Most media outlets have covered the increasing violence in Mexico that has resulted from the Mexican government’s decision to assertively confront the drug lords. Since 2006, almost 50,000 people in the country have died in drug-related violence. In fact, 120 American citizens were murdered in Mexico in 2011 alone. As a result of this violence, many tourists have postponed or canceled their trips to Mexico.
Although the danger in Mexico is very real, there are still many safe tourist destinations in the country. After all, Mexico is a large nation. It has over 100 million citizens and is about a fifth the size of the United States in land area. In a country this immense, it would be wrong to assume that the entire nation is wracked with violence. In fact, fewer than 5% of Mexico’s municipalities have been affected by the drug war. While areas of Mexico’s north and southwest coast tend to be violent, many tourist destinations continue to be safe. Moreover, there is no evidence that narco-traffickers are targeting American citizens or other travelers. In fact, most violence seems to be directed at the Mexican government and competing criminal elements.
Although tourists should always be cautious regardless of where they travel, there are many areas of Mexico that remain secure. The Mayan Riviera and the Mayan ruins at Tulum, Uxmal, and Chichen Itza are considered safe, as are the tourist hot spots of Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmin, Puerto Vallarta, and Cabo San Lucas.
Indeed, the US Embassy has not seen a need to issue a travel advisory for many Mexican states including: South Baja California, Chiapas, Campeche, Estado de Mexico, Guanajuato, Hidalgo, Mexico City, Oaxaca, Puebla, Tabasco, Yucatan, and others. The absence of an advisory does not necessarily mean these areas are perfectly secure; it simply means these states have not experienced enough crime and/or violence to warrant a travel advisory. Mexico City, for example, has no advisory in effect, yet there are threats visitors should be aware of. Even though drug violence in the city is relatively uncommon, there have been cases of pickpocketing, robbery, and kidnapping. The area also hosts some organized criminal elements, and there have been reports of taxi scams targeting tourists. Even so, Mexico City is significantly safer than the north and southwest coast where the fighting is fiercest. Indeed, it has fewer murders per capita than some large American cities such as Chicago and Miami.
While Mexico City might be considered somewhat risky, other parts of Mexico are positively dangerous. According to policereform.org, an organization that tracks violence in Mexico, most killings per capita occur in the states of Chihuahua, Nuevo Leon, and Guerrero. Sinaloa, home of the infamous Sinaloa cartel, and Jalisco also have high rates of homicide. While many tourist destinations have remained unaffected, there has been violence in other popular locales such as Copper Canyon, Baja California (North), Mazatlan, Veracruz, and Acapulco. Indeed, 34 US citizens were killed in Baja California (North) in 2011. The state’s largest city, Tijuana, was a war zone a few years ago. While the situation in Tijuana has improved dramatically, there have been recent shootings in places frequented by US citizens, making travel unadvisable.
The towns along Mexico’s border with the US are some of the most dangerous areas of the country. Over 5000 people were killed in the border town of Ciudad Juárez between 2010 and 2011, making it the most violent city in Mexico. Indeed, the US Embassy recommends deferring travel to all border states, namely: Chihuahua, Coahulia, Sonora, Tamaulipas, Baja California, and Nuevo Leon. Travel to other northern states such as Zacatecas and Durango also should be avoided if possible.
Individuals traveling to Mexico should take several precautions before setting off. Obviously, the unsafe areas identified in this article should be avoided. Travelers should also consult the US Embassy in Mexico website at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/tw/tw_5665.html in order to see if their destination has any travel advisories. Additionally, prospective tourists should obtain the phone number of the nearest American Consulate and carry it with them at all times. Contact information can be found at http://mexico.usembassy.gov/eng/edirectory.html
Even when traveling in safe areas, visitors should stay close to their tourist resorts and travel guides, as there are opportunistic criminal elements throughout Mexico. For example, kidnapping for ransom continues to be a concern. Furthermore, Mexico has a reputation for corrupt law enforcement and government officials. As a result, travelers should stick close to the tourist havens and avoid displaying items of value. They also should refrain from doing or saying anything that indicates they have access to a large amount of money. However, if visitors feel they are being shaken down for cash, even by law enforcement, the best thing to do is cooperate and notify the Consulate as soon a practicable.
Additionally, visitors should avoid driving at night, especially between cities. Carjacking and highway robbery have become more common, particularly on stretches of road outside population centers. Travelers should also know that they may encounter checkpoints while driving. The Army and Police run most of these checkpoints; however, there have been reports of checkpoints operated by criminals. In either case, the best course of action for visitors is to cooperate with the personnel at these checkpoints, even if they are illegitimate.
While the security situation in Mexico is severe, there are plenty of safe destinations for travelers. Indeed, many popular tourist hot spots have remained unaffected by the violence. However, Mexico is not a good place for exploring. Visitors should stick to identified safe areas, remain close to their resorts, and patronize only known and reputable establishments. They should also heed the advice of their travel guides and hotel concierges as these individuals know the local security situation best. By doing so, travelers can be assured of having a pleasant, relaxing, and safe trip with our neighbor to the south.