5 August 2023, Assassination in Cancun hotel zone, 5-star Hotel Riu Palace Peninsula

04 August, 2023 Hotel Attacks

Muir Analytics’ analyst Jose Guzman contributed to this report. 

The attack

The Riviera Maya News reports that on 25 July 2023, shortly before 12:30 pm, there was an assassination of an individual at the Hotel Riu Palace Peninsula (referred to as just the “Riu” in the article) at kilometer 6 in Cancun’s hotel zone (Blvd. Kukulcan).

Actually located at kilometer 5.5, the Riu Palace Peninsula is a massive, all-inclusive, picturesque 5-star property offering multiple restaurants, a gym, a spa, a nightclub, a lobby bar, five swimming pools, and 332.65 meters of Caribbean Sea beach. It is an impressive property that thousands of tourists from around the globe flock to each year. The staff is first-rate and dedicated to providing the best guest experience possible. (Muir Analytics has been on property).

Sharing that beach, and directly next to the Palace Peninsula, is the Riu’s 5-star Hotel Riu Caribe, which is undergoing a total renovation as of spring-summer 2023.

The RIU said the shooting happened outside the hotel, between the property and the beach (see the hotel’s statement below). Eyewitnesses, reporters, and film of the attack’s aftermath indicate the shooting happened where the beach meets the pool area, and that it unfolded as follows:

PorEsto! reports that three men walked up to the Riu Peninsula’s beachfront and announced they were taking over the retail drug trade in that sector of Cancun’s hotel zone. Shortly after that, says PorEsto!, gunmen (seemingly two) arrived at the beach on a jet ski. They approached the three men and shot the ringleader execution-style by the hotel’s main pool.

Multiple eyewitnesses commenting on TripAdvisor corroborated the basics of the attack, but one said the victim fired back with his own firearm before being shot down. This assertion remains uncorroborated by additional reporting.

The aftermath

Guests were evacuated from the pool and made to shelter inside the hotel, says PorEsto!.

Additionally, despite eyewitness accounts, no attackers were detained, says PorEsto!, and the perpetrators escaped by running down the beach. Security forces arrived soon after the killing.

Twitter video here shows emergency responders hoisting the victim’s body onto a stretcher and carrying it out of the pool area onto the beach via one the property’s three main pool/beach entrances. As they go, they are seen shielding the body with pool umbrellas, presumably to block photography.

Twitter feeds of the security response here and here show Cancun’s police, Mexico’s National Guard, and Mexican Marines at the Hotel Riu Caribe construction entrance. The victim’s body appears to have been walked from the pool to this construction entrance for transport to the coroner’s office.

Riviera Maya News quoted the Quintana Roo State Attorney General (AG) as saying the attack was a drug-related murder. The AG’s office said, “The first investigations indicate that this event, where a person lost his life due to the impact of a firearm, occurred in the context of drug-related crimes and at no time were the tourists staying there at risk.”

While local media alleged that hotel staff might have been involved, the Riu released a brief statement on the matter, found here on Amazon news web services (translated from Spanish):

“In light of the unfortunate incidents that occurred today on the border between the beach and the Riu Palace Peninsula Hotel, RIU Hotels would like to clarify:

The Cancun Sun reports that Quintana Roo Governor Mara Lezama met with the AG, the Secretary of Citizen Security, and the head of Mexico’s Navy after the attack to discuss increasing security in Cancun’s hotel zone. The Mexican Navy includes the Mexican Marine Corps, the latter of which has been part of high-visibility security patrols in tourist areas in Cancun and along the Riviera Maya.

Additional background information

Drug cartels and gangs attacking rivals along Cancun’s hotel zone and the Riviera Maya are not new. Muir Analytics has written about this extensively. For an example, read about the 4 November 2021 attack on the 5-star Hyatt Ziva Riviera Cancun here. An American hotel guest was wounded in this case. This link also discusses attacks in Tulum where foreign tourists have been killed by drug gangs.

As an aside, Tulum’s reputation as a quaint, rustic, less-developed tourist area with pockets of luxurious boutique hotels has suffered because of such violence. While Tulum is not a no-go zone, it is undoubtedly a “maybe stay someplace else” zone. Travel experts, governments, and Mexican locals have all expressed some semblance of this attitude toward Tulum.

Additionally, cartels have used the jet ski beach assault tactic numerous times on Mexico’s east and west coasts. One such attack happened at Playa Tortuga public access beach, near the Riu Peninsula, in June 2021. An American tourist was wounded in this case. Read about that attack here. Another such attack where no one was hurt happened at Cancun’s Grand Oasis Palm. Read about that attack here. In April 2018, jet ski assassins fired on a rival dealer at the 5-star Hotel Riu Cancun. No one was hurt, and the intended victim escaped into the hotel. Read about that attack here.

To mitigate the violence, the Mexican federal government, in conjunction with the Quintana Roo governor’s office, and the city of Cancun, has deployed Cancun police, the National Guard, and Marines to patrol tourist beaches and hotel zone roads. In spring 2023, at the Riu Peninsula, Marine patrols walked the beaches mostly in 20–30-minute intervals, and they had a command-and-control skiff 75 yards offshore helping coordinate security. Cancun police accompanied some Marine patrols. The security presence was professional and noticeable, but not overwhelmingly heavy.


