Is Acapulco safe to travel in 2023?

Is Acapulco safe? News clippings of cartel violence, kidnappings, and earthquakes might make a traveler second-guess a visit to the Pearl of the Pacific.

But Acapulco is a rich, culturally warm, and stunning destination for the conscious traveler. 

In this post, travel writer Chrissy Kapralos will share her experience traveling to Acapulco with locals but also give us a full overview of the facts and events that give Acapulco such a negative reputation. She will offer tips on how to travel safely to Acapulco and how to make the most of this amazing Mexican city.

Nonetheless, you should be aware of a few concerns when visiting Acapulco. I’m writing from the perspective of a female traveler with basic Spanish and familial ties through my partner.

However, we’ll look at safety concerns for every type of traveler based on research and the latest news as well. 

Acapulco Beach
Photo from Canva

Is Acapulco safe? Overview 

In my opinion — yes, as long as you take precautions. The truth is that tourists in Acapulco generally don’t have problems when visiting. Any violence is usually limited to locals, especially anyone involved with criminal activity

Still, the Mexican coastal city has one of the highest murder rates in the world at 110 murders per 100,000 people, second only to Tijuana in Mexico’s north. 

These crime indexes and news stories about violence were enough to catch international attention. 

The USA has had a travel advisory on Acapulco for many years now, currently advising Americans not to travel to the Guerrero state at all. This is a more severe advisory than the lower-tier “reconsider travel” or “exercise caution.” Canada follows suit, advising citizens to “avoid non-essential travel” to Guerrero. 

The National Security Council states that out of all Guerrero prison inmates, 42.1% lived in Acapulco. Additionally, a whopping 76.2% of Acapulco homicides involved firearms. 

These were the sentiments I read about before visiting Acapulco to see my partner’s family, who offered even more insights into the state of crime there. It’s strange.

I enjoyed the trip thoroughly and had a unique insight into local life in Acapulco, but the awareness made me feel two conflicting feelings. I was more comfortable and felt safe with loved ones around me.

However, I felt dismayed at the issues they told me barely made it into the news. Crazy, considering the already negative attention the city receives in the media. 

Acapulco beach
Acapulco Beach – Photo from Canva

The general sentiment is anywhere near the beach is safe because crime against tourists is frowned upon. Local crime reporter Basurto ten years back asserted this, insisting that tourists aren’t targeted in Acapulco.

But cartel violence has been known to leak into the tourist world here and there. For example, gunmen killed three men on a popular beach in front of hundreds of tourists earlier this year. 

Most of my beach walks were peppered with the Mexican federal police — La Guardia Nacional — patrolling. They wear all black and carry assault rifles.

Honestly, I felt safe around them because I couldn’t imagine someone committing a crime in their intimidating presence.

They were also quite friendly and receptive to pleasantries like buenas tardes, though locals have mixed feelings about them and the police in general. 

But daytime beach walks and city night walks are two different things. 

Is Acapulco Safe At Night?

Overall, crime increases at night everywhere, not just in Acapulco. Still, is Acapulco safe at night? Locals will tell you no, but it depends on the neighborhood. I felt safe walking around Playa Bonfil at night, though I always had the company of my partner or his family. 

But when we stayed with his grandmother in the El Coloso neighborhood about a half hour north of the beach, that was a different story.

Is Acapulco safe at night?
Acapulco safe – Photo from Canva

We rarely went out past 8 p.m. at her request, which felt like a sharp contrast considering we’d enjoy the entire day out and about exploring the local shops, from tortillerias and taquerias to the vendor-abundant Mercado. 

Once, we saw a cargo truck with eight or so police officers drive past us in the evening, to which our friend commented: 

They must be after someone important because otherwise, the police are hesitant to come here at night.

The lack of police presence in certain areas gave rise to a community-funded police resembling a neighborhood watch that tries to ensure security at night, though not always effectively. 

Another local friend of ours shared similar sentiments. She was born and raised in Acapulco, yet she and her daughter rarely leave her home after nightfall.

News clippings don’t always capture the frequency of missing persons, whereas locals sometimes hear of incidents solely through social media.

This is consistent with a recent news article citing the mayor’s reluctance to report on violence due to the adverse effects on tourism. 

Acapulco Nightlife

The Acapulco club scene is popping with lots of salsa dancing, reggaeton music, and generous tequila shots and cocktails. However, locals cautioned us from getting too drunk or even trying to get home late at night.

The common sentiment was that narcos like to hang out at nightclubs, and the wrong move mixed with alcohol could trigger a fight or death.  

Still, violence is usually targeted at locals over tourists, though both occurrences are unfortunate. Just this summer, an Acapulco club and resort owner was shot dead outside his establishment. Keep in mind that these incidents aren’t always reported in the media.

Moreover, we perused many Google reviews for certain clubs where patrons complained about having things stolen. 

If you plan on checking out the night scene, avoid getting too hammered and plan a way home in advance. 

Here are some popular nightspots among locals and tourists alike: 

  • Hannah Sun Club: for afternoon beach parties
  • Barzitto Canto Bar: for intimate cocktails
  • Euforia: for cumbia and electronic music
  • Terraza Back to Disco: for retro-themed nights and 80s tunes

Is Acapulco Safe For Solo Female Travelers

If we look at the National Security Council, we note that 55.8% of female deaths occur with a firearm. Mexico has historically had high rates of femicide, especially in the border town Ciudad de Juarez. Still, Acapulco poses risks to solo female travelers. 

Female locals try avoiding walking alone at night, as rape and sexual assaults are common, violent crimes in many neighborhoods. 

Is Acapulco Safe To Travel For Families? 

Yes, Acapulco has many family-friendly attractions and events to enjoy. Many families from Mexico city visit the coastal city every year, relishing the beaches, cliff divers, and patio taco restaurants along the coast. 

You’ll see lots of kids running around in general, so I wouldn’t think twice about visiting with family. If you want to err on the side of caution, I’d stay in a hotel with security versus an Airbnb and avoid staying out too late. 

Acapulco cliffs
Photo from Canva

Is Public Transport Safe In Acapulco? 

I had no problem with public transportation in Acapulco. In fact, I really enjoyed it. The common way to get around is the Colectivo— carpooling with other locals in small taxis or larger vans. 

If you’re obviously a gringo, the odd cabbie might try to score a little extra from you in payment, and I still didn’t even experience that happening much. 

Apart from that, I never felt unsafe. 

Drivers and patrons were always courteous and friendly, vibrating with the warm hospitality Mexico is known for. You’ll also see large public transportation buses, similar in look and feel to your average bus in Toronto or the US. 

From locals, we heard that muggings were always riskier during nighttime bus rides. But news sources mostly attribute those incidents to longer-distance, evening bus rides from city to city.

For example, one traveler reported a bus hijacking by men with guns on a night ride from Puerto Escondido to Acapulco.

This does happen and isn’t always reported. It’s reminiscent of a big story a few years back, where a bus full of students in Guerrero was intercepted, many of them still missing or found dead. 

Still, we had no problem taking a nighttime bus from Queretaro to Acapulco. A good rule of thumb is to travel with a company where feasible and avoid night rides if possible. 

Now, what if you’re the one driving? 

Is It Safe To Drive in Acapulco?

I remember feeling nervous about renting a car to go back from Acapulco to Queretaro. I asked many of my partner’s family members and friends we met along the way about driving in Acapulco.

Most of them thought it was fine to drive in Acapulco, especially along the coast, where it’s more touristic.

Still, we were warned not to drive north into the hilly areas of Guerrero, where most criminal activity takes place. 

You might put yourself in a local’s shoes for a moment, though. 

Most Mexican city nationals can’t afford to pay international prices to vacation in Cancun resorts like the Americans. 

So, Acapulco is an easier destination and a shorter, more accessible drive. Meaning? People drive to and within Acapulco every day. The same awareness applies here when driving at night or in unsafe neighborhoods. 


Are There Areas To Avoid in Acapulco?

Working-class neighborhoods outside of the tourist areas are usually at higher risk for crime. We talked to locals about more dangerous areas. Here are some places to avoid or exercise caution: 

La Sabana

Technically, this is a small town outside Acapulco. Researching on Google won’t illuminate much information, save for this recent article about a body found. 

El Rena

A little further north from La Sabana is El Rena (Renacimiento), which is well-known for its frequent crime. But, of course, locals live there and go about their lives like anywhere else. I find it illuminating to watch videos on YouTube so you can see people’s actual experiences.

Here, locals assert that the town isn’t less safe than anywhere else, but I suspect part of that sentiment stems from being used to it. 

La Progreso

This neighborhood has two of the most violent streets in the city. However, the National Security Council also hosts highly violent streets in El Coloso and even the Centro neighborhood. 

Locals often read of violence and disappearances in these neighborhoods in local news and social media.

Notice how, except for Progreso, these areas are a solid half-hour drive north of the beach. We also heard similar sentiments about traveling outside Acapulco into Guerrero’s hilly villages. 

Source: Google Maps

Our advice? Talk to locals and conduct as much research as possible from direct sources. I like checking YouTube and joining local Facebook groups — you’ll find ex-pat groups, too, where people describe their experiences. 

Overall, you might consider treading carefully in these neighborhoods: 

  • La Progreso
  • El Coloso
  • El Rena
  • La Sabana
  • Centro
  • Jardin Mangos
  • Las Cruces
  • Tres Palos

Where to Stay in Acapulco  

Anywhere along the beach is usually ideal. Here are some tourist areas that are generally safe in Acapulco: 

Punta Diamante

This is where Acapulco’s most luxurious hotels and resorts are. Punta Diamante tends to have many tourists, and things are a bit more expensive around here.

Still, you have gorgeous beaches and sunsets at your doorstep, and most establishments have security. 

Popular hotels in Punta Diamante include Bayan Tree Cabo Marques and Quinta Real Acapulco. If you’re feeling social, you might try out the Wayahnb’al Eco Hostel, with dome-like suites and bohemian decor. 

Playa Bonfil

This area is close to the airport, about a 10-15-minute drive from Punta Diamante. Playa Bonfil is well-known for its beachside hotels, Airbnbs, and a few ex-pat hangouts. The beach often has events and parties for international travelers.

If you speak French, you’ll see a few Quebec flags along the coast, meaning French speakers are nearby. 

One great place to stay in the Mareva Playa Hotel. The staff and owners were super kind and attentive. Plus, you’ll have private access to the Playa as well. 

Pro tip? Book a night or two at your hotel of choice and ask around for a cash deal.

The owners get to keep more of the fee since they won’t pay third-party booking sites, and you’ll likely get a better price. 

You see more hotel options in Acapulco in my dedicated post.

My workspot at the Mareva Hotel, right in front of the playa. 

Is Acapulco Safe To Live In  

Safe is subjective. Acapulco has a population of about 1,000,000 people as of 2022, so it’s clear that many people live their lives and continue having children there. Of course, this Mexican city isn’t as safe as Queretaro, for example, if you base your conclusion on crime rates.  

Still, many Americans and Canadians continue to emigrate to Acapulco. While most of them live along the safer coastal areas, we chatted with ex-pats living in the Progreso and Llano Largo neighborhoods as well, which are considered more local and sometimes less safe. 

Personally, I’d feel nervous living in Acapulco, knowing what family and friends have shared with us about their experiences there. But you might live there for years without any incident. I don’t know if there’s a right or wrong answer, but I do think it depends on your risk tolerance. 

When Is The Best Time To Visit Acapulco? 

US News says April, May, October, and November. I had a great time in January and February — just be prepared for hot, sticky humidity. I highly recommend solid sunscreen, especially for sun-scorching afternoons. 

Acapulco does have a rainy season between June and November, causing up to 225 mm of rainfall in the September peak. 

Plus, the Mexican west coast sits along the Ring of Fire, a horseshoe-sized belt of active volcanoes under and above water that extends across the Andes, Mexico, California, to Canada, curving around to Russia, Japan, and other countries in the Asia Pacific. 

Meaning? Acapulco gets earthquakes regularly, though most often in September and October. These earthquakes might just be moment-long tremors, but others cause more damage, like this 7.1-magnitude quake that killed one person. 

A Brief Story of Acapulco, how it changed with time 

Acapulco used to be the “it” location for starlets in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Vintage images of Elizabeth Taylor, the Reagans, and John Wayne all come to mind.

The resorts were luxurious and backed onto the sparkling shorelines of Acapulco Bay, reserved only for the world’s most elite. 

Still, it was a common destination for the middle class who saved a little extra and wanted to splurge. I’ve heard countless stories from the generations before me talking about that one trip they had in Acapulco over 30 years ago. 

Before, it was a top vacation spot. Now? Tourism is more heavily local, from Mexico City.

And, international tourists are put off by the many international warnings cautioning citizens from visiting Acapulco and Guerrero in general. Instead, they flock to the Quintana Roo cities of Cancun and Playa Del Carmen. 

So, when and why did Acapulco change? 

Why is Acapulco so dangerous?

Sources say an uptick in cartel violence caused Acapulco’s descent from high-luxury to high-crime status.

Not far from the shoreline, a 2006 shootout in La Garita resulted in burning cars and dead bodies along the street, signaling violence between the Sinaloa and Zetas criminal gangs.

After the president cracked down on cartels, killing and incarcerating well-known crime bosses, he unknowingly triggered the formation of more criminal gangs.

Without the leadership of those original cartels, more criminals sought to claim power through crimes like murder and kidnapping.  

The chaos has caused violence to both criminals and innocent bystanders, sometimes the victim of stray bullets or mistaken identity. On top of that, businesses and taxi drivers were regularly extorted, facing retaliation if they didn’t pay off the criminal groups. 

Mix that with a growing corruption problem in municipal, regional, and even federal police. Crime shot up exponentially and deterred the thousands of tourists who once reveled in Acapulco’s stunning vacation attractions. 

Acapulco crime rate

Acapulco has one of the highest crime rates in the world. The city saw 110 murders per 100,000 residents in 2022, crowning it the second-worst city in the world for murders. What’s more disturbing is a general sentiment that not all crimes are even reported there. 

On top of that, locals shared stories about disappearances, many of which go unresolved for years. Kidnapping is also a concern in Mexico, though the highest frequencies occur in the states of Veracruz and Mexico versus Guererro.

But I’ll stress this again: the violence isn’t usually targeted at tourists. You’re more likely to get water poisoning in Acapulco than shot. 

Is It Safe To Drink Tap Water In Acapulco? 

Definitely not! Drinking tap water in Acapulco is unsafe and is known to cause severe illnesses like Typhoid Fever. My partner’s grandmother always keeps bottled water in storage, and many locals do the same. I’ve heard of some people boiling the water first to kill off any bacteria, but even that might not protect you from every contaminant. 

My partner made the mistake of drinking tap water and was so sick for a good chunk of our time there — we’re talking cold sweats, stomach pain, fever, and no appetite — it was awful. 

Is Food In Acapulco Safe To Eat? 

Yes! The food is impeccable, but you might experience tummy issues and diarrhea like when eating foreign foods. 

Of course, some establishments are cleaner than others, so you should just use your judgment. Some tourists lament hygiene practices for certain food stalls and vendors, but I wouldn’t blanket Acapulco street food as “unsafe” across the board. I ate corn, tacos, and tamales from stands and felt just fine. 

But geography sometimes has an effect, as bacteria flourishes in Acapulco’s heat, and cash is the most common currency, two things that could contaminate street food. 

If you’re buying fruits and vegetables, I’d avoid washing them with tap water. Instead, you might boil and refrigerate the water or have a large stash of bottled, filtered water. 

How to Get to Acapulco from Mexico City

You can get from Acapulco to Mexico City in three ways: 

  • Fly: A flight from Mexico City to Acapulco takes only an hour and fifteen minutes. Flying is the easiest way to Acapulco, with multiple flights daily averaging $60-$100 each way. The Acapulco airport is close to Playa Bonfil, a popular tourist destination. Otherwise, you could reach the luxurious Diamante region in less than 20 minutes. 
  • Drive: Driving to Acapulco takes just over five hours. Some tourists might feel apprehensive driving through Guerrero and Michoacan, both regions known for cartel violence recently. However, locals do it all the time. Just try to stay on toll roads and drive during the day. 
  • Bus: Estrella de Oro and Diamante are popular bus companies that service much of the Guerrero Coast, including rides from Mexico City to Chilpancingo and Acapulco. The ride is often overnight and takes about five hours. Tickets range from 600 to 1,000 MXN, though last-minute trips can get expensive. 
Source: Ado

Acapulco: Travel Safety Tips 

The conservative traveler might say: don’t go at all. Personally, I see the potential for incredible experiences for anyone who visits Acapulco. To enjoy them to their fullest, keep these travel tips in mind: 

✔️Avoid traveling by car or public transportation at night. 

✔️ Get travel insurance, especially for coverage on stolen property.

✔️ If a police officer stops your car and asks to search your bag, let them. Resisting might land you an arrest or worse. 

✔️ Remain calm if stopped by the police and assess the situation. Sometimes, they stop to see if wanted criminals are in your cars. Other times, they might stop you for a search. Comply until they start asking for bribes. In that case, it’s best not to carry too much cash anyway. 

✔️ Follow government recommendations for natural disasters like earthquakes.

✔️ Don’t wear flashy or expensive clothes and jewelry.

✔️ Stay in a hotel or resort near the coastline, and ensure most of the attractions you’d like to see are nearby. 

✔️ Learn basic Spanish.

✔️ Maintain awareness — don’t look down on your phone as you walk, for example. 

✔️ Don’t drink too much or leave your drink unattended. 

Safety Facts about Guerrero 

Guerrero is a large state with many other cities apart from Acapulco. It’s home to the capital Chilpancingo, also known for high crime. Guerrero is often even more dangerous than big cities, especially if you get into rural regions. We were warned to stay away from the northern hills, as many of those villages are controlled by cartels. 

The US travel advisory cautions against traveling to Guerrero, period, but we informed our sense of caution more from what we heard from family members and locals. 

Is Acapulco Safe for Tourists? 

Overall, yes. Over 6 million tourists visited Acapulco in 2018. 

Most of the violence in Acapulco is targeted at locals and locals involved in criminal activity. Still, the sheer number of homicides and the city’s place as the second-highest murder city in the world might make you wonder. 

But one Mexican security expert highlights the comparatively rare incidents that occur with tourists versus locals in general. Our rule of thumb was to be aware of our surroundings and avoid venturing too far from our hotel late at night. 

Top things to do in Acapulco 

Acapulco offers the world to every traveler, be it through its warm, vibrant culture or delicious chicken stands and taquerias. Here are a few top activities to do when you visit: 

✅ See the Quebrada Divers

Watch divers jump from 35-m cliffs into the bay. The site attracts locals and tourists alike every week. In the end, make sure you leave them a tip. The sport is a tradition, but a dangerous one, as many divers have died doing it. 

The scenery here is also breathtaking, reminiscent of the Amalfi Coast with a Mexican flair. 

Waiting for nightfall with a stunning view of the cliffs — the Quebrada Divers came on shortly after.

✅ Check out Playa Bonfil

Playa Bonfil has a slight hippie, bohemian vibe. The beach is filled with bustling yet calm attractions, like ATV rentals, horseback riding, and parasailing. 

Feel free to lay out a towel and soak in the sites, watching the naked sunset disappear under the horizon. Or, grab a bite to eat at one of the many eateries right on the beach. If you’re lucky, you might spot some sea turtles. 

Of course, you have tons of other beaches to choose from: 

  • Playa Pie de la Cuesta
  • Playa Tamarindos
  • Playa Condesa
  • Playa Puerto Marques
  • Playa Caleta 
  • Playa Hermosa

✅ Walk Around the Zocalo

Acapulco’s town square has an old-time vibe, with a stone-arched Gazebo and peppered greenery where you can sit and feed the birds. You’ll see tons of shops, from Mexican restaurants to clothing stores like H&M. This is a busy area with tons of locals walking and talking, so don’t venture here if you can’t handle the hustle-bustle. 

Many see the Zocalo’s oeuvre as the Catedral de Nuestra Senora de la Soledad, the city’s primary catholic church in Plaza Alvarez.

✅ Take a Cruise

You’ll find many day cruise options in Acapulco Bay. Many of them have open bars and music with dancing — it’s a great time. You might also choose a night cruise to see La Quebrada divers or book a special tour for baby turtle release. 

✅ Volunteer

If you’re on Workaway, you’ll find a few volunteer opportunities in Acapulco. The most prominent type is animal care, as Acapulco (and Mexico in general) has many stray dogs and cats. While Workaway involves a set workday in exchange for housing, you might consider calling these establishments to see if they need help for more short-term projects or an extra helping hand for a day. 

✅ Eat

Personally, I enjoyed the food joints within the El Coloso market north of the beach. But if getting there is too much of a mission, you’ll be perfectly content with the fabulous food options along the coast. I always go for seafood — I love a good fish taco or a Huachingo filet (red snapper). 

Here are some superb restaurants you might try: 

  • Harry’s Acapulco: Fine dining with a view
  • Pollos Asados El Güero: Outdoor BBQ chicken on the grill 
  • Mamma Gaia: A secret garden oasis with delicious brunch options
  • Mariscos el Sirenito: Hello, seafood!

Mind you; some spots don’t have a web presence. You’ll just have to walk around and explore. If you smell meat and cornmeal, mouthwatering tamales are nearby!

Is Acapulco safe in 2022: Final thoughts

Overall, Acapulco is much less safe than other vacation destinations in Mexico and the world. 

Today’s conscious travelers should maintain awareness and know the risks before traveling to Acapulco. 

Still, my experience there was overall positive. 

The city has breathtaking sights and beaches, delicious Mexican fare, and some of the kindest people I’ve met in Mexico. But can you still enjoy a vacation there, uninterrupted by crime? Absolutely.

You know yourself best — but if you have a higher risk tolerance than the average traveler, you’d do well to chat with locals, maintain awareness of unsafe neighborhoods, and avoid being alone at night. 

Before you go…