With all the news about crime in Mexico that has been circulating in the international press in recent years, you may have travel concerns. Our advice is to visit this beautiful country, do not change your vacation plans. It is safe to travel to Cancun, the Riviera Maya, the Yucatan Peninsula and indeed many other parts of Mexico. Millions of people vacation in Mexico every year and enjoy their stay. In fact, tourism statistics for 2012 showed an increase in the numbers of international visitors and the figures continue to be robust in 2013. In an attempt to eradicate some of the misconceptions about Mexico, we hope that this article will set your mind at rest about your trip.
The Size of Mexico
First of all, it is extremely important to put geography into perspective: Mexico is vast and many people do not realize just how large it is. It is the world’s 14th largest country with a territory measuring 758,774 square miles and a population of 112, 468,855 (July 2010 estimate). It is slightly less than three times the size of Texas, which is the largest US state, and roughly the size of Western Europe! Media reports frequently fail to take the size of the country into account. Instead of reporting incidents that occurred in a specific area, generalized blanket warnings are often issued, thus painting a misleading, false and alarmist picture that the entire country is unsafe when this is not the case.
Most of the incidents associated with organized crime in Mexico that are being reported by the press take place in the north and west of the country – very often in sparsely populated and inaccessible mountainous regions, the desert or in districts in large cities along the Mexico-US border, thousands of miles from Cancun and the Riviera Maya. Many of these areas are rarely visited by tourists.
The most recent US State Department travel warning emitted on July 12, 2013 mentions whether an advisory is in effect or not for different states. Among the states with current advisories are Chihuahua, Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Coahuila, Durango, Sinaloa, Baja California Norte, Michoacán and Veracruz.
In some cases, there may be a warning about an area within a state, a particular highway, or a border with another state, but the state capital or popular tourist spots are unaffected, where this is so, the advisory gives further details, so that visitors can see that their destinations are safe.
It is important to note that there are no travel advisories in effect for Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum and the Mayan Riviera, Cozumel, Tulum, Isla Mujeres, Merida, Yucatan and for many other parts of Mexico, including the nation’s principal archaeological sites, colonial cities and some of its most famous beauty spots. Furthermore, there is no travel advisory for Mexico City, one of the world’s largest cities. Here is the list of states where no travel advisories are in effect:
• Quintana Roo (including Cancun, Isla Mujeres, Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen and the Mayan Riviera, Akumal, Tulum, Cozumel, Holbox, Costa Maya and Chetumal)
• Chiapas (including Tuxtla Gutierrez, San Cristobal de Las Casas, Palenque)
• Tabasco (including Villahermosa)
• Guanajuato (including San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato and Leon)
• Mexico City (Distrito Federal)
• Oaxaca (including the city of Oaxaca, Huatulco and Puerto Escondido)
• Puebla (including the city of Puebla, Cholula)
• Queretaro (including the city of Queretaro)
Baja California Sur (including Los Cabos, Loreto, La Paz)
With regard to the state of Jalisco, the US State department warning refers to remote mountainous areas along the borders with Michoacan and Zacatecas, but says that the popular travel spots of Guadalajara, Puerto Vallarta, Nueva Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit are safe. It recommends that visitors to Mazatlan in Sinaloa and to Acapulco and Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo in Guerrero stay in the tourist zones of these cities.
Distances from the Mexican Caribbean
To give an idea of the vast distances from north to south in Mexico, one of the cities occasionally mentioned in news reports is Tijuana, a sprawling border city with a population of 1.6 million in Baja California, over 2,000 miles from Cancun, the equivalent of the distance between Los Angeles to Chicago. Would anyone cancel a trip to Los Angeles if they heard about a crime in Chicago? The answer is no.
Further examples of the distances between Cancun and states mentioned in the update can be seen in the following map.
So why would an incident occurring thousands of miles away on the other side of Mexico affect a trip to the Mexican Caribbean? The answer is that it shouldn’t.
The safety of visitors wherever they are in the country is a priority for the Mexican government and the authorities are extremely vigilant in all tourist destinations and major cities. The U.S. Department of State warning acknowledges this by saying: “Millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year, including more than 150,000 who cross the border every day for study, tourism or business and at least one million U.S. citizens who live in Mexico. More than 20 million U.S. citizens visited Mexico in 2012. The Mexican government makes a considerable effort to protect U.S. citizens and other visitors to major tourist destinations, and there is no evidence that Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) have targeted U.S. visitors and residents based on their nationality.”
U.S, citizens making the trip south are joined by millions of visitors from all over the world.
