When living in dangerous neighborhoods of Mexico, what are some tips to be aware of to stay safe?
Over the time living here in Mexico, I guess I've lived in areas that others consider sketchy or dangerous for about 1.8 years roughly.
Though, to be fair, I don't think they were all sketchy at all.
For example, when I lived in the north by Gustavo A. Madero and Lindavista, those areas were not dangerous AT ALL.
They genuinely did not feel that way and the outside looked relatively pretty developed.
Nice looking buildings and all.
The only time I ever felt any slight sense of danger was when I lived by Politecnico up there and heard some decent shooting go on while taking a shower as I wrote here.
Outside of that, nothing major whatsoever.
At any rate, I guess one could ask too: "why would I live in a dangerous or sketchy area?"
Well, for me personally, I like some areas considered sketchy as I wrote here but only a few of them.
On top of that, like I said, I think some areas get a overblown reputation by limp dick foreigners and upper class Mexicans who label anything not Roma Norte/Condesa/Polanco as dangerous.
And, even when it comes to areas with a more solid dangerous reputation like Tepito, I've heard people say shit like "oh, to go to Tepito, you'd need a guide. I wouldn't go there unless I had a local Mexican guide me through."
Like bro, shut the fuck up.
You'll be OK going to Tepito.
Especially if you are just walking through the main area with all the commerce during the afternoon, nothing is going to happen to you except maybe someone pick pocketing you.
The only way I could see things being really bad is if two locals got into a shootout and you caught a stray but I don't think that'd happen to you.
You'll probably be OK.
At any rate, I don't see it as a big deal to even live in an area that does have a more dangerous reputation.
As long as you do certain things, you'll probably be OK even living there.
So here are my tips for how to stay safe in terms of what has worked for me.
And, keep in mind, they aren't "grand ideas" on how to stay safe.
Nothing that isn't obvious to anyone who has given it basic thought.
And there might be other things that I forgot to mention or haven't noticed perhaps that maybe some locals do to stay safe.
So, if you got anything to add, drop a comment below.
I'm definitely not the greatest expert on how to stay safe.
To be honest with you, I've had a few moments in life down here -- like here -- where I probably was close to someone fucking with me.
Anyway, let's get to it.
Ask the Locals
Before moving there, get onto some local Facebook groups that the locals use to communicate any news about the neighborhood you are moving to.
And, when I say neighborhood for Mexico City, I mean colonia and not the broader area it is in.
So, for example, if you are moving to Pedregal de Santo Domingo, join groups for Pedregal de Santo Domingo and not Coyoacan.
Then just post a message in the group asking what areas they'd recommend.
Of course, you'll get people telling you not to come. It's dangerous. Whatever.
Hopefully someone helps.
And, when you are apartment hunting, you can ask landlords also.
Some landlords will blow smoke up your ass and tell you "NO NO, IT'S VERY SAFE! NOTHING BAD HAPPENS HERE!"
For example, when I was checking out an apartment in Agricola Oriental in Mexico City recently, a landlord was telling me just how SAFE the area is.
Despite it being ranked as one of the top 5 most dangerous colonias recently as you can read here for Mexico City.
Look, Mexico City Landlords, there's no reason to bullshit potential clients. Got that?
Everyone knows your colonia is dangerous. Even just looking outside at all the third world infrastructure, homeless crackheads, gunshots in the background and more will prove you wrong.
At any rate, sometimes the landlords will give you good advice.
For example, when I was checking out apartments in Pedregal de Santo Domingo as I wrote here, one landlord was telling me about which parts of the area has more gang violence.
I've had other landlords in other areas be honest with me also.
So your mileage will vary in terms of getting good information.
PS: I suppose you can also ask random street folks as well regarding which parts are safe. I've never done that but I imagine some dude selling pulque here, the taco street food guy over there or whoever can give you tips also.
Stick to the Main Avenues
Look at Google Maps and try to find where are the avenues.
Granted, it won't always be an avenue that is ideal to live by.
For example, if you again go to Pedregal de Santo Domingo, calle Ahuanusco is ideal but it isn't labeled an "avenida" on Google Maps.
It is full of activity though, relatively safe and also will get you to Metro CU a tiny bit faster if you use the metro a lot.
