I’ve been in Mexico City for a long weekend, enjoying their Independence Day celebrations and spending time with many friends, both new and old. The trip has been an excellent one, with a singular stain: I became the victim of Mexico City pickpockets.

It’s a quick and sad story, but fortunately without severe loss or major headache.

Lulled into Complacency

After rolling into Mexico City and meeting up with several friends, I decided to duck out for an hour, stretch my legs, and catch the beginning of the evening’s festivities. El grito, the famous Independence Day cry, would occur at 11:00 PM, late into the evening. The big debate was whether I wanted to wait for hours in the square to see it.

Things were already crowded as I made my way into Mexico City’s Zócalo around 8:30. The headline band was playing, and they’d drawn an incredible crowd. There were already tens of thousands present. By the time the president gave el grito, over 130,000 would be present. It was Mexico’s first full Independence Day celebration since COVID.

I couldn’t make it much past the entrance of the square, just beyond the brilliantly lit eagle holding a snake, Mexico’s national symbol. It was enough to see, and I didn’t want to continue to push through the crowd.

Mexico’s music isn’t the most pleasant to my ears, but I got caught up in the moment as Los Tigres del Norte started into another song. Phones were up everywhere, filming the festivities. I took a few photos and bits of video myself.

Satisfied after about five songs, I turned around to push my way out. I’d rather not stay out all night in such a huge crowd, even with a group.

Gone in a Flash

I’d slipped my phone into my pocket after taking my last photo, wanting my hands free to navigate through the flowing human expanse. People were moving in multiple directions and the entrance to the square. But mostly in. Which meant I was pressing against traffic.

Less than a minute after beginning my trek against the tide, I was heavily jostled by a man. He had been moving toward me with a few other people. All of a sudden he was leaning into me, seemingly off balance.

I held my ground and stayed on my feet. Seconds later, he relented, and I continued forward.

It took me less than 20 seconds to realize what had happened: he’d taken my phone. My loose credit cards, hotel key card, and 100 pesos or so were untouched in my other front pocket. He must have been eyeing the phone and then made a move at the first opportunity.

I looked back. There was no way I’d ever be able to find him in the crowd. I’d just been pickpocketed for the first time, and it was a weird feeling.

Kicking myself inwardly, I made my way out. I was calm before I’d even left the crowd, knowing that I’d not lost much. I use an old iPhone 7 while traveling (which isn’t my daily phone), so I lost maybe $75. He’d probably be disappointed with the snatch.

I was honestly more frustrated all my first day’s photography was gone. Lesson learned. Glad I lost this and not something far more expensive. I’d been warned about Mexico City pickpockets and not heeded the advice well enough.

Mexico City pickpockets

Entrance to the Zocalo, early morning, a few days later.

Mexico City Pickpockets: Tips to Avoid Becoming a Victim

I’m generally aware during my travels, keeping my phone and wallet in front pockets and a close eye on other items. Until a few days ago, I’d not become a pickpocket victim. But the Mexico City pickpockets got me, in likely what was a unique opportunity, given the size of the crowd.

Here are a few general tips, plus some specific thoughts from my experience:

  • Be alert and aware of your surroundings. This is something you should master while traveling anyway. I try not to get caught off guard in any moment. I thought I knew what I was getting into visiting the Zócalo, but clearly I didn’t. I am rarely in crowds of any size, let alone of around 100,000 people.
  • Keep items in your front pocket. This I do daily, and have done so for years. It’s been far more for posture and back health than security, though, as I hate sitting on a wallet. My phone was in my front pocket, though, when it was taken, so this isn’t a foolproof plan.
  • Leave your valuables behind when possible. If there is no real need to carry a passport, I don’t. I know many people like to keep it on them while in a foreign country. I don’t see the logic, unless you’re venturing far from your hotel or need it for identification. Mine stayed in the safe while in Mexico City. I also kept my wallet and cash in the hotel safe, only taking out a couple loose cards and no more than ~$40 USD worth of pesos at a time.
  • Leave your bags behind, or secure them. I also avoid carrying a bag as much as possible. Heading into a crowd with a bag, like many people were doing, seems crazy. In some situations, I wear it on my front. Usually, I don’t keep anything truly valuable in it. Sure, I may lose snacks, water, and my jacket, but that’s better than losing my camera, laptop, or phone.
  • Don’t put your phone, camera, or other valuables on the table while eating. I am guilty of this. I like to have my phone in my pocket as little as possible. Depending on where you are, this may be more or less risky. Back to situational awareness.

If you are the victim of pickpocketing, it might be worth filing a police report. In my case, I decided that it wasn’t worth the trouble. But another member of our group whose phone and passport were both taken filed a police report.

Final Thoughts

While la venganza de Moctezuma has yet to get me this trip, the pickpockets made their mark instead. At least the damage was minimal. It was annoying to not have a phone for a few days, but also freeing. I don’t think I’ve traveled internationally without any sort of phone (WiFi-only, or otherwise) since 2008. Not being connected has it’s upside. But I want to be in control of that, not farm it out to thieves.

Will I avoid travel to Mexico in the future? Definitely not. It was on me to take precautions in such a large crowd. I’d been made aware of the risks but didn’t take sufficient care.

I hope the Mexico City pickpockets enjoy my old iPhone.