There are six takeaways. First, the assassination tactics used at the Riu Peninsula were effective. The hit team’s approach, attack, and egress were successful. More pointedly, however, and beyond the jet ski approach and accurate shot placement (aim), the hit team had to time their attack for when government security patrols were furthest away, and this required coordinated observation by multiple parties, expert communications, and shrewd planning. Accordingly, whatever organization sent them should be considered a force to be reconned with.

Second, by all outward appearances, the attack was a strategic success. The organization that runs the retail drug trade in that sector of Cancun’s hotel zone decisively eliminated their competition. More, such a public hit will likely serve as a pronounced warning against other rivals from doing the same. However, if there is a rash of challengers in the same area over the next few weeks or months, the strategic success here will have been thwarted.

Third, given that these kinds of attacks have resulted in the injuries and deaths of hotel guests and tourists, the assertion that no tourists were in danger during the attack needs recalibration. Some cartel/gang hit teams are careful about shot placement, and others are not. And some intentionally target civilians. The attack at the Riu Peninsula could have been much worse, and some who suffered trauma from seeing the murder are unlikely to return to the hotel.

Fourth, from a legal standpoint, taking into consideration the totality of circumstances regarding all the Cancun hotel zone/Riviera Maya attacks mentioned here (and the multitudes in Muir Analytics’ hotel violence database not mentioned), some hotel companies in this region will find themselves vulnerable to lawsuits if guests or staff are injured or killed.

Fifth, properties in Cancun’s hotel zone and along the Riviera Maya that suffer drug violence are at risk of serious brand damage.

Sixth, if such violence continues and/or worsens, the reputation of Cancun’s hotel zone and the Riviera Maya will suffer the same fate as Tulum, and if it worsens even more, Acapulco. Acapulco, especially in the 1970s, was a glamorous tourist and cruise ship haven, but violent drug crime and robbery gangs have since ruined it.

A worst-case scenario for Cancun’s hotel zone and the resorts along the Riviera Maya would include, but not be restricted to, a cartel/gang exercising heavy force application in a tourist shopping area, a nightclub, a restaurant, or at a hotel/resort where high casualties and maybe comprehensive damages would result. Such an operation would likely be borne out of audacious revenge, a key motivator of Mexican drug/gang violence.

Looking forward, it is evident that Cancun’s hotel zone security is not enough to prevent cartel/gang murders like the one that happened at the Riu Peninsula. The government and hotels either must recalibrate their security strategy or learn to live with the current risk environment and all the negatives that it portends. No doubt, Quintana Roo Governor Lezama will be pressing hard this very subject with Mexico’s security services and hotels in the coming weeks.

Muir Analytics runs the world’s largest, most sophisticated hotel violence database – the SecureHotel Threat Portal – with over 2,400 hotel attacks (and growing.) We can provide the hospitality sector with intelligence that facilitates full-spectrum risk reduction, which helps hotels protect guests, staff, buildings, brands, and revenues. Contact us for a consultation:  1-833-DATA-444.

Sources and further reading:

TripAdvisor comment by ian c, 73, Re: Shooting at resort??, 29 July 2023, 5:04 am.

Cancun to add military protection to Cancun hotel zone after recent shooting,” The Cancun Sun, 28 July 2023.

Deadly hotel shooting in Cancun hotel zone targeted attack,” Rivera Maya News, 26 July 2023.

This is how the execution of a man occurred at kilometer 5.5 of the Cancun hotel zone,” PorEsto!, 26 July 2023.

@DePeso. “#AHORA, Reportan la muerte de una persona por disparos de arma de fuego en las inmediaciones del hotel Riu Península, en el kilómetro 6 de la zona hotelera de #Cancún.” 25 July 2023. 1:39 pm. Tweet.

@Mr_Civico. “EJECUCIÓN EN LA ZONA HOTELERA DE #Cancun: Matan a balazos a un hombre en el área de albercas del hotel Riu Península.” 25 July 2023. 5:43 pm. Tweet.

@PeriodicoQuequi. “#Policiaca | Ejecutan a un hombre en las inmediaciones del hotel RIU Península, ubicado en el km 6 de la Zona Hotelera. Las primeras líneas de investigación, son por delitos contra la salud. En ningún momento estuvieron en riesgo turistas o empleados del.” 25 July 2023. 4:04 pm. Tweet.

Gunmen on jet skis open fire at Cancun resort as shootings in region surge,” New York Post, 8 December 2021.

American tourist in Cancun reportedly wounded in crossfire of jet ski gunmen,” New York Post, 15 June 2021.

Armed men on jet skis take Cancun violence to a new level,” Yucatan Magazine, 20 April 2018.

Amazon posting of the Riu statement: https://meganews.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/2023/07/Comunicado-Balacera-Riu-Palace-Peninsula.pdf.

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