Jalisco is a diverse state that holds some of Mexico’s most popular tourist destinations. It is often referred to as one of the most representative Mexican states because so much of the national identity originates here. However, it is always important to ask, “Is Jalsico safe” before traveling to new parts of the country.
World-class culinary experiences, a vibrant arts scene, stunning beaches, and a thriving economy are just a few of the reasons Jalisco is a favorite destination for expats and travelers from around the globe.
The security situation in Guadalajara looks a lot like the rest of the country. It is fluid and criminal activity changes regularly. In the 15 years that I have been here some areas went from an unsafe place to a safe place while other parts of the state have seen safety concerns emerge.
I have lived in Guadalajara since 2009 and traveled extensively throughout the state. My understanding of security has evolved as I have vacationed, worked, and started a family. The safety of my family is of the highest importance as we make travel plans to explore the far ends of the state.
Is Jalisco Safe?
Jalisco has some of the safest places to visit in Mexico. However, if we were to select a municipality at random there is a significant probability that parts of that municipality have security problems.
Unless you speak Spanish, watching the news isn’t going to give you an accurate assessment of the security risks. The most sensational crimes that make the international media are not the most common risks that travelers and residents will encounter.
This article is a data-driven account of the security situation in Jalisco that is influenced by national statistics on security, government travel advisories, and my personal experience living here.
There is a lot of bad information on the internet. I hate reading travel reports claiming that Guadalajara is one of the safest places to visit in Mexico based on someone’s 24 hours of experience in the city. In June 2023, 77% of the population had an unfavorable perception of safety in the capital of Jalisco. And that was down from a high of 85% in June of 2022.
Publishing incorrect articles about safety in Mexico could cost somebody their life. I follow a blogger named Paul Heller of Fifty Plus Nomad who was express kidnapped in Puebla. In his article about the experience, he points to a number of articles that cluelessly describe Puebla as one of the safest destinations in Mexico.
At the same time, national statistics paint a very different picture. The percentage of the population that describes Puebla as unsafe is nearly 80% and almost identical to that of Guadalajara.
Steps need to be taken in order to travel safely where dangers exist.
The point of this article is not to scare you or dissuade you from traveling to Jalisco. I want to empower you to travel confidently. Knowledge is power. By identifying dangerous activities we may avoid potential risks in order to have a safe trip.
Every family has unique criteria for assessing risk. Having the best information is important to decision-making. As they say in computer science, “Garbage in, garbage out.” You can’t train a reliable model with garbage data.
Things to know about safety in Jalisco
As I mentioned in the introduction, Jalisco is a very diverse state. Geographically, the state has big cities and rural enclaves. There are beautiful beaches, jungles, deserts and mountains. The reality for a wealthy city dweller is different from the reality of a poor campesino.
That being said, there is cultural richness in both the urban areas and the country. Guadalajara is a major tourist destination for both Mexicans and international travelers. Tapatíos, the people from Guadalajara, absolutely love traveling to the ranches and pueblos mágicos that Jalisco has to offer.
You would not believe how many city folks have cowboy boots and sombreros that are only taken out a couple of times a year. I am always surprised how many of my friends are competent equestrians and grew up around horses.
This juxtaposition of seemingly contrasting esthetics is a defining characteristic of the identity of Jalisco. A lot of poor communities are incredibly charming but have a little petty theft around the edges. You could also possibly see some cartel violence at a luxury shopping mall in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country.
Jalisco is a hard place to stereotype but the best way to reduce risk no matter where you go.
Puerto Vallarta is one of the safest places to visit in Mexico but if you are unaware of crocodiles a late-night swim could become tragic. And let’s be real. The club scene is full of narcotics. Too many people come to Mexico on spring break with the same dependencies they had back home. If someone is intent on looking for trouble, it isn’t hard to find.
Jalisco Travel Advisories
The U.S. State Department recently updated its travel advisory for the state of Jalisco. There is both good and bad in the new report.
The good part is that Highway 70, the old highway from Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara, was taken off the travel restrictions list. That is a beautiful drive through three pueblos mágicos with deep cultural significance to the state. Talpa de Allende attracts one of the largest numbers of religious pilgrims in the country.
The Jalisco state authorities are always going to criticize the travel advisories. I mean, the root of the problem is the US government’s policies on drugs and guns, but that is beside the point.
The official US government travel advisory for Jalisco states, “Reconsider travel due to crime and kidnapping.”
- Jalisco-Michoacan border and Federal Highway 110: U.S. government employees may not travel to the area between Federal Highway 110 and the Jalisco-Michoacan border, nor travel on Federal Highway 110 between Tuxpan, Jalisco, and the Michoacan border.
- Federal Highway 80: U.S. government employees may not travel on Federal Highway 80 south of Cocula.
