Many travelers are worried about tourist safety in Baja. Many people have looked at me like I am crazy when I tell them we’ve spent quite a bit of time in Baja and love it there. I’ll never forget this one guy’s face after I told him we’ve talked about buying property there. You would’ve thought I’d grown a third eye!
The news would have you believe that Baja is overrun with cartels and drug lords, kidnapping and shooting tourists. Yes, that does happen. The reality is that tourists are often victims of organized crime from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. While tourists may be victims of petty crime like theft (as in many countries), they are not typically targeted by violent criminals. Sometimes robberies gone wrong lead to the death of a tourist, like this incident.
Baja is safer than most major cities in the U.S. and most of the rest of Mexico. Truthfully, the drug crime problem is Mexico is caused (either directly or indirectly) by the obscene overuse of drugs in the United States
Check out a few other posts we have about Baja and get stoked for your adventure!
Tips for Tourist Safety in Baja
Have a “Dummy Wallet”
When we’re traveling in Baja, we like to have a dummy wallet within reach instead of the real one. Our dummy wallets contain expired ID’s, expired Credit Cards, a paper copy of our passports, and maybe $20 in cash inside. Some old receipts and some change really make it look legit. Our real wallets are in a safe place in our van and when we stop to get gas or buy something, we’ll grab the real credit card from there. We do this so that *if* we are ever mugged or someone sneakily swipes a wallet from the vehicle, they’ll think they got the real thing and move on rather than keep digging for more valuable things. We’ve literally NEVER had a problem with our things being stolen, but (as with anywhere) tourist safety is your responsibility and it’s better to be a little paranoid than get into an unfortunate situation.
Stay Away from Drugs
If you’re looking for trouble, you’re going to find it. Drugs will be offered to you on pretty much every street corner in tourist towns (mostly weed, cocaine or pills like Viagra). It is best to avoid interactions with drug dealers, as it could lead to a more dangerous situation like being mugged or using poor quality drugs.
The Mexican Government is in the process of decriminalizing drugs, admitting that the country’s “War on Drugs” is putting public safety at risk. Although drugs would still be illegal, consequences of possession would be rehabilitation-oriented rather than prosecution. At the moment, this change is still aspirational, and it is best to use your utmost discretion by declining offers to purchase drugs.
Tourist Safety in Baja’s Big Cities
If you’ve traveled a lot, you know that now matter where you are in the world, there’s a higher concentration of criminals in big cities. Pickpockets and Snatch and Grab thieves thrive in crowded areas with poor lighting. Keep your wits about you, and be aware of your surroundings. Don’t carry too much cash on you and don’t travel with valuables on your person. Our recommendation for women is to only carry what you can fit in your pockets and leave the purse in your hotel room safe. There’s no reason to tempt thieves when all you’re carrying is Chapstick and some snacks in your bag.
If you’re interested in exploring the local night life, these tourist safety tips are even more important. Thieves will make easy work of a group of drunk Americans, so use common sense and don’t be flashy. Follow these common travel tips:
- Don’t walk alone at night or in poorly lit areas
- Ask your Hotel/Resort staff what areas are safe and which places to avoid
- Only carry as much cash as you need for the day’s adventure (cab fares, tips, food, etc.).
- Never leave your wallet or bag at your table if you leave for a bathroom break.
- Drink in moderation and stay aware. Do not accept drinks from strangers and do not leave your drink unattended.
- People will impersonate Police. If a Police Officer approaches you and says you’ve done something wrong and owe a fine, call emergency services at 112
Many beaches in Baja have dangerous rip currents and rogue waves that will wash you out to sea with no chance of swimming back. Resort staff will tell you whether or not it is safe to swim at their beach, and will likely patrol the beach to keep people from swimming if it isn’t. If you are not staying at a resort, just keep in mind that many beaches in Baja are not swimming beaches. Most beaches in Mexico are not protected by lifeguards. Locals know the safe places to swim and one of our favorite beaches in Cabo San Lucas is the “locals beach!”
Safety in Numbers
Traveling in Baja is relatively safe compared to a lot of other places. However, another tip for tourist safety in Baja is to be overly careful! Traveling with other people in caravans will not only make you feel more comfortable with traveling and camping in Baja, but also will make you less of a target for wandering criminals. Especially if any of your caravan friends have dogs. When you’re traveling in Baja, it’s smart not to leave sight of your vehicle, if you can help it. Traveling in a caravan gives you the opportunity to leave someone with the rigs while you grocery shop or grab food, in the event that you can’t park in eyesight.