Known for its world-renowned vacation spots that include Cancun, Tulum, Playa del Carmen, and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico is a country that promises diverse landscapes of picturesque beaches, intrepid jungles, and centuries of historical landmarks.
However, beyond its postcard-perfect holiday havens, Mexico is also home to some of the world’s most dangerous cities. While there are definitely safe spots to visit, a key point to planning any trip to Mexico is knowing where you shouldn’t go.
To help you plan a fun and safe holiday, here are the 23 most dangerous cities in Mexico that you should avoid.
Quick Answer: Top 5 Most Dangerous
- Ciudad Obregón – Crime Index: 86.54
- Celaya – Crime Index: 82.91
- Zamora – Crime Index: 81.21
- Coatzacoalcos – Crime Index: 76.84
- Uruapan – Crime Index: 75.84
The 23 Most Dangerous Cities in Mexico
Of the 20 cities with the highest murder rate per capita, Mexico makes up nine, including the six cities with the most homicides per 100,000 people.
Thanks to the increasing presence of organized crime and drug trafficking, the political climate of Mexico is changing all of the time. In fact, many of the country’s most recognizable holiday destinations have decayed into some of the region’s most dangerous regions.
For this reason, I have composed this list of the most dangerous cities in Mexico based on Numbeo’s updated crime index levels, which take into account the presence of specific crimes, both violent and property, as well as the general perception of crime levels and safety from firsthand accounts.
Statista, the World Population Review, and local news articles were also used to confirm the overall danger levels of each destination, including murder rates, cartel presence, and other criminal statistics.
1. Ciudad Obregón
Crime Index: 86.54
Located in the southern region of the state of Sonora along Mexico’s northern border with the US, Ciudad Obregon tops this list of Mexico’s most dangerous cities with an overall crime index of a whopping 86.54.
Along with being Mexico’s most dangerous city according to its crime rate, Ciudad Obregon also boasts the world’s fourth highest murder rate per capita, with the city averaging about 101.13 murders per 100,000 inhabitants each year. And with a population of just over 430,000 residents, that amounts to about 435 murders yearly.
Home to an abundance of crime, both violent, petty, and organized, Ciudad Obregon is definitely a city to avoid when visiting Mexico.
Crime Index: 82.91
Averaging about 109.39 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, Celaya is the most dangerous city in the world when comparing murder rates. Still, with an overall crime index of 82.91, the central Mexican city comes in just slightly safer than Ciudad Obregon.
Located in the Guanajuato state, Celaya is home to over 740,000 residents and is known to host over a thousand murders annually, with a notable increase in crime attributed to gang violence in recent years.
Theft, drug sales, and human trafficking are also not uncommon in the city, and traveling to Celaya should be avoided when visiting Mexico.
Crime Index: 81.21
Another of Mexico’s crime havens competing for the spot atop any list of the most dangerous cities in Mexico (and the rest of the world), Zamora is home to the second-highest murder rate ever recorded by the Mexican Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice, with a reported per capita murder rate of 196.6 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2021.
While most of this crime is attributed to gang violence against rival factions, police, citizens, and bystanders are known to get caught in the crosshairs. Other common crimes in the city include kidnappings, petty theft, and extortion.
Crime Index: 76.84
Once a tourist hotspot, Coatzacoalcos has been plagued with crime in recent years, amounting to an overall crime index of 76.84. While violent crime is not as abundant as the top three most dangerous cities in Mexico featured on this list, Coatzacoalcos still boasts a homicide rate amounting to 48 murders per 100,000 inhabitants.
In fact, the city made international headlines in early 2022 when nine bodies were left at the side of the road. The crime has been attributed to the local Jalisco Cartel, who left a note to the authorities, warning against their efforts to reduce crime in the region.
While the city has increased its Military and security presence in the area, tourists should still plan on avoiding Coatzacoalcos, with murder, robbery, and violent crime still being common in the region.
Crime Index: 75.84
Located only about two hours from Zamora, Uruapan is another city in the state of Michoacan that should be avoided as the fifth most dangerous city in Mexico. Known for its cartel presence, Uruapan is a hotbed of violent crime as factions battle for territory in the city.
While the crime is often confined to internal conflicts between rival factions, police, residents, and other bystanders are known to get caught up in the conflict, with the city boasting a murder rate of 72.59 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.
Along with murder, other common crimes in the city include carjackings, robberies, and kidnappings.
Crime Index: 71.97
A popular holiday and spring break hot spot for tourists from California and other nearby US states, Tijuana may come as a bit of a surprise for many reading this list of Mexico’s most dangerous cities.
Still, with over 2,000 homicides per year and a per capita rate of 105.15 murders per 100,000 residents, the city that shares a border with San Diego is a hotbed of violent crime and is even home to the second-highest murder rate in the world.
The city attributes much of its crime to gang violence between conflicting cartels, as well as its large population and poverty levels, resulting in many occurrences of violent crimes, such as kidnapping, robberies, rape, and murder.
