Mexico – land of delicious food, friendly people and beautiful beaches. But is Mexico a safe place to travel this summer?
After all, in March of this year, the Texas Department of Public Safety issued a warning “urging Spring Breakers to avoid traveling to Mexico because of continued violence.”
“While drug cartel violence is most severe in northern Mexico, it is prominent in other parts of the country as well…..Various crime problems also exist in many popular resort areas, such as Acapulco and Cancun, and crimes against U.S citizens often go unpunished.” [The Director of the Department of Public Safety Steven C. McCraw]
Yipe! What’s going on south of the border?!
Here’s a quick background on the conflict:
Since 2006, the Mexican government has engaged in an extensive effort to combat drug-trafficking organizations (DTOs). Mexican DTOs, meanwhile, have been engaged in a vicious struggle with each other for control of trafficking routes. [U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs]
Wow! Battling drug cartels? Is Mexico a war zone?
There is actually some very good recent writing on the subject.
Well-known travel writer Gary Arndt, named by Time Magazine as one of the best blogs of 2010, wrote a fascinating article called “The Most Murderous Countries: Safer Than You Think.” As a response to anyone who may have thought he was crazy for visiting Acapulco, Mexico in January, he wrote:
“Both the media and the government paint with a very broad brush. When something happens in Nuevo Laredo, it doesn’t happen in Nuevo Laredo, it happens in Mexico. All of Mexico is lumped together with things that might be happening in certain cities or regions. We make no distinction between the north and south.”
He goes on to say “The same is true with almost every country on the [State Department travel warning] list. There certainly are places you probably should avoid, but that doesn’t mean you should paint the whole country with a broad brush. If you apply the same logic to the United States, people should avoid Des Moines because of crime in Detroit. It makes no sense. ”
I am a huge fan of Gary’s. But was he alone on this one?
The San Francisco Chronicle certainly seemed to agree with him when they recently featured an article that explained why drug-related violence should not stop you from traveling to Mexico: “..it’s still true that drug gangs are not targeting tourists now any more than they ever were. And even if the barrage of headlines makes it sound as if the entire country were in flames, the violence that feeds Mexico’s death toll takes place primarily in just nine of 31 states — mainly along the U.S. border where the smuggling takes place and in places where marijuana and heroin are produced. “ (see map by Travel Weekly)
Gary and the San Francisco Chronicle both highlighted the importance of using one’s common sense and staying away from centers of conflict, but they both were saying that traveling to Mexico was not to be avoided altogether.
I was starting to see a trend. Then last week I read the following on Lonely Planet: “ ‘Is it safe to go to Mexico?’ We hear that question weekly. And the answer is always yes, if you know where to go and do your research.” The article went on to say: “Before brushing a Mexico trip aside this year, consider that about 245,000 square miles are free from the State Department’s warning list (for a visual, check this CNN map) and it neatly matches areas people usually visit (Cabo, Cancún, Cozumel, Tulum, Mexico City, Oaxaca, San Miguel de Allende).”
Robert Reid , Lonely Planet’s New York-based U.S. travel editor went on to write a detail-rich article for CNN. According to this CNN article, “ Mexico is a lot safer than you may realize. We tend to lump all of Mexico — a country the size of Western Europe — together. For example, a border incident resulted in the death of a Colorado tourist last year, and the Texas Department of Homeland Security recommended against travel to all of Mexico.” The article then looks at daily life in Mexico and concludes “…Mexico experienced on the ground almost never matches the Mexico we increasingly see and read about.”
Wow! Multiple well-respected sources were all saying that visiting Mexico was safe (outside of certain areas). I considered what Robert Reid said about “Mexico…on the ground” and decided to ask a resident of Mexico, the founder of AllAboutPuebla.com. Her response: “I have lived and traveled in Mexico for nearly four years — since shortly after the ‘drug war’ began — and I have never felt my safety threatened here. I spend most of my time in the Puebla capital, which has crime rates comparable to cities of its same size in the U.S., but I have also visited Puerto Vallarta, Sayulita, Guadalajara, Oaxaca, Xalapa, Mexico City, Playa del Carmen, Akumal, and various archaeological ruins. Savvy travelers who pay attention to their surroundings are unlikely to run into any problems other than those they might find anywhere in the world (pickpockets, dubious taxis, etc.).”
I then turned to the chief editor of the travel site Stay Adventurous, Craig Zabransky. “I lived in Mexico, worked in Mexico and traveled across most of Mexico in my life. In fact, just last year I spent almost 2 months in 4 different locations including the Mexican States of Sinaloa, Nayarit and Jalisco (current state dept warnings). I never had any cause for concern. Just chances for a great time.”
My retired parents just got back from their most recent two-month trip to Mexico. They’ve traveled to Mexico on average every 6 weeks for the last year, and they have not encountered a single instance of violence.
So what is the verdict? Is Mexico a safe destination for travelers? For savvy travelers like you, the answer is Yes! . ¡Buen viaje amigos!