How safe is it in Oaxaca, Mexico?

February 21, 2011, Pittsboro, NC — In eight days I’ll be leaving for Oaxaca, traveling solo.  My flights will take me from RDU to JFK to Mexico City to Oaxaca.  (A circuitous route for sure, yet the most economical on the day I decided to buy my ticket.) Am I concerned for my personal safety?  No.

Why? you might ask.  Because traveling to Oaxaca is not a mystery to me.  Because I have done it so many times over the years that it doesn’t phase me.  It is no longer an unknown to be afraid of.  Today, I was at a university lecture delivered by an international expert on Mexican migration and immigration.  When I talked with her afterward, one of the first things she asked me was, “Is it safe in Oaxaca?”  I was surprised by her question, an educated Latina who has traveled regularly to Mexico.  I replied that Oaxaca is so far from the border where the drug wars and skirmishes take place that it is barely touched by this type of violence.  Yet, I am only one voice.

Every day, about 20% of the search terms that come in to this blog are related to the question, how safe is it in Oaxaca?

Next week, 10 women will gather together in Teotitlan del Valle for a creative writing and yoga retreat.  All are traveling solo from various parts of the U.S. — Colorado, Maine, California, Ohio, and North Carolina.  One is Australian who lives in Mexico City. Several have never been to Mexico before.  My goal is to have a discussion with them about this question of safety and why they chose to come to Oaxaca despite the prevailing winds of fear.

There are numerous posts on this blog where I have written about safety.  I have written about Mexico travel safety on Suite 101.  I have interviewed expatriates who live in Oaxaca and families who go there for winter and summer vacations.  I suppose I could be writing about safety daily.  What could I tell people about safety that would assuage their fears?

My husband was in Oaxaca for a while in late January.  He takes buses all over the city, prides himself on getting around using public transport, discovering little out-of-the-way spots where he can study Spanish and people-watch.  The biggest event was a parade of teachers on the Zocalo in front of the government building (the new governor has moved the business of governing back to the center of town where he/it is accessible to the people.)  He calmly observed democracy in action while sipping a beer at the sidewalk cafe.

Can I guarantee your safety?  Of course not!  I can only tell you how it is for me and leave it to you to come to your own conclusions.  And, of course, I’ll keep writing about this because it is important to dispel the fear.

7 responses to “How safe is it in Oaxaca, Mexico?

  1. I just returned from Oaxaca June 1st. I spent 3 months there. Before I left I did research about the safety of Oaxaca and I assured myself that it was indeed safe. My stay in the city and on the coast (Santa Rosa de Lima and Juquila) all proved to be safe. Now that I have returned I have been told by a friend that a church mission group went to Oaxaca since I have returned. They reported that there was a revolution occuring there and that they (the church group) was on the other side of the guys with guns. I know that there is an election coming up on July 1st but I did not sense that there was a revolution occuring. Is there something occuring politically since the 1st of June?

    • Hi, Donzetta. Let me reassure you, there is no revolution in Oaxaca. There are always check-points which are staffed by the federal police. This is part of the Calderon “War on Drugs.” I’ve been on buses that are stopped and searched, but without incident. I have no idea why your church mission group would report that there is a revolution unless they do not understand the ubiquitous presence of armed military in Mexico as a safeguard and deterrent.

      • Thank you for your response. The church was not my church but that of a friend but I did want to investigate to be able to respond appropriately.

  2. I have been to Oaxaca twice in the past and loved it but wondered about the safety now, so it is good to read the note from the woman from North Carolina and also Karen’s note. Hopefully I will revisit Oaxaca before too long.

  3. My sister, my daughter, and I traveled to Oaxaca this past July. Prior to leaving we were a bit concerned as we would be in the city during the election.
    As it turned out, we never felt one moment of anxiety. The city was lovely, we took our tours of the surrounding craft villages and our cooking class as planned and had a wonderful time. The people were friendly, the streets were very safe ( admittedly we spent our evenings in the historical center) , people were out late into the evening , and the weather was perfect.
    I would recommend it to anyone!!!

    • Dear Karen, thank you so much for sharing your experience. It is more valuable to hear this coming from travelers like you. Last night, I had fresh lime margaritas with two mature women from the UK (just outside London) who are traveling together independently through Chiapas and Oaxaca. They are having a great time. And, like you, I strolled the streets before and after cena (dinner) in balmy spring weather enjoying the feel of being back in the city on my first night.

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