Tijuana is a Mexican city sitting close to the U.S. border just south of California. It is a city with rich cultural history, ceremonious landmarks and numerous historic sites. And yet, it is one of the most dangerous cities in the world. In fact, Tijuana reported 138 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2022, the highest in the world.
Despite being a dangerous city, it’s still one of the most visited cities in Mexico. It receives more than 10 million visitors each year, and the number is only growing. And it’s not surprising, considering Tijuana’s great nightlife, beautiful sandy beaches, thrilling shopping spots and several historic sites.
With some safety precautions, Tijuana can be a splendid holiday destination. This article will tell you how to stay safe and have fun.
Is Tijuana Safe?
While Tijuana has a lot of crime, it’s a safe destination as long as you stick to well-patrolled touristy areas.
The city has a reputation for being a hub of drug trafficking and organized crime — and it has struggled with this problem for years. While the government has made efforts to improve safety in recent years, it still remains an issue. Certain areas of the city are more dangerous than the others.
It’s important to note that most crimes are drug-related and not directed at tourists. Many travelers have had positive experiences and felt totally safe while they were in the city. Again, the key is to take important precautions, stick to well-lit touristy-areas, and avoid wandering into unfamiliar neighborhoods.
If you do feel the urge to explore more, you can consider heading to nearby Ensenada, which is one of the safest cities in Baja California. But when in Tijuana, it’s important to remain extra vigilant and careful.
Crime in Tijuana
The fact that Tijuana has some of the highest crime rates is no secret. The U.S. department has put Tijuana under Level 3 travel advisory.
Most crime cases have been reported to occur at night. So the safest option is to either be back at your hotel or head back if you’re near San Diego. You will never get your stuff back if you get mugged or pickpocketed. Police are corrupt and won’t help you. But even by a miracle they find your belongings, you’ll have to pay them to get back your things. It is better if you leave.
Pickpocketing and stealing are one of the most common crimes in Tijuana. Pickpockets are highly active, sometimes forming a group to create diversion and distraction to steal.
When in Tijuana, be extra cautious with strangers. Don’t let strangers distract or stop you by talking or sharing a sad story. It could be a trap, and you’ll end up losing your stuff, especially when it is getting dark.
Street crimes like mugging, kidnapping and assault are uncommon but increasing in numbers, according to the locals. Kidnapping cases alone have increased by 60% in the last 3 years. Walking alone in or near a bad neighbourhood or at night will put you at high risk of mugging. You’re advised to leave your important belongings in your accommodation, like a hotel or Airbnb, but most importantly, avoid bad areas and night travel.
Tourist spots in Tijuana bustle with crowds and noise making it a perfect place for tourist scams. Expensive and often forfeited souvenirs, trick games, sob stories, and fake travel guides are some of the notoriously common scams. Be mindful of your surroundings, and be vigilant to avoid getting scammed.
These are mostly petty crimes, however, gang and cartel-related crimes are also prevalent. They usually don’t target tourists, but you can get caught in the crossfire.
Chances are someone will try to scam you, from hotels trying to squeeze in few extra bucks to vendors to sob story tellers. Ignore strangers, book hotels online and don’t be distracted.
Cartel and Gang Violence
Cartel and gang violence is the reason for the high crime rate in Tijuana. The turf war between gangs and cartels fighting over capturing the best and most profitable smuggling routes in the US often takes bad shape.
Although cartels or gangs don’t target tourists specifically, you can get caught in the crossfire. The safest play is to remain around downtown, Zona Norte, Playas Tijuana and more such tourist-centric places to avoid getting into their conflict. Drugs also make up for the fair share of the crime and scam, so don’t buy drugs.
Since you don’t know who the seller is, chances are the dealer selling you drugs might rat you to the police. The police will arrest you, and you will have to pay a hefty fine to avoid jail time which will be split between the dealer and the police. And this scam will continue.
Traffic and Cab Scams
If you’re from a border state in the U.S., you can drive to Mexico. If you come from some faraway destination, renting a cab or car is the only option.
We recommend not bringing your car as it can make you an easy target for criminals and police. Police can pull you over and fine you for absolutely no reasons.
You can also get by on foot by parking your car near the border and crossing it on foot. However, the stretch becomes dangerous at night if you’re on foot. Make sure someone accompanies you.
When booking a cab, negotiate the fare. Some cabbies don’t use meters and will offer you higher than the usual fare. They will also take the longer route to your destination, claiming high traffic on the shorter route.
Don’t let the cab drivers suggest or take you to their recommended hotels. These hotels will charge you higher to cut in the cab driver. An alternative is Uber or any other online cab booking service that sets your fare.
Tijuana police are corrupt. They can stop you anywhere, search your vehicles, or pat you down to find something to fine you with. You must avoid confronting them as it can get ugly. If they charge you anything, get a ticket and pay it at the police station. They look for a bribe or you paying your way out of trouble.
If you get confrontational, they might get angry and arrest you or, worse put you in jail for something you didn’t do. The best option is to pretend you don’t know Spanish. There are good police personnel, too. And if you do something wrong, be ready to face the consequences.
Areas To Avoid in Tijuana
There are good places and bad places infested with crime and criminals. A general rule of thumb is to stick to the places with other tourists. The touristy areas get patrolled by the police trying to prevent crime.
