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What parts of Mexico are safe / dangerous for tourists? Safety, Danger

What parts of Mexico are safe / dangerous for tourists? Safety, Danger

Old Nov 15, 14, 9:48 am
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What parts of Mexico are safe / dangerous for tourists? Safety, Danger

From a crime gangs/criminals point of view, what cities/regions are safe in Mexico (for tourists), and what parts are not safe?
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Old Nov 15, 14, 9:50 am
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Dangers and Annoyances in Mexico

2015 Global Peace Index


RESOURCES

US State Department Mexico Travel Warnings <link> These are updated on a regular basis and contain general, specific and regionally-oriented information. The page includes resources and lists with addresses and telephone numbers of the US Embassy in Mexico City, consulates and consular offices. This is a must-read for visitors, especially those considering driving there or once there.

For the latest security information, U.S. citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the State Department's internet web site, where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, and Travel Alerts can be found. Follow us on Twitter and the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook as well. Up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States and Canada or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 001-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). U.S. citizens traveling or residing overseas are encouraged to enroll with the State Department's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.
For a read from a member on a recent drive in Chihuahua and Sonora, read elvatoloko's report here; he's a Washington, D.C. law enforcement officer, has Mexican family and is familiar with driving in that part of Mexico.

For a scary view of criminal activities in Mexico,committed by law breakers including law enforcement, in Castilian Spanish, check out El Blog del Narco.

WHOIS: I've resided in and visited Mexico since the 1940s, and have travelled by most available means: hiking, horseback, hitch hiking, railroad, bus, four wheel drive with camper, VW camper, commercial and private aircraft, etc. (My most "interesting" was hitch hiking in southern Morelos, riding the rails of a dump truck between the cab and dump body, wishing I was a gecko with suction cups on my fingers as we jounced and bounced down the pot-holed road.) I've visited most, if not all, states, from Mexico City to remote farms from Tamaulipas to Oaxaca.

IS WHAT'S HAPPENING IN MEXICO NEW? There have always been hassles in some parts of Mexico. In the 1950s driving between Mexico City and Cuernavaca meant driving by day; the off chance of being stuck on the road after dusk meant carrying a firearm. Later, we'd drive the roads to the picturesque Laguna de Zempoala and Huitzilác out of Cuernavaca; today, I'd probably not.

These days, the dangers have changed. We'll try to define some of the dangers and annoyances, how to manage risk and avoid many of them.

There are many areas of Mexico as safe as some European or American vacation spots. There are others, and I've been to some of them, that like some of the nastier neighborhoods of the USA or Asia or Europe, you should avoid, and some steps visitors can take to be safer (an obvious one is don't wear expensive jewelry and watches, keep a low profile, avoid demonstrations).

There are extremes of wealth here. People who eke out a living around dumps and streams downriver from refineries they must burn the toxic scum off of to use the water to a communications magnate who has developed residential areas and shopping malls as luxurious as can be found anywhere in the world, who has donated a truly spectacular art museum to the Mexican people.

This means one annoyance is beggars where tourists congregate. Some are truly destitute, other are cons who belong to organized gangs who even rent out deformed helpless children to beggars.

You can't even begin to sort them out. There are bona fide organizations and charities you can donate to that will help, or micro lenders you can lend to (no interest other than "psychic interest") like Kiva.

To avoid the hassles, steel up and do not make eye contact. If they offer you something, merely say "No, gracias" (no, thanks) without slowing down or making eye contact. It seems impolite, but it's quite necessary. Give one kid or adult anything, you're made as a "mark" and you'll be hounded.

I'll add more and you might have some experiences to share. Particularly safety and dangers, on a regional basis, because the big city, Guerrero, Yucatán including Quintana Roo (Cancún, Isla Mujeres and south to Chetumal) for example, vary widely.

Last edited by JDiver; Jul 4, 15 at 10:57 pm Reason: add resource links
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Old Nov 15, 14, 9:56 am
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Mexico City - once they've been here, how ya gonna keep them down on the farm?