There are no other restrictions on travel for U.S government employees in Jalisco state which includes tourist areas in: Guadalajara Metropolitan Area, Puerto Vallarta (including neighboring Riviera Nayarit), Chapala, and Ajijic.U.S. Department of State
The UK FCDO travel advisory advises against all but essential travel to the area southwest of Lake Chapala from the Michoacan border to the Colima border. Additionally, they advise against all but essential travel to the northern municipalities.
- Huejuquilla el Alto
- San Martin de Bolaños
- Santa María de los Ángeles
- Villa Guerrero
These are all pretty solid recommendations of the best places to avoid. However, the list does not include some of the most recent flair-ups near popular destinations in the Highlands of Jalisco or Mazamitla.
Crime In Jalisco
Currently, Jalisco is experiencing a struggle for control between two multinational criminal groups. The headlines that have been all over local media are the forced disappearances of young people.
The speculation centers around the forced recruitment of young people to work for different organizations.
A couple of areas that are not on that list but have been all over the news in 2023 are Lagos de Moreno, Encarnción de Díaz, Teocaltiche, and Highway 80D between Guadalajara and Lagos de Moreno.
It is unfortunate that the Highlands of Jalisco have become a dangerous place. Rival drug cartels are fighting for control of the plaza. This not just going on in Jalisco but all over the country. A recent incident in Chiapas shows the same groups fighting for control of the trafficking routes. I’m sure that if I looked, I could find the exact same struggle between the same groups in Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez, and other major cities. Jalisco is by far the only place where this is happening.
Lagos de Moreno is going through a hard time right now. In August of 2023 the story of five young men, friends from childhood, went missing in Lagos de Moreno. They were abducted from a lookout point above their town where many people would watch the sunset.
The entire country was talking about the incident and looking for answers. They were good kids from all walks of life who enjoyed sports and spending time with their families.
The toll roads are widely considered to be the safest way to drive through Mexico. However, not all toll roads are safe. Highway 80D from Guadalajara to Lagos de Moreno has been plagued with carjackings. One recent carjacking was caught on the dash cam of a semi. A bunch of vehicles are driving the wrong way on the freeway when two armed men exit one of the vehicles, point their weapons at another vehicle, remove the occupants from the vehicle, and take off in it.
This particular carjacking took place on the 80D between Jalostotitlán and San Juan de los Lagos. It was all over the national news but there have been security concerns throughout the region for most of 2023.
Not far from the 80D toll road is the town of Teocaltiche which has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Teocaltiche is located in Jalisco in between the border with Zacatecas and the town of San Juan de los Lagos. A group of six men were assassinated while drinking inside a bar. The attack happened on Independence Day near the town square where a dance was taking place. There were more gunfights in September and October. Mexican officials found a clandestine video surveillance station that was used by criminals to monitor the main streets and highways leading to town. They also found drones built to carry explosive devices. Just a few days later, a network of what are being called narco-tunnels. Teocaltiche is facing a ton of problems right now.
The pueblos mágico of Mazamitla is a beautiful place but there have been a number of high-profile shootouts in the main tourist areas recently. After a particularly bloody weekend, the governor increased security measures and the situation went back to normal. As soon as the state police started leaving there was more violence. Mazamitla is less than 3 miles from the Michoacan state line. San José de Gracia, three miles on the other side of the state line has been the scene of more violence. Lots of people are rescheduling travel from Mazamitla to Tapalpa.
In July 2023, a US Citizen by the name of Monica de Leon Barba was released after spending 8 months in captivity. She was kidnapped while walking her dog in Tepatitlán. Even with the surveillance footage of the abduction, no arrests were ever made. She has since been reunited with her family and dog in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Jalisco currently leads Mexico in the horrible statistic of disappeared people. There are nearly 15,000 people that are disappeared and have not been found. The Guadalajara Metropolitan Area is the region with the highest number of disappeared people but Los Altos de Jalisco (the highlands) is another problematic area.
Even Puerto Vallarta has 879 reports of missing persons.
One of the biggest problems with security in Jalisco and in Mexico is the lack of investigative detectives. If a criminal is not captured at the moment they are committing the crime it is not likely they will ever be apprehended.
Jalisco is also home to the unsettling statistic of the largest clandestine grave sites. For years, private citizens have been looking for their missing family members. What they find will give you nightmares.
The municipality of Tlajomulco has some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the Guadalajara Metropolitan Area but is mostly a ranching community with wide open spaces. It has an unsettling reputation as the largest mass grave in Mexico.
The collective, Madres Buscadores, has done more than the government when it comes to finding these mass graves. Many anonymous tips bypass the government and go straight to the mothers looking for their children.
This is the part of the article that I hate writing about. Human trafficking is a problem in Mexico. It turns out that two of the largest expat communities, Puerto Vallarta and Lake Chapala, have an ‘Alarming’ incidence of child trafficking according to the United Nations. The US State Department describes the Government of Mexico as not fully meeting the minimum standards for the elimination of traffic but making significant efforts to do so.
