Tourism in Mexico: Is It Safe?

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Let’s get straight to the point – there is a drug war in Mexico, and it has affected tourism.

Everyone from the media to your neighbor has an opinion on the subject, but is it safe to travel there alone?

Many people argue that U.S. media outlets have discouraged travel with outrageous claims and the installation of fear.  Others say they are unwilling to visit until their safety can be guaranteed. A fact or two to consider if you are planning on traveling in Mexico:

There is some risk involved, since drug-related deaths have increased since the beginning of the war in 2006. According to the U.S. Department of State, most casualties of the war have been directly involved in narcotic trafficking.  Out of about 34,000 total deaths, 111 of those have been U.S. and foreign citizens; that’s about .003 percent, a minute figure, but present nonetheless.

On the other hand, one could argue that there is always risk in visiting foreign countries.  As a tourist, you could be a potential target for theft and other petty crimes – it comes with the territory – but if you’re alert and smart, you can avoid these potentially unsettling confrontations.

If you plan to head to Mexico, here are some tips on how to stay safe from the U.S. Department of State:

  • Travel during the day. Violence occurs most often at night.
  • Stick to tourist destinations and away from the U.S./Mexican border, where incidents of violence are highest.
  • Stop at all road checkpoints and do your best to cooperate with Federalis, or Mexican policeman. We’re not sure if this tip always works, but one friend who owns property in Mexico said that if you offer a policeman an ice-cold Coca Cola as a friendly gesture, most will let you be on your way.
  • Fly to your destination to avoid crossing the border. If flying is out of the question, make sure to stick to main highways, toll roads, and avoid isolated or smaller roads whenever possible.
  • Don’t do drugs while in the country.
  • Stay off beaches at night! This is a golden rule that should always be abided by no matter where you are.
  • Become familiar with your surroundings and hotel/hostel staff, and always go with your gut instinct.

If something feels out of place or unsettling to you, go back to where you feel relaxed.  That’s what vacation is all about!

Details on areas in Mexico that are to be avoided can be found here.

I plan to visit Sayulita, Mexico, this December for Christmas and New Years, and can’t wait to surf, paddle board, and lay in the sun while much of the rest of the world is up to their eyeballs in snow. Many people have discouraged me from going, however.

What about you?  Has the drug war in Mexico hindered you or someone you know from visiting the country?  We want to know!

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About Author

Ellen wanders. She wandered her way through Europe in 2007 during a semester abroad in Madrid, then through parts of the South Pacific after college graduation, and spent a year in South and Central America during 2010. Most recently, she went on a solo adventure south of the border to research and write the travel guidebook Go Girl Guides: Mexico.

13 Comments

  1. It is cool that you posted this. Very informative =)

    I have heard about the danger in Mexico, and also frequent kidnapping of American business people there. I definitely agree that one should stick to tourist destination (for any country in the beginning), especially if it is your first time traveling there and not familiar with the local politics.

  2. I’ve had both positive and negative experiences in Mexico. I can’t echo staying off the beach at night enough! I was drinking at a beach bar and wandered down by the water once, when I met a young boy selling flowers. I started talking to him, delighting in the fact that I could understand his spanish, and then he suggested we started walking. So we walked. Then all of a sudden, I was surrounded by 6 grown men all asking me if we were going to have sex now. One of them threw sand in my eyes… I turned around and ran. Somehow my male friend was on the beach at that moment, and he grabbed me and we went inside. It could’ve been really, really bad. STAY OFF THE BEACHES AT NIGHT!

  3. Kelly, I recently went on a sponsored trip to La Paz, in the Baja California Sur region of Mexico; I felt completely safe during my stay. We took a day long boat trip to swim with the sea lions and another day visited Todos Santos by bus. We all had a great experience. As you said, stay away from the areas where there are issues. I would return for another visit.

    • I love Baja!! That was the positive experience I had in Mexico. I went on a three week surf trip through the Baja coast and it was incredible. We were just camping and surfing and the people were so friendly, the area was so beautiful.. it made me fall in love with Mexico. It’s also one of the few areas not connected to drug trafficking, coincidentally.

  4. I think this whole Mexico is getting too hyped up, as far as it relates to travelers. The situation definitely isn’t getting better for citizens who have to deal with the cartels on a regular basis – but anyone visiting usual tourist spots who follows the normal cautions you should take as a traveler in a foreign country should be fine. I spent time in the Yucatan last summer – loved it! – and have plenty of friends and family who visit the rest of the country without problems.

  5. When we heard about the cartel wars, I must admit, we hesitated a bit when we were thinking about visiting Mexico. We knew it was probably not as widespread as media has made it out to be but to be safe, we did decide to go to a different destination. We’ll definitely be visiting Mexico again and when we do, we’ll be sure to practice the safety tips as you called out above. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Sometimes I feel that the media overplays the danger…. but on the other hand, I don’t see enough coverage of some issues (like the situation with the women in Juarez). I think travel almost anywhere can be safe as long as you research your destination first, know what the risks are, and how you can minimize them.

  7. Mexico is a dangerous country to travel to period! A shocking 32% of all non-natural deaths of U.S. citizen’s outside this country occur in Mexico. Many of these deaths happen inside of the resorts and are a direct result of poor or nonexistent safety standards. To read tragic Mexico vacation death stories, as well as stories written by victims that “survived” their Mexico vacation, go to:
    http://www.mexicovacationawareness.com

  8. Raymond is right — the media loves bad news. Plus, for U.S. journalists, Mexcian cartel war stories are easy to write. Mexico is close, it’s easy to cover, many U.S. citizens have visited or want to visit, and there is a large expat Mexcian community in the U.S.
    I’m in Asia, where corruption, crime and traffic deaths are common. But these are difficult topics for Western journalists to cover, so there are very few English language news reports on these topics.
    I was a journalist for years and, as much as the profession is maligned, being a reporter has gotten harder and harder, with fewer and fewer journalists expected to cover wider areas. And new technology means a lot of stories are covered by phone, rather than by being there.
    So read dramatic news with this in mind.
    And follow safety tips like this.

  9. i’m not afraid at all – i use common sense while traveling!! everywhere i’ve been in mexico has been safe and I try to make it a point not to hang out with people in the drug trade. 😉

  10. Pingback: Safety Tips for Solo Female Travelers in Mexico

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