Mexico City is one of the largest metropolitan areas of the world. More than twenty million people live here, from some of the world's richest to uneducated peasants just in from their busted farm scratching out a living at the rubbish dumps sorting trash, parts of the Estado / Edo. de México (state of Mexico) with significant crime profiles.

World class museums, parks, hotels and restaurants, entertainment, archaeological sites, palaces, lakes, the oldest zoo in the Americas (predating the arrival of European conquerors), easy access to resorts, wonderful archaeological sites, colonial architecture and varied cultural experiences by air or deluxe busses with fully reclining seats and wifi.

Like any big city, Mexico City has dangers and annoyances for visitors and for those living there. Crowds, poverty and relative wealth mean pickpockets and bag snatchers of various kinds where visitors in particular tend to congregate. That's true here, Barcelona, Paris, etc.

I've been a denizen, and still have friends and family who are "Chilangos" (people who live in Mexico City). Just saw some of my "Chilangería" last week in "the safest Mexican city", San Antonio, Texas , so-called because of the substantial number of Mexicans with five year visitor cards and purchased homes there. Many of them are from Monterey, the industrial northern city in the state of Nuevo León, which has experienced some personal safety problems of late.

In Mexico City, pirate cabs are a possible danger - "express" kidnappings (they use a weapon and threat of violence to make you draw cash from a cash machine / ATM and end up dumping you in an unsavory area of town minus watch, wallet, luggage) are often perpetrated by pirate taxi operators and their henchmen. Use a taxi from a "sitio" or taxi rank; restaurants, shops, friends etc. will always be happy to call their nearby sitio to get you a safe taxi. Don't take roving "taxis" on the street, e.g. outside the airport (unless you're sure they are taxis and you know what you're doing. ("Peseros", shared taxi vans with assigned routes and therefore cost much less, are probably safe - but they can be pretty crowded, and some drivers are, shall we say, "improvisational" in their approach to driving.)

Other public transit can be good - the express trolleybusses are fine - but under crowded conditions can be uncomfortable; the metro at its most crowded times has opportunistic theft and groping reports with disturbing regularity.

I'll add more and you might have some experiences to share.

Last edited by JDiver; Nov 23, 14 at 11:08 am Reason: update
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Old Nov 15, 14, 9:58 am
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I can't take the panhandling kids in rags down there. If you try and help one that causes a frenzy. More of annoyance, I guess.
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Old Nov 15, 14, 10:10 am
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Acapulco, Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, Taxco and the state of Guerrero - Caveat

Acapulco is legendary. I stayed at the old Boca Chica, Villa Vera, and subsequent places, over the years; my early scuba diving was here (I've been diving 58 years now). That Acapulco was the hot spot for movie people, tycoons, gangster on the lam, the glitterati and glamorati of the time.

It's not that anymore. Now crowded with resort hotels along the beaches, it's uncomfortably crowded and expensive at high season - especially the two weeks around Christmas and "Holy Week" leading up to Easter. Summers it's beastly hot and humid, and the rainy season can bring hurricanes and road and hillside washouts. If you wish to visit, November leading up to 15 December, the beginning of peak season, as well as March, are good to visit. Then it gets hot; May is the hottest time, then the rains cool it off.

Ixtapa is the new, brash beach resort with condominium and sprawling hotels fronting sugar-fine sand; immediately south, Zihuatanejo is older, less high-risey and gently draped around some lovely bays and baylets. Crowded and most expensive during the same times as defined for Acapulco, above.

Taxco is the ever-preserved Colonial mountain silver mining town, an architectural, art and silver work delight, close to the amazing Grutas de Cacahuamilpa caves and Xochicalco, the most accessible Toltec site and its bore sight used by several cultures to align and adjust their calendars.

I'd visit these in a heartbeat, though honestly I'd pass on Acapulco and its brassy tourism and polluted bays that long ago outgrew any attempts to control sewerage and runoff.

