Is Acapulco Safe?

A reader writes:

I really enjoyed reading your guys’ book with all the practical advices about Mexico; a question: any current concerns for traveling to and around Acapulco?


Churpa responds:

Hi Dan,

"Mexican Federal Highway 200" by Scott Nazelrod,

“Mexican Federal Highway 200” by Scott Nazelrod,

Thanks for reading. Hmmm…Acapulco. That’s a tough one. The last time I was in Acapulco was in 2013. We drove the coastal Highway 200 from Oaxaca, through Guerrero and Michoacan, and up into Sinaloa. As you may already know, Guerrero, Michoacan and Sinaloa are all considered hot spots for cartel activity. The only problem we had on the entire trip was in Acapulco, where we were hassled by some corrupt cops who milked us for a bribe on a bogus seat belt violation. But that didn’t feel particularly dangerous–just irritating. In general, I still feel comfortable traveling in Mexico and my usual advice is this: if you’re not buying or selling drugs, you’re probably going to be just fine.

That said, cartel activity tends to be localized, and Acapulco is not in a “safe” zone. In fact, according to 2013 statistics, Acapulco is the second most dangerous municipality in Mexico. Of the 213 municipalities surveyed, Acapulco had the highest intentional homicide rate. (Surprisingly, Oaxaca, Oaxaca was the municipality with the highest violent crime index. This is interesting to me because Oaxaca is still a popular tourist destination and doesn’t usually come up when people discuss Mexico’s “scary” cities.)

When deciding whether to travel to Acapulco, it may be worth noting that violence has declined in the city since 2012. According to data compiled by a reputable Mexican nonprofitAcapulco was once crowned the most violent city in Mexico, but has now ceded to Oaxaca. On the other hand, our valiant travel correspondent El Codo recently traveled through neighboring Michoacan and issued a travel advisory for that state.

In conclusion: I aMexican Highway 200 with Mexican road sign that says "Guerrero"dvise traveling in Mexico. I don’t necessarily advise traveling in Acapulco, but I would go there myself. If you do go to Acapulco, take normal common sense precautions: talk to locals to get a feel for what parts of town are safe, don’t get noticeably drunk in public, don’t wear flashy jewelry or drive a fancy car, don’t drive at night, don’t buy or sell kilos, and do pay attention to your gut instincts about people and places. And last, but not least, don’t worry too much. Walking around looking like you think you might be robbed at any minute is one of the best ways to invite attention from the wrong people. Instead maintain a friendly, open-minded attitude and pay close attention to your surroundings.

editor’s note: Dan wrote back:

We looked carefully at the advisory on the state department website and read lots of other articles about Acapulco, including some Mexican newspapers.
It seems that almost all the crime is located in the suburbs around the city and up in the moutains and the tourist zone remained relatively quiet and more tourists are coming by.

One more question I wanted to ask:

How safe did you feel it was to drive the Mexican 200 hwy north or south of the city? Did you run into any roadblocks?

Churpa replies: I would not drive as far south as Michoacan at this juncture, but would feel OK driving south in Guerrero or north into Oaxaca. Avoid driving at night and you’re better off in a low key vehicle–fancy trucks and SUVs are more likely targets. I’m probably making this sound scarier than it actually is. I’ve been to Mexico many times since the cartel problem went big, and I’ve never felt threatened. There are road blocks along 200, but they are typically policia federal (federal police) or sometimes army–they are there to protect tourists. They may ask to search your vehicle and look at your paperwork. Cooperate in the same way you would U.S. officials. Of course there are stories of false road blocks, but I’ve never actually encountered one.



3 Responses to “Is Acapulco Safe?”

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  1. Heido Sundstrom says:

    “Todo bien ACA!”, as the city’s slogan says. We were just there a couple of weeks ago for a surf contest and had a great time in the hot sunshine and warm water. If you want to check out a neat beach off the beaten path, head to Playa Bonfil. It’s a quiet little beach community close to the airport and still has beachside palapa restaurants and is free of big condos and hotel buildings (unlike the other touristy beaches in Acapulco). There’s also bungalows and rooms you can rent for cheap! The food is amazing and if you’re there on a Thursday, Pozole is a must-try! Pescado al mojo with La Tia is also super tasty (really anything she prepares is super tasty though). We always try to avoid venturing onto La Costera into downtown, not out of fear of shenanigans but simply because it’s kind of a madhouse in terms of traffic and if you’re there to relax at the beach, Bonfil has all you need (Wal-Mart, Chedraui and other grocery stores are a quick cab-ride away). You can also surf at Bonfil and there’s a small surf shop where you can rent boards. There’s even a sea turtle reserve on the beach that offers camping, if you prefer to ‘rough it’.

    If you want a little more resort-like experience, I recommend the Hotel Princess located on Playa Princess. It’s one of the oldest hotels in Acapulco and still has its charm (plus the buffet is amazing!). There have been several surf contests held on the beach there, which has brought visitors from all over the world. A few steps away is Playa Revolcadero, where you can find Micha’s surf school for a surf lesson or board rentals.

    I’ve gone there quite a bit over the last couple of years and have never had a bad experience. Just be a respectful visitor and the locals will treat you like you’re right at home! (Acapulco is famous for its good hospitality, so go and enjoy!) :)

  2. -El Codo- says:

    Spot on, with the comments about the barrios versus centro and the zona turistico. Sad to have to say it but it’s a question of money. The commercial downtown area and resort area are jealously presided over by wealthy Mexicans who would suffer greatly should bad PR affect business. If they should get angry, municipal and law enforcement heads shall roll. This sounds a bit bitter but this is how reality plays out as far as “authentic” security is concerned, in troubled areas. Mexicans have a joke that goes like this: “What is the most dangerous thing a person can do in Mexico?” The utterly black humor answer “Get in the way of a rico and his income”. From the police chief down to a preventivo beat cop, the message is to keep customers and tourists safe (albeit with a little mordida for driving infracciones).

    With regard to Michoacan Mex 200. I traveled over it, twice,by auto, within the last month. Every inch from Cerro de Ortega to the middle of the Bridge over Rio Balsas (boundary with Guerrero). The rurales and autodefensas forces turned the security issue around in a hurry. They went house to house and encountered several nests of bad people in Caleta de Campos, La Mira and Playa Azul. So the coast is “clear” once again. Timid Americanos should start to probe downward from Colima and northward from Lazaro in another year or two.

    There are no less than five (daylight!) retenes de rurales on Michoacan’s Mex 200, and a pair of 24/7 Puestos de Controles Marinas de Armada. All polite. The main dander is speeding flatbed big rigs northbound out of Las Truchas steel mill in Lazaro hauling varilla – rebar steel.

    I would not hesitate to go and have fun in Acapulco. The People’s Guide has the classic tips for safety. I would rule out visiting discos, parlores de billares, funky cantinas, and houses of ill repute, as they never have and never will be as “safe” as I would wish them to be.

    Acapulco has seedy charm. The kind of funky idiosyncrasies that make the city authentic. It’s huge enough to never bore yet not a malignant growth like DF or Guadalajara/Zapopan.


  3. churpa says:

    Thanks for the excellent advice!