Arizona : Safety by City
- Casa Grande
- Lake Havasu City
- Oro Valley
- Sierra Vista
Tucson, Arizona, is known as the Old Pueblo and sits in the southern part of the state just an hour from the Mexican border.
The city is in the heart of the Sonoran Desert with incredible views from anywhere in the city and a winter that is so warm that many retired people choose to spend winters here.
Tucson has a totally different vibe than Phoenix to its north.
This is a laid-back college town with just enough city and just enough space to make you feel totally relaxed.
The prestigious Canyon Ranch spa is just north of town, making for one of the most relaxing (and expensive) places on earth to reconnect and recharge.
Tucson (“Two-sahn”) is a college town too – being home to the University of Arizona.
It’s also a military town with Davis-Monthan Airforce Base on the southwest side of the city and plenty of military museums to explore.
To add to that, Raytheon, a missile defense system maker, is also a prominent business here, along with Bombardier Aerospace.
I’m excited to walk you through Tucson’s safety landscape as I lived here for two years and there’s just nothing quite like desert life.
Warnings & Dangers in Tucson
OVERALL RISK : MEDIUM
The average risk for a tourist sticking to the areas designed for entertainment, history, or attractions is low, but the crime rate in Tucson overall is enough to consider it a medium risk. Homicide rates nearly doubled from 2019 to 2021. Theft is two and a half times higher than the national average. However, you're unlikely to be exposed to that if you stick to the safer sides of the city.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
SunTran is a public transportation system with fixed-bus routes throughout the city and express routes. You can also explore the Sun Link Streetcar options to get between the most popular parts of the city. Taxis and rideshares are available and rental cars are perfect for those who want to explore the nearby wilderness areas on their own. There are parts of downtown that are walkable, but to get around the whole city you'll need a vehicle.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : MEDIUM
With more than 17,000 thefts, just 84 of those were pickpockets. Still treat it with a medium risk, especially if you're there on a game day or during a popular event like the Gem & Mineral Show. Carry as little as you need with you, but due to the heat, make sure a water bottle is always among your belongings.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
Tucson's biggest risks are wildfires and flash flooding. Extreme heat is another concern, but that's really dependent on how you react and prepare for the heat more than the heat itself. Summer thunderstorms can be intense, but short-lived. There are also dust storms, known as "haboobs," that can sweep through and limit visibility.
MUGGING RISK : MEDIUM
While the robbery rate is two and a half times the national average, the risk of a stranger in a public space being a mugging victim is 34%, according to 2021 crime data from the Tucson Police Department (TPD).
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
Normally, a city with half a million people wouldn't be considered too high on the risk list, especially with a major metro area like Phoenix nearby. However, the presence of the air force base and missile manufacturing company plus the aerospace industries raise that risk level. It also brings a lot of security, including from border patrol with the border town of Nogales just 70 miles away.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
TPD reports in 2022 that scams are on the rise, but they are generally started via phone or email to local residents. Scammers like to prey on the elderly, so use extra caution if you're in that category. You might be approached by people who speak broken English or broken Spanish, and if you don't know what they are saying, learn the phrases for "I cannot help you. Call the police" so you can walk away.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : MEDIUM
Tucson can be a very fun town, especially with the college atmosphere on Congress Street. It can also be dangerous for women who overindulge and become easy targets for thieves or more sinister criminals. Always travel with a friend or in a group. If you are alone, text a friend or check in on social media with every step you take so you'll be traceable - just in case. Don't go hiking alone if you can avoid it in the Sonoran desert. It's very easy to get lost if you aren't an experienced hiker.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
The 2021 Water Quality Report shows full compliance and no violations in Tucson. The biggest water challenge here is having enough of it, as Arizona, California, and Nevada share a water supply that is dwindling. You can learn more about important water conservation steps on the city website.
Safest Places to Visit in Tucson
VisitTucson.org is the official website for the city’s tourism bureau.
People are known to spell Tuscon wrong, interchanging the C and S.
I checked the URL, and even if you type it in wrong, it will redirect to the correct website.
When in doubt, look for the “2022 Tucson Conventions and Visitors Bureau.
All rights reserved.” at the bottom of the page.
Tucson has a large landscape, with I-10 running the north/south length of the city (even though it’s an east/west highway in the big picture) and I-19 also resumes south of downtown.
There is also a city-within-a-city here, as South Tucson is its own entity right in the center of Tucson.
South Tucson is heavily Latino/Hispanic and has services for the 5,600 people who live there, from ethnic grocery stores to street tacos to community services.