Anyway, being near the main avenues is ideal for obvious reasons.
You got more commerce, more street activity and energy, feels more alive, more street food, more cops protecting business (though many are corrupt), etc.
And what to do when you are finding apartments in the area?
Don't Deposit Money
As I wrote here, it's a common scam in Mexico and elsewhere in the world for a person to get you to deposit money without living in the place.
You find a nice apartment.
They can't show you the place because they are out of town or whatever excuse.
They tell you that "the place is SO POPULAR! EVERYONE AND GRANDMA WANTS TO LIVE HERE! IF YOU WANT TO RESERVE A SPOT SO NOBODY STEALS IT, DEPOSIT MONEY NOW!"
You deposit the money.
They block you and keep it.
In terms of keeping your money safe, this is a tip not just for dangerous areas but anywhere in the world. Safe or not.
The Weekend Night Walk
This is again a tip that would work anywhere in the world.
Not just dangerous areas.
But, before moving somewhere, do a weekend night walk.
On a Friday or Saturday night at around 9 PM at earliest to 12 AM at latest, do a walk through the main avenue you are thinking of moving close to.
Is it too dangerous for you?
Does it make you feel too unsafe?
It probably won't be the safest given it's late at night on the weekend in an area known to be dangerous but, if you are going to move here, I'd recommend you do this walk.
Just do it.
While you probably shouldn't be walking around past midnight most of the time anyway without taking a taxi somewhere, I'm going to say that if you don't have the balls to go outside in this area by midnight, it's not for you.
Don't Pick a Place Without Proper Doors
Not much to be said here, huh?
But buildings in these areas of Latin America can often look sketchier and lesser developed.
Consequently, there isn't actually much stopping anyone from breaking into your building.
For example, when I lived in Pedregal de Santo Domingo, there was a house across my street that had a brick wall with a metal door and you could easily climb over the brick wall if you wanted to.
Not sure if he had anything else protecting his home but it didn't look like it.
Granted, given how poor it was, I doubted he had much to steal.
In the house I lived in anyway, there was just a black metal gate that one could easily climb over (with no wire on top) and the main door to the building was always opened because it didn't have shut properly.
So literally anyone could have climbed over the black gate and just walk inside whenever.
That always bugged me a little bit about the place even though we never had issues.
Walking Late at Night
Obviously, to reduce your risk, don't walk outside late at night.
When I lived by Pedregal de Santo Domingo, there were nights where it was full of energy until like midnight or 1 AM.
But then, for whatever reason, it seemed to get dead past 11 PM on most nights.
In terms of staying safe when walking outside at night, obviously only walk outside when there's lots of people outside and it feels active and safe enough.
Otherwise, you are a more obvious target for homeless people, wondering gang members, corrupt cops, etc.
Latin American traffic -- even in safer areas -- can be chaotic.
In very congested poor areas, it especially feels like there are absolutely no traffic rules.
Just people doing whatever the fuck they feel like.
So be more mindful of the vehicles on the streets.
In both directions.
You walking down a street thinking vehicles only come one way but then WRONG!
Even though they aren't supposed to, someone is coming the other way and FUCK YOU DEAD.
Dogs are more common in areas of Latin America that are lesser developed and they are more aggressive.
Outside of my apartment building right now as I type this, there is a mini sized dog that runs around barking at everyone.
When I went to get a hamburger across the street tonight, I saw some random dude be chased by the little guy as he tried to bite at his legs.
To deal with this, have two weapons at hand:
1. If confronted, reach down and pretend to pick up an imaginary rock. If you got a real rock, even better! But it can be imaginary. Then be threatening with it towards the dog. Pretend to throw it or some shit and keep walking.
2. Have a bottle of water or whatever plastic bottle drink at hand. Splash a tiny bit at the dog if needed.
Above all though, don't make eye contact with the dog. Don't even look at it. Don't stop in fear when you see some 500 pound motherfucker that looks ready to bite your balls off. It can SMELL the fear.
If you don't act fearful, you have a smaller chance of being attacked.
The Gang Members on the Corner
In some parts of Latin American urban cities, you have these random gang members who basically just sit on the sidewalk of deserted streets in poor areas.
They literally doing nothing except just sit there and stare at you.
