Are Mexican resorts safe? What is going on with alcohol in Mexico?

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Are Mexican resorts safe? What is going on with alcohol in Mexico?

Recently there have been news reports of one high profile incident at a resort in Mexico’s Riviera Maya where two young people (a bother and sister aged 22 and 20) were found passed out in a pool after drinking. After medical treatment at a hospital in Playa Del Carmen and a medical transfer to Florida, United States, the young woman was pronounced brain dead, and her family respected her wishes and took her off of life support. Her brother that was involved in the incident recovered. This story has made people wonder if Mexican resorts are safe and question if it is safe to drink alcohol at resorts.

We have received many emails asking our opinion of this story, so we decided to write this article. While this case is still under investigation, we don’t conclude on ideas but do want to shed some light on this story.

The original story in the Journal Sentinel

In our opinion the original story in the Journal Sentinel was not written well and had misleading information.  This incident originally happened in January 2017 and the news article came out in July of the same year. The family now has legal counsel. Often, we see these types of stories get hyped up in the media which puts pressure for a settlement, so the stories go away.

While there have been many allegations or possible explanations for what happened, one fact of the matter is the toxicology reports. The young woman has a blood alcohol level of 0.25 and her bothers was 0.26. This is three times the level in most places where it is considered to impair you. The two had been drinking heavily before the accident.

So could this just be regular alcohol poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning and effects from just normal alcohol

Regular alcohol can have dangerous effect for the body. This is why moderation is important. Your body is only able to process one unit of alcohol an hour. This means that if you drink rapidly, this can cause your body to not function properly. This is why it is called being “inTOXICated”

What are the symptoms of alcohol poisoning? Here are some of them.

  • a slowdown in your brain functions which can impair your sense of balance.
  • irritated stomach which causes vomiting. It stops your gag reflex from working properly and you can choke on, or inhale, your own vomit into your lungs.
  • dehydration of your body, which can cause permanent brain damage.
  •  a lower your blood sugar level, so having seizures is possible.
  • alcohol poisoning can affect the nerves that control your breathing and heartbeat, stopping both.

Many of these are similar to what people have allegedly reported experiencing in media stories. The dangerous effects of alcohol should make everyone aware that even quality alcohol can have dangerous results. What other factors could be at play with the effects of alcohol in Mexico?

How the climate and other factors effect drinking

For most people coming on vacation to the Riviera Maya, they are coming from a non-tropical climate. The Riviera Maya in Mexico is hot year-round. This means that you will be in a place where you will sweat more and need to drink more water. However, many people that are in the pool or swimming in the ocean don’t realize that they are actually losing water from their bodies. Being dehydrated will amplify the effects of alcohol. This is why we mention this in our dangers and safety guide for Playa Del Carmen.

Coming from another time zone is another big factor in how alcohol effects you. Your inner clock or circadian rhythm is thrown off when you change time zones. Your metabolic functions also get thrown off because of this. This means that your body does not process alcohol as efficiently. Normally it takes your body one day for every time zone you have crossed. Then your body returns to normal functions. Unfortunately, this can be the entire week for our visitors from Europe.

So, there are factors that influence how alcohol can affect you and even normal alcohol can have a toxic effect on the body. But could there be other factors creating risk for visitors to Mexico?are mexican resorts safe

What is our experience with alcohol in Mexico?

We have been to numerous all inclusive resorts all around the Riviera Maya and had many a drink. We have also been to hundreds of restaurants and bars and have found one common thing, it is hard to get drunk in Mexico. Why do we say that? Many times at resorts we have had drinks during the day and after a number of drinks that should have you tipsy, you aren’t. We were baffled at this at first, even watching the bartender pour the amount of alcohol into the drinks. The amount of alcohol seemed correct, but it did not taste like full strength alcohol. Mostly after drinking at a resort, we have felt the light effect of alcohol but more the sugar and things that give you more of a headache.

Out at a club with bottle service

One night we were with friends, and we ordered bottle service. This is where a table orders one bottle of an alcohol and they give you glasses, ice and a mixer. Typically, this cost about 1000-2000 pesos. The same bottle in the store cost about 300-800 pesos, so the profit margin is high on this service.

