Today (November 15, 2019): Is it safe to travel to Mexico?
Mexico is one of the world’s most stunningly beautiful countries, with a diverse cultural scene, spectacular nature, a rich history, and a vibrant society. The sunny nation is also known for its magnificent white-sand beaches, turquoise waters, and luxurious hotels, which are the playground of Europeans and Americans during the northern hemisphere’s colder winter months.
However, as of late, Mexico has been making headlines across the world for a string of shocking drug-related crimes, including killings, robberies, and kidnappings. Most recently, nine Americans (3 mothers and 6 children who lived in a Mormon community ) were murdered in a hail of gunfire in a remote area about 100 miles (160 km) from the USA border. The chilling incident comes on the heels of other highly publicized murders, including an American couple who was killed execution-style in front of their 12-year-old son this summer in Guerrero, and 27-year-old honeymooner Tatiana Mirutenko, who was killed by a stray bullet in Mexico City while celebrating her first wedding anniversary last December. These shocking crimes make many travelers hesitant about taking a Mexican holiday and naturally begs the question: Is it safe to travel to Mexico?
Last year, Mexico set a chilling record with the highest number of homicides in the country’s history – an average of 91 deaths a day – and 2019 is on track to break the record. Violence is reaching such an extreme levels that there is no place anymore to store the dead bodies in the mortuaries. Drug cartels and criminal organizations are running rampant throughout the country with lethal consequences. Being situated between coca-producing South American nations and the USA (the world’s largest drug market) means that Mexico is awash with different gangs wanting to control the flow of drugs through the country. The famous resort areas of Los Cabos, Cancun and Acapulco – which are all frequented by tourists – are not immune the soaring violence:
- Los Cabos, one of Mexico’s tourist destinations, has become the most dangerous city in the world with a murder rate of 111.33 per 100,000 people. So far, the vast majority of Los Cabos’ violence is playing out in the poor desert hillside communities that house resort workers, far from the safe beach enclaves that have made this region in Mexico a magnet for business moguls and Hollywood stars.
- In Cancun, five people were killed last February in an attack on a bar (including foreigners). This highly publicized crime followed the discovery of eight dead bodies just outside of Cancún’s hotel zone last year.
- Acapulco – once Mexico’s flagship resort, where the Kennedys honeymooned and John Wayne basked in the clifftop breeze – is the worst hit area. People have been gunned down in broad daylight while tourists lounge on the beach nearby.
Still, the USA State Department gives Mexico a level 2 advisory, on a scale of 1 to 4, meaning travelers should “exercise increased caution.” According to the State Department, “while most of these homicides appeared to be targeted, criminal organization assassinations and turf battles between criminal groups have resulted in violent crime in areas frequented by U.S. citizens. Bystanders have been injured or killed in shooting incidents.” This advisory includes popular destinations like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and Cozumel, as well as areas in Baja California, including Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo, and La Paz. To put things in perspective, France and Germany fall under the same safety category. But some parts of Mexico where drug cartel violence is at its worst fall under a “Level 3: Reconsider travel” and “Level 4: Do not travel” warning:
- Level 4 warnings apply to Colima, Guerrero, Michoacán and Sinaloa due to crime and to Tamaulipas due to crime and kidnapping.
- Level 3 warnings apply to Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, México state, Jalisco, Morelos, Nayarit, Nuevo León, San Luis Potosí, Sonora and Zacatecas.
Despite all the grim statistics, Mexico continues to be one of the most-visited countries in the world, with approximately 44.8 million visitors expected to visit in 2019 — a 5.6 percent increase from 2018. According to most experts, it is still safe to travel in most parts of Mexico, although tourists should exercise caution (just as they would in other countries) and should avoid certain areas. Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to visit Mexico is up to you and your comfort level. According to Forbes, there are some safety tips to keep in mind if you’re heading to Mexico:
- All the experts agree that education and advance preparation are key. Check the U.S. State Department’s tips and warnings. Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive alerts (this will also make it easier to locate you in an emergency). And always leave your itinerary and copies of important documents with a trusted person at home.
- Have emergency telephone numbers in your cell phone and your WhatsApp. Don’t just land in the airport, take an Uber to your hostel and start exploring. Take time to think.
- Travelers should take the time to inform themselves about the destinations they intend to visit. Do your research to understand the local health and safety situation. Drug-related crimes are more prevalent in the north and northeastern parts of Mexico close to the border with the U.S. Banditry along highways is also a big security risk, particularly in the southern parts of the country. Mexican security forces carry out regular patrolling on these roads to prevent criminal activities, but coverage remains inadequate and travelers remain vulnerable in isolated and remote highways, particularly at night.
- Do not walk alone at night, especially in unfamiliar neighborhoods, desolate areas or beaches, due to the risk of violent crimes, including sexual assault.
- Keep a low profile. Stick to your resort area, do not dress in flashy or expensive clothes, and leave your accessories at home. Do not make yourself an easy target for theft. It can also be a good idea to check with your resort about recent events.
- Never leave your drink unattended or accept drinks from strangers or new acquaintances that you have not seen poured. Be cautious about accepting invitations to join a new acquaintance in non-public places.
- Machismo culture still prevails in some parts of the country and women may receive unwanted attention from men, ranging from open displays of catcalling and staring to physical groping, including in daytime. It is best to ignore these advances or confrontations and walk away. Dressing down and being more low-key, especially outside cities, can help avoid unwanted attention as well.
- Taxis and public transport are among the most common places for harassment in Mexico. Only use official and registered taxis or reputed radio cabs and avoid public transport, especially at night, to limit exposure to possible cases of harassment. Some cities may have women-only taxis, operated by a female driver; women should consider using these companies, especially if traveling at night. When available, also consider sitting in women’s-only sections on public transport.
- Be smart. Be with somebody (the buddy system). Keep your head on a swivel and always be alert. Trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel safe in Mexico, it’s probably not right.
Would you still feel comfortable visiting Mexico? Leave a comment.