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Is It Safe To Travel To Mexico?

By Kit KieferOctober 18, 2018

(Templo de Santo Domingo, Oaxaca |  Photo credit: Journey Mexico)
 

Mexican travel safety has been in the news, making some travelers wonder, “Is it safe to travel to Mexico?”

According to Rich Biswell, marketing director for Journey Mexico, a Mexico-based tour operator specializing in experiential trips and tours throughout the country, “we feel confident in saying that Mexico is safe for vacationers and travelers.”  Just like travel anywhere else, travel to Mexico requires you to be smart, prudent, and vigilant, and take some precautions before you leave and while you travel.
 

Pull quote from Ana Sofia Lanczyner on Mexico travel

 

Is it safe to travel to Mexico right now?

Regardless of what you may have read in the headlines, incidents in Mexico involving tourists are extremely few and far-between.

“There has been a little misinformation [regarding travel safety in Mexico],” said Ana Sofia Lanczyner, Midwest director of the Mexico Tourism Board.
 

Photo of boat on beach in Isla San Francisco, Baja California Sur, Mexico

(Isla San Francisco - Baja California Sur | Photo credit: Journey Mexico)

Lanczyner notes there was recently a news story from a very well known publication stating the U.S. Department of State had done an update to their travel warnings and Mexico was far more dangerous to travel to, which was completely false.
 

Countries labelled "level two" safety. Icons of sunset in Mexico, bread and wine in Italy, Eiffel Tower in France, beer and pretzel in Germany and Big Ben in the United Kingdom

 
 
Safe places to travel in Mexico

In the August 2018 update to travel advisories for Mexico, the State Department actually gave Mexico level-two (exercise increased caution) status – the same status as Italy, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany. 

Specifically, most Mexican states and many of the most popular resort areas – like Mexico City, Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Chichen Itza, and the Riviera Maya – are at level two.

In addition, the State Department does not limit travel for U.S. government employees to these Mexican vacation destinations with level-three (reconsider travel) status:

Photo of people on guided rock mountain adventure in Copper Canyon, Mexico

(Adventure in Copper Canyon | Photo credit: Journey Mexico)

 
How safe is it to travel to Mexico? Do the math

According to a U.S. State Department official speaking on background, the main reasons behind the travel advisories are:

  • An increase in homicides, mostly gang- and cartel-related killings
  • Limited police presence and poor emergency response outside of major cities
  • Drug and human-trafficking activity in some level-three or level-four (do not travel) states
  • Roadblocks on highways in level-three or level-four states set up by criminal groups looking to kidnap bus passengers and hold them for ransom

 

Pull quote from Ana Sofia Lanczyner on Mexico travel

 
None of these activities specifically target tourists, and as Lanczyner said, “I would cordially invite anyone to do the math. Almost 40 million international visitors come to Mexico each year, and we have only had a handful of incidents. That’s a pretty good ratio.”   

Still, Lanczyner said, “we take every single case very seriously.” You should too – and that means covering your trip with travel insurance.
 

Pull quote from Rich Biswell on Mexico travel

 
Tips for travelling safe in Mexico

Biswell said it best: “Stuff can happen in tourist destinations in Mexico, but when it does, tourists generally aren’t involved.”
 
Here’s how to lessen your chances of being involved:
 

Ask someone who knows Mexico

Know – or ask – about the safe parts of town, the safest ways of getting around, and which clubs are okay. “Have someone you can trust – whether it’s a concierge at the hotel or a guide from Journey Mexico or another reputable operator – give you that advice,” Biswell said. “They’re not going to send you someplace bad.”
 

Photo of baby turtle in person's hand in Riviera Maya, Mexico

(Turtle in Riviera Maya | Photo credit: Journey Mexico)

 
Don’t walk alone at night

Don’t walk the streets alone late at night. “I live in Puerto Vallarta, and there are some neighborhoods that I wouldn’t visit at four in the morning,” Biswell added. “But I wouldn’t go to most neighborhoods in major US cities at four in the morning, either.”
 

Leave the bling home

Flashy jewelry attracts the wrong kind of attention.
 

Photo of girl putting colorful shawl on woman in Zincantan, Chiapas, Mexico

(Zincantan, Chiapas | Photo credit: Journey Mexico)

 

Trust your instincts

Never take your eyes off your personal belongings. If a situation or place makes you nervous, exit stage right by the safest means possible. Use common sense.
 

Don’t be a hero

Don’t resist if somebody tries to rob you; hand over what they’re asking for. This is no time to play the hero.
 

