A sweeping security alert for Mexico has had many travelers understandably nervous. South of the border is, of course, a favored, and easily accessible, vacation destination for Americans — 35 million people visited Mexico in 2016, most of them from the United States — so many are wondering if it is still safe to travel to Mexico in 2018.
The Mexico travel advisory was issued by the U.S Department of State on March 18 following surges in gang-related violent crime in the previous months. The "Level 2" advisory tells travelers to "exercise increased caution in Mexico" generally, noting that "violent crime, such as homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery, is widespread," and explicitly requests that U.S citizens avoid the Mexican states of Colima, Guerrero, Michoacán, Sinaloa, and Tamaulipas. If those five states' names don't sound familiar, the names of beach resort towns Acapulco, Zihuatanejo-Ixtapa (both in Guerrero) and Mazatlán (in Sinaloa) should. Acapulco in particular is experiencing horrific violence currently but, despite this, a recent dispatch from a Telegraph journalist reports that the hotels are full and the city "is not off limits," (as long as you act sensibly). Of course, as in Zihuatanejo, where the city center is seeing waves of crime, most tourists who spend most of their time in their resorts are not going to see the worst of what is happening. A recent PBS report claimed that police deliberately shield tourists from Acapulco's current reality, saying "it’s a war of perception. And they don’t want people thinking about and seeing the violence that’s going on here."
If you do decide to heed the State Department's warnings to avoid the resorts of Guerrero and Mazatlán, there are, of course, plenty of other options. Los Cabos has long been perceived as a safe haven from the drug-related violence that has engulfed much of the rest of the country, so it was shocking for many to see it named 2017's most violent city in the world. But that characterization was rejected by Rodrigo Esponda, general director Los Cabos Tourism Trust, who in early March told El Universal that the information is "out of date and out of context. In February 2017, there were 26 homicides and in February 2018, just two. The rate (has been) reduced by 93 percent ... This is the current reality in Los Cabos, the result of a year of effort." Indeed, the hotels are busy and Americans are still arriving. Over on the Caribbean side, around Cancun and Tulum, its a similar picture — a security alert for the popular beach destination of Playa del Carmen was issued on March 8 in response to an explosion on a ferry, but lifted just eight days later after new security measures had been implemented. Which suggests that in the resort towns of Baja California and Quintana Roo, a concentrated effort is being made to keep tourists safe — and they've good reason to, given the economic benefits a steady stream of visitors brings.
So that you might make an informed decision about where to travel, here is a summary of the State Department's recommendations across the states of Mexico.
Mexico Travel Warnings
Guerrero, which includes Acapulco, Ixtapa, Taxco and Zihuatanejo, is listed as “Level 4: Do Not Travel.”
The State Department warns that armed groups operate independently of the government in many areas of the state, and that members of these groups frequently maintain roadblocks and may use violence towards travelers.
Jalisco, which includes Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta, is listed as “Level 3: Reconsider Travel.”
The State Department says that "violent crime and gang activity are common in parts of this state."
Nayarit, which includes Sayulita, is also listed as Level 3 with the same advice as for Jalisco.
Baja California Sur which includes Los Cabos, is listed as "Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution."
Criminal activity and violence, including homicide, remain an issue throughout the state, reads the advisory. "While most of these homicides appeared to be targeted, criminal organization assassinations, 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."
Quintana Roo, which includes Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya and Tulum, is also listed as Level 2, with the same advice listed as in Baja.
Mexico City and the state of Oaxaca are also both listed as Level 2, with the advice to “exercise increased caution due to crime.”
To put things in perspective, Level 2 is the same tier of advisory given to many other tourist hotspots, including Anguilla, the Dominican Republic, Belize, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Belgium, and Italy. And those are places to where many of us would think nothing of traveling.
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