Texas : Safety by City
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“As I walked out in the streets of Laredo..”
That song is playing on repeat in my mind as I write this safety article about Laredo, Texas, deep in the south end of the state, right along the Mexico border.
The Rio Grande River separates the two counties, and it’s really a tale of two cities, with one being among the safest in its country and the other being too dangerous for visitors – at least according to the U.S. State Department.
Lucky for you, Laredo is on the safer side.
This city of 255,000 people is more than 95% Latino/Hispanic, so English and Spanish speakers won’t have any trouble communicating.
Laredo is the busiest port between Mexico and the United States, with nearly $250 billion in trade value coming through each year.
Unfortunately, illegal drugs and weapons also make it through, which is part of a focused crackdown by Drug Enforcement, the Border Patrol, and the FBI.
In early September 2022, the largest bust in decades happened when dogs suspiciously sniffed a massive order of baby wipes.
Turns out, those wipes were actually filled with nearly $12 in cocaine.
The city has a tourism app, Visit Laredo, that includes everything a tourist would need to know either as a first-time visitor or as frequent fliers looking for something new.
Warnings & Dangers in Laredo
OVERALL RISK: LOW
There's a low overall risk here, with Laredo being named the #13 Safest City in America by Smart Asset. Violent and property crime rates are mostly lower than national averages, even with a cartel war going on across the border in Nuevo Laredo.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW
El Metro is the public transportation system in Laredo. Rideshares and taxis are available, as are rental cars. There's a low risk as long as you stay on this side of the border.
PICKPOCKETS RISK: LOW
15 pickpockets and purse snatchings were reported in 2020, which is a low number compared to the population. There's still a slight risk, so be sure to keep your belongings secured and leave valuables safely stored in the hotel room.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: LOW
There's a risk of thunderstorms, an occasional tornado, flash flooding, and extreme heat here. Remnants of tropical storms can also impact this region. This is one corner of Texas that is generally safe from the brunt of the severe weather, so the risk is low.
MUGGING RISK: LOW
The risk is mostly low, as most violent crimes happen in private homes. In March of 2022, a serial robber accused of holding up six people at gunpoint in public was arrested. You need to have a lot of situational awareness here, as the violent criminals here don't care if an innocent bystander falls victim. However, for the most part, if you aren't out looking for trouble, you won't find it.
TERRORISM RISK: MEDIUM
The border is always going to come with a medium risk, but it's more because of what terrorists or terror tools could get into the country, not because Laredo itself is a target. Homeland Security and Border Patrol have a strong presence here and are quick to shut down the road between the two countries should there be an outbreak of violence in Nueva Laredo.
SCAMS RISK: MEDIUM
There's a medium risk because of the severity of consequences your actions could have. While the basic resident scams - like IRS and utility fraudsters - happen, there's also a risk someone will ask you to carry a bag or drive them to a friend's house because they ran out of gas. This could be a drug smuggler or a criminal on the run. Don't offer any help that requires you to transport bags or people, even if there's a strong financial incentive.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: LOW
The main warning for any woman visiting here, especially if they are alone, is don't trust anyone you meet who wants to cross the border. Don't drink a beverage unless you take it directly from a bartender. Overall, men are 8% more likely to be a victim of a violent crime. You should also know if you are confronted by a criminal, you won't get any special treatment because you're a woman.
TAP WATER RISK: LOW
You should definitely check the city's website before you consume or use any water in Laredo. In February of 2022, a water line break led to much of the city being without water. The water that was available was unfit for consumption. The Water Quality Report from 2021 shows one violation where there was a water quality issue, and neither the city nor residents were told about it. For the most part, the water is safe to drink, but be sure to check the latest information before you take a gulp or shower.
Safest Places to Visit in Laredo
Laredo has several historic districts where you will “walk down the streets of Laredo.”
- Old Mercado: A central hub with the Laredo Center for the Arts and the Webb County Heritage Foundation. The old city hall is located here too.
- Fort McIntosh Historic District: The fort that used to be here is now part of the community college campus and was decommissioned in 1946. You can view historical remnants of the fort and battlefield.
- San Agustin Historic District: Founded in 1755, this is the oldest part of the city. Don’t miss a stop at the cathedral and nearby plaza.
- St. Peter’s Historic District: There’s more history to be found in this neighborhood, with many of the buildings originating from the late 1880s through World War I.
- El Azteca: This is a residential area but rich with modest Spanish-style architecture.
You can learn about the unique historical assets of this community by visiting the Border Heritage Museum and the Republic of the Rio Grande Museum.
The Outlet Shops at Laredo bring the American shopping experience to the Mexican border.
You can find deep discounts on some of the most popular brands.
For a more authentic experience, visit one of the many Mexican import shops.
There’s a full list at Visitlaredo.com, so you can be sure you’re visiting safe stores.
San Bernardo is 40 blocks filled with these vendors.
Be sure to keep your purse and wallet well hidden while visiting this popular place.
There are many restaurants here, but don’t miss the food truck scene and the Mexican Street Food, known as antojitos.
If you want a good breakfast taco, ask for a mariachi (yes, like the music).
One of the most popular restaurants in Texas – yes, it’s a chain – is Rudy’s barbecue.
I first had Rudy’s in San Antonio, and at first, you wonder, “Why are we going to dinner at a gas station?”
An hour later, you’re covered in BBQ sauce, stuffed, but still want one more bite of creamed corn.
The brisket is about as close to food heaven as I’ve ever been.
Instead of trying to swim in the Rio Grande, head to Lake Casa Blanca International State Park.
Hiking, fishing, boating, and camping are all available here.
Fishing gear is even available for loan!
Bass and catfish are two of the most popular fish here.