Let’s start at the perimeter of the city to look at the outdoor adventures that await:
- Saguaro National Park: This is on the northwest side of the city and is filled with giant saguaro cacti. You can only see a cactus like this in a small part of America, so seize the change while you can.
- Santa Catalina Ranger District: This is part of the Coronado National Forest and Mt. Lemmon is one of the top tourist attractions outside of the city. You’ll get stunning views of the desert floor mixed with a high desert landscape. You can take a tram or shuttle up Sabino Canyon at night too, for great stargazing and a look at desert nightlife.
- Pusch Ridge Wilderness: This is a little closer to Tucson and part of the Coronado National Forest. I lived on the road across from this area, and it was a great way to explore morning sunsets or evening sunrises without having to climb a mountain.
I highly recommend taking the drive up to Mt. Lemmon, so you can see the different ecosystems and topography change with the elevation.
Mount Charleston up by Las Vegas has the same amazing transition during the drive.
Just outside of Tucson to the southwest is Karchner Caverns State Park.
Reservations are required and there are cabins and campsites available, plus a cool cavern to explore.
Watch out for the bats.
A Mountain (that’s the name – “A Mountain.” It’s not “a mountain.”) is right on the east side of town and is an easy hike with worthy views for those who don’t have the time to hike the outlying parks.
Since traffic is so intense in Tucson and there aren’t a lot of highways to help you get around, let’s start near Pusch Wilderness for the museums in that part of the city:
- Valley of the Moon: A whimsical art-inspired fairyland, of sorts. Hours are limited, so check the schedule.
- Tucson Art Museum: Get a look at the artwork inspired by and made from the elements of the desert.
- Trail Dust Town: An Old West/Pioneer’s trip back in time in this replica of a town from a bygone era.
Downtown is where the University of Arizona (U of A) is located, along with the bustling Congress Street for restaurants and bars with eclectic shops along the route.
The Children’s Museum of Tucson is also here.
On your way to the southeast side of the city attractions, you can visit the Reid Park Zoo.
Around Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, you have several great attractions to choose from.
The Airplane Boneyard is the largest of its kind in the world and includes rows of different military aircraft as far as the eye can see.
The retired aircraft thrive in the desert climate and tours are available, but read the website for specific information about safety and tour requirements.
The Pima Air & Space Museum is an 80-acre site with six indoor hangars to explore with some of the most unique and interesting aircraft the U.S. military and government have used.
The Aerospace exhibit gives you an unprecedented look at the race to space and the use of drones in modern military action.
Also, the Wild West town of Tombstone is just an hour southeast.
You can read our article on that city to learn more about the safety guidance and attractions there.
Places to Avoid in Tucson
When you look at crime distribution maps, you’ll see higher crime areas in the northern part of town, but south of Oro Valley.
There are some midtown and east-side neighborhoods that aren’t very safe.
A handful of southern neighborhoods aren’t ideal either.
The reality is, Tucson is built in a way that you can have new homes with HOA-handpicked property designs, and then be a poverty-stricken area around the next corner.
Just stay on the main roads between the different tourist attractions and entertainment districts and you shouldn’t have to worry.
Alvernon Way is one road that connects to some of the more dangerous neighborhoods, so use that just as a reference point, not a “stay off it no matter what” statement.
Before you consider a day trip to the Mexican border, check out the travel warnings from the U.S. State Department.
Nogales is in the state of Sonora, which comes with a “Reconsider Travel” advisory.
The State Department limits its own employees with the following travel restrictions: “U.S. government employees may not travel to the area north of Avenida Tecnologico, west of Bulevar Luis Donaldo Colosio (Periferico), and east of Federal Highway 15D (Corredor Fiscal) and the residential areas to the east of Plutarco Elias Calles. U.S. government employees may not use taxi services in Nogales.”
Safety Tips for Traveling to Tucson
- Just about every place you visit and all the research you do on official websites here will have English and Spanish versions. That’s very helpful for the bilingual people visiting this great city.
- TPD has one of the best crime dashboards I’ve seen in the hundreds of websites I’ve researched. You can limit searches to certain types of crime in different neighborhoods and you can choose your own timeline (a week, a year, etc.) Use this to see which neighborhoods have higher crime rates closer to your visit.
- Let’s talk about Javelinas. These are wild boar-like animals that wander the city – mostly the outskirts. Don’t mess with them. They can become angry and charge you. If you feed them, which is a no-no, you risk being bitten. I once was late for work because a group of the animals was blocking my stairwell to get out.
- You also need to be on the lookout for scorpions here. I got a very eye-opening look at the dangers when I moved out. When all the furniture was gone and I was cleaning, I found no less than a dozen dead ones below my baseboards. Scorpions look for cool, dark places to hide. They won’t sting unless threatened, but that can include sliding a shoe on where a scorpion is hiding. Always shake your shoes before putting them on. It’s a habit I still carry to this day.
