My husband and I, two Canadians in our 30s, recently traveled to Mazatlán, Mexico in December 2023 and I felt completely safe the entire time.
But, I’m sure you’d like me to elaborate a little further, especially since there’s been some recent media attention about cartel and police activity and the state of Sinaloa having a reputation for violent crime.
We spent 10 days exploring Mazatlán, and as long as you stay in the main tourist areas, the city is quite safe to visit for tourists and solo travelers, along with many expats and snowbirds.
In this post I’ll share why I felt safe, what you might want to consider before visiting and additional thoughts and observations on safety here versus other Mexico destinations.
Key Takeaways about Safety in Mazatlán:
- Yes, Mazatlán is safe for tourists to visit and expats to live
- Mazatlan is a scenic, coastal city where tourism is one of its primary economic drivers
- If you stay & play anywhere along the 15 mile stretch from Cerritos to Centro/Olas Atlas, you will feel extremely safe
- If you’re concerned about safety, the Golden Zone is your best choice of neighborhood, where English is more widely spoken and more familiar choices for restaurants
- It’s still important to take normal precautions like avoiding buying and consuming drugs, wearing flashy jewlery or clothing, or carrying large amounts of cash.
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Reasons I Felt Safe in Mazatlán
The Malecon is One of the Most Beautiful in All of Mexico
First, this city is incredibly scenic.
They’ve done an incredible job constructing the oceanfront boardwalk (El Malecon), which is flat, clean and wide – and goes on for 13 miles.
It’s lined with palm trees, sun shades, benches and a brightly painted bike lane.
Every morning we saw joggers, and every evening is filled with dog walkers and families who gather to watch the glowing sunsets.
On the opposite side of the road, dozens of new, expensive-looking high-rises and hotels are currently under construction.
Strolling this well-maintained area, safety didn’t even cross my mind.
Since most of it still feels (or at least looks) brand new, it’s hard to imagine that people would be concerned about petty crime, let alone violent crime.
It only takes a few minutes to notice that there has been large investments made in public infrastructure and it’s very clean compared to other Mexican cities.
We Stuck to the Main Neighborhoods
Mazatlan is a massive city – I believe it has a population close to 500,000 residents.
As a tourist, you’re going to want to stick to the areas that line the coastline.
These are the most scenic places found within the city anyways, so there really is no need to go anywhere else.
The Golden Zone
Up near Cerritos, you’ll find some larger, more expensive resorts, a nice beach and golf courses.
A little further south is the Golden Zone, a favorite area of mine, and most popular among tourists.
But there’s even some nice local residential areas nearby, notable Parque Central.
In the Golden Zone, there are great beachside hotels and many restaurants that have staff that speak great English, live music (both American-style and Mexican) as well as a little mix of local food and street food.
Then anything that lines the next 10 miles of Malecon is lovely and safe (lots of fun beach bars here – Los Lujos del Muchacho was one of my favorites.
It’s filled with locals, has a great seafood menu and a very welcoming atmosphere.
And then we get into Olas Altas, the older area of the Malecon, but it’s been well-maintained and is one of the best areas to watch the sunset.
As you make your way inland from here, you’ll hit Centro.
And in the historic part of Centro, it’s completely Spanish Colonial.
I almost felt like I was walking through the streets of New Orleans or Paris, but with palm trees!
Here you will find adorable plazas lined with coffee shops, art galleries and restaurants that have plaza-side seating, Parisian-style.
We Took a Food Tour
Early on in our trip, we took a 3-hour food tour with a local guide.
Our guide took us all throughout Centro, where we tried different street tacos, visited seafood markets, tortilla shops, breweries and more.
I always recommend a local food tour any time you’re visiting a new city.
Not only will your guide show you where to find some of the best local food, they’ll give you tips on how to order, what to order, where else to go as well as any tips about visiting the city.
Doing this tour on our second day gave us a lot more confidence for the rest of the trip.
We booked this exact food tour called Barrio Bites – the #1 rated food tour in Mazatlan!
In Mazatlan, there is a unique form of transportation only found here – the Pulmonia.
This is an open-air taxi, which is kind of like a mix between an older VW-style car and a golf cart.
There are about 600 Pulmonias currently in operation around Mazatlan, and you’ll see them all day and all night.
Each Pulmonia driver takes pride in their vehicle and they all add their own flair.
I’m not sure what it was, but seeing how important Pulmonia culture is in Mazatlan, it just made me feel even more safe within the city.
It’s easy to grab one any time you’re walking around, whether you’re tired from the heat midday, or when it’s getting late at night.
