Traveling in Mexico – Safety Tips

I just came back from another vacation in Mexico (Puerto Vallarta this time). As usual, it was a great time full of food, partying, great weather, beautiful sunsets, and really interesting and kind strangers. As usual, my trip was preceded with the usual warnings from friends about the dangers of traveling to Mexico.

While there is no arguing that Mexico’s homicide rate and other violence indicators are worse that those of the US, there are a couple of things to consider. A disproportionate amount of the violence takes place in specific cities. When Americans see horror stories over something that happens in, say, Acapulco, they quickly react by thinking this means Mexico is dangerous. When they see shootings in Chicago, they immediately think Chicago is dangerous. In terms of homicide rates, Mexico’s overall homicide rate puts it on par with US cities like Cleveland, OH, Kansas City, MO, Memphis TN, and well south of New Orleans (something to keep in mind when Mardi Gras rolls around!).

Nevertheless, here are a few guidelines I hope people will find useful. There are many more such guidelines to be found via a quick Google search, but these are guidelines I’ve come up with from my own personal experience (from my experiences in Mexico as both a trouble making 20-something and a dull and cautious 30-something).

Avoid Certain Towns

The bulk of the violence reported in the news happens in a few towns where drug trade activity is highly concentrated. These towns include Acapulco, Culiacan, Torreon, Ciudad Victoria and Nuevo Laredo, As often as I travel to Mexico, I avoid these (and a few other) cities.

Stay in Public areas

No matter where you are, stick to the public areas. If you are part of a tourist group, stay with the group. Tourism accounts for a disproportionate amount of Mexico’s GDP, so it’s in the Mexican federal and local government’s best interest to avoid as many tourist incidents as possible. However, the further you venture out, the less protection you’ll have and the more susceptible you become to potential local trouble.

Yes, there are laws in Mexico

For some reason, there is no shortage of people who vacation in Mexico and appear to believe there are no public indecency laws. Things like urinating in public will get you a one-way ticket in a jail system that makes US jails look like a 3-star hotel.

Don’t take a ride in an unmarked car

This might seem rather obvious. After all, what traveler in their right mind would get into an unmarked car? But in Mexico, the transportation system includes a system called “collectivos” which are in essence informal taxis. These are more common in the smaller, less populated cities, where actual taxis may be rare, and a sizable portion of the local population lack their own vehicle. You’ll see small vans with lettering on the door shuttling people back and forth. These are collectivos.

There are designated spots where you can wait for one of these shuttles to pick you up. If you are offered a ride by an unmarked vehicle (especially one with no passengers, or perhaps only one “passenger”) kindly refuse the offer.

That’s it for now. I will likely be updating this in the near future.

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