Weekly Travel Q&A: Is Mexico City Safe?
I’m travelling to Mexico City later this year to attend the wedding of an old college friend. I’m trying to keep an open mind about the city but I can’t help but worry about getting mugged, or worse. Mexico’s capital seems overwhelming and, frankly, a little scary to an uninitiated country bumpkin like myself. So lay it on me – is Mexico City safe?
Bill O., Columbus, Ohio
Festival in Mexico City’s ZÃ³calo -Â Photo credit
Bill, I wish I could guarantee that you won’t get mugged when you’re in Mexico City but, unfortunately, I don’t own a crystal ball. Heck, I can’t even guarantee you won’t get robbed in Columbus. Truth is, a lot of the knocks on Mexico City have more to do with superficial perceptions and the city’s country-like population than on cold, hard stats.
Still, there’s no way around the fact that official rates for petty and more violent crimes in Mexico’s capital are high (imagine what the unofficial rates are). Not Ciudad Juarez high, mind you – not even close. Remember that. Mexico City should never be lumped in with the powder keg atmosphere of the drug wars that have debilitated entire towns along the U.S.-Mexico border. Different ballgame altogether. No, the most peopled metropolis on the continent has other problems – namely people, poverty and lack of space.
How this all encroaches on tourists differs based on your particular experience and who you talk to. The “high” crime rate in Mexico City seems – and I write this after much research and discussions with native Mexicans – to be directed mostly at fellow residents. Furthermore, where the bulk of crimes occur is notable, in that they often transpire in areas well off the tourist trail. Based on recent history, you’re probably more likely to have your digital camera pilfered on a beach in the YucatÃ¡n than in Mexico City.
And you know what else? The city is not as oppressively populated as people fear. I spent several wonderful days in Mexico City two years ago and thought, as many do, that the crush of 20-25 million residents would suffocate me. Far from it. Less than 9 million people live in the actual core city, where practically every tourist hangs out, and the rest sprawl out over a wide, wide area. While still quite frenetic and busy, no more so, on the whole, than Buenos Aires, Madrid or even New York City.
Because my time in the city was short, I chose a hotel in Mexico City on the ZÃ³calo – the massive plaza and central pulse point of the metropolis. Not necessarily the best choice for a week or more stay – I recommend the pretty neighbourhood of La Condesa – but convenient. Point is, I was in the middle of the swarm, the chief hive of activity in Mexico City and I never once felt ill at ease or in danger, even very late at night. Moreover, when I did explore other enclaves of the city – which you should invariably do – I took public transport. The bus and metro systems rule and apart from loud, occasional vendors on board, are pleasant and run efficiently on time. Never got a bad vibe once on the subway in Mexico City.
So fear not! Mexicans are rightfully proud of their capital – Mexico City has the eighth biggest city economy on the planet, did you know that? – and are hilariously lightning-quick to deride its many flaws, from non-earthquake proof infrastructure to traffic, smog to the quality of its football clubs. Crime, however, isn’t an all-encompassing fear.