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Cancun's Hotel Zone and the city Downtown areas frequented by tourists and locals alike are amongst the safest places to travel in Mexico and are known throughout Mexico for their relatively lower crime rate. Other than the normal petty thievery frequent in all tourist destinations, major crime involving tourists in the tourist zones is almost non existent. Far more frequent is crime in the City of Cancun, on the mainland, north of Isla Cancun's famous Hotel District, and adjacent to the City areas in the restaurant and shopping areas in the Downtown area. Generally, the typical tourist, will never venture beyond the Hotel Zone or the Downtown district when visiting Cancun where Cancun City resembles a modern, Mexican urban environment and has a preponderance of the city's local population, estimated at approximately more than a half million people at any given time.
The crime in Cancun City is predominantly a situation found in most large urban centers and involves crimes against the person among the local citizens and theft primarily. While violent crime does occur as in any city, it is certainly not a pervasive aspect of Cancun culture and society. In recent years, reported crime has increased generally in the city areas frequented by locals due to ongoing criminal activity associated with loosely affiliated extensions of the organized drug cartels in Mexico. As a result, violent crime has increased but typically involves those associated with the warring cartels and is rarely evident in the tourist areas.
Overall, in general, the tourist areas of Cancun and by extension the Mexican Caribbean locations of Isla Mujeres, Riviera Maya, Playa Del Carmen, Isla Cozumel, Tulum et al are considered by many to be some of the safest travel destinations in the Caribbean.
As in any major tourist destination, foreigners and locals alike should be aware of a few of the following situations and look to avoid them:
Cancun Airport Arrival/ Hucksters: avoid them like the plague when they offer timeshares, car rentals, free transportation etc. However, do take the free entertainment guide packets w/ maps and coupons that they hand out as they may become useful during your vacation. On arrival, most travelers have pre-arranged transportation, and typically this transportation is located outside the doors of the airport terminal, precede directly to this area once clearing customs unless your provider has instructed otherwise or you intend to utilize the private transportion vendors inside the terminal.
Rental Cars: A time honored Mexican ripoff, rent a car, get pulled over by police, pay bribe (mordida) for speeding or worse, be declared intoxicated, pay bribe, pay towing fee, pay extra money to rental car agency, pay police bribe, then go get drunk for real via Taxi. Some locals recommend telling the policeman who wants a bribe to go to the station with you and they usually just leave to look for easier prey. While certain areas of Cancun and the Yucatan are very easily driven it's important for foreign tourists to understand the laws, signage and road system before making assumptions on driving in Mexico. Be sure that you have the proper automobile insurance, rental car papers and identification in possession and on hand in case of a police stop or an accident. However, despite the above warnings, thousands of people every year rent cars without issue but the issues stated above while not prevalent are not uncommon.
Taxi Drivers: a great reasonably cheap transport service, especially when in a party of four. Always, prearrange rate/charge before entering the cab, never leave anything in a cab, be prepared to be overcharged late at night or in a remote area that has closed for the night. Not all, but some unscrupulous Taxi drivers will charge whatever they think they can get away with. Prices are posted in front of your hotel. if unclear talk with the doorman (it is his job). Also, it is more expensive to take a taxi to and from the Hotel Zone. Remember that the price charged includes the tip, tipping while discretionary, should not be overlooked if the driver provides additional services. Never, ever, leave anything in a Taxi, if you do it's history, 99% of the time. Contrary to belief, most Cancun Taxi Drivers are hard working men and, recently, women supporting families, working long hours in doing so, they are usually honest, courteous and respectful.
Buses: Cancun has a modern, low cost, and readily available public and private bus system that is both convenient and easily utilized. When utilizing the system beware of bus driver scams involving change returned, quick movement of the buses when exiting and that users should be prepared to alert the driver when nearing their destination.
Time Shares: don't buy them, it's as simple as that, they depreciate in value mainly because they were vastly overpriced anyway. If you must, buy it second hand at thousands below what the previous owner paid. Just then, you may get your dollars worth, maybe. Many people will buy timeshares each year, baited by free gifts, tours and incentives only to regret doing so a short time later. Educate yourself before you buy anything and don't think that you'll beat the timeshare sales professionals at their own game.
Para-Sailing: Looks like fun and is, until the accident happens. Thousands do it safely but a small few every year don't make it home and yet others go home with injuries. You can't presume that the same safety rules and regulations that may be in place in your home country apply to this recreational activity and/or that the vendor providing them is compliant with Mexico's laws, if you must Para-Sail, it should be on a caveat emptor basis.
Water: Don't drink it outside the hotel zone and even there avoid it. Drink bottled water, just as many of the locals do.
Soft Drinks in cans or bottles, a straw should be used. These items are sanitized with Mexican water. It is always best to be safe than sick for your vacation; even the locals use straws, follow their lead.
The Beach and Surf: Scout out the area, ask the other guests, ask the workers, the manager but beware of severe surf and rock obstacles at many of the beaches. Even experienced swimmers, divers and snorkelers find the surf in Cancun at times can be very dangerous with unseen undertows. Also, some resorts are rife with dangerous rock formations unseen except from above. The Caribbean Sea is no place for unsupervised children, weak swimmers or intoxicated people. Every resort in Cancun posts warning flags signifying surf condition every day, pay heed to them and don't take chances. In 2011, during the late Winter/ Early Spring period, Cancun experienced two, very, historically rare, shark attacks, on a short stretch of coast just south of Punta Cancun, local authorities continue to monitor the situation but hundreds of thousands of people have utilized the beach and Caribbean on Isla Cancun's south end (or long part of the "7") without further incident since. It is recommended that swimmers, particularly in the area of Punta Cancun remain aware of beach warning flags, lifeguard issued warnings; and reports from their hotels and local authorities when utilizing this limited stretch of beaches near the south end of Punta Cancun.
Hidden Pricing: This one usually applies to discounted tours that seem like low price solutions. Most often they are set up with add ons not associated with the major tour operators. Quite frequently, they are sold part and parcel by the same folks offering time shares normally in the retail areas. Many of the tours will leave out many of the benefits of the major operators and leave the visitor with a bad experience that could have otherwise been avoided by spending a few extra pesos/dollars.
Shopping for Silver : Make sure the silver is properly stamped. Do not be taken in by unscrupulous vendors on the beach or the retail areas. There's hundreds of legitimate shops in Cancun that will sell you quality silver at a reasonable price. Almost all quality Mexican Silver is stamped .925 in the modern period.
Above all, educate yourself before going to Cancun, Mexico or anywhere else for that matter. All that said, Cancun, the Isla's and the Yucatan is a wonderful, friendly place that is stunning in its beauty while enchanting in its variety of people, culture and places to visit.