When our waiter brought our bottle of vodka over, he presented it like a bottle of wine and showed it to us. He then proceeded to take off the plastic seal from the cap. He poured the vodka and mixed it with the cranberry juice. After we tasted it, it did not seem like there was much alcohol. After tasting the vodka straight from the bottle, we discerned it was not the same vodka that you buy off the shelf.

In most nightclubs in Playa Del Carmen you will get poor quality drinks. This is true of many bars in the world that are a party scene with many tourists. Most mixed drinks cost between 80-150 pesos. For tourist coming for a few days this is fine. If you live here, you grumble about not having good drinks in clubs. Many locals drink beer because it is consistent and lower cost as well.

The problem with alcohol at resorts in Mexico

It is always a balancing act between keeping customers happy, not having people get too drunk, and not giving away all the profits in alcohol. While we have noticed that drinks are low in alcohol, usually lower shelf brands and even what seems to be not full-strength alcohol, we do not think that there is a major concern about drinking alcohol in Mexico.

Remember, you get what you pay for. All-inclusive resorts are beautiful and can provide for a wonderful vacation. But we do notice that most resorts have average food, and you can get better in restaurants if you know where to go. We do not go to resorts to have a great cocktail, to have a drink and relax with friends, yes.

Who is responsible for safety at Mexican resorts

Resorts in Mexico do have the responsibility to limit customers access to alcohol when they become intoxicated. This however can be hard when there are multiple bars or other patrons getting drinks from the bar for friends.  Resorts also have the responsibility to provide good food and beverages to guest and to buy responsibly.

As customers we have the responsibility  to enjoy ourselves and be able to have control from getting out of control with alcohol. This would prevent many slip and fall accidents that we have seen here in Mexico.

The Mexican government has the responsibly to regulate industries so that products are produced according to standards.

The government of Mexico has said that there is illegal production of alcohol in Mexico.  However there have been no conclusive studies to connect the illegal production of alcohol in Mexico to health issues. All around the world today there are imitation products scandals with meat, and bacterial contamination. These all scare us because we use these products, and we care about our health. We feel that in this case of allegations of tainted alcohol, there is not a need to worry about your vacation. The fact that millions of people come to Mexican resorts each year and millions go home after having a great vacation shows that there is not a major issue or problem.

We do look forward to the government looking into the production of alcohol and seeing if there is any effect health that has taken place.

are Mexican resorts safe
A look out at the beach from a hotel in the Playacar section of Playa Del Carmen.

Our recommendations for drinking in Playa Del Carmen

As you can see from above, we have not found great drinks at resorts, many bars, and clubs in the Riviera Maya. We do however like when we find a place that serves decent proportioned drinks that give you good value for your money. It is why in our bar guide to Playa Del Carmen we mention good places to go to. 

We also suggest staying at independent hotels and eating at local restaurants. Anywhere that “free” or “unlimited” anything is offered it is usually not going to be the best quality.

Where to buy alcohol in Playa Del Carmen

With everything mentioned above, you might be put off by drinking. But many still like to partake of some spirits. There are many touristy places on 5th Avenue and even some cheap places to get tequila. However the best place is the La Europea liquor store. This is where locals buy and everything is normal retail price. You can see where this store is and other suggestions in our guide to buying alcohol in Playa Del Carmen.

What to do in case of emergency in Mexico

Here is just some good information for guests to Mexico in case you do have an emergency on vacation.

If you are staying at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico, the staff is well trained to assist guests. Often there are basic medical facilities on the property with a doctor. If not or the situation is beyond the capacities of the staff of the hotel, you will be sent to a medical facility or hospital.

It should be noted that hospitals in Mexico are for profit and usually do require proof of payment when you are registered. This is where travel insurance does come in handy. Even in some cases with insurance, they will only reimburse you for your expenses. So, you still might need to pay upfront. This is just standard practice here.

