Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How safe is Mexico these days?

You can call Mexico many things: drug-ridden and colorful are words that immediately crop up. But the real question is whether it is dangerous? A simple answer:

“Many tourists, mainly from the neighboring USA, now consider Mexico to be a bargain and not the dangerous drug-ridden country it has often been depicted in the media,” points out Tourism-Review.com.

When this editor went to Mexico City for a recent convention, the most common reaction was this:“Why in the world do you want to go there? It’s dangerous.”

For most tourists such as myself, the most dangerous aspect of travel here is traffic (which is the biggest cause of death for American tourists visiting any foreign lands). Traffic is terrible anytime but residents will tell you accidents are not that common because of the defensive driving that is also commonplace.

The main problems in Mexico involve interior areas that are far from the Riviera Maya and Cozumel beaches more frequented by sun-seeking tourists.

Despite bad publicity about drugs and swine flu, 7.1 million tourists visited Mexico in the first eight months of this year. Hotel occupancy in Mexico was up 10 percent through August 2010, according to Smith Travel Research, while the number of international tourist arrivals to Mexico was up 27.5 percent in July 2010 as compared to July 2009.

Why is that?

Most observers attribute it to overall prices that are lower than in Europe and much of the US.
While the US State Department has travel warnings in place for Mexico, the violence and the warnings are far from resort areas such as Cancun, Riviera Maya, Puerto Vallarta, and Los Cabos, popular incentive destinations.

Until recently it was accurate to say virtually all of the crime, murder and kidnapping of foreign (particularly US) citizens was linked to the drug trade. People attempting to buy or sell drugs, attempting to be a part of the trafficking industry or a turf war between drug gangs. But more recently, there have been a few incidents where innocent people have become victims.
Consular staff and their family members have been kidnapped, prompting the State Department to order non-essential staff and their dependents back home.

There's no denying the country does have problems.

It is not advisable to drive on rural roads and highways at night. Bandits occasionally set up roadblocks and rob travellers, for example. But incidents are far from commonplace.
What areas should tourists avoid?

The State Department warning advises US citizens to avoid unnecessary travel to Michoacán and Tamaulipas, and to parts of Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Durango, and Coahuila.

The warning also says:

“Millions of US citizens safely visit Mexico each year. This includes tens of thousands who cross the border every day for study, tourism or business and at least one million US citizens who live in Mexico … Resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico do not see the levels of drug-related violence and crime reported in the border region and in areas along major drug trafficking routes.”

The State Department also urges “common-sense precautions such as visiting only legitimate business and tourist areas during daylight hours, and avoiding areas where criminal activity might occur, can help ensure that travel to Mexico is safe and enjoyable.”

Mexico ranks as one of the top international travel destination in the world and is the No. 1 international tourism destination for North Americans traveling abroad.

One piece of evidence of the country’s relative safety for most visits: Many tourists to the country are repeat visitors, which demonstrates that the vast majority of tourists leave with overwhelmingly positive impressions.

By David Wilkening

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