Common Scams In Jalisco
In addition to violent crime, there are a number of common scams that people should be aware of.
Personally, I don’t answer the phone for numbers that I don’t know. There are so many scams that start out on the phone I don’t want to risk anything.
My college roommate grew up without a phone. His father and brother were victims of a botched kidnapping but the kidnappers never stopped calling to threaten his family. His mother finally just unplugged the phone and never replaced it.
At the Hospital Mexico Americano, where my son was born, every room has a sign above the telephone warning about telephone extorsion.
My father-in-law and my uncle received telephone extortion calls that were virtually identical on the exact same day, just hours apart. While neither of them fell for the scam, they were both really worked up over the experience.
There are so many different telephone extortion scams that I couldn’t go through all of them in this article. What I can say is that you should not, under any circumstances, give out personal information over the phone.
In March 2023, the U.S. Department of the Treasury made an announcement about multinational trafficking organizations expanding into timeshare fraud targeting U.S. citizens.
Most people know that timeshares are a huge ripoff. Many people are trying to sell their timeshares to get out of their obligations. The criminal organizations look like reputable companies that help people sell their timeshares. Many times, criminal organizations have taken over formerly reputable companies.
The fraud comes in the form of pretending to have ready buyers for the timeshares. Scammers ask for upfront money to cover taxes and fees, and then they disappear without actually selling the timeshare.
There is a ton of fraud in the rental markets in Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta. Mexico does not have a small claims court like the United States. It is often time-consuming and expensive to resolve rental disputes.
Landlords and renters must take steps to avoid problems, fraud, and disputes. Many of the best properties do not want to list on the internet and rely on local recommendations.
Renting a unit site unseen is a risky endeavor. Almost every week we read about a person coming to Jalisco from abroad who made arrangements to rent a house only to find out the rental company is a fake and the unit does not belong to them.
Facebook is one of the worst places to meet people looking to rent properties.
Make sure to take extra care when renting a property. Last minute
Drinking Water In Jalisco
It is not recommended to drink tap water in any part of Jalisco. While there are municipalities that have water clean enough to drink out of the tap, each building’s plumbing could create unsafe conditions where bacteria could ruin that water.
Natural Disasters & Severe Weather in Jalisco
The first thing that surprises people when they move to these parts of Mexico is the weather. It rains heavily in the summer like clockwork almost every day.
Hurricane season coincides with the rainy season and hurricanes regularly pass by the coast of Jalisco occasionally making landfall. Hurricanes bring strong wind that knocks over trees and rain that swells rivers. In 2021, Hurricane Nora created so much rain that several bridges were destroyed and a young boy was killed. Hurricane Nora didn’t make landfall anywhere near Puerto Vallarta.
In 2023, Hurricane Lidia made landfall very close to Puerto Vallarta on the southern shore of the Banderas Bay. The winds ripped plenty of solar panels from their rooves and knocked over lots of trees. Highway 200 south was shut down for several days due to significant landslides near Mismaloya. Four of the rivers in Puerto Vallarta overflowed in the days following the hurricane creating a nightmare flood situation in the Versailles neighborhood.
Jalisco is not prone to earthquakes in the same way that Mexico City is. The region does register some smaller earthquakes but the really big earthquakes are usually centered in Colima, Michoacan, or off the coast.
In the 15 years that I have been here, I only remember feeling one strong earthquake. Growing up in Southern California, we don’t get out of bed for anything under a 6.0 so my perception might be a little skewed.
Safe Areas of Jalisco
This is my personal list of the safest places that I know of in Jalisco. They are places that I travel to and I also follow the local news.
- Puerto Vallarta is one of the safest places to visit in Mexico
- San Sebastian del Oeste
- Talpa de Allende
- Barra de Navidad
Is Guadalajara Safe?
Guadalajara is the biggest city in Jalisco and has a complicated security situation. There are both safe and unsafe parts of the city. While the sensationalist shootouts get all the attention from international news sources, I attest that petty crimes are what most people need to prepare for. It isn’t difficult for foreign tourists to make a few small changes to their behavior in order to protect their personal safety.
I have another article that goes into depth about safety in the largest city in Jalisco.
Is Jalisco Safe Conclusion
Jalisco has some of the safest places to visit in Mexico. However, not far away are some of the most dangerous. It is important to spend a little time getting acquainted with the security situation before traveling to new places.
As much as I love Guadalajara, there are a number of security problems. By taking the time to learn about the most common crimes, many of them are easy to avoid.
The security consultants who work with my neighborhood watch group often remind us that security is 90% preparation, 5% luck, and 5% reaction. Having a keen sense of situational awareness is important but much less so than being prepared.
As we say in the surf world, know before you go.