Is Potrero Chico Safe?

Last updated: January 30, 2012

In the last couple years, Mexico has gotten a lot of negative press. So everyone wants to know—Is Potrero Chico safe? Well, that mostly depends on whether your belayer is attentive, you take care of your gear, and you check for snakes before you stick your hand in a crack. In other words, despite the dip in Mexico’s security, you’re still probably more likely to suffer a typical climbing accident than witness the effects of banditos and narcos. Some frightening things are happening in Mexico, including in areas near Potrero. But probability (when paired with a bit of self-awareness and some education and common sense) is definitely still on your side.

Why Is Monterrey Considered So Dangerous?
One reason Monterrey’s recent wave of violence has garnered so much attention is contrast. In 2005, Monterrey was ranked as one of the safest cities in Latin America. It is one of Mexico’s most developed cities with one of the highest per capita incomes in the nation. Recently, a shift in power within and between Mexican drug cartels has caused an increase in violence in Monterrey, shocking the citizens of a once tranquil city. However, unless you had a really unlucky knack of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, most days you’d be hard pressed to find evidence of anything out of the ordinary. Depending on your tolerance for risk, you can easily avoid Monterrey all together during your stay at Potrero Chico.

The safe and friendly Potrero Canyon

What about Hidalgo?
Towns like Hidalgo, where Potrero Chico is located, are much much safer than, say, border towns and larger cities that are key junctures on drug movement routes (aka Monterrey). Hidalgo is a small, safe town where travelers often hitch-hike and can feel safe walking around at night. There are countless stories within the past couple years of visitors who have enjoyed everything Potrero Chico has to offer– without any negative experiences. That said, there are dangerous situations that you could possibly encounter, so we’re offering some advice for minimizing your exposure.

How To Minimize Your Risk In Mexico
The same as in any new environment, it is important to be aware of common-sense ways to avoid higher-risk situations, and how to minimize problems if you encounter them. We’re not saying that ignoring these tips will definitely bring trouble, or that they will keep you safe. But they’re based on real trends and incidents.

  • Avoid driving large SUVs or pickup trucks, because these are most commonly targeted by cartels looking for rivals, and for carjacking.
  • Don’t stop in the border towns (except at customs offices).
  • Take the toll highways. Not only are they better roads that mandate fences to keep off goats and cows, but they are patrolled by the military/police and so are much less frequented by narcos.
  • Be non-confrontational if you encounter a checkpoint (set up either by military/police or by the cartels—you probably won’t be able to tell much difference anyway): do not talk on your phone, do not try to turn around, and whatever you do, do not try to pass the checkpoint without stopping.
  • Be conciliatory. Avoid arguments with locals, even if you’re bigger than them. You don’t know who their friends are.
  • Don’t be complacent.
  • If possible, avoid driving at night.

This page hopes to counter-balance negative reports coming out of Mexico with stories of personal experiences and more-localized advice. You can read a plethora of personal experiences below, and share your own. Just remember that one person’s positive personal experience is exactly that. Assessing the entire security situation in Mexico based only on positive anecdotes is just as flawed as the misconception that you will be carjacked and kidnapped the second you cross the border into Mexico.

We would love everyone to experience Potrero Chico, and come to love it as much as we do, so please come – but please do so as safely as possible!

Update 12/1/2011: The local Hidalgo police were recently disbanded after federally mandated background checks and anti-drug investigations led to the termination or imprisonment of most or all of their officers. This has occurred in up to 19 of Nuevo Leon’s municipalities . Currently the Mexican military is charged with patrolling Hidalgo. The date for a replacement police force is unknown by this author. However, by local accounts the disbandment is a welcomed relief and an improvement for local safety as the federal police and military are far less corrupt. Current climbers at Potrero Chico report no increased insecurity issues and nothing appears to have changed in Hidalgo. Climbers are encouraged to continue to visit the park and many currently are.

Emergency Contact Info

Police 286-02-47
Medical Emergency 8376-4455 or 8376-6762
An emergency back board and first aid kit are stored at La Posada and is available 24/7.

Monterrey Consulates

U.S. Consulate General
Canadian Consulate
British Embassey
Australian Consulate

  • waffleguy4

    I’ve lived in Potrero Chico for 5 months, driven countless times at night and in Monterrey, walked the streets of Hidalgo alone, and felt very safe the entire time. Additionally, I’ve crossed the border 8 times this year – twice with my entire family in the car. I was born and raised in the United States and find it great here in Mexico!

