Is it safe to travel to Mexico now? The country may be the number one destination for American travelers, but violent crime is on the rise, leaving travelers wondering if Mexico is safe to visit. The stories are realistic. In January 2022, two tourists were killed in a shooting in Playa del Carmen, while a dismembered Texas gay couple was found near Ciudad Juarez. In November 2021, four American travelers were injured in an attack in Cancun when gunmen opened fire on the beach. The previous month, a California travel blogger and German tourist had been killed in a shooting in Tulum. This is just the tip of the iceberg. There were also murders of journalists, murders of women and the list goes on.
Not surprisingly, the US State Department recently issued a scary warning about travel to Mexico with a level 3 on a scale of 1 to 4, which means “reconsider travel.” And some parts of Mexico, where drug cartel violence is at its worst, have long been on the banned list, with Level 4 prohibited directives. The State Department warns that “violent crimes – such as murder, kidnapping, carjacking and theft – are common and common in Mexico.”
Then there is Covid-19, which remains a problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a Level 3 travel health notice for Mexico, which indicates a high level of Covid in the country. However, despite the pandemic, homicide levels in Mexico have remained historically high, at 27.8 deaths per 100,000 people.
So what is a traveler to do? Eva Ruska is the Chief of Americas Operations for Riskline, a global travel risk intelligence company that provides independent country and city risk assessments as well as a 24/7 alert message system. We caught up with Ruuska to find out if it’s safe to travel to Mexico right now.
Is it safe to travel to Mexico now?
Rusca, who notes that Mexico has never closed its air borders and has not required vaccination or entry testing during the pandemic, says local restrictions have been rather lenient.
In recent years, there have been several clashes between rival criminal gangs in Cancun and its surroundings. “While the attacks are not generally aimed at foreigners, they could have been — and they were affected” by passersby, Ruska says. However, tourist destinations have not experienced the levels of crime seen in countries affected by drug cartels. The authorities have also strengthened security measures in these areas, including Cancun, Acapulco, Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta. Petty theft is the most common security threat travelers across the country will face.”
Places in Mexico that travelers should avoid
According to Rusca, the main states and regions affected by drug cartels include Guerrero, Michoacan, Colima, Tamaulipas and Sinaloa. Places with high murder rates include the northern border cities of Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez and Ciudad Obregon in Sonora as well as Zamora and Uruapan in Michoacán. “Travelers should refer to local advice on safe and unsafe areas, keep a low profile and consider hiring escorts in high-risk countries,” says Ruska.
Recent hotspots of cartel clashes and related crime include the mining towns of Caporca in Sonora state – where authorities imposed a night-time curfew due to a spike in violent crime in February – and Fresnillo in Zacatecas, where authorities ramped up ongoing security operations against criminal organizations amid record murder rates. “Aguililla, Zitácuaro and the surrounding cities of Michoacán, and some areas in Guanajuato, including Celaya, Salamanca and Irapuato, are prohibited, for the same reasons,” Ruuska said.
Some areas in Chiapas, including Altamirano and Pantelho, should be avoided due to the recent escalation in attacks and disturbances by vigilante groups.
But the real question travelers are asking: What about the tourist areas along the Rovira Maya? “Travel to Cancun, Tulum and the surrounding areas in Quintana Roo is still considered safe,” Rusca says. “The recent shootings were basically settling scores between drug dealers.”
Stay safe in Mexico
“Do your research before you leave,” Roska says. In general, travelers should avoid traveling to areas that tourists are not likely to visit. When crossing, avoid public transportation and call taxis on the street, and use app-based services or organized taxi stands.
For drivers, Ruuska says it’s best to avoid overnight travel. “Stick with toll roads and first-class bus services for intercity travel due to the rise in petty crime on public transport and illegal roadblocks are common including in Guerrero, Michoacán, Oaxaca and Chiapas,” Ruuska says.
Precautions for female travelers in Mexico
“There are high rates of harassment, sexual assault and violence targeting women in Mexico, including major cities like Mexico City and Guadalajara,” Rosca says. “Women travelers may receive unwanted attention from men, from open displays of expression and staring to physical contact. It is best to ignore these developments or confrontations and walk away.”
Some of the most common places of harassment in Mexico include taxis and public transportation. “Use only app-based services or organized taxi stops,” Ruska says. “Don’t walk alone at night, especially in unfamiliar neighborhoods, desolate areas, or beaches. Avoid flashy clothes and jewelry.”
Women’s Solo Travel in Mexico
“Traveling as a female alone in Mexico can be an enriching experience when safety considerations are in place,” Rosca says. “In general, Mexican people are friendly, fun-loving, helpful and open-minded – and curious for solo female travelers.”
A few tips: “Learn some basic Spanish and keep personal things to yourself. Arrive during the day and take an organized taxi or ride-sharing service in transit after sunset. Never leave your drink unattended or accept drinks from strangers or new acquaintances you haven’t seen spilled” , says Ruska.
But most of all: “Keep your senses alert, trust your intuition and get travel insurance,” says Ruska. “If the situation is suspicious, walk away.”
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