Is Xcalak Safe Enough for You to Visit?
Some places in Mexico have earned a reputation for not being safe and, unjustly, that reputation has spread to most of Mexico. The stories you read about crime in Mexico are usually sensational – and scary – but they are not typical of the entire country.
For sure, bad things do happen in Xcalak; that fact shouldn’t be denied.
Xcalak is a border town that’s next to Belize–most of the crime here is related to drugs. However, the Yucatan Peninsula is a destination in Mexico geared towards tourists and their safety. If someone was to ask us if Xcalak is safe, we’d say yes. And this affirmation is twice as true for tourists.
Is Xcalak Safe for Tourists?
As experienced travelers and repeat visitors of Mexico, we consider Xcalak safe. However, personal safety in Mexico is something all travelers need to judge for themselves. This post will give you a bit more insight into Xcalak and how to protect yourself as a tourist.
For some background: Xcalak is a small village with a population of only 400. The town is next to the Mexico / Belize border, has a Navy presence, and a police cruiser occasionally makes the rounds through town.
Corruption & Crime in Xcalak
- Serious crime – Xcalak is a friendly beach town with little crime. The locals know each other, and there is almost no party scene or nightlife. There simply isn’t much opportunity for violence or serious crime in Xcalak. But it can happen. Recently in 2022, eight local workers were taken from a farmer’s ranch and murdered. That’s scary news. The crime is thought to be drug-related.
- Drugs – Ask around in Xcalak (just like everywhere in the world) and you will be able to find marijuana and cocaine for sale. These drugs are illegal in Mexico so don’t be an idiot. Also, the Mexican Navy has busted drug-smuggling boats along the coast of Xcalak on occasion. It’s rare, but we have heard stories of “square fish” (aka packs of cocaine) floating to shore. If you happen to see a suspicious washed-up package, don’t turn it in, don’t sell it, and certainly don’t use it. Ignore it, keep walking, and enjoy your vacation.
- Police corruption – Police in the Yucatan don’t have a reputation for shakedowns (making up false offenses to get a bribe), but it could happen. If you commit a non-serious crime (such as speeding), the run-of-the-mill police officer may accept a bribe to let you off easy.
- Petty theft – The Mexicans native to Xcalak are poor compared to the expats and tourists. The juxtaposition of wealth results in the occasional petty theft. Hotels employ trusted maids and caretakers, but as a traveler use your common sense. Don’t leave valuables lying around and lock your room when you’re not there.
Dangerous Wildlife in Xcalak
- Mosquitos – Health maps show malaria in Xcalak, but the risk is low to none – buying antimalarial drugs for visiting Xcalak is a waste of money. The sea breeze keeps the mosquitos away and if the wind dies down (or you go inland) use a spray made with DEET. There are no reports of Zika in Xcalak.
- Bees – There are killer bees in Xcalak, and if you mess with them they could swarm. So, don’t mess with them. Unless you’re bushwhacking through the jungle, this shouldn’t be a problem.
- Wildlife – The wildlife in Xcalak stays mostly in the jungle. Stick to the beach and you won’t have many encounters. On the beach you could see a scorpion (they are not poisonous but the sting hurts). Poisonous and non-poisonous snakes from the jungle occasionally visit the beach. It’s rare, but people seen jaguars near the jungle at night. Avoid wandering around the jungle at night looking tasty.
- Stray dogs – Xcalak has stray dogs but the population is under control. An expat in town arranges neutering and finds homes for the strays.
- Aquatic life – Don’t fear the water, but have respect for the aquatic life when snorkeling or diving. Some fish, such as the beautiful lionfish, will sting when touched. The sea animals around Xcalak are safe if you stay alert and keep your hands/feet to yourself.
Natural Hazards in Xcalak
- Falling coconuts – Coconuts fall with absolutely no warning. They are heavy, they are hard, and a coconut to the head could kill you. Death by coconut sounds comical but is rather possible. Never linger under the coconuts on a palm tree.
- Kicking shells – Walking the beach in Xcalak can be dangerous if you don’t watch your feet. Half-buried conch shells are prolific and can have sharp edges. Wear a closed-toe beach shoe, such as Crocs when you take a walk along the beach.
- Tetanus – Interesting things wash up on the beach every day, including old boards. Avoid walking on broken or finished lumber with rusty nails. You got your tetanus shot right?
- The barrier reef – The barrier reef is so close to shore you can kayak to it. Reef rock is incredibly sharp and fragile, so use common sense and avoid contacting it. Keep away from the reef unless it’s an especially calm day.
- Drinking water – Just like everywhere in Mexico, don’t drink the tap water. In Xcalak most hotels store rain water in cisterns for tap water. This water is safe for showering but not for drinking or cooking. Luckily Xcalak has a water company in town that sells purified water and ice.
- Poisonous Tree – There is a common tree in Xcalak whose sap causes a nasty rash. The tree is call the ‘Chechen’ (aka Black Poisonwood) tree. If you plan to go bushwhacking in the jungle ask a local to point it out so that you can avoid it.
Don’t let fear-mongering about Mexico’s dangers stop you from thinking for yourself. Xcalak is a safe place, perfect for vacation. Now that you know the natural hazards, unfamiliar wildlife, and risks of crime, your visit will be safer for it.