There has been a lot of negative press lately about Mexico being an unsafe country and especially for foreigners. This is indeed unfortunate as sensationalized journalism certainly paints the picture of a dangerous place. Overall, the news instills fear in its audience and one must be discerning, curious, analytical and seek out information that is credible. All too often we are bombarded by the worse case scenario without a point of reference that comes from someone who knows what it’s actually like to live there on a daily basis. Speaking from the perspective of a Canadian woman who’s travelled for business and for pleasure over a span of twenty years and has been living in and out of Latin America for over fifteen of them, I have admittedly, for the most part, felt very safe and in fact, safer than in many other countries that I’ve frequented, including at times, certain parts of Canada and the U.S. This is not to say however that I’ve not been in relatively compromising situations where I’ve had to defend myself.
One of the keys to maintaining your personal safety is to know which neighbourhoods to avoid. In Playa del Carmen for example, I exercise vigilance in not venturing into areas that are deemed seedy. Much like I wouldn’t take a walk along E. Hastings in Vancouver, my home city, you certainly wouldn’t find me exploring an area like In House in Playa del Carmen on foot and especially not at night. Most of the negative press about PDC tends to be from more remote, unsafe areas that are portrayed on the news as tourist hot spots. I mean, let’s be honest, there are more open, random shootings in the U.S on a daily basis that what you’d ever experience in PDC which for the most part have been targeted.
Overall, as a world traveller, I have learned the importance of exercising common sense and keeping these useful tips in mind for safety and security purposes:
1.) Be aware of your surroundings at all times and remain in areas that are deemed safe
As a general rule and especially while travelling as a single woman, I’m particularly careful not to be plugged in to my mobile device or texting while on foot, bike or scooter. When I was an avid marathoner in training, I would be sure to keep only one earphone in my ear unless it was on race day amidst thousands of others runners. Overall, the importance of being fully aware of your surroundings is crucial to your well being. The amount of times I’ve witnessed people’s state of inattention and distraction negatively impact their safety is frankly astonishing! Many accidents, near death experiences and deaths could be avoided if people would be more conscious of where they are and what they’re doing in the present moment.
Unlike other places that I’ve travelled to in Latin America, Playa del Carmen has the advantage of being very tourist friendly. The hot spot called 5th Avenue with its incredible array of restaurants, live entertainment, retail stores and local artisans selling their wares, the vibrancy in this ultra popular spot is undeniably safe. As a local dweller who has lived in both gated and open communities and in both cases away from the tourist zone Playa del Carmen, I’ve never had any issues or ever felt that my safety were in jeopardy. I have made a point as well of living among Mexican Nationals in order to improve my Spanish and the best way to do so is to be fully immersed. I, overall, have a very peaceful existence here.
2.) Make a point of acquiring a workable knowledge in the language of the country in which you’re living or travelling.
I cannot emphasize this point enough. Even if you’re not fluent in the official language of the country in which you’re travelling, at least make an effort. Overall, when you are able to communicate in the country’s official language it puts you in a place of “oneness” with the people which in essence, protects you from being taken advantage of or in the very least, in a position where you’re able to recognize the red flags and act accordingly. You may be asking why this is the case. Essentially, it comes down to being able to defend yourself, which brings me back to when I was living in Lima, Peru. While on my way back from work one day, I fell asleep in a cab that I had flagged down outside of the school where I was teaching. I’m not sure how long I had dozed off but something in my dream state must have jilted me awake as I realized in a lucid dream that the driver was headed in the opposite direction to where we were supposed to be going. Fortunately, as I speak Spanish fluently, I was able to inform the driver of his mistake and asked him to turn the car around. He was startled, not expecting me to be aware, nor able to communicate assertively and directively in Spanish. I believe that he had his own agenda but fortunately my competency in the language saved me from being in a very compromising or even life threatening situation. Even though Playa del Carmen is a lot more cosmopolitan than Lima was at the time, there are still many Mexican Nationals who don’t speak English. From the perspective of a single woman, I am able to live my life very confidently and peacefully in a community that I have come to love. Much of this I attribute to being able to speak Spanish.
3.) Tune in to cultural nuances and don’t act as though you’re in your own country or do things that you would never dream of doing at home
A big part of language is coming to an understanding of cultural nuances that aren’t always obvious to the general traveling public. There is a wonderful friendliness and chill vibe in Playa del Carmen but it can also be deceiving and one cannot be naive to the kind of charm that often entices foreigners. In certain cases too there is the idea that “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” mentality which opens one to potential danger and vulnerability. Sure, live in the moment and throw caution to the wind but also keep your wits about you. In all of these years of living and travelling in Latin America, I have admittedly had my share of wild, carefree moments but because I’ve enjoyed travelling alone more than accompanied, I have been particularly careful to not over drink and very careful with the company I keep. Yes, there are always precautions that one can take to ensure that you expose yourself to fewer uncalculated risks that could have negative outcomes.
4.) Always use reputable cab companies and/or drivers upon recommendation
For safety reasons, it is crucial that you have reliable transportation.
When I lived in Lima, I came to understand the difference of taking a taxi seguro (safe taxi) and taxi de la calle (street taxi). The taxi seguro of course was more expensive but guaranteed that you would get to your destination without incident. The taxi de la calle meant there was more of a risk. In Playa del Carmen, it is more common to hail a cab from the street but in recent years, ordering one from Whatsapp Taxi, Taxi 24/7, Taxi Rosa (exclusively for women) gives you the guarantee that you’ll promptly arrive where you need to be. I have admittedly had some not so great experiences in the past with some questionable characters. This is not to say that cab drivers in Playa del Carmen are unreliable but I have admittedly noticed a difference in terms of the level of professionalism, cordiality and service with the above mentioned companies.
Of course, the major hotel chains have their own chauffeurs who are deemed safe and reputable but when you’re living as a local and without your own mode of transportation, it’s crucial that you have secure and reliable sources.
5.) Avoid Large Crowds and Staying Out Late at Overly Populated and Popular Clubs and Bars
Indeed I’ve had my share of clubbing when I first began travelling to Playa del Carmen but I was accompanied by my boyfriend (A Mexican National) and his work buddies. Do I however take a risk and venture out on my own late at night to such places? Never and I don’t recommend that you do either. The bottom line is that over the years, with the influx of tourism, PDC has grown into a small communal city with its own issues. Thus, I proceed with caution and keep my wits about me, no matter where I travel these days. While I am generally not driven by fear, I take precautions and tend to avoid ultra popular local spots at night.
Overall, Playa del Carmen like anywhere in the world has its hazards but by making your own safety a priority, your vacation can be very enjoyable and without incident. If it’s your decision to move here, the community is like no other and it will welcome you with open arms. Embrace it but don’t be naive to its charm. Enjoy it but be vigilant.
By Leah T. Sakata