They also primarily exist for tourists, so it’s in their best interest to ensure tourists have a safe and fun time riding in them.
Ubers in Mazatlan
In some foreign cities, some taxi drivers (not all), may try to take advantage of unknowing tourists.
While I’m not saying that’s the case in Mazatlan, we chose to take Ubers/rideshares and this helped add another layer of safety.
Using a trusted ridesharing app (like Uber or DiDi) allows you to track all rides and make any claims if anything happens.
We found the Ubers in Mazatlan to be very reliable and had consistent prices.
Many of our Uber drivers spoke very good English and we ended up hiring one privately to take us to the airport.
Ubers/rideshares are not allowed to pick up or drop off passengers at the airport in Mazatlan.
Beach Vendors are Very Respectful
In many coastal beach cities in Mexico and other tropical destinations, there are local beach vendors who sell trinkets and souvenirs to tourists.
This is their livelihood and there is nothing wrong with this, but some beach vendors can be relentless.
For example, in Puerto Vallarta a child asked me to buy a toy and when I politely declined he responded with “c’mon lady,” and followed me for a couple of blocks.
By contrast, in Mazatlan, every beach vendor we encountered was polite and as soon as we said ‘no, gracias’ they immediately left.
Things and Places to Avoid in Mazatlan
It’s no secret Sinaloa (the state in which MZT is located) is known for one of the most violent narcotics cartels in Mexico. But most of this activity takes place in Culiacán, which is over 200 kms north of Mazatlan.
Even still, as long as you don’t engage in any trouble or anything related to drugs or narcotics (just like you would avoid it at home), you have nothing to worry about.
Of course, no city in the world is considered completely safe or risk-free.
Based on some of the locals we spoke with, here are a few tips we learned about staying safe in Mazatlan.
Avoid Hotel Vista Dorada
In a candid conversation with a local one day, he mentioned we should avoid the Hotel Vista Dorada.
Allegedly this is a cartel hotel. It’s located about halfway down the Malecon. Again, there’ s no concern, just don’t book a stay here.
You Might Feel Uncomfortable in Yellow Pubs
Also, walking around Centro, you’ll notice local pubs and they’re identifiable by being painted yellow on the outside.
These are local dive bars, and it was recommended that we don’t frequent these establishments.
There is one exception though – the yellow dive bar across from the Shrimp Ladies seafood market is perfectly fine!
But Some Yellow Pubs are Ok!
It’s called Ancla de Oro.
In fact, I highly recommend you visit.
We bought 1 pound of shrimp for $5 at the shrimp ladies market, and took it across the street to the yellow bar to be cooked up into ceviche, which only cost us $4.
It was a really fun experience pretty unique to Mazatlan that I would recommend to anyone.
Avoid Illegal Activity
Just like you would at home, you should not engage in any illegal actions, especially the act of buying and consuming drugs.
Additional Observations about Safety in Mazatlan
Based on my experience touring and walking around Mazatlan, I would recommend the same amount of precautions you would take when visiting any other large or unfamiliar city.
Don’t walk around alone at night, and especially in a neighborhood that you’re not familiar with.
There are so many Pulmonias available and Uber is also inexpensive, so there should never be a reason you would need to walk alone at night.
I would also suggest not wearing expensive, flashy jewelry and not to carry around a large amount of cash.
As mentioned, this is recommended for anywhere.
But I did find Mazatlan to be very casual so there really wasn’t a need to dress up and be fancy anyways!
Interestingly, I found there to be much less police presence when we were in Mazatlan, compared to other Mexican resort cities.
For instance in Puerto Vallarta, all day long you’ll see armed federal police, cruising up and down the busy roads.
Here, we saw mostly traffic/municipal police who were working the busy Centro (downtown) intersections that lack stoplights.
You might be thinking that less police presence might feel less safe, but I think it’s quite the opposite.
For example, I would consider Puerto Vallarta to be an extremely safe city – but seeing the armed federal police is a little startling and sends an unconscious reminder that yes, there is crime in Mexico.
But in my first three days in Mazatlan, I didn’t see a single cop! This actually made me forget about all the scary things the media likes to say about Mexico.
It’s always a good idea to check your country’s travel advisories about visiting Mexico, and Mazatlán in particular, as things can always change.
More Mexico Posts You Might Be Interested In:
If you like the idea of visiting a Spanish-colonial city, you might love Merida, which is considered the safest city in Mexico:
Additional tips for traveling to & visiting Mexico:
I would consider Puerto Vallarta to be the most comparable city to Mazatlan, here’s a great post to get you started: