Is It Safe in Oaxaca? Update May 2010

First and foremost, Oaxaca is safe.

It is May and the annual tradition for the threat of a teacher’s union strike repeats itself.  Those of us who love Oaxaca remember this time in 2006 when the governor (a PRI conservative representing the party in power with a lock-hold on the state for over 80 years) sent in troops to quell the traditionally peaceful demonstration and all hell broke loose, lasting for six months.

The news coming out of Oaxaca now is localized to the mountainous Triqui villages where there are human rights abuses and as recently as April 28, people have been shot by paramilitary squads.  Victims have been targeted because they are activists trying to change the system.  This is far from the city center, though, it is important to keep a pulse on what goes on as elections approach.  You have to know the political, social, cultural and historical undercurrents in order to make a judgment about whether Oaxaca is “safe.”  The power struggle is between the PAN party (represented by the president of Mexico) and the PRI, and the paramilitary gangs that represent the oppressive governor.

All this being said, it is important not to be alarmist or to change your travel plans.  Oaxaca city and its environs are safe.  I want to state this emphatically.  Oaxaca is safe.

What My Friends in Oaxaca Say …

There is no trace in Oaxaca city about the events in the Triqui region, not even in the national media.  For a lot of people from Oaxaca, unfortunately, these events have become “common” so there is no follow up by the local government.  There are local activists who are concern about the event, but are not able to do much.

The fights in the Triqui region of Oaxaca have been happening for a long time.  Historically, this region was one indigenous community without political parties.  Then, since the political parties started to take control of the community the division started.  Now there are two Triqui regions: Alta y Baja (upper and lower or south).

There is no tension in the city, no fights or demonstrations.  The elections are close, so we presume the government is doing “$$everything $$” it can to keep things calm until the elections.

Bottom line, if you are a tourist interested in visiting the nice attractions of Oaxaca , you will not have a single problem, unless you ride on a bus from the city for six hours to get to the Triqui region.

12 responses to “Is It Safe in Oaxaca? Update May 2010

  1. hey, a bit late on this one, but i am planning to take the road down to the coast from oaxaca and was just checking it out, as i have had some friendly warnings about travel in oaxaca state in general and wanted find the truth…anyway, dad if you get this i cycled baja recently, in july, it was hot as hell, but perfectly safe, apart from some occasional crazy parts of road, but you get that everywhere, even in california, anyway you can see my blog for details…its doable, but tough, very few stops, so sometimes you have too load up on food and water for a few days, and the options are usually meager, that said i suppose it depends what time of year you go, either way, its no picnic!!!!if its not that hot then it wont be so extreme…ask away if you have any ?’s and also did you find out any more about the oaxaca route?

    • It’s Norma here (not your dad), Jason. Well, someone wrote me from Boston (Harvard medical school, he should know better) a couple of months ago asking about the safety of bicycling over the Sierra Madre to get from Oaxaca city to the Pacific coast. My advice still stands for you, that person who wrote earlier, and anyone else: traveling on a barely paved, potholed, switchback road through the mountains with hairpin curves, burros, cows, and chickens, boulders and rubble, is not a good idea. Furthermore, traveling off the main road and alone in a region known for occasional skirmishes between police, local militia and/or political malcontents with guns is not a good idea. Any travel at night, even by car, puts one in jeopardy. If you are headstrong and insistent, then be certain to bring along extra mechanical gear in case of breakdown. This is not California or even Baja. Get off the road and settled into a village before dusk. There are no other routes to the coast except narrow, winding, barely paved roads, unless you take Mexico Highway 90 from Oaxaca to Tehuantepec. This is a good highway, but there is no shoulder and it is heavily trafficked with giant buses, commercial trucks, and cars wanting to pass at every opportunity even though there are no turnouts and it is a solid double line for 150 miles. As we say in Mexico, bueno suerte.

      • *don..

        tthanks for the advice, it was good, i have cycled a lot around mexico so im familiar with the conditions, and have also crossed the mountains a few times so I know the crack..Im thinking the road you suggested highway 90 is the best option, the elevation is muy tranquillo compared to the road straight down to Puerto escondido, and for the most part its a gradual decline with not as many switchbacks and such…no shoulder sucks, but it wont be the first time 🙂


  2. I am a bicyclist thinking about a road tour of oaxaca. I would be traveling solo. Do you think this route would take me into dangerous areas?

    Oaxaca to Mihuatlán ;
    Mihuatlán to Candelaria ;
    Candelaria to Puerto Ángel ;
    Pto Ángel to Pto Escondido/Rio Grande;
    Rio Grande to Pinotepa Nacional ;
    Pinotepa Nacional to Cacahuatepec ;
    Cacahuatepec to Putla;
    Putla to Tlaxiaco ;
    Tlaxiaco to Teposcolula;
    Teposcolula to Nochixtlán ;
    Nochixtlán to Oaxaca

    • Don, this is more than “ambitious!” The mountain roads you are considering are winding, narrow and full of potholes. The route you outline takes you from 5,000 foot plateau over 12,000 foot mountain passes. There are very few villages along the way. As a former bicyclist, I would not recommend this trip by bicycle, nor would I recommend traveling this way solo. You might consider getting to the coast by bus and taking the coastal route which is a lot less treacherous — physically and politically.

      • thanks! I will consider a coastal route.

        • It sounds from your response that this route is dangerous politically. Is that correct?

          • Another possibility I was considering is bicycling the Baja starting somewhere about a 100 miles south of Tijuana. Is the Oaxacan coastal route comparable to the Baja in safety? Thanks again for your thoughts!

          • My son and daughter-in-law drove a 4-Runner from NC to Buenos Aires over the last year with their pit bull mix Domino. They loved Baja and spent a considerable amount of time there camping and surfing. See their website: for details. I don’t remember them saying anything about safety alerts. Nor do I know the condition of the roads. With their jacked up truck and huge tires they could go off-road anywhere. They took a car ferry across the Gulf of California to the mainland and ended up in Mazatlan. Please check with Rochelle to ask her about safety. I have no clue about the Baja. Oaxacan coastal route from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to Salina Cruz then to Puerto Angel and Puerto Escondido is pretty benign, although it is punctuated periodically with military check-points. People are stopped and searched. The beaches are fabulous.

          • I would be super cautious about traveling in the Mixteca and Triqui highlands of Oaxaca far from the city. There have been human rights violations (with associated gun battles and deaths) in the mountain regions this year. I would not advise a bicycle trip through the region or traveling through there solo unless you are on a non-stop bus from city to coast.

  3. We have heard from a friend that their have been rapid kidnappings at ATM’s in Oaxaca. We love Oaxaca and have been there several times. We are savvy travelers and want to know the truth. Our plan is to stay in a Band B in the Historic district and study Spanish and the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca. Any wisdom?

    • David,
      This is the first I’ve heard of this. I am in Oaxaca several times a year. Last year I was there five times. I’ve never heard about kidnappings from ATM machines. Most of the ATMs are located inside banks around the Zocalo. I use them during the day when there are lots of people around. I’ve never experienced anything that seemed threatening. During the summer months, Oaxaca is full of tourists and it is very busy. Wherever you travel, it is always important to be aware of one’s environment. I was in London recently and always watched my back, even though I did not anticipate anything would happen. I see you are in Northern Virginia, where I used to live. People in NoVa are savvy travelers. Go, study Spanish, enjoy your B&B and have a great time.

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