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Mexico City: Why I’m Going And Is It Really That Bad?

Friends and family have looked at me a bit stragely as I’ve told them that I’m starting my travels in Mexico.  I then tell them I’m starting in Mexico City and they think I’m nuts.  They inevitably tell me that I’m going to get robbed or kidnapped and to not call them when it happens.  [...]

Friends and family have looked at me a bit stragely as I’ve told them that I’m starting my travels in Mexico.  I then tell them I’m starting in Mexico City and they think I’m nuts.  They inevitably tell me that I’m going to get robbed or kidnapped and to not call them when it happens.  Don’t worry. I’ll tell whoever kidnaps me that I’m an orphan.  But just to clear it all up here are some of the reasons why I want to start in Mexico City and my thoughts on crime. 

Why I’m Going:
It’s home to approximately 21.2 million people making it the largest city in the Americas and the third largest city in the world. This is also about 1/5 of the entire population of Mexico.
It will be fascinating to get some glimpse on how the city copes with limited natural resources; id est, strain on natural water supplies and the city’s air quality.
It’s history is fascinating.  The city was built on a marshy lake bed in 1325 by the Aztecs as Tenochtitlan (not to be confused with Teotihuacan which is also a must see while I’m there). It was then destroyed by the Spanish in 1521 and then re-built to Spanish colonial standards.
Street Food: Must eat it.
Bull fighting and Lucha Libre: Must see it.
If it’s as bad as everyone says it is then the rest of my trip should be a breeze.

Is It Really That Bad?
Obviously, many people have asked me about the crime in Mexico and more specifically in Mexico City.  I’m not too worried about it as the biggest thing to be careful of is the “Kidnapping Express”.  This is explained here:

In the kidnapping express scenario, criminals will hold you at gun-point inside a taxi cab that you hailed down from the street. They work against the clock by forcing you to withdraw money from your credit card, whisking you from one ATM to another. We recommended that you never carry your credit card with you. Kidnapping express may take place anywhere within the greater metropolitan area of Mexico City.

The easy way to avoid this is to not hail a taxi on the street in the city. Instead, call for a taxi from your hotel where the taxi will then be dispatched from a ‘sitio’.  This is an easy solution to a bad situation.  Most bad situations can also be avoided using easy solutions.  Don’t want to get robbed or assaulted?  Don’t walk down a dark street at night alone.

To get some harder data I looked a report compiled by Prominix.  The data used in their findings is available through NationMaster which compiles data from the CIA World Factbook, UN and the OECD.  While not perfect this gives a decent overview of crime and some country comparisons.

Mexico City vs New York City:
Robbery: 339/100,000 – This is more than twice the national average.  In NYC the rate is 163/100,00 so I’m twice as likely to get robbed in Mexico City as New York City.
Homicide: 8/100,000 – At least 25% below the national average. In NYC the rate is 4/100,000 so I’m also twice as likely to be killed.
Assault: 188/100,000 – Slightly higher than the national average. NYC is 216/100,000. I’m less likely to get a black eye. w00t!
Rape: Mexico City = 15.2/100,000 N.Y.C. = 14.4/100,000.
Kidnapping: Mexico City = 0.96/100,000 Couldn’t find the N.Y.C. stat.

Mexico vs. United States:
Robbery: 2.03/1,000 vs. U.S. = 1.39/1,000
Homicide: Mex = 14/100,000 vs. U.S. = 4/100,000.  As a side note most of these homicides are within border towns such as Juarez and the northern part of the country which I am avoiding.
Assault: Mex = 170/100,00 vs. U.S. = 757/100,000
Rape: Mex = 14/100,000 vs U.S. = 30/100,000
Kidnapping: 1.2/100,000   I couldn’t find an equal comparison for the U.S. kidnapping rate but Canada’s rate was reported as 8.67/100,000 and the U.K was 5.55/100,000.

I’m sure anyone reading this could argue with any one of these numbers and debate with me on why these comparisons are inaccurate, but they would be missing the entire point.  In full disclosure the same study also finds that 85% of crimes in Mexico go unreported versus 48% in the United States so I have no trouble saying that the numbers for Mexico are understated. The same study also finds that the unreported crime rate in Mexico City is 88% which is the same in Cancun where many Americans don’t think twice about vacationing. 

This brings up a whole other discussion about real vs perceived danger which I’m not even going to get into.
In the end, the data we have is imperfect but we can only draw conclusions from what we have.  In my quick data pull I would say that  Mexico City is more dangerous than most major cities in the world. Should this mean I shouldn’t go?  In my opinion; No.  Should you go?  That’s your decision and you can make up your own mind.  There is nothing so out-of-hand that it has me worried. 

We hear the news of Mexico and its cities second-hand.  We have little knowledge of the place to refute what we hear so we blindly accept the news with little to counter-balance it.  If we were to listen to the local news of any our home towns we would probably fear those places equally.  We have first hand knowledge of the place we live and base our safety on our own experiences more than what the news tells us.  We fear what we don’t know and not what we do.

For example, it seems like everytime I heard the local news in Philadelphia over the past two weeks there was a deadly house fire every night in some row house within the city.  My brother lives in a row house.  Does this mean I won’t sleep or go into his house? Of course not. I have no fear of his house burning down with me in it.  However unlikely it could happen, but I could also walk across the street and be hit by a car just as easily.

Filed under: Cubicle Ditcher, Mexico, Security

About the Author:

Sam Langley left a comfortable and profitable job with an insurance company in the USA to travel the world. He has been going for years, and has not stopped yet. Keep up with his travels on his blog at Cubicle Ditcher. has written 147 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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