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Mexico 2017 Crime & Safety Report: Merida

Western Hemisphere > Mexico; Western Hemisphere > Mexico > Merida

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Consulate General Merida does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED MERIDA AS BEING A MEDIUM-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Please review OSAC’s Mexico-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.

The U.S. Consulate General in Merida has responsibilities for the three Mexican states on the Yucatán Peninsula: Quintana Roo, Yucatán, and Campeche. Consulate General Merida is a fully staffed consulate, and there are Consular Agencies in Cancun and Playa del Carmen that offer very limited services for U.S. citizens. A Consular Agent also operates on Cozumel but does not have a physical office. More than four million Americans safely visit the Yucatán Peninsula each year due to its numerous tourist destinations.

The U.S. Department of State updates its travel policy and the Travel Warning for Mexico periodically in response to the evolving security situation throughout the country and individual consular districts.

Crime Threats

While Quintana Roo, Yucatán, and Campeche states have historically not suffered the same level of escalating violence seen in other parts of Mexico, in 2016 Quintana Roo experienced an increase in violent criminal activity, specifically in non-tourist areas in/near Cancun and Playa del Carmen. Most of the violent crimes reported over the last 12 months were the result of narco-trafficking groups fighting for control of distribution and sales in the region.

Non-narco-related crime varies in type and frequency throughout the peninsula but is generally low. While there is no evidence indicating that criminals specifically target U.S. citizens, crime victims are usually chosen based on perceived wealth, vulnerability, and inattentiveness. Travelers can reduce their chances of being the victim of a crime at tourist destinations by traveling with a trusted individual and being cognizant of their alcohol consumption. Do not accept drinks from strangers and always watch your drink. Most vehicular accidents and incidents of crime affecting U.S. citizens involve the excess consumption of alcohol or individuals who have become separated from their traveling companions. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report “Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.”

Should you find yourself involved in an incident, do not escalate the situation. Be cooperative; holding onto your wallet, your purse, or even your vehicle is not worth your life.

Be careful of cash transactions on the street. A hurried transaction for merchandise often leaves the customer with shoddy/counterfeit goods/currency. Many shops and vendors readily accept U.S. dollars.

Cybersecurity Issues

Social engineering of data for kidnapping and extortion schemes is a cybersecurity issue in the region. Police have indicated that in most kidnapping and extortion cases, the victims were targeted because of the large amount of personal information they published on social media accounts. Mexican citizens are almost always the targets of this type of cybercrime, but tourists are not immune to criminal exploitation based on their social media activities.

Security of credit cards remains a concern, especially in the tourist areas of Quintana Roo. There have been reports of criminal use of credit cards. Recent reports suggest that in addition to technical gathering, such as ATM skimmers, card data may also be acquired manually when cards are handed to or momentarily left with employees of businesses.

Other Areas of Concern

When traveling in Quintana Roo, south of Felipe Carrillo Puerto, or east of Jose Maria Morelos, serious communication challenges exist. Cellular and Internet service are virtually non-existent. The southern portion of Quintana Roo is very rural and lacks significant infrastructure and adequate medical facilities.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Driving requires vigilance and a defensive approach. Local drivers are not uniformly well-experienced and often have cars that are poorly maintained or in bad repair. Be alert for vehicles moving slower than the rest of the traffic flow and for vehicles speeding through traffic signals at the last minute. Road conditions in the Yucatán peninsula are different than those encountered in the U.S. Extra care should be exercised when passing a vehicle or being passed. When travelling throughout the Yucatán, drivers should exercise extreme caution outside of major cities at night due to poor road conditions. Drivers should be prepared for vehicles without lighting at night; few, if any, road markings; poorly illuminated roadways, and scooters, bicycles, pedestrians, and/or animals on the roads. Most accidents are caused by excess speed, alcohol, or a combination of both. Avoid leaving your vehicle on the street. When possible park inside residential compounds or at secured parking areas with attendants. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”

When driving Cancun-Merida or Playa del Carmen-Merida, using the toll roads is strongly encouraged. They are better maintained, illuminated, and there are less frequent access points, intersections, etc.

