Below we discuss everything you should know before you pack your tent. Are there areas to avoid? Can you free camp? We answer all your questions.
Is Camping in Mexico Safe?
Mexico’s crime situation is constantly changing, although some states have experienced several years of stability and safety – the number of campers is all the proof you need.
On the other hand, the strict security protocols for the more popular and luxury campsites hint at the insecurity that some people still feel about camping in Mexico. This includes complete bag checks upon entry, no alcohol, plus bans against weapons, glass bottles, gas, and other instruments that might be considered dangerous.
You will find some campgrounds with security perimeters and 24-hour surveillance. These types of campgrounds are usually privately run, and the services and amenities are top-notch. You’ll pay for it, too, although prices are still relatively affordable (USD20–30 per night). These campgrounds are overly safe – but also tend to be very popular and crowded.
In the more rural areas and less official campsites, the protocols are relaxed and you can escape the crowds. There are some amazing places in Mexico where you can camp right inside the tourist sites, next to crystal clear rivers or under a waterfall. The surveillance is usually lax – and the amenities even more basic – but almost always there is a paid, controlled entrance.
These kinds of campsites are typically run by small communities (called ejido) and, as the community’s main source of income, it is in their best interest to keep their tourism reputation unscathed. So you can expect a certain level of safety, and for the bargain of no more than 10 USD per night.
What About Free Camping in Mexico?
On the subject of wild or free camping, it is not recommended, unless you’ve asked a local for permission or have specific recommendations. If you don’t speak Spanish to ask the locals yourself, join an online camping community for tips or befriend a local.
The issue with free camping is that you expose yourself to wandering thieves, and you may accidentally enter private land. Trespassers, even accidental ones, are seen with great suspicion. The last thing you want is to wake up with a gun in your face.
The other issue is that some areas of Mexico are extremely remote. If you befall an accident – such as a fall, a car break-down, an animal bite, getting lost etc. – you may not stumble across another soul for days.
That’s not to say there aren’t areas where you’ll find free campers, such as on the beaches in Baja California or around the Yucatan Peninsula. Some states are considered safer where this might be more acceptable.
There are also some tourist sites (ie. waterfalls, rivers, swimming holes etc.) where it’s free to camp anywhere in the grounds, although as the locals will tell you, ‘at your own risk’ because there is no security at night.
Mexicans are also very friendly. If in doubt, ask a local if there are any safe free camping areas; they might even invite you to stay on their properties or let you park in front of their house. Some hotels, restaurants, supermarkets and other places with big spaces also don’t mind the occasional camper or RV on their grounds – so it never hurts to ask. In any case, getting permission is key to not being roused in the middle of the night.
Safety Issues When Camping in Mexico
In saying all of that, there have been bouts of reported crime in certain areas. For example, the Scouts Association in Mexico implemented a ‘black list’ of dangerous campsites in 2012, after 90 people in a youth camp were robbed and assaulted in ‘El Colibri’ forest. While this happened a decade ago, some of these camping areas are still considered unsafe.
At the time, the list included:
- La Marquesa
- El Ajusco
- the Iztaccihuatl skirts
- San Rafael
- La Joya
- Cerro El Telapón
- La Laguna de Salazar
- Llano Grande
- the lagoons of Zempoala
- Río Frío.
In the last few years, hikers in Los Desiertos and Los Dinamos in Mexico City have reported incidents of robberies in remote parts of the track. Some of these places are working on being more secure, but it still serves as a reminder that you should always do research beforehand and know the area where you go.
We came across two women who had just been robbed in broad daylight in 2021 in Los Desiertos, where the robber stole their backpacks and shoes so they couldn’t even chase their attacker.
In 2020–2021, there were also several incidents of campers and hikers going missing or being victims of homicides around San Rafael. In general, however, it is rare that these crimes involves tourists. Many hikers also successfully visit these areas every weekend (us included!) with no incidents.
Still, none of this should deter you – it can be equally unsafe in a remote area in any country. Play it safe, follow the rules, and you’ll discover just how amazing camping is in Mexico.
Some safety tips include:
- Don’t travel very early in the morning or late at night when you might be the only car on the road.
- Choose paid campgrounds over free camping; some natural areas are owned by communities (ejidos), and the respect of paying the community to use their land partly buys your security.
- If in doubt, ask – don’t assume you can set up your tent anywhere.