Occasional knifepoint robberies and muggings have marred the once-peaceful Puerto Escondido  nighttime beach scene. Walk alone and you invite trouble, especially along Playa Bachoco  and the unlit stretch of Playa Principal between the east end of the adoquín and the Hotel Santa Fe. If you have dinner alone at the Hotel Santa Fe, avoid the beach and return by taxi or walk along the highway to Pérez Gasga back to your hotel.
Fortunately, such problems seem to be confined to the beach. Visitors are quite safe on the Puerto Escondido  streets themselves, often more so than on their own city streets back home.
Mexico is an old-fashioned country where people value traditional ideals of honesty, fidelity, and piety. Crime rates are low; visitors are often safer in Mexico than in their home cities.
This applies even more strongly in Oaxaca. Don’t be scared away by headlines about kidnappings and drug-related murders in border cities such as Tijuana and Ciuduad Juárez, or car hijackings in bad Mexico City neighborhoods. Violent crime is nearly unknown in Oaxaca City . Around the zócalo, women are often seen walking home alone at night. Nevertheless, some Oaxaca neighborhoods are friendlier than others. If you find yourself walking in a locality at night that doesn’t feel too welcoming, do not hesitate to hail a taxi.
Although Oaxaca is very safe with respect to violent crime, you should still take normal precautions against petty theft. Stow your valuables in your hotel safe, don’t wear showy jewelry or display wads of money, and especially at a crowded market, keep your camera and valuables protected in a waist belt, secure purse, or zipped pockets. If you’re parking your car for the night, do it in a secure garage or a guarded hotel parking lot.
Even though four generations have elapsed since Pancho Villa raided the U.S. border, the image of a Mexico bristling with bandidos persists. And similarly for Mexicans: despite the century and a half since the yanquis invaded Mexico City and took half their country, the communal Mexican psyche still views gringos (and, by association, all white foreigners) with revulsion, jealousy, and wonder.
Fortunately, the Mexican love-hate affair with foreigners does not usually apply to individual visitors. Your friendly “buenos dias” (“good morning”) or “por favor” (“please”), when appropriate, is always appreciated, whether in the market, the gas station, or the hotel. The shy smile you will most likely receive in return will be your small, but not insignificant, reward.
Your own behavior, despite low crime statistics, largely determines your safety in Mexico. For women traveling solo, it is important to realize that the double standard is alive and well in Mexico. Dress and behave modestly and you will most likely avoid embarrassment. Whenever possible, stay in the company of friends or acquaintances; find companions for beach, sightseeing, and shopping excursions. Ignore strange men’s solicitations and overtures. A Mexican man on the prowl will invent the sappiest romantic overtures to snare a gringa. He will often interpret anything but a firm “no” as a “maybe,” and a “maybe” as a “yes.”
For male visitors, alcohol often leads to trouble. Avoid bars and cantinas; and if, given Mexico’s excellent beers, you can’t abstain completely, at least maintain soft-spoken self-control in the face of challenges from macho drunks.
While Mexican authorities are tolerant of alcohol, they are decidedly intolerant of other substances such as marijuana, psychedelics, cocaine, and heroin. Getting caught with such drugs in Mexico usually leads to swift and severe results.
Equally swift is the punishment for nude sunbathing, which is both illegal in public and offensive to Mexicans. Confine your nudist colony to very private locations.
Although with decreasing frequency lately, traffic police in Oaxaca sometimes seem to watch foreign cars with eagle eyes. Officers seem to inhabit busy intersections and one-way streets, waiting for confused tourists to make a wrong move. If they whistle you over, stop immediately or you will really get into hot water. If guilty, say “Lo siento” (“I’m sorry”) and be cooperative. Although the officer probably won’t mention it, he or she is usually hoping that you’ll cough up a $20 mordida (bribe) for the privilege of driving away. Don’t do it. Although he may hint at confiscating your car, calmly ask for an official boleto (written traffic ticket), if you’re guilty, in exchange for your driver’s license (have a copy), which the officer will probably keep if he writes a ticket. If after a few minutes no money appears, the officer will most likely give you back your driver’s license rather than go to the trouble of writing the ticket. If not, the worst that usually will happen is you will have to go to the presidencia municipal (city hall) the next morning and pay the $20 to a clerk in exchange for your driver’s license.
The customarily tranquil state of Oaxaca has occasionally experienced episodes of public unrest. Recent conflicts have been the result of the longstanding backlog of unsettled grievances that run from local land disputes and protest strikes by underpaid teachers, such as the teacher strike that paralyzed Oaxaca City  for several months during 2006, all the way up to unsolved political kidnappings and assassinations.
In recent years, the aggrieved, often local community delegations have petitioned local authorities for redress and set up camp in plain view for visitors to see in the Oaxaca zócalo. There is no reason for visitors to be alarmed about such lawful demonstrations as long as they remain peaceful. During 1996–2006, such protests were generally tolerated by local Oaxaca authorities and could be considered a positive sign of a maturing Oaxacan democracy.
Although Oaxaca’s potholed pavements and “holey” sidewalks won’t land you in jail, one of them might send you to the hospital if you don’t watch your step, especially at night. “Pedestrian beware” is especially good advice on Mexican streets, where it is rumored that some drivers speed up rather than slow down when they spot a tourist stepping off the curb. Falling coconuts, especially frequent on windy days, constitute an additional hazard to unwary campers and beachgoers.
Driving Mexican country roads, where slow trucks and carts block lanes, campesinos stroll the shoulders, and horses, burros, and cattle wander at will, is hazardous—doubly so at night.