Each spring as the weather warms up, millions of tourists head to Mexico to enjoy pristine beaches, relaxing resorts, and exciting nightlife. Tourism is an important part of the Mexican economy, and the locals are known to be friendly and welcoming.
But there is no denying there are parts of Mexico where safety is a concern. Episodes of drug cartel violence and unsafe pharmaceuticals and alcohol are among issues that give some pause when planning a vacation.
Just this month, four Americans were met with gunfire when they crossed the border from Texas into Matamoros, Tamaulipas, reportedly seeking a lower cost cosmetic medical treatment. Two of the Americans were murdered during the kidnapping attempt. While initial investigations found this incident was likely a case of mistaken identity and not a random attack, US authorities now strongly suggest that Americans avoid travel to six Mexico states, including Tamaulipas, due to ongoing cartel violence. Several American lawmakers recently asked the US State Department to issue a travel advisory warning Americans about the dangers of buying tainted pharmaceuticals from Mexican pharmacies.
So, is spring break in Mexico worth the risk?
As we attempt to answer this question, remember that nearly 29 million Americans traveled to Mexico in 2021 and very few suffered any security incidents, according to the most recent U.S. State Department statistics. While it’s always wise to exercise caution, there is no reason to cancel plans. The key is to vacation mindfully.
Here are tips for smart decisions about where and how to travel to Mexico this spring.
1. Carefully consider location
There are 32 states in Mexico, and the US State Department has “do not travel” advisories in place for six, including Tamaulipas state, where the four Americans were recently kidnapped. An additional seven states have been labeled with the less extreme advisory to “reconsider travel,” but these more dangerous areas are far from the more popular vacation spots.
For example, Matamoros is about 1,350 miles away from Cancun and Playa Del Carmen, where many choose to vacation. Those popular cities, along with Mexico City, are under the State Department’s advisory to “exercise increased caution,” a very minor advisory also issued for France, Spain, and the Bahamas. While it is smart to avoid spending lengthy time in the areas along the northern border, where organized crime and cartel violence may be active, the real danger is limited to those areas. Furthermore, resorts in places like Cancun are especially safe, with many employing armed guards.
2. Think before drinking alcohol and taking medications
If you choose to drink, make sure the alcohol is regulated and comes from a reputable source. Some US citizens have reported losing consciousness when drinking tainted alcohol at bars, restaurants, and resorts. Additionally, pharmacies in several northwestern cities have been found to sell pills that tested positive for fentanyl and methamphetamine. In fact, an investigation recently found that 71% of pills in a sample collection tested positive for strong drugs.
Several years ago, several bars and restaurants allegedly served tainted alcohol that caused illness, and in some cases, death. That issue received subsequent exposure, and Mexican authorities cracked down on offenders, but it may be wise to choose bottled or canned beverages.
Needles to say, engaging in drug-related activities is incredibly risky. From inviting trouble with drug dealers to law enforcement, partaking in illicit behavior is inviting trouble. Aside from getting in trouble with the law, you could find yourself the victim of shakedown. Additionally, many of the recent incidents involving the death of foreigners in Mexico were due to the drug trade.
3. Avoid flaunting luxury items in certain places
Despite the safety of most popular vacation spots, it makes sense to be discreet about expensive jewelry, designer watches, the latest iPhone, and wads of cash. Petty theft is still an issue in several otherwise safe parts of the country, including Mexico City. Limit the amount of cash you carry in public and avoid ATMs in isolated areas. Do not leave anything valuable in your hotel room unless it’s in a safe. When enjoying walking around cities, keep wallets out of your pockets, so you know your property is safe from pickpockets.
If you are in the position to engage private security for your trip, it is recommended that it be kept discreet. The presence of a protective detail is a sign to criminals that there is something of value to go after.
4. Stay up to date on news and government alerts
The Mexican government offers information on emergency assistance for tourists via their website and a special app. The app also enables personnel to locate you in case of an emergency. It is never a bad idea to have the number for the nearest consulate of your home country before you go.
5. Relax and have fun!
With safety measures in consideration, you can relax and focus on enjoying your vacation. With about 40 million international visitors coming to the country yearly, you are in good company. And local governments do what they can to improve the tourism experience. Recently, some of the major vacation destinations have increased police presence to make tourists feel even more comfortable and limit petty crime.
Rather than panic about heading south of the border, take smart precautions, remain aware of your surroundings, and choose your destination with care. Buen Viaje!
Interfor International has specialized in security services for over 40 years, including physical security consulting, cybersecurity, threat monitoring, vulnerability assessments, and much more. To learn more about Interfor’s services, contact us here.