Renting a car in Acapulco or Ixtapa can certainly be done, but I'd caution anyone to avoid driving at night and out of the city (or even some areas in the Acapulco greater area); driving into rural areas of the state of Guerrero is plain dangerous. I can not emphasize this enough. US government employees are at this writing not permitted to be more than two blocks inland from the coastal road in Acapulco. By all means, avoid the shadier parts of town (the red light district and associated bars).

Guerrero is the most dangerous state to travel in in Mexico outside of controlled areas. The police are notoriously corrupt, gangs are proliferating - notably the "Guerreros Unidos" gang these days.

Last month, this hit the media worldwide: The police in Iguala, Guerrero were told by the mayor to prevent a group of 49 student teachers coming to town to protest discriminatory employment practices to intervene and not allow the students to disrupt his wife's speech.

The police opened fire on their bus, killing six, and removed all the rest in police vehicles. Three members of the Guerreros Unidos gang were detained, and they stated the police turned over the student teachers to them.

GU then transported the students in trucks to another, more remote, site. When they arrived seventeen had suffocated already; they executed all the others by gunshot, burned the remains for fourteen hours using petrol, wood, plastics, etc., crushed the remains, bagged them in sacks and dumped the remains in the (Mixcoac?) river. (The mayor of a nearby town has been identified as the probable leader of GU.)

Federal authorities have not yet found the missing 43 student teachers, but whilst looking for them they have discovered other mass graves. In 2013, more murders were reported in the state of Guerrero than in any other state - and the reports are considered to be the tip of the ice berg.

While it seems safe to visit Taxco, and the nearby Grutas de Cacahuamilpa caves and Xochicalco Toltec archaeological site, Acapulco and Ixtapa, I'd strongly advise not go rural in Guerrero state.

I've visited Guerrero since the 1950s, and some areas have always been dicey.

A school chum and her brother camped on the beach just south of Acapulco (1960s). They were awakened by gunmen and tied up. The assailants sat around discussing what to do with them, but as "Adalberta" was obviously pregnant they chose to let them live. But they shot "Beto's" kneecaps and left them after robbing them.

On another occasion, we were camped in a secure area near Pie de la Cuesta when a camper arrived with obvious bullet holes (1970s). The couple told me they'd pulled over for the night in one of the scenic overlooks just south of Acapulco, between Acapulco and Puerto Marqués, when some armed men knocked and demanded to be let in.

When they declined, the men shot the door lock open (and ventilated the door for good measure). What saved them is they were show professionals traveling with a chimpanzee; the chimp went berzerko at the gunshots and the robbers fled.

Last edited by JDiver; Nov 23, 14 at 11:13 am
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Old Nov 15, 14, 10:15 am
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The Yucatán: Cancún, the new coastal strip, Mérida and Maya sites

More to come...
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Old Nov 15, 14, 10:32 am
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The Pacific from around Puerto Vallarta, Punta Mita, Mazatlán and north

More to come - for now, please see post # 12.

Last edited by JDiver; Nov 23, 14 at 11:27 am
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Old Nov 15, 14, 11:15 am
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Thanks.
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Old Nov 15, 14, 12:38 pm
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The North, broadly speaking

Most visitors don't actually visit much in this area, other than the border towns. The most dangerous is Ciudad Juarez, the most visited - tens of thousands of pedestrians from the U.S. every day, including many who prefer low-cost domestic air travel - Tijuana.

Unfortunately, the border means the nexus for illegal activity. Desperate people living under such danger and poverty they'll risk their lives to cross to the USA are much in the news, but drug cartels vie for remote crossings and even build sophisticated tunnels to smuggle drugs. Of course, there is a turf problem, and several gangs vie to control areas and recruit "mules" to smuggle in their drugs, and smuggle back guns and ammunition from the USA.

Nobody I know drives the highways up north at night. It can be dangerous, ranging from assaults to witnessing illicit activity by those who don't like leaving witnesses.

Some business people visit maquiladoras (across the border assembly and fabrication plants) and industrial sites, but other than Baja California and some parts of coastal Sonora, you won't find many touristic reasons to visit.