Public Transportation Conditions

Buses and taxis are readily available in most cities. Drivers can be untrained and do not always follow the rules of the road. Accidents are common.

First-class commercial bus service between major cities and tourist areas exists.

Whenever possible, travelers should use taxis arranged by hotel staff or located at designated stands and avoid hailing taxis on the street. Ridesharing services are options as well.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

All three airports are modern airports with the expected services and amenities.

Cancun’s international airport is Mexico’s busiest airport for international arrivals and second in total arrivals for the country.

Merida’s international airport has some direct flights to/from the U.S.

Campeche’s international airport has no direct U.S. flights.

Terrorism Threat

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED MERIDA AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED MERIDA AS BEING A MEDIUM-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Civil Unrest

While demonstrations have occurred in Merida, and in towns with a history of political demonstrations and agitation (Kanasin, Tinum), they have generally remained peaceful and were directed at domestic policy issues.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Some indigenous Mayan communities have disputes and legal cases involving land, water, and other issues, but few have sparked violence.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

During the Atlantic hurricane season (June 1-November 30), weather emergencies may impact the Yucatán. Quintana Roo tends to suffer the greatest effects from Atlantic hurricanes; however, storms have caused flooding and disruption of utility services throughout the Yucatán. Minor tropical storms can develop into hurricanes very quickly, limiting the time available for a safe evacuation. U.S. citizens in affected regions have been forced to delay their return to the U.S. due to infrastructure damage to airports and limited flight availability. In many cases, flights were suspended, and passengers faced long delays. Travelers should apprise family/friends of their whereabouts and keep in close contact with their tour operator, hotel staff, and local officials for evacuation instructions in the event of a weather emergency.

Avoid driving during and after rainstorms, as improper drainage creates street flooding and large, submerged potholes. Heavy rains may leave sections of roads washed out completely.

Critical Infrastructure

Ciudad del Carmen (Campeche state) has become a hub for Mexican and foreign oil workers with the discovery of vast littoral oil fields, and now hosts numerous foreign companies performing PEMEX service contracts. There were two notable events in 2015:

  • On April 1, an explosion/fire caused by a gas leak aboard a PEMEX oil platform in the Bay of Campeche (Bahia de Campeche) killed four people and injured about 16 others.
  • On May 5, a rig operated by a PEMEX contractor collapsed in Bahia de Campeche, resulting in two deaths and the evacuation of over 100 workers. The incident also caused oil to spill into the Gulf of Mexico.


Drug-related Crimes

Narco-crime does occur in the tourist areas of Quintana Roo.

  • In January 2017, there was a shooting in a club in Playa del Carmen that resulted in the death of members of the security staff and some patrons, as well as injuries to several patrons.
  • In November 2016, two night club employees were executed in Hotel Zone in Cancun.

Both incidents are likely attributable to disputes between criminal organizations; there is no evidence to suggest that tourists were targeted.

Outside of the tourist areas of Cancun and Playa del Carmen, there were other notable drug-related arrests and seizures in 2016:

  • On December 1, nine packages containing more than 11kg of cocaine were found on the beaches of Alacranes reef in Yucatán. It is unknown to which cartel the drugs belonged.
  • On September 12, federal forces apprehended the Pacific Cartel regional boss, Dilver Fidel Soto Alvarenga (El Gordo, El Gallero) in Chetumal, Quintana Roo.
  • On August 15, federal police reported they had seized over U.S.$1 million at the Cancun airport and prosecuted 14 people in an eight-month period. The money allegedly was outbound payments for heroin and cocaine received from South America and was to be sent to Colombian cartels.
  • On July 2, a Beechcraft Hawker 125 aircraft with a cloned tail number was found abandoned at the Chetumal airport. According to authorities, the aircraft was involved in drug operations.
  • On March 12, Mexican Marines captured two members of the Sinaloa Cartel with 12kg of cocaine and weapons in Chetumal.