Avoid areas like Camino Verde, Sanchez Taboada, and their neighbourhoods for your safety. Beyond the tourist spots, there’s nothing to see anyway. So keep looking at the map when you go anywhere because you might wander into a bad neighbourhood. If you’re visiting the red light district of Zona Norte, exercise extra precautions.
If you still want to go out at night, ensure you’re around Avenida Revolucion, Calle Coahuila, or Paseo de Los Heroes. These are relatively safer areas for a good night time, patrolled by police.
Safety Tips For Travellers Visiting Tijuana
Avoid exploring at night: Nighttime is the most dangerous and when the most crime occurs. Roaming at night can cause you trouble. You might get mugged, kidnapped or worse, murdered.
Avoid being flashy: Do not carry expensive items like jewellery, watch, shoes or other items. Of course, you have the right to dress or wear whatever you want, but being flashy makes you a clear target for criminals, and you wouldn’t want that.
Stick to tourist spots: Tourist spots are the safest places to be. Police constantly patrol them to curb criminals. Most of the tourists hang out in these areas and get to go back home without any incident.
Don’t buy drugs: Drugs are illegal and can land you in trouble. Dealers can get you caught and fined by police and then split the money later with the police. You can also go to jail for carrying drugs.
Don’t drink excessively: Getting too drunk will cause you harm and make you vulnerable. You can get scammed or robbed, or someone can take advantage of you. Drink responsibly.
Don’t keep too much cash in your wallet: Wallets are the easiest target for pickpockets. If you keep too much cash, that’s too much cash waiting to be gone in seconds. Keep money in different places so you have money to get by if you lose your wallet.
Wear clothes with secure pockets: Having secure pockets give an extra safety element. Snap or shape buttons are harder to undo than an open-ended pocket. If your trouser or shirt has velcro to close pockets, that’s even better.
Eat fully cooked meals: Undercooked meals can carry parasites and other deadly pathogens that can give you a bad case of food poisoning.
Don’t eat food kept in open: Food kept in the open gets showered with dirt, sat on by flies and other flying insects and isn’t hygienic at all.
Don’t entertain strangers: Strangers bring trouble in Tijuana. They can distract you to get pickpocketed, scam you into selling some cheap rated product at higher rates or trick you into giving them money. Stay away and don’t indulge.
Don’t drink tap water: Tap water isn’t clean. You can use tap water for showers or even brush your teeth, but not drink. Even locals prefer bottled water. It is readily available and safe to drink.
In case of any emergency whether medical or any other, please call on the numbers below:
- United States Consulate General: 011-52-66-81-7400, (66) 81-7400
- Binational Emergency Medical Care Committee: (619) 425-5080
- Attorney General for the Protection of Tourists: (66) 880-555
- Green and Health Hospital: +52 664 645 8636
- Ambulance: 065
- Air Ambulance: 1800 424 9000
Cultural Considerations When Visiting Tijuana
Tijuana is culturally rich with influence from the United States, Chinese and native Mexicans. So when in Tijuana, respect local culture and their festivals/events.
Dress moderately to avoid attention and offending locals. Be respectful towards people and their traditions. If you arrive in Tijuana at the right time, you may witness one of many very fun cultural events.
Tijuana doesn’t have state-of-the-art healthcare. The last thing you would want is to get sick on your travel. It doesn’t mean Tijuana lacks good hospitals. It means you should avoid anything that can get you sick. Do not drink tap water under any circumstances, and stick to bottled water. It is cheap and available everywhere.
Eat properly cooked meals and refrain from trying raw meat. If you fancy the culinary art of eating raw meat like Sushi, Beef tartar or other similar dishes, go to a nice place with good reviews. Wash fresh fruits and vegetables before consuming.
Mosquitoes and flies are another big problem in hot and humid places. Carry insect repellent and wear full-sleeved clothes, don’t stay near bushes or damp places for too long. Mosquito bites can cause diseases like dengue and malaria while flies can be responsible for typhoid, cholera, diarrhoea.
The Bottom Line: Is Tijuana Safe?
Tijuana is one of the cities with the highest crime rates, yet it is relatively safe for tourists. Most of the crimes happen at night and in the work-class neighbourhood. You will be safe if you stay vigilant and stick to tourist places.
Exercise safety and health caution, avoid strangers, bad food and tap water, and most importantly, be subtle. If you blend and don’t stand out, you’ll have a memorable time in Tijuana.
What makes Tijuana so dangerous?
Drug cartels and gangs often fight over territory control for smuggling drugs into U.S. This fight leads to bloodbath; murder, kidnapping, mugging becomes common to show power, create fear and control the streets.
Is Tijuana safe for women travlers?
Tijuana is a high-risk place for female travellers with higher chances of getting assaulted or harassed. It has one of the highest rates of crime against women. If you’re travelling alone, don’t go outside alone at night. Join other travellers and walk in groups to be safer and stick closer to touristy areas.
Is Tijuana safe at night?
Exploring tourist destinations is fun during the daytime and can be adventurous. At night, Tijuana gets riskier. Bad elements lurk around corners waiting for their prey. Most crime happens at night in Tijuana, so avoid going out. If you must go out, don’t go alone and stay around Avenida Revolucion, Calle Coahuila and other well-lit crowded places.