Mexico and Safety: How to Be a Smart Traveler

How Travelers and Tourism Experts Are Looking at Trips to Mexico


Although the recent tragedy occurred far from tourist areas—more than 1,000 miles from Los Cabos, in western Mexico, or Cancún, on the Caribbean coast—it still has some people spooked. Maureen Poschman, who owns a PR firm in Aspen, Colorado, has plans to go to Baja California Sur’s East Cape with her husband and two 17-year-old daughters over spring break and says she’s received worried calls from her mother and concerned texts from her neighbor in light of the news. But she has no intention of canceling. “Mexico is a big country,” she says. “And I always think you’re safer to travel right after some kind of incident. Security is heightened, and chances of another incident so soon are slim.”

Mexico is huge—it’s the 13th largest country in the world in terms of landmass—and can’t be generalized, says Rabinor. To help travelers answer the question of “Is Mexico Safe?,” his team created a comprehensive map, below, and state-by-state analysis of State Department advisories and where there are minimal travel restrictions, which include almost all major tourist areas.

This color-coded map of Mexico shows the most recent U.S. State Department travel-advisory levels. Level four is the most serious. (Illustration: Courtesy Journey Mexico)

Jacquelyn Sonner of Carmel Valley, California, intends to spend her spring break in San Miguel de Allende with her husband and two children, ages five and eight. The Pilates instructor rationalizes that despite the area’s level-three travel warning, travelers will be safe if they avoid being out after midnight and aren’t there to seek, sell, or consume drugs.

Pierre de Hail, the president of Janus Group Mexico, a risk-management company in Monterrey, Mexico, says he still cautions foreign travelers ahead of visits, even to seemingly safe tourist destinations. “There is a lot of corruption here,” he says. “Everyone is up for sale in Mexico—police, judges—so if you do get into trouble, don’t expect a fair shot.”

How to Be a Smart Traveler

Jenny Clise, a San Francisco–based yoga teacher, has either led or attended retreats in countries currently under travel advisories, such as Nicaragua, Sri Lanka, and Costa Rica. “A level-two warning, to me, is not cause for canceling travel plans but a call for deeper preparation,” she says. “If you do not have a local travel partner, I suggest sourcing a local contact from where you’re planning on staying who can either act as a guide or offer advice toward your travel plans.”

She also finds it helpful to familiarize herself with the culture and customs of a destination, she attempts to respect dress codes and learn basic phrases, and she always shares her travel plans with a friend or family or even the hotel receptionist.

“Whenever I think of the fear that people have about traveling to parts unknown, I am reminded of the time a local from Nicaragua expressed his fear to me of traveling to the United States,” she says. “It really opened my eyes to how limited my perspective on travel and safety is. My home is also a foreign place to other people and not always a safe place.”

“The problem that I see is many tourists that come here get careless. They don’t even take the slightest precautions, as they would at home. One has to be smart.”

De Hail of Janus Group Mexico recommends easing your fears by buying travel insurance in case of a medical emergency or theft. He also suggests making photocopies of your passport and leaving one with a family or friend at home. And when you’re in your hotel, leave your passport there in a safe place and take a copy of your passport out with you instead. (You never know when you’ll be asked to see it by an official, and if your wallet or purse is stolen, you  can breathe easier knowing your actual passport wasn’t taken and you can still get home.)

Out on the streets, don’t flash around money, fancy watches, or jewelry, De Hail advises. Some travelers go so far as to carry two wallets—one with expired credit cards and small bills, so on the off chance you get mugged, you can hand over that one.

When it comes to accommodations, avoid remote Airbnbs that lack security or neighbors. If you’re staying in a hotel, ask staff about security protocols and also whether it’s safe to take an Uber or a taxi, says De Hail. (You can also book a transfer through your hotel or a trusted travel company.) Avoid staying out late, especially alone, and ask a friend to keep an eye on your drink if you’re at a bar. Finally, if you’re someplace where a situation doesn’t feel right, get out. “No one ever dies of shame,” he says.

The bottom line, when it comes to any travel, is that you feel eager and excited for your trip—not worried. If you’re not feeling comfortable about your spring-break plans, and truly are on the fence,  consider rescheduling or choosing an alternative destination. “Vacation should be fun,” says Zachary Rabinor of Journey Mexico. “Comfort levels are very personal. Vacation isn’t the time to push your limits and be feeling nervous. You want to be able to relax.”

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