More to come...
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Old Nov 22, 14, 8:50 am
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I'd ignore most of these comments and read the U.S. State Department report. I don't normally say that, but as someone who lives in Mexico now and travels around the country regularly, there's no other document out there that is as granular and detailed as that one (without paying lots of money for a private one). They've done an admirable job of not only telling you state by state where the troubles are (Yucatan and Baja Sur, no worries, Michoacan and Chihuaha a different story), but also which areas within a state should be avoided if you have a choice. In broad terms, every resort area is trouble-free except for Acapulco. In all of them, less crime than a comparable place in the USA like Miami or Myrtle Beach. Almost anywhere a U.S. tourist would go is fine. The number of foreigners affected by violence in the country is extremely low.

Mexico City has far fewer homicides these days than Washington DC and JDiver's comments above are about 10 years out of date. Unless you're a billionaire Mexican, the risk of an express kidnapping is close to zero and unless it's late at night, I always hail a taxi on the street. I've been doing it for years, as has every expat I know who lives there.
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Old Nov 22, 14, 10:24 am
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Originally Posted by JDiver View Post
More to come
I am interested in visiting PV first time ever (with family) next year.

I am interested in your thoughts on safety in PV, and the surrounding regions in that state.
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Old Nov 23, 14, 9:03 am
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Originally Posted by FlyerGoldII View Post
I am interested in visiting PV first time ever (with family) next year.

I am interested in your thoughts on safety in PV, and the surrounding regions in that state.
The most recent U.S. Department of State Mexico Travel Warning (link in post #2) says:

Jalisco: Guadalajara, Puerto Vallarta, and Lake Chapala are major cities/travel destinations in Jalisco - Defer non-essential travel to areas of the state that border the states of Michoacán and Zacatecas. The security situation along the Michoacán and Zacatecas borders continues to be unstable and gun battles between criminal groups and authorities occur. Concerns include roadblocks placed by individuals posing as police or military personnel and recent gun battles between rival criminal organizations involving automatic weapons. You should exercise caution in rural areas and when using secondary highways, particularly along the northern border of the state. Except for the areas of the state that border Michoacán, there is no advisory in effect for daytime travel within major population centers or major highways in the state of Jalisco. Intercity travel at night is not recommended. There is no recommendation against travel to Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta. There is also no recommendation against travel on principal highways in Jalisco between Guadalajara including the portions that cross into the southern portions of the state of Nayarit.
P.V. itself and the coast north toward Santa Cruz and even to Bahia Matanchén, - San Blás after turning off near Las Varas, the old Spanish landing at Chacala (these two may experience varying road conditions), should be fine in the daytime. La Crúz de Huanacaxtle, Punta Mita, Bucerías to Rincón de Guayabitos have some lovely beaches and resorts and can easily be reached by the coast roads. (We used to drive down in a VW bus or 4WD FJ-40 and camp on the empty beaches, dive using a hookah unit. No resorts, just small villages, some unimproved roads, an occasional one or two star stopping off place... Big changes since then!)

Southward to Mismaloya and on to Boca de Tomatlán should be fine too, and one could drive all the way to Manzanillo (inquire about road conditions and double your time estimates as well,) should be fine in the daytime.

I'd not be driving around at night - animals, breakdowns marked by branches or rocks (which may not be removed after the vehicle itself has left), poor drivers in unsafe vehicles (much talk these days they will be requiring driver tests before issuing driver licenses in the Capital!) and the possibility of running into malefactors.

I remember years ago an American pilot was arrested for drugs smuggling in the U.S. In an interview, he revealed how the national highway patrol would temporarily close a piece of highway and set out marker lights so he could land and have the drugs loaded into his aircraft by narcos and highway patrol officers. I'm pretty sure they'd prefer no witnesses... and I chatted with a very frightened guy who observed some "extrajudicial execution" whilst camped in the bush not far from San Blás (I recommended getting far away as fast as he could drive that same day).

Always ask for local information in addition to consulting maps, etc. and beware of leaving valuables in parked cars. The same can be said in California...