They also sell drugs and have sex with your mom.
Anyway, they're not all bad.
As I wrote before, one dude who passed as such (not sure if he was a gang member or not but looked the part) helped me find a random apartment building I was looking for a long time ago in Pedregal de Santo Domingo.
Even though he kills bitches for fun and sells heroin to your children, he was a nice guy!
On the flip side, I was in the same area many months after that and was seen taking pictures of some Volkswagen Beetle.
As you can read here, some gang members noticed and apparently suspected me of shit and wanted to fuck me up.
Thankfully, nothing bad happened.
So, at the very least, you probably shouldn't be taking pictures of streets where gang members are doing their business.
....How come nobody ever told me?!?!
If you were to read the last story linked about gang members wanting to rob me, you'd see that they didn't, at least in large part, due to an old grandma that vouched for me.
Said I'm not up to nothing bad and she knows me.
We only knew each other for maybe 5 minutes or whatever before that happened but the good vibes we had in that moment encouraged her to help me out a bit in that moment.
Just in general, being a dude people like and making friends with locals can help.
When I lived there, I did become friends with a local dude named Andres who was cool and made living there nicer.
Knew a few other folks who helped me out at times from the neighborhood.
And it isn't hard to make friends in such parts: given no other foreigners live there especially (at least from your country), you are more of a novelty and do get more authentic, good vibes from most of the locals.
Pretty obvious tip.
Don't look like you have much shit on you.
Buy a burner phone too if you need to be outside with a phone. Leave the nice one at home.
Walk with Purpose
Don't walk around pretending to be lost.
Staring at everything.
When going somewhere, walk like you know the area and don't mess around spending too much time outside looking like a tourist.
I've been asked if I ever carry weapons on me when in Mexico by folks back home.
Maybe a knife but rarely even that.
I guess having something on hand could help (though few are able to get a gun in Mexico).
This doesn't need explanation.
As I wrote here, I once got robbed by the cops in Mexico in a crappy area.
Long story short, the cop accused me of a crime, put me in the vehicle (without handcuffs), asked me a bunch of questions, demanded a few hundreds bucks or whatever it was, I gave him like 20 bucks and he let me go.
Don't be scared or nervous when it happens.
Just know it's a little song and dance that the dude is doing to get enough money to take his mistress to a motel because his 275 pound Oaxacan wife (read: cousin) hasn't touched his dick in 7 months.
Anyway, I already have articles on how to deal with corrupt cops.
Just don't be nervous. Know Spanish. Don't be a dick. You can sometimes get away with not paying anything (especially if you didn't do anything and there's no evidence). Carry very little money on you. Don't have your debit or credit card on you. Ask for his ID if you want to scare him (the dude who robbed me got scared anyway).
And check out other articles I wrote on dealing with corrupt cops here, here and here.
Be Aware of Surroundings
When I was in Barranquilla, I saw a dude eyeballing my phone in my hand when walking through an area with an ex girlfriend of mine.
She noticed it too.
I immediately put it in my pocket as we crossed paths.
Nothing happened but it looked super obvious the dude was looking to steal from me.
As you can see in this video here, sometimes thieves will snatch the phone out of your hand for example.
Just be aware of your surroundings. Nothing more.
I'm not sure what they call this thing but I think it's called a wallet belt?
I haven't had one since my first trip to Guatemala a decade ago.
Basically, you put shit like your passport or money in it and it acts like a wallet and a belt.
I have a jacket that had inside pockets that can't be reached by anyone trying to pick pocket.
Whatever works for you.
Poorer areas have shit infrastructure.
They can sometimes be affected more by natural disasters but not always.
For example, in Mexico City, it's well known that wealthier areas like Roma Norte or Condesa are very easily affected by earthquakes.
In Pedregal de Santo Domingo, we've had earthquakes that I slept through and didn't even notice while friends of mine living elsewhere in the city would ask me "bro, did you feel that earthquake?!?"
And I literally didn't know what the fuck they were talking about.
But that's because the ground Santo Domingo is built on is better for not feeling earthquakes (though some of the building design in Santo Domingo is dog shit).
On the other hand, poorer areas like Santo Domingo have what I call "mini flash floods."
Not real flash floods in my opinion from what I saw living there.