If you do get into trouble in Mexico wither it be for an arrest, death of a non-Mexican citizen or other emergency, it is best to contact your countries consulate or consular agency. For example, we have a wonder United States Consular Agency in Playa Del Carmen. They work very hard to help US citizens with issues that arise in this part of Mexico. You can read our article about the United States Consular Agency here and see what services they have.

Do you have questions or comments about this? Let us know in the comment section below.

Want to know more about the area? See one of our dozens of guides here

Playa Del Carmen Guides


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  1. Thank you for publishing this.. I love Mexico and thep people. It’s easy for people to read more into it than their actually is. I will be back

  2. Love playa del carmen and will return. Always wanted to buy my own bottle of tequila ,so thank you for the resources !

  3. Thank you for publishing this article. We travel to Mexico every year and have always had a wonderful time. We love the people and the culture. Some of my friends have questioned if it is safe, hopefully, this will put their mind at ease.

  4. —the staff is well trained to assist guests—
    If I’m not mistaken, a person dies at a resort in Cancun – the staff didn’t do anything. Who is that’s well trained and how?

    • Hello Starl

      What we are saying is that staff is trained at hotels to handle many situations. Staff in many instances cannot stop someone from slipping on a floor, or be everywhere where an accident can occur. While we are not going to rely on the details from some online publications, the fact is that in this situation the guests did get to the hospital and were treated. Residents and works of hotels do take a great pride and care of tourist and tourism. People are very welcoming and this for the most part is no superficial. While not all things can be prevented, from what we have seen and the staff that we know that work in resorts we can say that there to help and care for guest.

      • Well, I hate to put a damper on this article, but I have first hand experience with receiving tainted alcohol at an upscale resort in Cabo San Lucas. We are in our 50’s and know how to be responsible drinkers and have not overindulged in many years. Well, upon arrival at the resort, we stopped at a bar and had 2 margaritas. After having our alcoholic drinks and a bottle of water, we decided to go to our room to unpack. When walking to our room, my partner said he didn’t feel well. He stopped walking to rest. The next thing I knew, he fell straight backwards, thankfully into bushes, and not on concrete. I thought he would get up but he was completely blacked out. As I was trying to get him up, several people surrounded us and tried to help. After 10 minutes or so, I picked him up and carried him to our room. I put him on the bed and he remained out for 4 hours. I, too, was feeling like I was way too drunk from just 2 drinks. At that time, which was before reports of tainted alcohol at Mexican resorts, I told him I thought we were given tainted alcohol. There’s no way we could possibly have been black out drunk after just 2 drinks. Now, I am so aware that one, or both, of us could have died that day. It’s so scary to think that people do not believe the multiple reports of tainted liquor in Mexico. Please please be careful when vacationing there.

  5. Thank you for this article, I do believe age plays a factor in drinking. When I was that age, I got very drunk on very little alcohol. I have been going to Cancun and staying at the ssme hotel for 22 years and have never had a problem. I will continue to go and hope people are not discouraged on what has happen. Thank you

    • The same thing happened to me in Puerto Varalta, at a 5 star resort. It was 2013, and these reports had not surfaced, but they are the only clear description of what happened to me. I passed out on a sidewalk and was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where I was in ICU several days with a subdural hematoma and concussion. Nothing ever made sense until these stories surfaced.

  6. Have a condo in Playa del Carmen, It is paradise to go twice a year. You just have to be smart, don’t overdue alcohol, drink bottled water, don’t eat fruits and veggies that come out of the soil. Pack some tuna in bags, dried fruit, and other non perishable items, That can be a quick meal. Just be smart, and protect yourself from he sun.

