Los Cabos is a safe place both to visit and live. In fact, Cabo is the fourth safest city in Mexico according to recent federal government data, and Baja California Sur is the third safest state with the lowest murder rate in all of Mexico, equivalent to the murder rate in the state of Idaho.
Still, some of the most frequent questions asked of expats living in Los Cabos concern safety. These are generally posed by the well-intentioned but ill-informed who wonder why anyone would ever choose to settle in such a lawless, dangerous place, given the shocking headlines about violence in Mexico.
These questions are often met with sighs and reassuring answers from the 15,000 or so American, Canadian and other foreign national transplants who call San Jose del Cabo or Cabo San Lucas home and feel completely secure in their adopted city.
Although certain towns in Mexico are rife with crime and cartel violence, Los Cabos, isolated at the end of a 760-mile peninsula, isn’t one of them.
Cabo is a safe and serene place to live, and it's getting even safer with Cabo crime rates plummeting. Rest assured, government authorities are working hard to keep it that way.
This is a municipality of (officially) just over 350,000 residents who welcome more than four million visitors annually. Keeping tourists and residents safe is of the utmost importance.
With very few exceptions, Mexicans are warm and gracious hosts who want to share their culture with you and welcome you back time and time again.
Here, we’ll answer a few of the most pressing questions people have when planning to visit Los Cabos or purchase real estate in Cabo and a few tips on staying safe:
1. Is Cabo dangerous?
2. Isn’t there a lot of crime in Mexico?
3. How can I stay safe in Los Cabos?
4. What do I do if I have an emergency in Cabo?
5. What should I do if I’m stopped by the police in Los Cabos?
1. Is Cabo dangerous?
While everyone has their own perception of what safety or danger is, most of those who live in Los Cabos will tell you they feel safer here than they do in their home cities, states or provinces.
Cabo, more accurately known as Los Cabos, is a municipality comprised of two cities: the more relaxed San Jose del Cabo and bustling Cabo San Lucas. The last census, in 2020, showed 351,111 inhabitants, although the actual number in 2023 may be quite a bit higher due to the area’s phenomenal growth and Cabo’s commercial and residential real estate boom.
Among those residents are nearly 15,000 foreigners with temporary or permanent visas, according to statistics released in 2022. Although the majority of foreign residents in Los Cabos are Americans and Canadians, the North American expats are joined by Venezuelans, Spaniards, Britons, Colombians, Argentines and other nationalities who have chosen to make Los Cabos their home.
Cabo is also hugely popular for remote workers and digital nomads who embrace the opportunity of working virtually from paradise, taking advantage of the resort towns’ speedy internet, coworking options, and gorgeous opportunities for home offices away from the urban stress back home.
There’s a fundamental reason why both the permanent foreign population and the number of visitors are growing by leaps and bounds. Neither would thrive in a region fraught with danger.
Los Cabos is safe and beautiful with a slower pace than cities across the northern border. It’s a great place to raise families as well, with second and third generations of expats still calling Los Cabos home.
Residential neighborhoods such as San Jose del Cabo’s Querencia, Palmilla and Club Campestre offer proximity to great schools and health care as well as the added peace of mind of gated, guarded communities, as do Pedregal, Hacienda Beach Club and Chileno Bay in or near Cabo San Lucas.
Area residents welcome at least 4 million visitors who arrive at the Los Cabos airport each year, plus tens of thousands of cruise ship passengers. The region's growth in recent years has been exponential.
It’s easy to understand why Cabo feels more like a bustling metropolis than the quaint villages Baja Properties owner and broker Michael Schaible encountered when first came to Southern Baja and founded the company in 1986.
Back then, there was no airport to speak of, no paved highway, no golf courses, no home phones and few hotels. Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo were more like villages, Schaible recalls, and residents knew and looked out for one another.
Although the population has exploded, that welcoming sentiment prevails among Cabo residents, new and old.
The sheer number of people in Los Cabos today can and does present public safety challenges, such as petty theft and fraud, but as a whole, Cabo is very safe, with an intentional homicide rate (2.2 per 100,000 population) for the entire state of Baja California Sur on par with Idaho, the latest government statistics show.
Additionally, the state’s attorney general posits that 80% of homicides are solved by careful police work. Compare that success rate to an average of 52% in the United States as of 2022.
The crime rate in 2023, the lowest since 2013, shows Southern Baja and Los Cabos as one of the safest areas in all of Mexico, landing Baja California Sur in the top three safest of all 32 Mexican states.
The current governor is committed to maintaining and improving safety for residents and visitors alike.
In late September 2023, 28 new vehicles were delivered to law enforcement and rescue agencies across the state, including eight sedan-type vehicles, 15 pickups and four ambulances.
The municipal government has also launched initiatives specifically designed to help foreign residents in Los Cabos in emergency situations. Scroll down to read more about those important programs.
2. Isn’t there a lot of crime in Mexico?
Mexico is a vast country comprised of 32 states, some of which are, indeed, dangerous, including some of the most dangerous cities in the world. But Mexico is a big country, and cannot be painted with one brush.
For this reason, the US State Department rates safety in Mexico by state, not by the country as a whole.
“Some Mexican states are quite safe for U.S. tourists, while others are riskier due to narco-trafficking violence,” Ryan Larsen, executive director of the Institute for Global Engagement at Western Washington University told National Geographic recently.
When news stories of cartel or other violence in Mexico dominate the headlines, it is important to understand that these incidents are confined to specific parts of the country.
The US State Department recommends travelers to Southern Baja and Los Cabos “exercise increased caution,” just as they should if traveling to Hong Kong, Antarctica, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Belize or the United Kingdom. These countries are all at US State Department Level 2 for safety, as is Baja California Sur, whereas six states in Mexico are at Level 4, meaning “do not travel.”
