Why Are We Still Talking About Travel Safety in Mexico?

Dreams Resort Puerto Vallarta

A couple of years ago when I was still a baby blogger, I wrote a post about why I thought that parts of Mexico were safe to visit. Talking with people, I thought that the message was getting across, that some parts of Mexico are iffy but that the major tourist areas are fine. But I still don’t think people understand that Mexico is safe.

Just as with my first post, I want to offer a huge, gigantic, mega-big caveat here. THESE ARE ONLY MY OPINIONS. I do not have intimate knowledge of the inner workings of Mexico nor can I say that every tourist there will have a great time. But that can’t be said by any location, anywhere in the world. So, with that out of the way, let’s talk about why people are still nervous about visiting Mexico.

Tulum, Mexico

The light bulb for this post went off during a dinner conversation with a colleague. She said her son was getting married and was looking for a spot for their honeymoon. My eyes lit up and I said, “Well Mexico is a great option if they don’t want to travel far.” Apparently that wasn’t to be, for her son didn’t think that Mexico was safe.

As a refresher, this discussion all began several years ago when the Mexican government began a crack down on the drug cartels. What ensued was open warfare, taking the lives of thousands of Mexicans mostly along the border towns. At nearly the same time, the country also had to deal with an outbreak of swine flu. The result was a public relations disaster. In the minds of millions of people around the world, Mexico was not a safe place.

Since then, although the situation hasn’t necessarily improved, the tourist areas remain (mostly) safe. In particular, Cancun, Riviera Maya and Puerto Vallarta have all been safe, as safe as any destination can ever be really. And yet, government entities are still releasing travel warnings scaring an already jittery tourist into inaction.

Puerto Vallarta tourist

This is frustrating not to just to those involved with the Mexican tourism industry, but people who love to visit the country and want as many people to experience it as possible, like me. Luckily, when the U.S. recently renewed their travel advisory to Mexico they exempted the aforementioned popular tourist areas and cited that they have been mostly safe.

Just as I was preparing to publish this post, I read an article about a spate of robberies that happened over the weekend while a cruise ship was visiting Puerto Vallarta. I fear that this news will keep even more people away, even if it appears that the crime wasn’t drug related. It’s a cautionary tale not just for visitors to Mexico, but for all tourists. While I was on a Mediterranean cruise a few years ago, several passengers complained about pickpockets and general intimidation during a stopover in Athens. These events sadly happen everywhere and they are not specific to one country or region.

Unfortunately, it will take a lot more than government issued bulletins to erase the images of Mexican violence from the minds of many tourists. Instead it is important that as many of us as possible travel to Mexico, enjoy ourselves and share our experiences with friends and family. Repairing the image of traveling in Mexico can only be achieved one person at a time; citizen travel diplomacy at its best.

What do you think? Is Mexico a safe tourist destination and if so, how do we convince people of that?

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By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.Also follow Matt on Twitter, Facebook and

21 Responses

  1. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures

    My grandparents have refused to return to Mexico the last couple of years, they’ve been going to the same spot for over a decade, despite the fact that I went several times and told them it was fine. :(

    Reply
  2. Lane

    1) American media loves a good story — invent one if needed. They are also fear-mongers.
    2) The US State Dept hands out “travel advisories” like Tic Tacs. If one tourist gets killed in your country, you’re blacklisted.
    3) The continuing debate over “Who’s drug war is it”?
    4) The border states demanding a wall.
    5) Illegals still face hostility in the middle of the U.S.

    Travel has nothing to do with it.

    Reply
  3. Vanny

    I’d return to Mexico in a heartbeat. It’s unfortunate that the advisory is a blanket one that covers even the safest areas to travel – as you mentioned Cancun, Riviera Maya and Puerto Vallarta –where most tourists go!

    Reply
  4. Christina S.

    Until groups of tourists stop being robbed at gunpoint (they were passengers on the Carnival Splendor and on a ship sponsored tour), I don’t know that we can call Mexico safe.

    Reply
  5. Audrey

    When we visited family and friends in the States over the holidays it was always amusing to see the shocked looks on their faces when we told them we were going next to Mexico, followed by all sorts of questions about safety, drugs, murders, etc. Now when my father sends me articles about violence in Mexico, I go into Google Maps and find out the distance between where we are (Oaxaca) and the scene of the violence – it’s usually at least 500 miles away.

    Reply
  6. Curt

    I was in Puerto Vallarta for a week last fall, and I would visit again in a heartbeat. On the other hand, I drove down to Nogales for a day trip several years ago, and I hesitate going back until the dust settles along the border. Mexico is a large, diverse country, and one should apply a bit of common sense before ruling it out as entirely unsafe. For its part, the State Department finally did the right thing and recently broke down its travel advisory into meaningful sectors. That should have been done much sooner.

    Reply
  7. Miss Britt

    I tried to get my husband to Mexico this winter, but he responded with news story after news story about the dangers. I think a concern for some Americans is getting to the safer areas. We, for instance, would have been driving in from Texas or California, having to pass through notoriously dangerous areas.

    Reply
  8. Joe

    Been going to Riviera Nyarit every year for the last 7. Going again in April, 2012 for 2 weeks. The only Federales I’ve seen thus far are the ones at the police station on route 200 on the state line between the Nayarit and Jalisco states where there is a practice firing range.