Be on guard for pickpockets

Watch out for pickpockets if you’re taking public transport. Split up your money and valuables, minimize your cash on hand, and keep copies of important documents in a safe place at your hotel.
 

Photo of beach coast line and historic ruins in Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico

(Tulum, Quintana Roo | Photo credit: Journey Mexico)

 
Use authorized taxis

Take only authorized taxis – “Taxis Autorisados.” They cost more, but their registered numbers can be traced. Don’t get antsy and opt for an unauthorized taxi. You may get taken for a ride – literally. 

Illustration of blue travel map

 
Bring a map

When driving to a destination, Lenczyner recommends that you “make sure you have a map – and make sure you’ll have cell service throughout [your trip].”
 

Be beach- and water-smart too

Not all beaches have signs clearly stating the dangers of strong currents, riptides, and heavy waves. Get the scoop on water safety in Mexico from your travel professional or tour guide, the local tourism board, or online resources.
 

Photo of historical ruins in Uxmal, Yucatan, Mexico

(Uxmal, Yucatan | Photo credit: Journey Mexico)

 
Mexico safe-travel tips from the State Department

The State Department official speaking on background added these tips, from the page on travel.state.gov that has safety recommendations on travel to Mexico:

In addition, the State Department reminds travelers to:

  • Pack lightly and bring appropriate clothing.
  • Be aware of the effects of:

-  Different food
-  A new climate
-  More strenuous physical activity 
-  Changes in routine and schedule  

  • Apply for a passport at least three months before you travel. If you have one, check the passport’s expiration date and entry requirements for Mexico.  
  • Work with the nearest consulate or embassy if you have problems. They can help you:

-  Contact relatives or friends 
-  Find medical care
-  Report a crime
-  Find accommodation and arrange flights home
-  Replace a stolen or lost passport
 

Photo of lit room, patio and pool at Luxury Casa Koko, Punta Mita, Mexico

(Luxury Casa Koko, Punta Mita | Photo credit: Journey Mexico)

 
Medical issues: Look for approved providers and hospitals

If you get sick or are injured while on a Mexican vacation, note that there have been cases of medical billing abuses. Make sure your provider is on the State Department’s list of approved providers and hospitals.

Most Mexican hospitals don’t accept U.S. domestic health insurance or Medicare/Medicaid and require payment upfront by cash, credit card, debit card, or bank transfer.

While most U.S. medical plans aren’t accepted in Mexico, travel health insurance from a company like Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection is – one more reason why travel medical insurance is a must-have on any Mexican vacation.

Contact your travel insurer as soon as a situation arises; they’ll work with you and providers to coordinate care and payment.
  

Aerial shot of beach line and tropics in Hacienda, Chekul, Mexico

(Hacienda, Chekul | Photo credit: Journey Mexico)

 
Weather: Hurricanes are very rare, yet make travel cheaper

Generally, weather on the Mexican coasts is ideal – sunny and warm, with gentle breezes custom-made for lazing by the beach.

However, from June through November there’s a risk of tropical storms. Hurricanes and tropical depressions can hit Mexico’s Caribbean, Gulf, and Pacific coasts.

 

Pull quote from Rich Biswell on hurricanes and Mexico travel

 
If you travel to Mexico during these months, check the long-term forecast. On the other hand, as Biswell said, “Hurricanes are so hit-and-miss, you shouldn’t not travel to Mexico and block out those five months.”

Furthermore, according to Lanczyner, “Every single one of our structures are required by law to have a shelter, so I would not hesitate to travel to Mexico during hurricane season.”

And here’s a bonus: Travel to Mexico can be cheaper during these times, so you could get a lot for your money if you’re willing to take a calculated risk.
 

Mi casa es su casa: Mexico’s vested interest in keeping you safe

“Even with the continuous negative press about Mexico, tourism has continued to grow and grow and grow and grow,” Biswell said. “That speaks a lot for the destination, for travelers, and for the people of this amazing country.”

Around 20 million Americans vacation in Mexico every year, so everyone has a vested interest in making travel to Mexico fun, exciting, memorable, and above all safe.

“There are 9.5 million people in Mexico employed in the tourism industry,” Lanczyner said. “That means 9.5 million families depend on you having a wonderful time in Mexico – and we take it personally. We say – and we believe – that ‘Mi casa es su casa’ – our house is your house.” 

And it’s a house that’s safe … and getting safer.

 

 
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Kit Kiefer
Kit Kiefer

Kit Kiefer is a former travel writer for The New York Times and has more than 30 years of freelance experience writing about domestic and international travel. He is the Chief Creative Officer of Polymath Research + Marketing.

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