Baja California Sur is at the tip of the Baja Peninsula, isolating it from much of the turmoil other parts of Mexico experience. Criminals here can’t flee to another state without a lengthy car ride north up our only highway or an exit via plane or boat. The remoteness is a natural deterrent.
And while bad things do happen in Southern Baja, as they do everywhere, Los Cabos is no Juarez or Tijuana.
3. What are some Cabo safety tips?
For the most part, staying safe in Los Cabos amounts to using common sense. Don’t visit unfamiliar places at night, keep an eye on your belongings and be aware of your surroundings are good rules wherever you travel.
Cabo is a safe destination, but, like anywhere, if you are looking for trouble you can certainly find it.
Recommendations from the US State Department for all travelers include:
● Keep people informed of your travel plans. If separating from your travel group, send a friend your GPS location. If taking a taxi or Uber alone, take a photo of the taxi number and/or license plate and text it to a friend. And if you decide to stay a little longer in Los Cabos than planned, as many do, also let loved ones know.
● Be careful in and around bars and nightclubs. Alcohol and other illicit substances often lead to risky behavior and poor decision-making, no matter where you are in the world.
● If you’ve got it, don’t flaunt it. Avoid blatant signs of wealth, like expensive watches or jewelry, in casual situations.
● Consider enrolling in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). Whether you are an American resident of, or visitor to, Los Cabos, this US government program sends you alerts via smartphone about things like extreme weather and makes it easier for the government to locate you in an emergency.
● Watch out for scams. If it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. Don’t trust strangers or people on the internet with money or personal information.
4. How do I report an emergency?
If you have an emergency, calling 911 is essential, and this number works in Los Cabos as well.
However, those with limited Spanish proficiency can find calling 911 challenging, to say the least, especially during an already stressful event.
To that end, in 2022 the Los Cabos municipal government established a WhatsApp chat for non-Spanish-speaking residents experiencing emergencies.
It’s a great program that just requires just a bit of forethought to set up.
Here’s how it works.
● The Foreigners Emergency WhatsApp Chat is designed to provide emergency assistance to all non-Spanish-speaking foreigners living in Los Cabos as part of an emergency system monitored by the police.
● It is available and monitored 24/7 by English-speaking emergency professionals and boasts a response time of five minutes or less, depending upon the location of the emergency. Hundreds of foreign residents are already using it.
How can I sign up?
● Download WhatsApp on your smartphone, which is a good idea for many reasons when living in or visiting Los Cabos.
● Email Nohemi Romero Guzman (email@example.com) of the Foreign Resident Advisory Board with your full name, the neighborhood where you live (El Tezal, Pedregal, etc.) and the phone number associated with your WhatsApp account. She speaks fluent English, is extremely helpful, and will get you set up on the chat. You’ll receive a WhatsApp message when your name has been added to the public safety chat with a set of rules that you must strictly follow.
Here are some of the rules:
● Be objective and precise with your information or request for help.
● In a single paragraph write or record an audio with your emergency or complaint in detail; starting with the location of the event, description of the suspicious car or person, time, exact location and any photos you may have.
● Don’t use emojis in your emergency messages.
● Don’t report rumors.
Another important resource is the Tourist Assistance Los Cabos Office (CATTAC for its acronym in Spanish) located right on the Marina in Cabo San Lucas. While this is not an emergency resource for matters regarding life or limb, it can help with other kinds of emergencies such as filing police reports and lost passports.
As one visitor recently reported: “CATTAC was amazing and totally saved us. My husband’s passport went missing and the only way to travel internationally was to have a police report because there is no US Embassy in Cabo. After several hours of searching, we found CATTAC. They are there to specifically help tourists,” the visitor wrote in an online review.
“Sandra and a nice gentleman (so sorry I didn’t write down your name) helped us with our police report. So friendly and understanding. We just needed to brief them on the situation, provide an alternate ID, and the report we submitted to the US. Thank you so much !!”
5. What should I do if I’m stopped by the police in Los Cabos?
Most police encounters in Cabo involve driving, which can be challenging especially during Los Cabos’ high traffic hours.
Everyone is encouraged to drive defensively, meaning be very aware of your surroundings and potential road hazards, and don’t expect everyone else to follow traffic laws or safe driving techniques.
In order to prevent encounters with police, which is highly advised, here are a few things to remember:
● Don’t operate a cell phone while driving.
● Don’t drink and drive.
● Don’t park in a handicapped space or a red zone. If you have inadvertently done so, the traffic police will issue you a ticket and confiscate your license plate. You’ll need to go pay your fine, usually minimal, at the police station and retrieve your plate.
● Make sure you always have your license, registration and proof of insurance in your vehicle.
● If you are pulled over by police, don’t panic, be polite and courteous and don’t offer a bribe.
One of the great joys of living in Los Cabos is getting to know the Mexican people and share in their culture.
They have been welcoming expats in growing numbers for more than half a century, and children whose foreign national parents moved to Cabo in those early years are now having children of their own, and raising them in Los Cabos.
As Cabo has grown as a destination over the years, San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas, linked by the increasingly populated 20-mile corridor that runs between the two towns, have developed big city amenities coupled with breathtaking natural beauty and very few of the problems associated with larger urban centers.
Crime in Los Cabos is minimal compared to other cities north of Mexico’s border in the United States and on Mexico’s mainland.
Cabo is a place to fish, whale-watch, golf, swim, sunbathe, shop, eat, raise children and enjoy life at a slower pace.
Cabo is safe and it is safe to travel and live in Los Cabos, a fact to which millions of visitors and tens of thousands of foreign residents can attest.
As you would anywhere, use common sense, familiarize yourself with the steps to take should an emergency situation arise, and then sit back and enjoy life in paradise.