A reader writes:
I really enjoyed reading your guys’ book with all the practical advices about Mexico; a question: any current concerns for traveling to and around Acapulco?
Thanks for reading. Hmmm…Acapulco. That’s a tough one. The last time I was in Acapulco was in 2013. We drove the coastal Highway 200 from Oaxaca, through Guerrero and Michoacan, and up into Sinaloa. As you may already know, Guerrero, Michoacan and Sinaloa are all considered hot spots for cartel activity. The only problem we had on the entire trip was in Acapulco, where we were hassled by some corrupt cops who milked us for a bribe on a bogus seat belt violation. But that didn’t feel particularly dangerous–just irritating. In general, I still feel comfortable traveling in Mexico and my usual advice is this: if you’re not buying or selling drugs, you’re probably going to be just fine.
That said, cartel activity tends to be localized, and Acapulco is not in a “safe” zone. In fact, according to 2013 statistics, Acapulco is the second most dangerous municipality in Mexico. Of the 213 municipalities surveyed, Acapulco had the highest intentional homicide rate. (Surprisingly, Oaxaca, Oaxaca was the municipality with the highest violent crime index. This is interesting to me because Oaxaca is still a popular tourist destination and doesn’t usually come up when people discuss Mexico’s “scary” cities.)
When deciding whether to travel to Acapulco, it may be worth noting that violence has declined in the city since 2012. According to data compiled by a reputable Mexican nonprofit, Acapulco was once crowned the most violent city in Mexico, but has now ceded to Oaxaca. On the other hand, our valiant travel correspondent El Codo recently traveled through neighboring Michoacan and issued a travel advisory for that state.
In conclusion: I advise traveling in Mexico. I don’t necessarily advise traveling in Acapulco, but I would go there myself. If you do go to Acapulco, take normal common sense precautions: talk to locals to get a feel for what parts of town are safe, don’t get noticeably drunk in public, don’t wear flashy jewelry or drive a fancy car, don’t drive at night, don’t buy or sell kilos, and do pay attention to your gut instincts about people and places. And last, but not least, don’t worry too much. Walking around looking like you think you might be robbed at any minute is one of the best ways to invite attention from the wrong people. Instead maintain a friendly, open-minded attitude and pay close attention to your surroundings.
editor’s note: Dan wrote back:
We looked carefully at the advisory on the state department website and read lots of other articles about Acapulco, including some Mexican newspapers.
It seems that almost all the crime is located in the suburbs around the city and up in the moutains and the tourist zone remained relatively quiet and more tourists are coming by.
One more question I wanted to ask:
How safe did you feel it was to drive the Mexican 200 hwy north or south of the city? Did you run into any roadblocks?
Churpa replies: I would not drive as far south as Michoacan at this juncture, but would feel OK driving south in Guerrero or north into Oaxaca. Avoid driving at night and you’re better off in a low key vehicle–fancy trucks and SUVs are more likely targets. I’m probably making this sound scarier than it actually is. I’ve been to Mexico many times since the cartel problem went big, and I’ve never felt threatened. There are road blocks along 200, but they are typically policia federal (federal police) or sometimes army–they are there to protect tourists. They may ask to search your vehicle and look at your paperwork. Cooperate in the same way you would U.S. officials. Of course there are stories of false road blocks, but I’ve never actually encountered one.