CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - I recently returned from three business trips to Mexico. One to Mexico City and two to Cancun/Playa del Carmen. With summer fast approaching and the lure of a Mexican vacation pulling at your imagination, I'd like to share with you some safety and security concerns that surround any upcoming travel you may be considering to Mexico.
Put aside for a moment all the media reports and stories you hear on a daily basis coming from a variety of different sources regarding safety and security in Mexico. There is one source you should consider as the premier authority for travel conditions in Mexico. That's the United States Department of State. You can easily access any information and travel updates they post at https://travel.state.gov.
Understanding that they are the lead authority for U.S. citizens regarding travel safety in foreign countries, let me share with you my perspective and some best practices in regard to safety and security that I've utilized recently myself, and shared while consulting with numerous clients.
First, Mexico City (officially Mexico, D.F. or just D.F.). When you fly into Mexico City, you will arrive at Mexico City International Airport (airport code MEX) which is quite literally, right in the middle of the city. Now, Mexico City itself is referred to as the Federal District (D.F.), which is comprised of 16 boroughs. If you stay within the metropolitan business / tourist areas of the city you are safe. Mexico has a lot invested in their tourist trade and therefore the safety and security of their tourists. One of the first things that caught my attention while in Mexico City was the shear number of uniformed law enforcement officials present on the streets. Between the Mexico City police, state police, federal police, tourist police, military police and an assortment of security officers, each being a separate and distinct agency, the probability of crime occurring in these heavily visited areas is greatly diminished. Keep in mind, that Mexico City, D.F. has a population over 8 million people, with the Greater Mexico City Metropolitan Area boasting a population of over 21 million, so if you go out looking for trouble, you will undoubtedly find it. Keep in mind that you are a visitor to a foreign country. Mexico City is one of the world's most amazing capitol cities. But like any other big city in the world, while there, remain vigilant of your surroundings. And if it makes you feel more comfortable during your stay, there are numerous hotels in the immediate area of the American Embassy located in the affluent street of Paseo de la Reforma in the Cuauhtemoc neighborhood.
Next, let's look at the frequently mentioned city of Acapulco, which is in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero. Formerly a tourist mega-hot spot, the past few years of criminal activity in the region has taken its toll on Acapulco. The Mexican state of Guerrero is now listed by our State Department as one of five Mexican states which holds the designation of "DO NOT TRAVEL" for American citizens due to robust criminal activity. Enough said about Acapulco.
Moving on to the Cancun and Playa del Carmen area. Again, this area, just like Mexico City, has a great deal invested in their tourism trade. While it is true that there are no direct threats against Americans, tourists or local area resorts, there are still some concerns in this area. Collateral damage as a result of criminal turf wars has kept local law enforcement and the military quite busy. Not a day goes by without some report of targeted criminal activity and unfortunately, a tourist being at the wrong place at the wrong time is all it takes to promptly end what set out to be an amazing vacation. So here are a few tips to keep you safe while visiting the Mexican Riviera:
- Do not use local taxi’s. Only use transportation that has been arranged by your hotel or resort. Street taxi’s are not a safe option anywhere in this area. This includes local city buses.
- Do not frequent the bars specifically in Playa del Carmen. The local criminal element frequents the local bars, so the probability of becoming collateral damage greatly increases in these locations.
- Stay off city streets after 10 PM. Late night hours have proven to be a more dangerous time.
- Do not engage with vendors on the beaches. This is one of the largest criminal run enterprises in the area. Vendors who work the beach areas are controlled by local criminal enterprises.
- Stay off the beaches during the hours of darkness. Beaches are well patrolled by both the police and the military during daylight hours, however after dark, those patrols do not exist.
As of this writing, resorts in this area are a safe place to be. Most of the larger resort properties have full service activities, which include multiple restaurants, bars, pools, clubs and a variety of outdoor and indoor activities. These ample conveniences make your need to travel into the cities of Cancun or Playa del Carmen less of a necessity and more of a curiosity.
As recommended by the Department of State, before you travel, enroll in STEP (the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) at https://step.state.gov. This just takes a few minutes, and when you list your cell phone number, you will be sent a text message by our State Department while you are on vacation, advising you of any travel advisories or alerts.