Mexico is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. In 2008 almost 23 million visitors traveled there from abroad, not surprisingly, given Mexico’s outstanding attractions: its gorgeous beaches, its Meso-American ruins and amazing colonial cities. Mexico is particularly popular with Americans and Canadians. Tourism contributes more than 13% to Mexico’s economy, but a spate of bad news has many travelers wondering is Mexico safe to travel to.
In recent months Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada has issued a travel advisory for Mexico and advises travelers to exercise a high degree of caution as the security situation continues to deteriorate. In particular, Northern Mexico and the cities bordering the US are especially affected by organized crime as the government fights with drug lords. Crimes reported on highways include illegal roadblocks, robberies and kidnappings and particularly affect travelers in luxury vehicles and SUVs. Travel warnings cover the states of Guerrero (Acapulco), the state of Sinaloa (Mazatlan), the state of Nayarit (Tepic) and a variety of states in the interior as well. The southern area of Chiapas continues to experience political problems and in Oaxaca demonstrators have clashed with government authorities.
Here are some practical safety tips for you that will help you stay safe in Mexico and other destinations:
- Resort areas are quite safe as many of them have private security
- Avoid travelling at night on highways
- Use local guides who can show you around
- Talk with trusted locals to find out what areas to avoid
- Dress down, don’t wear flashy jewelry & secure your purse: this will help protect you against pickpocketing and purse snatchings
- Avoid carrying a purse altogether and wear a money belt underneath your shirt
- Avoid walking after dark, especially as a woman
- Do not acceptfood or drinks from strangers
- Stash passports and valuables in the hotel safe, not in your room
- Don’t exchange or withdraw money in public areas, and if so only during daylight hours
- Be careful with taxi drivers:some of them might be impostors who might be involved in kidnappings or force victims to withdraw money from ABMs. Their main targets are usually wealthy and middle class residents, not necessarily foreigners.
- One great way of staying safe is to study at a language school. You are automatically part of a network of experts who become your community and can give you great local safety tips.
- Keep your family informed of your itinerary and stay in touch regularly.
Personally I have travelled to Mexico twice in the last five years and I always had a wonderful time. As a woman travelling by herself, I am particularly careful about safety. This past year I spent time in the cities of Guadalajara, and in the cities of Morelia and Guanjuato. In Guadalajara I studied Spanish at a language school in the enchanting neighbourhood of Tlaquepaque. I stayed with a local family and was often out by myself until 10 or 11 pm.
On weekend trips I also travelled by bus to the colonial cities of Morelia and Guanajuato where I went on various excursions with local guides. I spent evenings by myself, exploring the cities, walking around, experiencing local traditions and festivals, and talking with the locals. Naturally I followed standardsafety guidelines, but looking back, there was actually not one moment where I did not feel safe in any of these places. By interacting with the locals and getting their advice on where to go and what areas to avoid, I was able to keep myself safe, even as a female travelling by herself.
To minimize risk I dressed down, carried little cash on me, sometimes stashed my credit card in my socks and always paid great attention to my surroundings. Mexico certainly has its share of political and security problems, but my own personal experience in this fascinating country has been outstanding. I am already looking forward to my next trip to Mexico.
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Here are my 2010 Mexican travel adventures, covering Guadalajara, Guanajuato, Morelia and Lake Chapala.
This link connects you to my 2006 Mexican travel adventures in Mexico City, Cuernavaca, Taxco and Tepoztlan.