Last edited by JDiver; Nov 23, 14 at 10:39 am
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Old Nov 23, 14, 9:36 am
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Originally Posted by globetrots View Post
I'd ignore most of these comments and read the U.S. State Department report. I don't normally say that, but as someone who lives in Mexico now and travels around the country regularly, there's no other document out there that is as granular and detailed as that one (without paying lots of money for a private one). They've done an admirable job of not only telling you state by state where the troubles are (Yucatan and Baja Sur, no worries, Michoacan and Chihuaha a different story), but also which areas within a state should be avoided if you have a choice. In broad terms, every resort area is trouble-free except for Acapulco. In all of them, less crime than a comparable place in the USA like Miami or Myrtle Beach. Almost anywhere a U.S. tourist would go is fine. The number of foreigners affected by violence in the country is extremely low.

Mexico City has far fewer homicides these days than Washington DC and JDiver's comments above are about 10 years out of date. Unless you're a billionaire Mexican, the risk of an express kidnapping is close to zero and unless it's late at night, I always hail a taxi on the street. I've been doing it for years, as has every expat I know who lives there.
I used to visit, even camp or sleep in my VW bus, at remote villages, lovely lakes in Michoacán, visit relatives in rural Tamaulipas and even towns in Guerrero I'd not visit these days. I do feel comfortable visiting Mexico City and extended vicinity, the Yucatán peninsula and many other areas of Mexico. After all, I'm a native and have travelled extensively throughout the country by just about ever means possible, including small planes, 4WD, horseback, hiking, etc.

Your first paragraphs are spot on, but as to Mexico City, not only is it too large and diverse to make broad general statements about it, my family and some very longtime friends who live in Mexico, D.F. and nearby, even in some cases working within the City administration, would possibly disagree with you. They all know of incidents, have received calls from scammers posing as "snatched children" / experienced "virtual kidnappings", have been set up or followed, know others who have experienced troubles and harm; they either are, or know, victims of crime. Of course, they're embedded in the culture, since they've lived there for generations and have extended families and extensive networks of friends, tradespeople, etc.

Statistics are fairly meaningless in this instance. U.S. law enforcement detail the murders, violence, etc. in Mexico, statistics are, let's say, less assiduously kept - or even suppressed, lest someone or the local caciques be made to look bad. And many Mexicans would not report instances of violence, because they know if they're fortunate nothing would come about and if they weren't they'd be up for hassles and extortion by the authorities.

For those who know "la movida" doing what you, other expats or I do is fine. For visitors with few clues, not so much. We know what a taxi should look like, we know almost intuitively where to go, how to get there. We're moving purposefully, not looking lost and stopping to consult a map while standing on the sidewalk. The one most likely to be targeted for an express kidnap might well be the visitor arriving at Benito Juárez / MEX in the evening looking to avoid queues and walking to the road where a "friendly ruletero" who in fact is a pirate cab who will drive you a bit and stop "to give his friend a ride" and... because we know better.

Some are attracted to see demonstrations. In Mexico City, recent demonstrations over the "disappeared" students (both downtown and near the airport - the latter impeding airport traffic - turned violent. Demonstrations in Mexico are to be avoided; some demonstrators are agents provocateur, and law enforcement officers may be indiscriminate in their actions and violent as well.

Chilangos themselves will approach visitors around the Zócalo and tell them to be careful of their cameras and belongings, and otherwise will provide "local knowledge" useful to visitors.

Last edited by JDiver; Nov 23, 14 at 12:37 pm
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Old Feb 11, 15, 4:08 pm
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Ensenada

I recommend Ensenada. I drive down to Ensenada from San Diego 2-3 weekends/month, and it's both safe and full of fantastic restaurants and great wine.
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Old Feb 11, 15, 10:35 pm
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Originally Posted by TravelManKen View Post
I recommend Ensenada. I drive down to Ensenada from San Diego 2-3 weekends/month, and it's both safe and full of fantastic restaurants and great wine.
It is, indeed! Few are aware the mountain range "spine" facing the Pacific in northern Baja California has a number of vineyards, with some quite nice wine.
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