Mexico’s Crackdown on Organized Crime
The drug trade is a global problem and Mexico is playing a leading role in combating the cartels, also coordinating with other countries in the Americas to prevent narcotics shipments from even reaching its territory. In 2006, former President Felipe Calderon launched a crackdown on organized crime in the country and today more than 45,000 troops and thousands of Federal police are still actively involved in the war on drugs.
Record amounts of narcotics have been seized, arms smuggled in from other countries have been destroyed and many senior cartel leaders have been captured or killed in operations. In a 2012 editorial, former US Ambassador to Mexico Antonio Garza said that more than half of the individuals on Mexico’s most wanted list are now in custody or have died. The arrests have continued this year with the detention of several other cartel leaders.
In December 2012, President Enrique Peña Nieto was sworn in and he presented an ambitious reform platform targeting the economy, education, fiscal, energy and security sectors, among others. He pledged to continue the fight against crime and also to reform the nation’s police forces, create a national gendarmerie and address social issues such as poverty.
The violence reported in the media is largely attributed to the members of rival drug cartels that are engaged in turf wars for control of narcotics smuggling routes. The general public is not targeted and there have been no incidents involving international tourists.
Cancun and the Mayan Riviera have always been, and remain, two of the safest places in the world for visitors. Moreover, in keeping with other international travel destinations, the authorities have upgraded security in recent years and tourist areas are well policed. Many countries have consular offices in Cancun or Merida, capital of the neighboring state of Yucatan and embassies in Mexico City. There is also a help center in the Cancun Hotel Zone staffed by consular representatives where visitors can seek assistance if they have questions or a problem.
Yucatan is also a favorite with visitors and gets the thumbs up from Mexicans and foreigners alike as a place to live on account of its peaceful ambiance and the friendliness of its inhabitants. In 2010, the murder rate stood at two per 100,000, on a par with Wyoming and Montana, comparable to that registered for France and lower than Canada (Sources: USA Today, August 2010 and The Economist, October 2010). In April 2011, Mexico Meetings Network also noted that according to figures published by the United Nations and INEGI, the Mexican Institute of Geography and Statistics, the cities of Merida and Campeche and the beach resorts of Riviera Maya and Isla Mujeres have lower homicide rates than those registered for the United Kingdom, France and Finland.
The Key to Safe Travel, Common Sense
Major urban centers in the U.S. and around the world have neighborhoods with a reputation for crime and gang violence. Common sense is the key to safety wherever you travel, whether at home or abroad, and may we suggest that you take certain precautions, just as you would if you were going to a new city in your own country or elsewhere. Be aware of your surroundings and stay alert, stick to reputable restaurants, bars and other establishments in well-known tourist areas of the city and drink responsibly. Take care when visiting unfamiliar areas and avoid walking alone at night through poorly lit neighborhoods or isolated areas.
General travel recommendations also apply as they would anywhere in the world, such as not leaving your bags unattended in public places, keeping an eye on your purse or wallet and not displaying expensive jewelry or large amounts of cash. You should always store your travel documents and valuables in the safe in your villa or room. Similarly, use the ATMs in banks wherever possible and make withdrawals during the day. When you type in your pin number cover the keypad with your other hand and keep your eyes upon people in the vicinity.
When driving in Mexico always respect the speed limits and the warning signs you see. Never drink and drive and always wear seatbelts. Car rental agencies normally give customers maps and driving tips when they collect their vehicles.
As a precautionary measure, the police and army have set up checkpoints on highways throughout the country to intercept criminals smuggling drugs, arms and other contraband. There is no cause for concern, tourists are rarely pulled over, but if you are, stop, follow the instructions you are given and you will soon be on your way.
Visitors traveling by car should use toll roads where possible and avoid nighttime travel on highways in remote areas, or in the mountains and deserts. This is a sensible precaution as drivers are unfamiliar with the highway and the route they have to take. The tarmac may be in poor condition on secondary roads and the surface peppered with baches or potholes. Furthermore, livestock, pedestrians and cyclists riding without lights tend to stray across roads in the vicinity of communities and may be difficult to spot in the dark. During the wet season, heavy rain may also loosen rock and soil on mountain slopes and trigger landslides.
If you read a negative report about Mexico on the Internet, it is a good idea to check the date of the article and the location where the incident took place. Do not take everything you read online at face value; sometimes old reports resurface and are republished even though they may no longer be accurate and rumors also circulate. Be aware that comments posted in chat rooms or in response to media pieces can also be submitted by people who have never visited Mexico and may allude to rumors they have heard.
We hope that you find this update helpful and that you do decide to visit Mexico. We are sure that you will have a wonderful time, there is so much to see and do in this incredible country and its people are renowned for their hospitality.
For those of you who are longtime visitors to Cancun and the Riviera Maya and have strong ties to the community, we look forward to seeing you soon in your resort home. Useful links