Crime Index: 71.28
The second largest city in Mexico’s Guanajuato region, Irapuato boasts plenty of natural beauty, consisting of the Arandis Hill and two picturesque rivers bordering on either side. In fact, the city hosts thousands of tourists each year looking to explore its historical architecture and surrounding vistas.
However, despite its tourist popularity, Irapuato is one of the most dangerous cities in the country in recent years, boasting an overall crime index of 71.28 and a per capita murder rate of 94.99 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, the fifth highest in Mexico.
While local law enforcement has recently sought aid from the federal government to control increasing criminal trends, murder, kidnapping, and extortion are all still common in the city, and traveling to Irapuato should be avoided for the foreseeable future.
Crime Index: 71.47
Another of Mexico’s most dangerous cities masquerading as a popular tourist hotspot, Zacatecas attracts thousands of visitors annually thanks to its colonial architecture, cultural heritage, and breathtaking scenic views of its natural surroundings.
Still behind its postcard-perfect presentation, Zacatecas is a hotbed of violent crime, boasting a per capita homicide rate of 107.47 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2021, the third highest of any city in the world for that year.
While crime rates have slightly improved in the city as it has across Mexico, Zacatecas is still an unsafe place to visit, with organized crimes, kidnappings, and public shootings all being common occurrences.
Crime Index: 70.94
The capital city of Mexico’s Morelos state, Cuernavaca, is commonly referred to as the City of Eternal Spring and depicts images of romantic architecture, flower-covered fields, and a breathtaking verdant landscape.
And while Cuernavaca is surrounded by plenty of beautiful landmarks, the city itself is a center of organized and violent crime and, unfortunately, should be avoided by tourists. Cuernavaca boasts a murder rate of 55.83 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, while other organized crime in the area includes kidnapping, drug trafficking, and gang fights.
Additionally, poverty is rampant in the city, making petty crimes and theft common occurrences on their own, with an overall crime index of 70.94 in Cuernavaca.
Crime Index: 70.69
Located in Sinaloa, the birthplace of infamous cartel boss El Chapa, Culiacan is a city that is firmly in the hands of the Mexican Cartel. As such, the city should be avoided by tourists, with violent crimes of murder, kidnapping, and exploitation all being common occurrences.
Culican most recently made international headlines in January 2023 for the arrest of Ovideo Guzman Lopez, the son of El Chapo and a current high-ranking member of the Sinaloa Cartel. The arrest follows the 2019 operation to achieve the same goal, which saw over 700 cartel gunmen take to the streets, taking hostages until the ultimate release of Lopez.
While no conflict to this extent has followed the 2023 arrest, the city has experienced some levels of unrest and increased crime, and visitors should avoid all travel to Culiacan.
11. Ciudad Juárez
Crime Index: 68.34
Another of Mexico’s most dangerous cities, Ciudad Juarez has experienced an upward trend in its crime rates in recent years, with a current crime index sitting at about 68.34 and climbing.
Ciudad Juarez’s increase in crime is largely attributed to the increased gang conflicts between the Juarez and Sinaloa Cartel, which frequently fight over turf in the area. Common crimes in the city include drug trafficking, robbery, carjacking, and murder, with homicide rates being about 103.61 murders for every 100,00 inhabitants, the third highest murder rate per capita in the world.
Ciudad Juarez also boasts one of the country’s highest femicide rates, making the city particularly dangerous for women.
Crime Index: 67.82
Another of Mexico’s border cities boasting the title of one of the country’s most dangerous destinations, Reynosa is located just across the US border, separated from Texas by the Rio Grande.
Despite its proximity to the United States, Reynosa is a hotbed of criminal activity and has become a popular stomping ground for criminal gangs and cartels.
While the city’s murder rate of 41.48 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants may not be as high as some other regions featured on this list, the local cartels and gangs are known to target immigrants crossing the border, with common crimes including drug trafficking, kidnapping, and even murder.
13. Ciudad Victoria
Crime Index: 65.12
Located only about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Reynosa, Ciudad Victoria is just as dangerous a city for travelers as the nearby border city. Like Reynosa, Ciudad Victoria is a haven for gang violence, with several cartels fighting over the turf.
Despite having a slightly lower crime index than Reynosa, violent crime is actually worse than in Reynosa, with about 86 murders per year for every 100,000 inhabitants. However, these are primarily confined to rival criminal groups, police, or military within the city.
Still, traveling to Ciudad Victoria should be avoided, as pedestrians and tourists can also be targeted.
Crime Index: 61.96
Home to the birthplace of cultural Mexican icons such as tequila and mariachi, Guadalajara is a popular destination, attracting over three million tourists each year. However, despite its popularity, Guadalajara is home to an abundance of crime, making it one of the most dangerous cities in Mexico.
Informally known as Chemical City, Guadalajara has been closely associated with the cartel and Mexico’s drug industry for over four decades. Today, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel is known to operate in the area, and the city has become another den of criminal activity, with high levels of robbery, sexual assault, and murder.
And while most of the city’s violent crime is often between rival gangs, it is not uncommon for tourists to get caught up in the action.
Crime Index: 60.73
A popular resort community of the Guerrero state along Mexico’s central Pacific Coast, Acapulco is another city that may surprise people to find out is one of the most dangerous cities in the country.
