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!

Vanlife Baja: How to Prepare – 2 Month Checklist

Best Street Foods in Baja

Traveling Baja: Border Crossings & Security CheckPoints

Boondocking in Baja

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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

Scams

Tourist areas all over the world are laden with scammers and Mexico is no exception.  Whether it be taxi scams, tequila tastings, or counterfeited products, you’re sure to encounter a scam of some kind on your journey.  
 

Taxi Scams

Most Taxis are part of an organized business and less likely to rip you off.  However, it is best to agree upon a rate before you even get into the vehicle.  Taxi drivers may get a kickback from restaurants or shops for bringing tourists in, so be firm about where you want to go.  Be friendly and ask them about themselves.  We usually learn a lot about the area on cab rides, so have fun with it! 
 

Tequila Tastings

Tequila and Mezcal tasting experiences have gotten quite popular in Mexico.  Beware that some of these distillery tours are quite expensive, boasting that you’ll get to try several kinds of alcohol while learning about the process.  In reality, the goal is to get you drunk as soon as possible and then usher you into a shop where you will hopefully buy the expensive booze, fake silver jewelry and trinkets that they have for sale.  Enjoy the booze, pass on the shopping.
 

Counterfeit Product

From purses and apparel to cigars, you’ll see fake products lining the streets in tourist shopping areas.  Many people don’t mind that it’s not real because it’s cheap, just know that you’re not getting good quality product.  If the price seems too good to be true, it’s probably fake. 
 
Funny story:  Greg and I were walking around Cabo San Lucas and someone offered Greg cigars.  They were packaged nicely and the guy said they were “real Cuban cigars.”  Greg was interested and negotiated the guy down to $5.  Greg thought that was for one cigar, but when the guy handed over the whole box of 5, we laughed and knew they were fake!

Beach Safety

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.

Traveling in Baja is really safe, but you still have to use common sense.  Hopefully these common tourist safety tips for traveling in Baja will give you the confidence to see Baja for yourself!  Happy Travels!