    I may only make daylight trips to Bucerias this trip, and go with others to dine in old Puerto Vallarta. If I feel uncomfortable or see heightened Federales activity, I’ll let you know here.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Thanks Joe and please do let us know. My experiences have been good, but I definitely want to hear from people as they travel.

      Reply
  9. Priscilla

    Good article Matt,
    There are two schools of thought I believe about whether to go to Mexico or not. On the one hand, you can’t say an entire country is too dangerous to visit so keep going to secure places you have been comfortable with, but on the other hand, there are so many places in the world why not take this time to visit them now? My guess is that people are choosing to try some place new and perhaps with the economy also choosing places closer to home.
    I feel so badly for the resort areas of Mexico who must be suffering as a result of real or perceived threats.
    Many folks say not to go to New Orleans too, but I was just there and had a blast for Mardi Gras and didn’t spend any time worrying over exaggerated media hype.
    Hope that this latest cruise ship thing is seen for the one off opportunistic thing that it was.
    Cheers and keep the great articles coming Matt,
    Priscilla

    Reply
  10. Federico

    Hey Matt, here is some first hand info as I have been based here for the past two years. In fact I am based in Puerto Vallarta, a spot that has been mentioned already.

    PV is quite safe, I have not seen much but I have first hand info of stuff that is happening. The gym teacher of a neighbour’s daughter was stabbed 3 weeks ago. I was on the way to a surf session 2 months ago and saw Federales driving like madmen in the opposite direction- I just so happened that 2 officers had been gunned down in a store that is like a 7 Eleven.

    Other than this, people are killed weekly, which can be normal but it happens in places where tourists are not present. This said, 22 tourists were robbed at gunpoint 2 days ago on a tour I did a year ago (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-2107168/Carnival-Cruise-Lines-passengers-robbed-Mexico-Puerto-Vallarta-shore-excursion.html), and with a highly reputable company.

    Inland, things are worse. I know of 2 in-laws who have been pulled over at gunpoint and have had their cars robbed- one of them a mere VW Jeta. One was knocked out unconscious.

    So, are things as bad as they say? It depends. Stuff is happening, but it usually does so in remote areas or places that are already known to be unsafe.I carry my life as usual, don’t feel unsafe when I go out, and still do most of the things I normally would. Yup, I said normally, because there are a few places I have not visited because the odds of being assaulted on the way there are very high.

    Being from Spain, where you can go pretty much anywhere at any time, Mexico is not safe. But it is not as bad as they say.

    Reply
  11. Melissa

    I just recently returned from Cancun, Mexico – my first time leaving Canada to visit a different country. I have to admit, I had some reservations about visiting Mexico because of all the hype over safety for tourists, etc. but we had an absolutely amazing time! I didn’t feel unsafe the entire time we were visiting, either. In fact, I felt quite safe – how could you not feel safe when you leave the airport and see men drive around in SUV’s with machine guns! :) Seriously, it was a fabulous country to visit and I would definitely recommend it as a destination for others.

    I think a lot of the fear etc. over visiting Mexico is media-driven, as are many other things that seem to weigh on people’s minds these days. And I agree, traveling anywhere can be unsafe… even your own country can be considered ‘unsafe’.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Thanks Melissa for sharing your experiences, I really appreciate it. Can I ask what part of the country you visited? And I agree, violence in Mexico is a ‘sexy’ news story and the media seems to add fuel to the proverbial fire.

      Reply
  12. Kristin Busse

    I have been living in Cancun for 11 years and as I go about my daily routine I generally feel safer here than I did in Chicago.

    The biased news reports in the U.S. are a shame and the fact that many of the viewers don’t know much about geography doesn’t help either.

    Great post Matt! Thanks for telling it like it is, we need all the help we can get.

    Reply
  13. Denver Butler

    All the papers here in the U.S. tell lyou about is the crime in other parts of the world. Pick up a paper in Australia, Europe, or most any other place in the world, and you’ll read mostly about the crime in the USA. Crime in major metro areas is the same everywhere. I’d feel a lot safer in most places in Mexico than I would in parts of New York City, or Chicago, or Detroit, or Miami, or East L.A.

    Reply
  14. RON ENNIS

    swanky —i have went to playa del for 7 yrs and now i have now deided to visit other plaes ,,you mexio people need to get a grip on the outlaws as i spend around 5000 per week your loss amigos ,,i love mexio but will not tolerate bullshit,,,i will go to the us virgin islands

    Reply
  15. Jennifer Choban

    Thanks for writing this. I’m a US expat whose been living in Mexico for the past 6 years. While some locations have horrible problems, I feel that most of the country is just like everywhere else in the world. I think some of the bad press Mexico gets is economic protectionism (encouraging gringos to stay home and spend their $ in the US).

    Reply
  16. Torre – Fearful Adventurer

    I say: be glad there’s still an unsafe place to visit! Everything else is becoming gentrified and juicy travel stories of being robbed at gunpoint are endangered.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Well that’s true, but I don’t think Mexico wants to be labelled as such. :)

      Reply
  17. Puerto Vallarta

    I am an American that has been living in Mexico for four years now, a year of which was spent backpacking all around the country. The last year I have been living in Puerto Vallarta and feel very safe here. One important thing to take into consideration about this country is that the majority of the populace are god fearing conservative people with no desire to see their country ripped apart by cartel violence. And the majority of the people here go out of their way to try to show that. Granted there are some high risk areas (especially if you are a cartel member) but with a little common sense and discernment anyone can have an amazing time in this vast and beautiful country.

    Reply

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