  • Frank Sarat

    Monterrey is dangerous? B.S.! Would you not go to New york City because its too dangerous? Same thing.I am stupified that climbers of all people have retreated to such a non objective analysis of risk as has been displayed this climbing season. I don’t know if things have picked up any, but thanksgiving was down by 2/3’s from historical. Bunch of yellow bellied cowards. They see one minute on tv of afghanistan violence, one minute of mexico , ergo…

  • waffleguy4

    Some comic relief on the debate of Mexico being safe (about a southern beach town in Mexico):

  • Grant in Austin

    I am looking to head down to do some climbing, but am wondering what the best way to go would be. I have driven in before but it was over a decade ago back when Jeff and Kurt were putting up Sendero. The road was sketchy at night with potholes galore. I am a little wary of driving the stretch from Columbus to the Potrero since it is pretty desolate. Maybe my partner and I should take a bus. Not sure, so any suggestions would be appreciated. – Thanks

  • Björn

    I lived in Potrero three months between september and december, going in and out of Monterrey often, both by car and bus. After leaving Potrero mid-december I travelled the east and south of Mexico for one and a half months.
    Not once during my time in Mexico I felt threatened in any way, ESPECIALLY not in Hidalgo/Potrero. Believe it or not, but once back in Stockholm (Sweden) I actually felt more afraid in the metro than I did in my entire stay in Mexico.

  • Kristine

    As a Canadian living in Monterrey from May-Dec. 2010, I witnessed the whole ‘safety warning’ dilemma from our government. Regardless, I continued travelling extensively throughout Mexico, and crossing borders to Texas. I also made countless trips to Potrero Chico and never have I personally encountered a ‘dangerous situation.’ Even the camping trips at Potrero felt safe and even in the town of Hidalgo, where it has a very neighbourhood-based environment. I was happy to call Monterrey my home, and especially because Mexicans are very welcoming to foreigners. Please note that the drug-related crimes involves those who are connected in this business and foreigners are almost never a target.

  • Tim

    I was in Potrero around the same time as Bjorn, and had a similar experience. Both Hidalgo and the Potrero were very safe, and at no time did I have any issues. About once a month the military would drive through the canyon to see what was going on, but seemed more interested in taking pictures of the climbers than harassing them. I can’t comment on the situation in Monterrey as my experience there was limited to flying in and out of the airport, but I certainly didn’t feel I was walking into a warzone.

  • Gizmochillz

    I am from Oklahoma and spent a week in Potrero from May 12 – 20. I was nervous about the narco wars but I soon realized there is nothing to fear. Im not saying Monterrey is safe because I didnt go there (except to and from the airport), but Hidalgo and Potrero are perfectly safe places. I didnt encounter a single moment where I felt unsafe. Even the locals let us ride in the back of their pickups at night! The people are friendly, and the atmosphere was very welcoming. Check out the coffee shop in town run by the missionaries.

  • Dave

    I just got back from another trip to Potrero and loved it! A good number of other climbers were there and I easily found climbing partners.

  • Hexar Anderson

    In general I find that people are incredibly terrible at assessing risk. For example, parents are more afraid of letting their kids play at a friend’s house whose parents own a gun than at a house with a swimming pool, but guess which one is 100 times more likely to result in accidental death?

    As a species, we are far more afraid of activities associated with sensational news than really makes sense, from a statistical point of view. I don’t want to discount the recent incident in Hidalgo, but I sincerely believe it was a one-time freak occurrence. Meanwhile every day in American cities, people are murdered, robbed, and assaulted and nobody even notices or cares.

    I spent four months here last year, and literally NOTHING bad ever happened to me, nor did I ever feel unsafe in Hidalgo or EPC. You might be looking for trouble if you walk around the bad parts of Monterrey at night, but you never have to go into Monterrey while visiting here – the road from the airport stays north of the city. You also don’t drive through the city if coming from Texas.

    Look, climbing is a dangerous sport. It amazes me that the same people who are so bold on the rock are afraid of coming to Mexico, yet I can pretty much guarantee that you are 100x more likely to get hurt climbing than you are to experience any negative consequences from being here. And just like climbing, there are things you can do to mitigate your risk, as Dave has outlined.

    El Potrero Chico is an amazing, beautiful place, with towering limestone crags jutting out of the ground at an impossibly steep and awe-inspiring angle. Don’t let your fear of the unknown prevent you from experiencing what it has to offer.

  • Karolina

    Definitely safe for climbers. Everyone in Potrero is friendly, the climbing is amazing.. I had no issues during my two week stay there. The sport of climbing is more dangerous than what the news portray of Mexico. If you are thinking about going… GO! 

  • alberta climber

    Last time I checked, the homicide score was Edmonton (Alberta, Canada) 45 Hidlago 1!

  • cliffmama

    Thanks for writing this. Many friends ask me about Potrero because I’ve been there 8 years. I was too nervous to go down there this winter. I do agree that it’s probably fine if you fly into Monterrey, get someone from Potrero to pick you up and take you there via highway, etc…, but I guess I’m just not ready to go back this year. I love the wonderful people down there, and I hope for their sake and for all the Mexican people that this horrible violence comes to an end. I do worry about the business owners and how they can get by without the usual amount of climber’s tourist dollars. I’m going to share this article with all my friends who are debating whether or not to go there this year.

  • juan

    jag är glad att svenskar åker till mexiko nu, speciellt för klättring !!
    jag saknar mitt land, you cannot compare k2 or any good gym in stockholm to the magic of the mountains in mexico…

  • Avl climber

    These entries make me feel better but it would be nice if they were more recent than a year ago.

  • Dave

    Both myself and Hexar (in the first post) were just in Potrero a few weeks ago. It’s all cool.

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