  7. Quite honestly, it is not a well written article and as a resident of Playa del carmen, I take great issue with the inference that our all inclusives are not great value. Of course you do not go to them to meet friends and have a drink, as that is not possible without the purchase of a day pass. You can’t just enter one of these places if you are not a guest. I have stayed at many of them and I’m at many of them on a regular basis. The food at most is excellent. I, as rule, don’t drink “mixed” drinks and am quite certain that when the bartender at Iberostar OR ANY OF THE MAJOR RESORTS pours me a Don Julio, that’s exactly what it is. I also do enjoy many local restaurants. The article is confusing though as it promotes locally owned then suggests Thompson Hotel and La Europea, both major chains. The idea that a huge,(100+ locations, 75 year old) company like Iberostar would jeopardize the brand by acting in an irresponsible and illegal fashion seems ridiculous. The obvious question to me is, “If a bar is serving some sort of “tainted” alcohol, why isn’t everyone that drinks there sick”? Certainly all of our hearts go out to the family that lost a child, but to try to place the blame for that on the resort, by them and their lawyer, is contemptuous.

    • Thank you Stephen for your comments. We did not say that the all inclusives are not a good value. Rather that you do get what you pay for and you should not expect to have more then what is reasonable.

      We do go for day passes at many resorts and know dozens of people that work at the resorts, so we do go to hang out with friends there and have drinks. when we see a bottle of a name brand liquor being poured we don’t doubt that is what it is but it is certainly harder to get a buzz off of the drinks. We base that on pretty much all the resorts we have been to. We are not saying they serve fake liquor but it does seem to be weak.

      As far as staying at resorts, they are paradisiac and there is a reason they are so popular. We do find that smaller independent hotels often offer uniqueness, sometimes a more eco friendly option and the owners often put a lot of effort into service and quality for the guest. Of course all classes and styles of hotels vary.

      We did mention some chains like La Europea because they are a good place to buy alcohol in Playa over many of the small and cheap tequila stores on 5th. The Thompson Hotel just happens to have a restaurant that offers good cocktails where you can notice the alcohol and it is not a light pour. We also mentioned a small bar that is not a chain.

      We do agree with you that if a resort was serving tainted alcohol, why did not other guest the same time get sick or have issues.

  8. Anyone know the best, least expensive place to rent a car in Cancun that isn’t deceitful about the liability insurance?

    • Hello Maralah

      As you might know, having liability insurance is the law in Mexico. If you are involved in a serious accident in Mexico you are detained by police until your insurance company proves payment. This can mean spending the day in jail. This is a safety to prevent people from going free when someone is killed in an accident or incurs serious bodily injuries. We don’t say this to frighten people but we say this because it is good to be properly covered and have a responsive insurance company. We have meet with one car rental company here in Playa that has one price service with no hidden cost. If you are renting for a while they will even meet you a the airport with your car. You can read about them and contact them if you like. They get a lot of positive feedback.

  9. Wow, what a cheap way to advertise your bar guide and restaurant.We have been staying at Riu for 4 years in a row now and no complaints about the food or alcohol amount what so ever!! The menu changes every night at the main restaurant and there are à la carte restaurants as well. Should you feel the need to have more alcohol in your drink, you just ask the waiter and it will be fixed and rememdered!! If you ask for the better brands they will serve you !! Seen loads of drunk people passing my room so don’t tell me it’t hard to get drunk in Mexico. Obviously you don’t like all in, and never been in one of the better resorts as a guest.Just there for maybe few hours,mind set on not get drunk because you can’t right!? Not really objective if you hop from hotel to hotel with your opinion already made up.Ever thought of asking for ” poquito mas” alcohol ? Mexicans in resorts who know their guests will serve that!! Again, cheap advertising attempt!! Write the truth and don’t make your ” news” up.The article is your opinion and best be kept to yourself.Normally I do that with mine, but the hair at the back of my neck raised during reading. Im sure you will reply…

    • We are glad you are happy with your resort you stay at. If you read closely the article we even say that many bars in Playa Del Carmen do not have good pours or good value drinks. We did mention a few bars that are noteworthy for good cocktails.
      We are not bar hoping at all inclusive resorts. We do stay at them and it is our opinion that the pours are light at most of them and many people can drink during the day and only have a slight buzz compared to a bar at home where they would be drunk.
      The moral of our story is not to try to get drunk but rather say moderations is good and we don’t have people complaining about tainted alcohol to us.

