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How safe is San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico


Is it Safe to Travel in Sonora?

Safety Update: January 2014

Traveling south of the border has always had its inherent risks. In many ways Mexico is still a developing nation, and rich gringos who flaunt their affluence may become targets for crime. Crimes against tourists are still very rare however, as most Mexicans welcome visitors and public places are typically well protected.
However, since Mexican President Felipe Calderon began a war on illicit drug trafficking in December of 2006, more than 25,000 people have been killed in related violence and many areas of the nation have literally become war zones.

News stories have portrayed horrific acts of violence, usually committed between members of one cartel and another, between cartel members and police, or, more recently, murders of political figures and government officials by the drug cartels.

Sonora’s location as a border state with the United States and its having a highway route west to Tijuana and California have made it one of the primary routes for transporting drugs from southern Mexico to the United States.

As such, there have been violent incidents reported in Sonora. It is important to note though, that the level of violence has not been anywhere near the levels experienced in places like Ciudad Juarez and the Texas/Chihuahua border, or in other states like Nuevo Leon and Michoacan. It’s not out of control. Also, conflicts in Sonora have been limited to violence between cartels, or between criminals and law enforcement.

That said though, the potential for danger and violence is still a concern. We are frequent visitors to Sonora, and have not felt threatened in any way, although the heightened presence of federal police and military can be a bit unnerving.

Sonora is a beautiful place with rich culture and beautiful, friendly people. However, making the decision of whether to visit depends on your own tolerance for risk. If you’d prefer to sit at home and look at the pictures of Sonora, that’s fine. If at any time we feel that it is particularly unsafe to visit any part of (or all of) Sonora, we’ll place travel advisories without hesitation.

Current Travel Advisories

August 2014

It didn’t seem incredibly dangerous outside. So, while I’ve been avoiding the topic because honestly, it seems like common sense to me, I guess it’s time. Let’s talk about whether or not it’s safe to travel to Mexico.

Let’s Talk Statistics

I’m not an expert, so I am going to quote liberally from my favorite article on the safety of traveling to Mexico by Robert Reid. After agreeing that yes, the murder rate in Mexico is three times that of the United States, he points out that the more pertinent stat is the amount of murders perpetrated against tourists.

According to FBI crime statistics, 4.8 Americans per 100,000 were murdered in the US in 2010. The US State Department reports that 120 Americans of the 5.7 million who visited Mexico last year were murdered, which is a rate of 2.1 of 100,000 visitors. Regardless of whether they were or weren’t connected to drug trafficking, which is often not clear, it’s less than half the US national rate.

Unfortunately the United States is not the bastion of safety certain people sometimes tell themselves it is. People are shot here on a near constant basis for absolutely no reason whatsoever. In just the past year or two there have been well publicized incidents of people being senselessly murdered while at the movies, in school, at work or watching the Boston Marathon.

In the end, the safety of Mexico is highly dependent on where you go, just like in Colombia, Brazil and yes, the United States. As Reid points out:

New Orleans, host city of next year’s Super Bowl, broke its own tourism record last year with 8 million visitors. Yet the Big Easy has ten times the US homicide rate, close to triple Mexico’s national rate.

Crimes against tourists are highly reported and emphasized by US press, so it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that the world is a scary place. Reality is of course more nuanced.

Let’s Talk Experience

So now that we’ve seen the real statistical danger of being a tourist in Mexico, let me tell you about my everyday reality, as someone who has spent the last four and a half months living here.

Mike and I live in a peaceful surf town on the west coast of Mexico called Sayulita. It’s small, but popular with both international and Mexican tourists. In the past month the most discussed criminal activity has been how to deal with bars that play their music too loud. It’s not perfect, there is the occasional break-in etc., but I am pretty sure this small town in Mexico is the safest community I have ever lived in.

The Mexico I see everyday is incredibly warm, not just in temperature but in terms of the fun, happy and welcoming people I get to meet every day. Mexicans have to be some of the most friendliest people in the world. Our day to day life is colored with impromptu parades, town sponsored baseball games and the occasional town concert.
The bottom line is that Mexico is an enormous country. Writing off Mexico because of a murder in Mihoacan is like writing off the United States because of the crime rate in New Orleans. The areas of Mexico you are most likely to travel to as a tourist are safe. Literally millions of people, more than twenty million last year, visited without incident.

So come to Mexico! Or don’t. More tacos for me. Just don’t let fear override your decision making skills.


  1. Dawn says:

    I recently drove down to San Carlos from Tucson by myself. I am a 58 year old female & actually felt very comfortable on the 4 lane hwy all the way down. My husband & I have been going down to our beach house for about 5 years with no trouble. The Mexican people are great & the beaches are beautiful.

  2. Lori says:

    I was invited to to San Carlos. my concern is crossing the border at Nogales and driving to San Carlos. once in San Carlos I believe it is safe. what are the conditions and safety factors for the Nogales border and highway to San Carlos?

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  5. I plan on spending 2 months March and April in a gate condo in playas de Tijuana -= what has been going on there in terms of murders or robberies, it would make me feel better knowing the dangers.

  6. Darrin Jones says:

    I have crossed the Border at Nogales, Naco (South of Bisbee) and Agua Prieta more than 20 times during 2010 and the first 1/3 of 2011. I have driven all over the state and have to say that other than Topes (speed bumps) and livestock on the roads, there is little need to worry about safety while driving around Sonora. On Highway 15 from Nogales to Hermosillo and points South, there are even “Green Angels” that will change a tire for you, fix a broken water hose, repair/replace a broken belt – all at “NO CHARGE”.
    While on the U.S. side of the Border, you will find numerous speed traps and rude Immigration Agents at checkpoints willing to detain you and even demand to see your papers if you look at all Hispanic, or maybe even if you don’t. Mexico is FAR safer than the United States as a whole; It took more than four years for the “Drug War” to have a body count that equaled the United States annual kill rate by hand guns alone. Yet, our Border Agents are decked out in Kevlar and body armor and fully automated weapons ready to stare you down and question your sanity for going to visit Mexico. They will even make senior citizen groups leave their tour bus and walk a football field away, just so they can use their newest toy, a portable vehicle X-ray mobile (that scans vehicles for Guns, ammo or money).
    They do not want U.S. Citizens to know how nice, tranquil, safe and relaxed it is down here. The government is afraid of the economic effects of a mass exodus or retirees. Heaven forbid they might realize how much better the health system is down here and that could seriously disrupt our Health Services Economy Sector. It is just easier for them to paint the whole country with a black brush and sensationalize what is going on over there. It keeps folks distracted about what is going on in their own town and makes them easier to control. After all, aren’t scared and confused people easier to manipulate than enlightened, confident and independent people?

  7. William Maxwell says:

    Just got back from San Carlos and had an awesome time. People were friendly and I never felt threatened in any way. I am 6″4″ 300lbs maybe that’s why but I think they just were all friendly. Never got the “LOOK” from anyone which I can’t say is true about New York or New Orleans. Almost got in a fight in New Orleans because some Bro was dancing and thought I should pay him for passing by. So I would give San Carlos a 7 on the scale 1-10, Scale being a 9 inside my home with my own with my own kind of protection.

  8. We travel to San Carlos yearly. We have never had any trouble. We go south from Tuscon. TAKE THE TRUCK ROUTE to cross the border and go south. This avoids going through Nogales Mexico and avoids the one uncomfortable part of the trip.

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