Pristine beaches, endless sunshine, bustling metropolises, enticing all-inclusives, and a rich history have made Mexico a popular travel destination for honeymooners, families, and college spring breakers for years. The country also has proximity to the U.S. on its side -- another reason it lands on many American travelers’ where-to-visit lists. But now, Mexico, including its tourist-laden hot spots, has been under the spotlight for safety concerns, leaving many hesitant about taking that south-of-the-border escape.
On August 22, the State Department updated its official travel warning, and added stricter advisories for Quintana Roo, a region that includes Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum, as well as Baja California Sur, including Cabo San Lucas. The advisory declares that “U.S. citizens have been victims of violent crimes, including homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery” in these particular regions.
According to the State Department, homicide rates in Quintana Roo have risen since last year. The state saw 169 murders this year. “While most of these homicides appeared to be targeted criminal organization assassinations, turf battles between criminal groups have resulted in violent crime in areas frequented by U.S. citizens. Shooting incidents, in which innocent bystanders have been injured or killed, have occurred,” reads the warning. Homicide rates in Baja California Sur have also increased over the last year.
But why release the warning now? “The travel warning issued on August 22, 2017 is a routine update that replaces the travel warning issued on December 8, 2016,” Ashley Garrigus, a spokesperson for the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, told us.
Garrigus adds that the State Department “continues to warn U.S. citizens about the risk of traveling to parts of Mexico due to criminal organizations active in the country,” but “there is no evidence that organized criminal groups have targeted U.S. visitors and residents based on their nationality” and that “the Mexican government dedicates substantial resources to protect visitors to major tourist destinations.”
It’s also worth noting that despite Quintana Roo’s latest advisory, the state isn’t listed among the most dangerous places in Mexico, where government personnel are cautioned to “defer non-essential travel.” Those places include parts of Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Colima. “The Department issues travel warnings when we recommend U.S. citizens not travel to specific areas due to dangerous or unstable conditions such as high risk of terrorist activity, rampant crime or violence, or the departure of Embassy staff due to security concerns,” says Garrigus.
However, this warning comes at a time when travelers are already on edge about visiting Mexico, due to news about illicit alcohol being supplied at popular resorts. After raiding 31 resorts, nightclubs, and restaurants in Cancun and Playa del Carmen, the government was led to a liquor distributor supplying the illicit substances. Mexican authorities reportedly seized 10,000 gallons of tainted booze, and two popular establishments — the Fat Tuesday bar in Cancun and the lobby bar at the Iberostar Paraiso del Mar in Playa del Carmen — were temporarily shut down. (Approximately 90 gallons of tainted alcohol were confiscated from the two bars alone.)
As a response, the State Department recently updated their country-specific information page “to include a point on ‘alcohol,’ stating that there have been allegations of tainted or substandard alcohol served in resorts resulting in illness or blacking out, and to seek medical attention if you begin to feel ill,” says Garrigus.
In addition, there have been several high-profile shooting incidents in popular tourist areas, including Playa del Carmen, Cancun, and Cabo, some which injured bystanders.
For those who already have trips booked to one of these regions, the decision of whether you keep your travel plans is ultimately up to you. “We are advising U.S. citizens to the potential risks when traveling to Mexico, so they can make informed travel decisions,” says Garrigus. That said, the travel warning does state that “resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico generally do not see the level of drug-related violence and crime that are reported in the border region or in areas along major trafficking routes.”
If you plan to travel to Quintana Roo or Baja California Sur, there are safety precautions you can take to ease any tension you may have. Garrigus encourages American travelers to carefully review the information on travel.state.gov, and to enroll their travel plans using the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) whenever traveling abroad.
The bottom line is that Mexico continues to be one of the most visited countries in the world, having welcomed a record-breaking 35 million international tourists in 2016 alone. So while it’s crucial to review the State Department’s alerts — as well as take appropriate safety measures before and during your trip — it doesn’t necessarily mean you should rule out a vacation there all together.
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