With scorching temps, beautiful beaches, historic ruins and a vibrant culture, Mexico is a vacationer’s paradise. But the barrage of headlines about drug cartels and related violence may make you think twice before you book a flight. Here’s what you should do to prepare for your next getaway south of the border.
According to a Travel Warning from the U.S. Department of State, millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year for study, tourism and business, including more than 150,000 who cross the border every day. Reportedly, more than 20 million U.S. citizens visited Mexico in 2012. Comparatively, 113 U.S. citizens were reportedly killed in Mexico in 2011 and 71 in 2012.
The U.S. Department of State says the Mexican government makes a considerable effort to protect U.S. citizens and other visitors to major tourist destinations, and resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico generally do not see the levels of drug-related violence and crime that is reported in the border regions and in areas along major trafficking routes.
Ask someone who has been there
Faith Bowman says she was nervous about traveling by herself to Las Pozas in Xilitla, so she convinced an ex-boyfriend to go with her. “A woman traveling alone is an easy target,” says the 44-year-old.
The blogger and social media strategist said the only negative experience she had was having some costume jewelry and accessories stolen from her bag at the airport. Other than that, she would definitely go back.
“I loved driving through the mountains — it is a gorgeous country,” she says.
When Kristin O’Connor Saslovski lived in San Diego, she visited Mexico at least a couple of dozen times. The 38-year-old writer and producer traveled solo in Rosarito, Tijuana, Puerto Nuevo and Cancun.
“I think ‘high alert’ is the best way to describe Tijuana and Cancun,” Saslovski warns. “The aggressiveness of vendors and many of the men bordered on harassment. Several thought nothing of touching my clothes and hair.”
By contrast, she loved her 2009 trip to Tulum, the site of an ancient Mayan walled city, which she describes as less touristy “in terms of natural beauty, history and local merchants.”
Research where to go
Troubled areas include Tijuana in North Baja California, the states of Veracruz and Durango and areas of Estado de Mexico — while popular tourist destinations like Los Cabos in South Baja California and Riviera Maya on the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula have been deemed safe for travel.
Eduardo Segura, managing director of the Los Cabos Tourism Board, says tourism in Los Cabos continues to thrive, and because of its location being separated from mainland Mexico by the Sea of Cortes, the region “hasn’t been affected by the violence impacting other Mexican destinations.”
He notes that from January to August of 2013, the city welcomed more than 1.2 million national and international visitors, a 19 percent increase in U.S. travelers since 2012.
While vacationing in Los Cabos, Segura says it’s safe for tourists to travel outside of the resorts, and travelers are encouraged to explore beyond the two towns within Los Cabos (Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo) — and visit La Paz, the capital of Baja California Sur; Todos Santos, the region’s only “Pueblo Magico” (Magic Town); and Cabo Pulmo, a national marine park.
“We do, of course, advise tourists to be aware of their surroundings and take the same precautions they would while on vacation anywhere else in the world,” he adds.
Stay in a reputable resort
Hotel and resort options are plentiful throughout Mexico, so consult with a travel agent or read consumer websites to check reviews before you check in.
In Riviera Maya, the Grand Palladium Riviera Resort and Spa has good ratings on TripAdvisor. The hotel is self-contained and gated, with 24/7 security to ensure extra safety on the property. Felipe Martínez, a spokesperson for Palladium Hotels and Resorts (Americas), describes Riviera Maya as “by far the safest and most peaceful area in Mexico.”
“Tourists can come and go as they please, and they do without any problems in both Riviera Maya and Cancun,” says Martinez. “You can safely enjoy a great variety of activities outside the hotels, including excursions, restaurants and bars, with the same or more guarantees as you would in Madrid or even New York.”
Check the alerts
For the latest security information, U.S. citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the State Department’s website for Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts. Up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States and Canada from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday through Friday, except U.S. federal holidays.