The recent kidnapping and killings of US citizens in the Mexican city of Matamoros have raised concerns for US travelers who have made plans or know someone planning to visit Mexico for spring break.
While it is unfortunate and heartbreaking, does that mean Mexico as a whole isn’t safe? The simple answer is no, and while the media’s job is to inform the public of these crimes, it doesn’t mean that all of Mexico is unsafe and shouldn’t be visited.
However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t areas in Mexico that tourists should avoid at all costs. The US State Department has issued a warning to avoid certain areas of Mexico due to the high levels of crime and violence, including the state of Tamaulipas, where the kidnapping occurred.
In this article, we will discuss the states in Mexico that the US State Department recommends avoiding and the safety precautions travelers should take in Mexico.
Is Mexico Safe For Travel Right Now?
Due to having white-sandy beaches, turquoise waters, incredible food (tacos, anyone?), and vibrant culture, millions of tourists flock to Mexico every year to enjoy its many attractions.
Some popular spring break locations include Cancun, Cabo San Lucas, and Puerto Vallarta. Many tourists are looking to vacation at an all-inclusive resort to take a break from their everyday lives.
However, the recent kidnapping and killings of US Citizens in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, just over the border from Brownsville, Texas, has caused many to rethink their plans.
But is this concern warranted? To put it in perspective, there are 32 states in Mexico, and only 6 made the “Do Not Travel” list issued by the US State Department. Those six states are Tamaulipas, Sinaloa, Colima, Michoacan, Zacatecas, and Guerrero.
If you are wondering, the most popular spring break destinations mentioned earlier are not in these states. In fact, Cancun is 1,360 miles away from where the kidnapping and murders took place.
While this crime has made major national news, travelers forget that these horrendous crimes happen everywhere, including in the United States.
Just recently, three, including a child, were left dead due to a home invasion in Chicago. Billings, MT, with a population of 117,445, has constantly struggled with meth-related crimes.
Not to mention the other murders, kidnappings, human & drug trafficking, school shootings, and other acts of violence in the United States.
So, should travelers planning to visit the US reschedule their trips due to these horrific events?
The answer is no, and it’s the same answer for Mexico. The point is that no matter where you travel, terrible things can happen, but most of the time, they can be avoided with the proper safety precautions.
Safety Precautions When Traveling to Mexico
In general, the most popular resort areas are safe to travel to, and many tourists have no intention of leaving the resort. However, if you plan on venturing off your resort to explore, you should still take necessary safety precautions even if you are not visiting a “Do Not Travel” state.
Get Trusted Transportation
Before arriving in Mexico, plan your transportation to and from your resort or hotel beforehand. The safest option is to contact your host and ask for a shuttle. A hotel or resort usually offers a free shuttle service from the airport to the resort.
If you are planning a side trip, ensure you use a trusted taxi or transportation service. You can do this by asking reception to arrange a taxi or by private booking. By going this route, you can ensure you don’t wander into any dangerous parts of town.
Avoid accepting a ride from a stranger or unmarked taxi at all costs, even if they offer a great deal.
Travel During Daylight Hours
If you plan on renting a car or taking public transportation, it is best to travel during daylight. This will reduce the chances of running into any trouble on the road.
For example, if you are visiting Cancun and want to check out the famous beach towns of Playa Del Carman or Tulum, plan your trip accordingly so you can be back before dark.
If you have to travel at night, be sure it is with a tour company, private shuttle, or other transportation services arranged by your hotel or resort.
Research Areas Before You Go
In every city, some areas are best avoided. Before you travel, research the destination to know what areas to stay away from.
Think of your hometown and the places you would never go to alone or at night. The same rules apply when traveling to Mexico, and a quick Google search will give you that information.
If you are unsure, ask someone at your hotel or resort. Typically, the employees are from the area and can give you local advice on where to go, what to see, and what to avoid.
Travel In Groups
While many tourists travel alone without issues, sometimes traveling in groups is safer.
For example, if you plan on going to remote ruins or a nightclub, it is best to join a tour group or travel in groups of two or more. Being with others puts you at less risk of being targeted by any criminal activity.
Keep Your Phone Charged
A benefit of traveling to Mexico is that most data plans will work. This means you can use Google Maps or Google Translate to navigate the area, stay in contact with friends and family, and contact authorities in an emergency.
Keeping your phone charged and sharing your location with family or friends increases your chances of getting help in an emergency.
Trust Your Instincts
Lastly, our instincts signal alarm bells when something doesn’t feel right. If you feel unsafe or uncomfortable in any situation, it’s best to leave and get to a busy area such as a restaurant, hotel, or public transport station. If you need to stay there, ask for help from an employee or security guard.
The True Dangers of Mexico
To be clear, we are not trying to downplay the recent tragic events and the US State Department’s advisories. However, the chances of being a victim of a cartel-related crime that puts your life at risk are low, especially if you avoid the 6-7 high-risk states.
In reality, you should be aware of these risks when traveling to Mexico.
Don’t Drink the Water
It’s widely known that tap water in Mexico is unsafe to drink and can cause severe stomach issues. However, you can avoid contamination by purchasing bottled water for drinking and even brushing your teeth.
Every tourist area has its share of scams, and Mexico is no exception. It’s easy to get sucked into these cons, so research before you go. It’s easy to overpay or fall prey to a scam if you’re unaware of the typical prices.
Expert tip: Almost everything is negotiable in Mexico, so don’t be afraid to walk away if the price seems too steep.
Montezuma’s revenge is real and can happen to those who are not careful with their food. To avoid getting food poisoning, avoid restaurants with buffets, wash your hands regularly, and stick to reputable restaurants if you venture off your resort.
If you want to try the local street food such as tacos, tortas, or elotes, look for vendors with a long line of locals. Not only is this a sign that the food is safe to eat, but more than likely, it will also be delicious.
Petty thefts make up most of the criminal activity when visiting Mexico or any foreign country. To mitigate the risk of being a victim, avoid flashing expensive jewelry, leaving items unattended, using ATMs in unsecured areas, and carrying large amounts of cash.
When leaving your hotel or resort, take advantage of the safe provided in the room and only take what you need. If you must bring expensive items with you, then keep your items close to you at all times.
Is Mexico Safe to Travel to Mexico? Final Verdict
Overall, it is generally safe to travel to Mexico as long as you have common sense and take the necessary precautions. Always stay vigilant, be aware of your surroundings, and do your research before you go. By following the tips above, you will have a safe and enjoyable trip to this beautiful country.