Is Mexico as dangerous as it’s being made out to be? Experts try to bring some clarity to the situation

Photo (c) Thomas Barwick - Getty Images

Keep a low profile if you're going advises one expert

The U.S. Department of State suggests that if you’re thinking about going to Mexico for spring break – actually anytime in the near future – you should be cautious if not completely reconsider.

ConsumerAffairs reported on the situation. So did Forbes and so did the New York Times. But, some travel watchers say that while crime exists in certain parts of the country, there are places south of the border that are completely out of harm’s way -- and no different than it is in some parts of the U.S.

“I visited New York about two years ago and I can clearly state that I felt safer in Merida (Mexico) than in New York. The Big Apple at night is sketchier than anything I experienced in the state of Yucatan,” Patricia Palacios, the co-founder of España Guide, told ConsumerAffairs.

She said that she recently spent 10 days in Mexico, and there were places like Merida where the locale definitely lived up to its fame as one of the safest cities in North America. 

“I felt totally safe in the city, both day and night. I felt safe walking, using taxis and even riding a bike," she said. "I actually rented a car and drove from Merida to Uxmal. It was totally fine.”

Note: the State Department did give Merida as well as its neighboring towns in the Yucatan peninsula its blessing as one of two “safe” destinations – at least for the moment.

What’s worse – Europe or Mexico? 

The travel experts ConsumerAffairs spoke with pointed out that if Mexico is catching grief, then it’s only fair that concerns be raised about France, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and other countries the State Department flagged with “exercise increased caution” due to concerns like terrorism and civil unrest. 

“Can Americans get mugged, kidnapped or killed in Europe too? Yes, but it’s less likely compared to the risk in Mexico," said Philip Ballard, the chief communications officer & head of Investor Relations at HotelPlanner. "Mexico has the added threat of well-organized, well-funded, and well-trained crime syndicates and drug smuggling and human smuggling cartels that will use kidnappings and muggings as a matter of course.” 

Maybe we Americans have watched just a little too many episodes of Narco and Breaking Bad.  A local hotelier says we need to understand cartels better.

“The cartels thrive off tourism; their business comes from tourists who buy their drugs," Steph Farr, founder & CEO of Maya Luxe, told ConsumerAffairs, trying to vouch for tourist safety in her own backyard. 

"So it would not be in their best interest to create any type of danger or cause any deliberate harm to tourists because that would affect their overall business. If you’re not involved in the drug scene—either buying or selling drugs—then you shouldn’t be in any danger whatsoever,” she said.

But if you gotta go…

If you’re holding a reservation for a Mexico trip, everyone’s advice is simply to be smart. That means don’t get your inner Walter White on for one thing.

“If American tourists are easy prey, you will be targeted,” Ballard said. “You don’t ever want to put yourself at risk of getting caught in their crosshairs. No vacation is worth that amount of risk.”

For added safety, avoid any and all tourist traps such as restaurants or bars frequented by Americans. Ballard suggests finding a local tour guide to take you to the hidden gems that locals frequent, not where criminals are expecting tourists.

“Keep a low profile everywhere you go, from airport to airport (your entire journey),” he said. “Criminals will often spot American tourists the minute they deplane. Don’t wear or say anything that identifies you easily as an American tourist. Dress like the locals do and don’t wear anything with logos of any kind, or flashy jewelry. Learn some basic Spanish phrases so you can interact with locals with relative ease. Or have your guide handle everything for you.”

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