But other poorer areas -- like in Barranquilla of Colombia -- had some real fucked up ones when I lived there many years ago.
Here's a video of one.
Anyway, no real tips here except just to be mindful of this.
Poorer areas tend to have more gun violence obviously.
For one, you might go to a bar or restaurant that gets shot up like I wrote about here.
Obviously, if you happen to get the vibe, maybe don't go to bars that are run by narco types if you suspect it as such.
Honestly, I've never really had any idea of how to get that feel for a place but I've known other foreigners have theories about certain bars or whatever they find in Mexico, Guatemala, etc.
Anyway, I guess a place associated with that would be more likely one to be targeted but who knows.
It's also the case you got normal places that are being hit for extortion like I wrote about here and the dude gets whacked for not paying up.
You might get caught in the middle of it like these foreigners were here.
Another thing is that you should ideally live higher up if you can.
In a building where you aren't on the bottom floor but maybe the third level or whatever where you are less likely to catch a stray.
Careful of Mob Mentality
Said areas, at least in Mexico City, seem to have more of a mob mentality in some parts from what I've noticed.
For example, as you can see in this video here, some dudes were being lynched by a crowd of people.
In other parts of Mexico City, I've seen signs saying stuff like "we'll lynch you if we see you steaing. We won't call the cops."
I see this more in areas that are basically just not too wealthy.
They don't have to be poor as fuck.
For example, the little market area outside Metro Deportivo 18 de Marzo had a sign like that last time I was there months ago.
The main thing is they don't trust the cops to do anything, are tired of being taken advantage of by criminals and just put justice into their own hands.
More on lynching in Latin America here.
Anyway, I doubt you'll be a target of a lynching assuming you don't do sketchy shit and don't come across as a social retard.
But, like you can see in the lynching article I last cited, sometimes rumors can spread on social media about a specific person and, even if those rumors are complete bullshit, you get lynched if the cops fail to save you.
I heard of a story once of some random Mexican dude who got burned alive in some random part of the country on some rumor that turned out to be false.
Especially in rural areas of some parts of Latin America, fear regarding those who steal children can be high.
With you being a foreigner where some locals might carry extra xenophobia or suspicion as I wrote about here, I could see something bad happening to you.
But, like I said, I don't think it's likely.
Even though lynchings have been attempted in Mexico City (including in Pedregal de Santo Domingo not too long ago against a dude caught trying to engage in burglary), it is more common in rural areas.
I just wanted to put this out there though because your risk of a lynching is higher in places in Tlaplan than in Roma Norte, Condesa or Polanco.
Again, you are very unlikely to be a subject of a lynching if you got social skills and don't do anything illegal.
If, by some incredibly bad luck, you feel a crowd of people is thinking of fucking you up, then my only advice is to try to defuse the situation obviously and maybe get the attention of the cops somehow?
Because while you do have corrupt cops in Mexico, there have been instances of them defusing the situation better (especially with their better Spanish) and also just straight up saving some people from being killed.
PS: Part of me has wondered if pretending to not speak Spanish very well would help you here. As I wrote here, there are instances where pretending to not understand the other person in Latin America can help you (especially if they don't speak English). Still, with Spanish, you can negotiate for yourself obviously. So who knows.
Don't Live There
Finally, the ultimate piece of advice for staying safe in dangerous areas is to not live there.
While I like living in some of them, I think my logic is pretty solid here.
They can't hurt you in a dangerous area if you don't live there, right?
Anything to Add?
Anyway, I just put this list together over the last 30 minutes.
Just whatever quick thought that came to mind.
I'm sure there's other things you could mention.
The most important tip -- or one of the most important -- really is to just stick to the main avenues that cut through the area with a dangerous reputation.
That really is the most likely spot where things will probably be OK.
Of course, you can also just look up on Google "colonias mas peligrosas de ..... (insert area here)."
For example, looking up the most dangerous spots of Iztapalapa.
That's another tip: Use Google in Spanish to find out which areas are safer or more dangerous than others in said dangerous area.
Anyway, that's all that comes to mind within the last 30 minutes of typing this out quickly.
I'm 100% confident there are other tips someone could add here so, if you got anything to add or just ask in general, write away below in the comment section.
And follow my Twitter here.
Thanks for reading.