Kidnapping Threat

Kidnappings for ransom in the Yucatán remain an anomaly. Express kidnappings, in which the victim is abducted for a short time and forced to withdraw money, usually from an ATM, occur with more frequency but are still uncommon. The Yucatán continues to experience a high number of telephonic extortions and frauds (virtual kidnappings). Both forms of kidnapping mostly affect Mexican nationals; however, consular officers have received a few reports from U.S. expatriates and tourists experiencing virtual kidnapping or similar phone calls in the Merida Consular District

Police Response

Police corruption and involvement in criminal activity, along with fear of reprisals from criminal elements, discourages many victims from reporting crimes. Mexican law enforcement agencies lack sufficient presence in large portions of southern Quintana Roo, which results in delayed responses to emergency situations.

If involved in a traffic accident or victimized by crime, one may be asked to accompany the investigating officer to a local police station to file a report. A complaint must be filed in the area where the crime occurred. Attempting to file a complaint after return to the U.S. can be a difficult, time consuming process.

U.S. citizens are advised to cooperate with the police if stopped or questioned. When ticketing non-residents (out of state vehicles and/or drivers), it is common for local police to retain ID or a license plate to ensure payment of a fine. If this is the course of action presented, the police should explain where you can pay the fine and retrieve the item held as collateral.

U.S. citizens are strongly encouraged not to offer tips or bribes in any form to police officers.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

In the event that the officer should suggest anything other than a normal solution to a traffic violation, note their badge number, name tag, or police vehicle number, and provide it to Consulate Merida or Consular Agencies Cancun or Playa Del Carmen. U.S. citizens are encouraged to make notification to the Consulate or Consular Agencies should they encounter problems while traveling in this part of Mexico, including detention or arrest by the police.

Crime Victim Assistance

911 is the national emergency number for police, fire, and emergency medical response. Operators may not speak English, so a Spanish speaker should be enlisted to assist if possible. In Merida and Cancun, emergency response centers have made efforts to staff emergency phone lines with English-speaking operators, but this should not be expected.

If involved in a traffic accident or victimized by crime, one may be required to accompany the investigating officer to the local police station to file a complaint or respond to questions. Should a police report be required for an insurance claim, a nominal fee may be charged.

After reporting to the local police, U.S. citizens who are victims of crime should contact Consulate Merida or the Consular Agencies to report crimes and to receive information regarding available services.

Police/Security Agencies

Police forces operate at the federal, state, and municipal levels. At the federal and state levels, police authority is divided formally into two primary functional areas: protective/preventative policing and investigative policing. Judicial Police forces have primary responsibility to perform criminal investigations on behalf of the federal or state prosecutor’s office and have sole authority to arrest suspects not caught in the act. Preventative Police forces patrol and prevent acts of crime through their deterrent presence. In practice, Preventative Police will respond to acts of crime in commission and can arrest suspects caught in the act. Municipal police forces operate locally, providing preventative policing in municipalities. All investigative duties fall to state or federal judicial police depending on the law(s) involved.

Other security forces consist of the Army (SEDENA, Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional) and the Navy/Marines (SEMAR, Secretaría de Marina). Forces from SEDENA and SEMAR are sometimes used to combat drug operations or as a deterrent presence in support of preventative police operations.

Medical Emergencies

Useful information on medical emergencies abroad is provided on the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs website, “Get Help with a Medical Emergency Abroad.”

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

Extensive Information for available medical services by region and medical specialty and available air ambulance services can be found at the U.S. Consulate General’s U.S. Citizen Services webpage.

Insurance Guidance

Travelers should ensure that they have adequate health insurance while traveling throughout Mexico. Medicare and Medicaid will generally not cover medical expenses incurred outside of the U.S. Many health insurance policies do not cover costs of air ambulance service. Additional insurance that will cover medevac is strongly recommended for all travelers. It is a good idea to get a 24/7 phone number from your insurance carrier. Local hospitals generally require payment in advance. Many times U.S.-based health insurance plans do not cover travelers in Mexico and small procedures can sometimes result in bills of several thousands of dollars.