Places to Avoid in Laredo
West of I-35, which cuts the city down the middle, has the higher crime rates.
This is a city where you should stay on main roads and near crowded public spaces or historic districts.
24% of the city lives in poverty, so even driving around to just look at houses isn’t going to be very interesting.
Don’t swim in the Rio Grande River.
The water quality isn’t all that great, even with improved wastewater treatment on the other side.
People also die trying to swim across the river, either for fun or trying to cross the border illegally.
You also don’t want to be mistaken for a border jumper, and the country border goes right down the center of the Rio Grande.
While nobody is going to force you to stay in America, the U.S. State Department has the state of Tamaulipas, where Nuevo Laredo is located, on a “DO NOT VISIT” list, accompanied by this warning, “Heavily armed members of criminal groups often patrol areas of the state and operate with impunity particularly along the border region from Reynosa to Nuevo Laredo.
In these areas, local law enforcement has limited capacity to respond to incidents of crime.”
In March of 2022, the U.S. Consulate in Nuevo Laredo came under attack after the U.S. busted a major player in a Mexican cartel.
When this happens, cartel members simply want to punish any and all Americans they can.
This has happened many times in history.
Don’t risk crossing the border thinking, “every city has crime!”
You literally have nobody to protect you on the other side.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Laredo
- Download the Laredo PD app, and you’ll have a direct line to the police department. You can also give crime tips or offer suggestions through the portal. Crime alerts will pop up as issued, and you can also review frequently asked questions or get the contact information to ask a few of your own.
- Laredo police issued a 2021 Annual Report, which is a great tool to see crime trends and successes in the past year. There is also contact information for every department head and detective.
- If you meet someone who talks about going to a maquinitas or 8-liner, don’t go. That’s an illegal gambling house.
- Local news outlets have many reports of human or sex trafficking busts in Laredo. Many times the victims are undocumented immigrants looking for a better life across the border. It’s so helpful when even tourists look out for indications of human or sex trafficking. You can read about it on the website of the Coalition to Combat Human Trafficking, and you can report any suspicions to 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733.
- 311 is a city line dedicated to residents and visitors getting in touch with the city. You can report graffiti or a pothole, among other violations. The 311 service is also available through the city’s app.
- Be sure to follow the street signs because if you aren’t paying attention, you might accidentally end up at the Mexico border. It would be VERY hard to miss ALL the signs warning about the border, and you’ll likely be sitting in traffic. If you go too far, you have no choice but to beg Border Patrol to let you turn around or go into Mexico and then cross back over right away.
- If you are going to use the El Metro public transportation, download the app so you can see buses in real-time. Bring exact cash for the bus ride, which means bringing a bunch of $1 bills or change. Only U.S. currency is accepted.
- Be sure to lock your car, roll up the windows, and leave no personal items behind in your vehicle when you park. 32%of all thefts here are car break-ins, and if your car gets stolen, it will likely cross the border and never be seen again. Ask the car rental company what safeguards are in place to protect catalytic converters, as those thefts are on the rise.
- Download the Park Smarter app to help manage your metered parking without having to run back and feed the meter. This is for downtown parking. Every district has its own parking rules and rates, so be sure to read all the signs when you park.
- This is a very hot and dry portion of Texas, and water conservation is important. There can be Drought Contingency steps in place that reduced the amount of water you can use. Please check the city’s website for this information when you arrive.
So... How Safe Is Laredo Really?
One of the most surprising parts of my research is how dangerous the Mexico side of the border is, but just a few feet into America, it’s so much safer.
Not all border cities have this level of safety.
From 2020 to 2021, the overall crime rate in Laredo was down 8%, according to the police department’s annual report, and robberies were down 40%.
The biggest challenges facing law enforcement might be some things you’ll never see as a tourist.
It’s the illegal drugs laced with Fentanyl, the humans being trafficked, and the immigrants crossing the bordering hordes to escape violence in Mexico and South America.
You might not notice the stash or trap house nestled into a lower-class community of hard-working people.
That said, there is still a healthy dose of crime here – it’s just generally among people who know each other or domestic issues.
52% of violent crimes happened in homes in 2020.
Just 11% were against strangers.
One of the oddest crimes I’ve read about in a long time involved two women who lured a man into backseat sex, and when the man tried to escape, the women reportedly pulled weapons on him and said they were going to kidnap him.
He did manage to get away.
You can safely visit Laredo and enjoy the amazing history, culture, and weather of this region.
You just need excellent situational awareness, proper security steps, and have easy ways to reach law enforcement in case you need help.
It also helps if you know some conversational Spanish here.
How Does Laredo Compare?
|Belize City (Belize)
|La Paz (Bolivia)
You'll need a U.S. visa or visa waiver to enter the United States through the airport or through the border crossing. U.S Customs and Border Patrol has a wait time estimate on their website for those driving into the United States. If you are American and crossing the border, you'll need a passport.
Officially, you can only use the U.S. Dollar here. While I'm sure there are some places that will take pesos under the table, you shouldn't break the law or risk getting caught. If you are traveling internationally, you'll have a lot of places in Laredo to purchase duty-free items.
Laredo rarely gets anywhere near freezing, so you can dress without so many layers. The winter nights might be cool, so a jacket or sweatshirt should be just fine. The temperatures will heat up through spring and be very hot in the summer with a lot of sun. Wear sunscreen first and foremost, but pair it with light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
Laredo International Airport is on the northeast side of the city, so you don't have to drive to a bigger city to get a good flight. If you do choose to drive to San Antonio for a flight, plan for a three-hour road trip.
Travel insurance is a great way to protect your belongings and travel investment in case of any delays, border closures, or flight cancellations. You'll also want to make sure you have health insurance that covers any emergencies.
Laredo Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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Texas - Safety by City