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Abductions in Mexico: Do Cartels Abduct Tourists?

Susan Laurent
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by Susan Laurent

The idea of someone abducting you during a vacation is terrifying. But danger can sneak up on us during these moments of ease, catching us off guard when we least expect it.

Is it present in Mexico? The answer is yes.

In this article, we’ll delve into the disturbing world of abductions in Mexico. We’ll share the relevant statistics, identify the most abduction-concentrated cities, and provide valuable safety tips to keep in mind while you’re vacationing there.

Abductions in Mexico: How Common Are They?

Kidnappings in Mexico

Abductions are very common in Mexico, so much so that the country is known as the world’s abduction capital.

Cartels make no distinctions between nationality or purpose —  their goals are frequently motivated by financial gain, power, and control.

Mexico suffered a total of 8,552 abductions between 2015 and 2022. The year with the most abductions was 2017, with a total of 1,390 cases. But the numbers have decreased since then, with 2022 having the lowest number of cases, only 506!

As of August 2022, the states with the highest number of abductions in Mexico are the State of Mexico, Mexico City, Morelos, Puebla, and Veracruz. On the plus side, the states with zero abductions in August 2022 were Durango, Nayarit, Baja California, Querétaro, Campeche, Yucatán, Coahuila, and San Luis Potosí.

The Nature of the Abductions: Who’s the Target?

The abductions in Mexico in the past were very different from those that occur today.

Abductions in Mexico in the 1980s, according to private investigator Jay Armes III, were a well-orchestrated operation. Cartels targeted wealthy and powerful victims, demanding large ransoms of up to $25 million on average. If the victim’s family paid, he or she would live.

From the mid-2000s onward, the wealthy started to travel with private security, so the criminals found it more difficult to carry out these operations. As a result, today’s cases are more unpredictable, and anyone, at any time, can become a victim.

Mexico today suffers from so-called “express abductions.” The offender could be an employee at a bar or a taxi driver who notices a person sporting a good watch or designer bag. They’ll scare the victim with a weapon, force them to withdraw all the money they can, and then dump the victim on the street.

If criminals see something valuable, they’ll target you — “all they want is quick, easy money,” said private investigator Jay Armes III.

U.S. Travel Warning: What Does the Government Advise?

As of 2023, the U.S. travel advisory for Mexico warns tourists headed to Mexico of violent crime and cartel activity.

The advisory says “Do Not Travel” to places like Colima, Guerrero, Michoacan, Zacatecas, Sinaloa, and Tamaulipas — these are the most dangerous states a tourist can be in.

Travelers should “Reconsider Traveling” to Baja California, Durango, Jalisco, Morelos, Chihuahua, Sonora, and Guanajuato — these places aren’t as deadly but are far from being tourist-friendly destinations as cartels are very active and violent.

There’s a third category of states in which the U.S. government advises tourists to “Exercise Increased Caution”. These are the states of Aguascalientes, Baja California Sur, Chiapas, Coahuila, Hidalgo, Mexico City, Mexico State, Nayarit, Nuevo Leon, Oaxaca, Puebla, Queretaro, Quintana Roo, San Luis Potosi, Tabasco, Tlaxcala, and Veracruz — tourists are free to travel here, however, incidents may happen if they’re not careful enough.

Last but not least, there is a fourth category where tourists need not exercise more than “Normal Precautions.” The category is very short though, consisting of only two states. Those states are Yucatan and Campeche — if you want the safest vacation possible in Mexico, these are the states to be.

All in all, the safety landscape in Mexico is complex and the risk varies from state to state. While no one can guarantee your absolute safety, the U.S. travel advice does reveal that some areas carry more risk than others — so it’s critical to be aware of them and avoid them at all costs.

Safety Tips: The Ultimate Protection Against Potential Abductions

Safety in Mexico

Our number one rule for Mexico travel is to stick to places meant for vacationers. If the U.S. travel advisory says the cartel presence is high, don’t go. Just stay away.

Next, it’s crucial that you’re always aware of your surroundings. Many travelers think just because they’re on vacation, they can go anywhere. However, it’s important to realize how little you actually know about the destination and what’s going on out there — making you an even bigger target.

Travel during the day and avoid walking in unknown areas, especially at night. Stay in densely populated areas, such as the city center. This makes it less likely for someone to abduct you.

Don’t wear jewelry or carry valuables that can make you an easy target. If you need to take out money, avoid public ATMs. Instead, go to places like malls, banks, or markets with security, cameras, and witnesses around.

If possible, choose air travel. Abductions often happen at borders and on big roads. Once you reach your destination, share your location with someone back home so they’ll be aware of your whereabouts.

A helpful step is to join the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. This is a free service from the U.S. Department of State that alerts tourists about the safety in Mexico in real-time and contacts you and your loved ones in case of an emergency. Lastly, think about getting travel insurance that covers abductions or ransom.

Witnessing an Abduction: What to Do?

If you see someone getting abducted in Mexico, don’t try to intervene — it’s dangerous and the offenders could have weapons. Instead, hide, observe, and try to remember how they look, the car they’re using, and where they’re going.

Once you feel safe, call 911 for the police and contact your country’s embassy or consulate so they can guide you through the situation you just witnessed.

Seeing an abduction is serious and can be really dangerous, so be careful. By no means should you try to be the hero in this situation. Instead, follow what the local authorities tell you and act accordingly.


Overall, should travelers be afraid for their safety while exploring Mexico?

Not necessarily. Be careful? Definitely.

Mexico has seen its fair share of abductions throughout the years, however, tourists are not the primary target for such acts. That would be bad for tourism, which is important for both the country’s economy and the cartels’ illegal businesses, like dealing illegal substances.

That being said, it’s essential that you remain cautious at all times. Follow the safety tips we shared, and most importantly — stay away from the dangerous cities in Mexico.

About Susan Laurent
Susan Laurent
I'm passionate about world cultures, travel, and discovering amazing new places. I've spent years traveling the globe, very often alone, so I focus on providing important information about travel safety to travelers that I've gathered from first-hand experience.
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