However, outside its luxury hotels and tourist hot spots, Acapulco is a boiling pot of criminal activity, with its crime index teetering on the high side at 60.73. Additionally, Acapulco boasts one of the highest murder rates per capita on the planet, with about 54.13 annual murders per 100,000 inhabitants.
The town’s crime rate is largely associated with the state’s prominent drug industry, with several cartels operating in the area and battling over control of the local drug trade. While most crime is confined to rival gangs, tourists venturing outside of the resort areas can often get drawn into the conflict.
Crime Index: 57.97
Once a popular tourist destination, murder rates in Colima have more than tripled since 2015, with 181.94 murders occurring for every 100,000 inhabitants, the most of any city in the world, according to some sources.
Like many places in Mexico, one reason for this upward trend in violent crime can largely be attributed to increased cartel activity in the region. Home to the Port of Manzanillo, Colima is a boon to the local drug industry, causing many rival gangs to fight over the asset, including the Jalisco New Generation and Sinaloa Cartels.
While much of the region’s crime is contained within these rival factions, both a local judge and congresswoman have been murdered for interfering in the local drug trade in recent years. Visitors are at risk of being targeted or caught in the conflict, and travel should be avoided in the region.
Crime Index: 57.95
Founded in 1531, Tepic is one of the most historical cities in Mexico and is home to an urban center responsible for much of the country’s sugar cane, tobacco, and citrus fruit productions. The area is also known for its production of methamphetamine, making it a pivotal stop for drug trafficking.
The region is currently controlled by the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, with corruption and bribery being rampant in the city. As a result, crime is abundant in Tepic, with high volumes of robberies, assaults, and murders happening every year.
Teppic sees approximately 54.64 murders per 100,000 inhabitants annually, putting it on the list of some of the most violent cities on Earth.
Crime Index: 56.66
A world-renowned tourist hotspot for decades, Cancun is actually one of the most dangerous cities in Mexico, especially for tourists who can often become targets of violent and organized crimes.
Like many places in Mexico, cartel presence has been growing in the Cancun region, which has resulted in an increase in crime in the city, including violent crimes such as kidnapping, assault, and murder.
In recent years, the homicide rate in Cancun has increased to about 64 murders per 100,000 visitors, including both locals and tourists. In fact, not even the resorts are safe in Cancun, with the murder of four tourists making international headlines back in April 2023.
While Cancun holds many favorable memories for travelers, visiting the resort city should be avoided for the foreseeable future.
Crime Index: 56.62
The capital city of the Michoacan state, Morelia is considered much safer than the nearby cities of Uruapan and Zamora but is still considered one of Mexico’s most dangerous cities, with an overall crime index of 56.62.
Like many areas in the state and along Northern Mexico, Morelia has served as a violent warzone for battling cartels vying for the coveted turf, leading to an abundance of violent crimes in the city.
With 42.05 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, Morelia’s murder rates are comparatively lower than other nearby cities, although travel should still be avoided in the region due to high levels of violence, kidnappings, and petty crimes.
20. Chihuahua City
Crime Index: 55.83
It’s hard to imagine that such a small dog breed came from one of the most violent regions in the world, but with a crime index of 55.83, Chihuahua City is one of the most dangerous cities in Mexico.
The hub of another key operation along the country’s notorious drug trade, Chihuahua City is often the center of violence as warring factions fight for the territory, dragging in bystanders and law enforcement in the process.
While the city’s murder rates of 41.7 homicides per 100,000 people are relatively low, Chihuahua City’s corruption levels are some of the worst in the country, with several high-level officials and law enforcement officers linked with organized crime.
Crime Index: 48.25
The capital city of the Nuevo Leon state, Monterrey is the third largest city in Mexico and is considered much safer than other nearby communities. However, with a crime index of 48.25, the city is still one of the most dangerous cities in Mexico, although crime can often be avoided.
With several museums and historical attractions scattered throughout the city, Monterrey can make for a great travel destination. With that said, visitors need to practice extra caution, as kidnapping, petty theft, and even murder are common in the city.
Crime Index: 40.25
Located along the Pacific Coast, Mazatlan occupies a beautiful stretch of shoreline with several holiday resorts. However, Mazatlan is also in the heart of the Sinaloa region, a state serving as an epicenter of drug trafficking in Mexico.
As such, crime is rampant in the city and has seen a steady increase in violent crimes in the past decade. While Mazatlan remains a popular destination, travel to the region should be avoided. However, if you are planning a trip to Mazatlan, be sure to practice caution and do not leave the resort area.
Crime Index: 38.50
While Ensenada may only have a crime index of 38.50, the city is actually one of the most dangerous in the world, boasting the sixth-highest murder rate, amounting to an average of 90.58 murders annually per 100,000 people.
Located in Baja California, Ensenada has seen a similar trend of increased violence due to cartel presence as seen in other cities of the country. The Sinaloa, Jalisco New Generation Cartel, and Arellano Felix organizations all have strongholds in the region, which has led to an increase in homicide, human trafficking, and carjacking.