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Is El Paso Safe? Warnings and Dangers Travelers Need to Know

SmarterTravel

El Paso, Texas, is a city worth visiting. Go for the rich culture, the Chihuahuan Desert, the Rio Grande, and, of course, the tasty food—whatever you do, order the sopapillas. But if you’ve been paying attention to the news, you might be forgiven for wondering, “Is El Paso safe?”

Tragically, one of America’s deadliest mass shootings recently played out at a Walmart in eastern El Paso, killing 22. And El Paso is a border town, sharing the line with Juarez, Mexico, home of the notorious Juarez cartel.

Surprisingly, though, El Paso is consistently ranked as one of America’s safest big cities. This is thanks to strong policing, a large military presence, plenty of border security, recent urban and economic development, and engaged citizens and communities. The El Paso crime rate, regardless of whether you’re talking about violent or property crime, is actually dropping.

Beyond violence, travelers also wonder, “Is El Paso dangerous in terms of natural disasters?” In fact, El Paso has a lower risk of severe weather than other Texas cities, though parts of El Paso do flood during heavy rainfall.

Still, whether you’re out exploring Franklin Mountains State Park or El Paso’s historic downtown, it helps to keep in mind some key tips regarding El Paso safety.

Tips for Staying Safe in El Paso

  • One key to staying safe is knowing which are the safest neighborhoods in El Paso, TX. To stay in the El Paso safety zone, hang out in neighborhoods like Album Park, Cielo Vista, Rim Area, and East Side—and steer clear of higher-crime areas like Chihuahuita, Magoffin, and A Presidential Neighborhood.
  • El Paso’s buses stop running after dark, but cabs, Ubers, and Lyfts are readily available. Take the standard precautions like sitting in the back seat and using the app to share your ride progress with a friend or loved one.
  • If you’re considering crossing the border from El Paso to Juarez, Mexico, keep in mind that Juarez suffers high rates of violence and crime. If you go, read up on the U.S. Consulate’s advice for travelers.

Safe Places—and Places to Avoid—in El Paso

The safest neighborhoods in El Paso, TX, include Album Park, where the chance of becoming a crime victim is 95 percent lower than the national average, as well as Cielo Vista, Rim Area, and East Side, where the crime rates are nearly as low.

El Paso’s west side is upscale, safe, and full of attractions, including UTEP (University of Texas at El Paso) as well as worthwhile restaurants and bars, according to Kayak. The city’s east side is less affluent, but you’ll find shopping malls as well as popular places to hike and climb. Note that although the 2019 Walmart shooting occurred near the Cielo Vista Mall on El Paso’s east side, the shooter was from out of town, not a local.

And though El Paso, overall, is quite safe, there are neighborhoods that are best avoided because of higher crime rates, including Chihuahuita, A Presidential Neighborhood (yes, that’s its name), and Magoffin.

A neighborhood called Angel’s Triangle—formerly Devil’s Triangle—in northeast El Paso was notorious for prostitution, drugs, gangs, and poverty up until the 1990s, when a community initiative helped slashed its crime rate significantly. Angel’s Triangle still suffers from poverty, but its specific story of improvement reflects the overall trend toward El Paso safety.

How to Get Around Safely in El Paso

A few years ago, El Paso adopted a new transit plan to connect the city more efficiently and to encourage ridership in safe, eco-responsible ways. A downtown shuttle, called the Circulator, is now available for free. El Paso’s bus system is run by an agency called Sun Metro, which encourages passengers to be alert for suspicious behavior and packages, to report them to a coach operator or a transit supervisor, and to call 911 in an emergency.

Unfortunately, much of El Paso’s bus system shuts down at night, although taxis and app-based hired cars are readily available. Just remember, whenever you take an Uber or Lyft, take the standard precautions like choosing a busy, well-lit area when waiting for your ride, confirming that the driver’s face and license plate match what comes up on your phone, sitting in the back seat, and staying in touch with a friend about your ride—Uber has added a 911 button and the ability to geo-share your ride’s progress. Also, don’t tell the driver your name when you arrive; ask for the name on the booking instead.

Renting a car to get around El Paso is a sound option as well, especially if you’re planning on traveling to other parts of western Texas or across the border into Juarez, Mexico—though you should always lock your car, hide all valuables, and park in well-lit, non-secluded spots.

Bordering El Paso: Is Juarez, Mexico, Safe?

It’s tempting, when you’re this close to Mexico, to cross the border to party in legendary nightclubs, shop the mercado for authentic Mexican souvenirs, wander Samalayuca’s otherworldly sand dunes, and visit historic landmarks like the stately Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe Cathedral (also known as the Cathedral of Ciudad Juarez), which was built in 1659.

But while El Paso is a remarkably safe city, it’s a different story in nearby Ciudad Juarez. In the not-so-distant past, Juarez held the tragic title of the world’s murder capital; nearly 11,000 people were killed there between 2007 and 2013. Juarez was a true war zone, plagued with unrestrained bloodshed, kidnappings, and extortion related mostly to narcotics trafficking. The ruthless rivalry between the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels translated into real-life horror scenes left and right. The city has also seen a shocking femicide epidemic, with thousands of women disappearing or being killed since the 1990s.

Since then, the Sinaloa drug cartel, which operates in Mexico with impunity, wrested control of Ciudad Juarez and maintains a mafia-like grip on the city—which has actually generated a recent era of fragile peace and greater calm. Though a notable amount of violence still exists, especially in the form of gang killings, things have gotten markedly better since 2010.

Regardless, traveling to Juarez, Mexico, remains risky, so much so that the U.S. has issued a travel alert about it. If you decide to visit Juarez, consider taking an expert-led tour and heeding the U.S. Embassy’s advice: “Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Monitor local media for updates. Use caution when driving in heavy traffic or at night. Drive with your doors locked and windows up.”

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—original reporting by Avital Andrews

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