- The heat in Tucson is oppressive in the summer, even though it’s a “dry heat.” You should do all your outdoor activities, like hiking, in the morning hours and be back in the city or at the destination by 11:00 am. With temperatures well into the triple digits and relentless sun, you can easily get heat stroke or dehydration.
- You can use several apps here to be better connected. The MyTucson app allows you a direct connection to the city and a way to report things like graffiti or potholes. You can also use See. Click. Fix. to report issues. You also want to sign up for MyAlerts through Pima County to get information about weather conditions and threats.
- If you are in a wilderness area and you see a wildfire start nearby, get out of there. If you know a fire is burning in a certain area, go to a different park. The changing winds of the desert can cause a fire to quickly change direction and you will have a hard time outrunning a charging fire.
- The GoTuscon mobile app will help you purchase passes for the public transportation system. Even if you don’t want to ride the city buses, there’s a good chance you’ll want to use the trolley to get around to the most popular entertainment districts.
- For those who go stargazing at night, bring a flashlight with a red filter so you don’t create light pollution for others nearby. It’s also a good idea to bring a black light, as this will help spot scorpions nearby. The creatures glow under blacklight, making them all the more creepy. It’s safest to go on a tour so the guide can help you avoid the activity of the desert night – including rattlesnakes.
- Use the Google Maps traffic layer to see delays around the city. This city isn’t easy to get around in any kind of timely fashion. The interstate is great if you want to go from north to south, but going from northwest to southeast is going to take about an hour with high traffic.
So... How Safe Is Tucson Really?
Tucson is seeing an increase in crime, much like other American cities.
It’s also facing a repeated issue of poverty-stricken and minority neighborhoods seeing the greatest increases in crime.
While the violent crime rate was 80% higher than the national average in 2021, it’s even growing during 2022.
The biggest problem in communities like Tuscon is the influx of illegal guns on the street.
This issue continues to face American’s second amendment right to bear arms and leaves a solution hard to find.
Here’s what Ward Six Council member Steve Kozachik told local station KOLD, “I think most major cities in the country have a gun problem.
And the state of Arizona, ours, is exacerbated by the fact our state legislature has completely tied the hands of local jurisdictions.”
There are gangs here and drug problems, even more so because of the proximity to the border where drugs and guns are brought in.
29% of thefts are related to car break-ins, so lock your doors and keep the windows rolled up when you park.
Leave nothing inside either.
Make it as empty as if it just came off the factory line.
Six cars are stolen each day here too, and many end up across the border – never to be seen again.
In reality, a smart tourist using common sense and safety precautions is more likely to get a bad sunburn than be a victim of a crime.
Just avoid the neighborhoods that clearly aren’t a place you should be visiting.
For the utmost safety, stay in Oro Valley to the north, which has a much lower crime rate.
How Does Tucson Compare?
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- Visas - Whether you cross the border or fly into Tucson, you'll need either a Visa issued by the State Department or a Visa Waiver. This process can take several months, so start planning early. Use the Visa Wizard function on the department's website to confirm you are getting the right visa for your trip.
- Currency - You still can only use the U.S. Dollar (USD), even though there are a lot of Hispanic/Latino businesses and it's very close to the border. While some locations might take Pesos under the table, you should be prepared to always use USD. Avoid public ATMs and exchange currency inside a bank.
- Weather - Most of the year will be warm to hot. I'll warn you, if you show up in winter wearing a t-shirt and shorts while the "locals" are in jeans and hoodies, you'll stand out as a tourist. This could make you more likely to get targeted, but who cares? Enjoy the nice weather and just be aware of your surroundings. I was mortified when my mom showed up to visit me in summer clothing for the New Year holiday. "Mooooom! YOU LOOK LIKE SUCH A TOURIST!" I bellowed. Bring sunscreen with a high SPF, like 50 or above. There will be some cooler days in winter. I was even there one Easter when it snowed about two inches (but quickly melted). Checking the 10-day forecast for your travel city is the best way to help pack properly.
- Airports - Tucson does have its own international airport and it's very easy to navigate without long wait times. You can also use the larger Phoenix Sky Harbor airport, but it's about 90 minutes away. There are bus shuttles that run back and forth if you don't have a car. Those will cost around $50 a person.
- Travel Insurance - You'll want travel insurance here in case of delays or wildfires that shut down highways. Health insurance is necessary too, as you don't want to pay out of pocket if you suffer heat stroke and you don't want to treat that on your own.
Tucson Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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