All doctors, hospitals or medical facilities, public or private, will require full payment for services to be rendered, in cash or by credit card, at the time of service. Most are not able to bill a U.S. insurance company for payment. Rather, they will give you receipts for your payment so you may request reimbursement from your carrier; be sure to get an itemized bill. The Consulate has had many cases of U.S. citizens not allowed to be discharge from local hospitals until payment has been made in full or a payment agreement plan has been agreed upon. If you believe you are being charged unfairly, you may contact the Mexican consumer rights protection agency, PROFECO, at tel 01-800-468-8722 and ask for an English-speaking operator.

Check with your U.S. auto insurance provider regarding international coverage. Driving requires local liability insurance, which, in some cases, will need to be purchased separately from a Mexican insurance provider or through a rental car company.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Tap water is not potable. Bottled water and beverages are safe; many restaurants and hotels serve tap water unless bottled water is specifically requested. Persons visiting the Yucatán should take normal tourist precautions with regard to drinking water, using ice, and eating fresh fruits, vegetables, and salads. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “I’m Drinking What in My Water?.”

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Mexico.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Merida consular district currently has an OSAC Country Council in Cancun that meets on an ad-hoc basis during the year and has approximately 28 members. Please contact OSAC’s Western Hemisphere team with any questions or to join.  

U.S. Consulate General Merida Location and Contact Information

Consulate Address and Hours of Operation

U.S. Consulate General Merida
Calle 60 No. 338-K x 29 y 31
Col. Alcala Martin Merida, Yucatán, Mexico 97050

Consulate Contact Numbers

(011) (52) (999) 942-5700 (dialing from the U.S.)
(01) (999) 942-5700 (dialing from within Mexico)
942-5700 (dialing from within Merida)
E-mail: meridacons@state.gov
Website: http://merida.usconsulate.gov/

Consular Agency Cancun
Blvd. Kukulkan Km 13, Torre La Europea, Despacho 301 ZH, Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico 77500
011-52-998-883-0272 (direct dial from the U.S.)
202-640-2511 (Vonage dialing from the U.S.)
883-0272 (dialing from within Cancun)
01-998-883-0272 (dialing from elsewhere in Mexico)
Email: ConAgencyCancun@state.gov

Consular Agency Playa del Carmen
Note: this location will close, and a new location will open, in 2017. Please check the U.S. Consulate General Merida’s website for updated address and contact information.
“The Palapa” Calle 1 Sur, Entre 15 Av. Y 20 Av., Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico
011-52-984-873-0303 (direct dial from the U.S.)
202-370-6708 (Vonage dialing from the U.S.)
01-984-873-0303 (dialing from outside Playa Del Carmen but within Mexico)
01-984-873-0481 (Alternate from outside Playa del Carmen but within Mexico) 

Nearby Posts

Embassy Mexico City: https://mx.usembassy.gov/
Consulate Ciudad Juarez: http://ciudadjuarez.usconsulate.gov/
Consulate Guadalajara: http://guadalajara.usconsulate.gov/
Consulate Hermosillo: http://hermosillo.usconsulate.gov/
Consulate Matamoros: http://matamoros.usconsulate.gov/
Consulate Monterrey: http://monterrey.usconsulate.gov/
Consulate Nogales: http://nogales.usconsulate.gov/
Consulate Nuevo Laredo: http://nuevolaredo.usconsulate.gov/
Consulate Tijuana: http://tijuana.usconsulate.gov/

Consulate Guidance

U.S. citizens are strongly encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the Department of State's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known. While Consular Officers will do their utmost to assist Americans in a crisis, travelers should always be aware that local authorities bear primary responsibility for the welfare of people living or traveling in their jurisdictions.

Travelers are encouraged to locate the most current information available through the U.S. Embassy or Consulate General with consular responsibilities for the territory they will be visiting.

Additional Resources

Mexico Country Information Sheet