  10. Hate to burst the bubble of the folks here raving about the quality alcohol that’s served in clubs and all-inclusives, but wasn’t there just a major raid on Playa and Cancun clubs and a bunch of places (Aug 2017) WERE actually serving substandard and/or illegal alcohol? I think this was splashed all over the news for a couple days…now (interestingly) it’s hard to find online.

    • Hello Ray

      If you read our article we do say that some of the quality of alcohol at clubs and all inclusives is not full strength alcohol and with this we saying that the quality is not the best, but not tainted. There was a story of the government closing two bars, one not named and one at the hotel where the incident happened. Wah hoo!, two bars out of thousands. It is more of a PR stunt then anything. Yes the government admits that there is illegally produced alcohol. This is to avoid taxes and make money rather then provide tainted alcohol to customers. The more this story goes on, the more it smacks of a lawyer trying to make a big deal in order to sue the resort.

      • I know. This is a very biased article clearly to keep people coming back. They talked about the tainted alcohol, how can it be so easily dismissed. In any event we are returning to the Riviera Maya in December, will be staying at our favourite RIU, hopefully all goes well.

        • Thank you Dee for your opinion. We based this article on facts here. With millions of people coming to this part of Mexico each year and a few people complain about the alcohol, this hardly appears to be an issue. More people get stomach flu off food but you don’t hear of lawyers trying to sue resorts over tainted food. Even visitors getting a stomach flu is not common here and standards are similar to many places in the world. We have no motive to keep tourist coming here. It is nice for the locals that work at resorts and business owners but we are only here to provide information on the area. We are glad to here you will be coming back and this shows that it is not much of a concern for yourself as well. As you probably have seen, since the initial story there not been that much else on the topic.

  11. I love your site and have relied on your information heavily since moving here in February. It does seem that something IS going on at the hotels in the area though. I think a bottle of tainted alcohol would affect more than one person or couple at time. I don’t have answers or even guesses, but this article,
    makes me wonder what is going on, if anything. (It’s so hard to believe any news story anymore). Thanks for all you do!

  12. This article is total BS, blaming the young woman who died, had been drinking before hand, and them making excuses and other ‘reasons’ how/why someone gets drunk on vacation. There is tainted alcohol and people are being targeted straight up. Your coming from the perspective of “tourism” your not going to be honest or have a non slanted view point. I am still going to vacation but I am aware of the dangers, they happen everywhere but I also know that the police in Mexico are often corrupt just as some of the workers are. Does that mean I won’t go to Mexico? No, It just means that I am careful but I also read articles carefully also.

    • Thank you for your opinion. We stand by our points that statistically people that drink excessively do have more accidents and there are reasons why alcohol effects people differently in different climates. If there were a real problem it would certainly be more pronounced. The fact is it is not and most locals look at the story and think what a bunch of hyped up nonsense from a lawyer looking to sue a big resort. We are not here to raise the amount of tourism, we are here to help people find things and be honest about safety and conditions here and this is not something to be worried about.

  13. I have been served bad alcohol two different times in Mayan Riviera and know of other problems locals always downplay or deny

  14. Come on. You admit of bad alcohol, watered down alcohol and then say it’s no problem. That is funny! I have had 10 shots and felt like a only drank a coke. The scam needs to be shut down. Now with Dominican on the news, Mexico and the seaweed will finally make Mexico clean up the negligence, I hope.

    • What we are saying Bob is that the issue with contaminated alcohol is not a problem. It was made into an issue by a couple of people that wanted to sue resorts. Millions of people visit Mexico each year and have no issues. It is the same as people making a big issue out of terrorism and how bad it is when it only effects a few people and tens of thousands of people die in car crashes each year. We should focus on big problems and not make issues or make an issue out of a small thing.

      Restaurants, hotels and bars all over the world serve weak drinks and it is not good quality. Our point is, that most resorts serve weak drinks, so it is hard to get drunk.

  15. I have been going to resorts in Mexico for about 10 years now and have to say they are super safe and such nice people working at them. Some people make such a big deal in the news to get attention and it is only a distraction from the truth.

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