!
Tip #8 – Check the Weather
Checking the weather and actually preparing for it can be one of the best things you can do to stay safe in this region.
Though it’s good to be aware of hurricane season (June through November) and any other potential natural disasters, I’d say being aware of potential heat stroke and heat exhaustion is even more important on a day-to-day basis.
The Yucatan can get excruciatingly hot and humid depending on the time of year, and overheating, sunburns, and dehydration are very real concerns.
Tip #9 – Stick to the Main Streets
As I mentioned before, sticking to Playa’s main streets is a good rule of thumb for not looking like a lost tourist. Stay in well-lit areas of the city, go where other people go, and try not to walk alone at night.
Of course, the exception to this rule is 5th Avenue (La Quinta), where you’ll have to be a bit more cognizant of your surroundings due to the potential for scams.
Tip #10 – Stay in Touch
Another good travel tip regardless of destination is to always stay in touch with someone from home during your trip. Let them know of your general travel plans, including travel days and accommodations, and check-in with them regularly to let them know you’re okay.
When I travel, I have a spreadsheet with my itinerary that I give my family access to, and then I send them quick messages every now and then to let them know all is well.
Playa del Carmen Safety FAQ
Is Playa del Carmen Safe Right Now?
Playa del Carmen is generally safe right now for travel, but visitors should be aware of scams and health-related restrictions.
Is Playa del Carmen Safe for Female Travelers?
Playa del Carmen is safe for female travelers, although women traveling to this region should exercise reasonable caution and be aware of risks to ensure they stay as safe as possible.
Is Playa del Carmen Safe for Solo Travelers?
Playa del Carmen is a generally safe destination for solo visitors, though they should exercise caution as petty crime and scams have been known to occur in Mexico. Tips for solo travelers include sticking to main tourist centers, staying in hostels, and not walking alone at night.
Is Playa del Carmen Safe for Families?
Playa del Carmen is safe for families as it’s easy to get around, has plenty of family-related activities, and is a relatively laid-back city.
Is Playa del Carmen Safe for American tourists?
Playa del Carmen is safe for American tourists granted they follow common travel tips and are aware of potential scams and dangers.
Is the cartel in Playa del Carmen?
The cartel is in Playa del Carmen, although tourist-related cartel incidents are a rare occurrence. Tourists can stay away from cartel violence by not using recreational drugs, not being overly intoxicated, and by sticking to central tourist zones.
What is the crime rate in Playa del Carmen Mexico?
The crime and safety indexes of Playa del Carmen are ranked as moderate, according to a crowdsourced survey by Numbeo.Com.
That’s it for my guide to staying safe in Playa del Carmen, Mexico!
Playa is overall very safe to travel to and I hope this article gave you the information and tools you need to travel here with confidence.
Before you go be sure to check out some of my other popular articles:
Enjoy your trip to Playa del Carmen!