The US State Department recently issued its latest Mexico travel advisory. The preamble is remarkably reasonable, and contains several points that support my own point of view on the subject of Mexico travel:
- “Millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year for study, tourism, and business, including more than 150,000 who cross the border every day. More than 20 million U.S. citizens visited Mexico in 2012.”
- “The Mexican government makes a considerable effort to protect U.S. citizens and other visitors to major tourist destinations, and there is no evidence that Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) have targeted U.S. visitors and residents based on their nationality.”
- “Resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico generally do not see the levels of drug-related violence and crime that is reported in the border region and in areas along major trafficking routes.”
They then discuss some valid concerns about violence in Mexico, and go on to give the best possible advice:
- “We strongly advise you to lower your profile and avoid displaying any evidence of wealth that might draw attention.”
However, despite all this even-handedness, the state-by-state assessment still strikes me as a bit hysterical. For your consideration I am contrasting state department warnings with our own experiences traveling through the areas mentioned:
State department sez: “You should defer non-essential travel to the state of Chihuahua. In Ciudad Juarez, personal travel by USG employees outside the northeast portion of the city (the area near the Consulate General) is restricted. Crime and violence remain serious problems throughout the state of Chihuahua, particularly in the southern portion of the state and in the Sierra Mountains, including Copper Canyon.”
While its true that cartel activity is notable in Chihuahua (and I certainly agree about staying out of Juarez), we enjoyed our time in the state, and even discovered an amazing hot spring in the middle of nowhere. Rich wrote:
“Fosiles. Aguas termales!” Churpa blurted excitedly as we passed a dusty side road on our left marked by a faded sign. ”Let’s try it. Maybe they’ll let us camp there. If not, the land isn’t fenced, so maybe we could find a spot out of sight of the highway.”
“Umm…” I tried to stall as we sped past the sign. ”Umm. . .I guess. Should I turn around?” Churpa immediately replied in the affirmative and I gave up on the idea of a hotel. Camping in the desert it was.
State department sez: “You should defer non-essential travel within the state of Zacatecas to the area bordering the states of Aguascalientes, Coahuila, Durango, and Jalisco and exercise caution in the interior of the state including the city of Zacatecas.”
Although we did speak with a Pemex (gas station) employee on a rural highway who said they’d had problems with thieves, our time in Zacatecas was notably peaceful and pleasant and we did not feel endangered. In fact, our biggest disturbance was a serenade:
This was one of my favorite days ever, and it ended with an appropriate flourish. We retired to our room after dinner so that Rich could watch the play-offs…I was startled out of my reverie by the sound of a brass band. From my stone balcony I could see a whole procession: a marching band followed by a hundred revelers, who seemed to be, by and large, middle class middle aged Mexicans happily drinking Modelo in the street. I was just thinking, “Man, do I love Mexico,” when the trumpet player spotted me on the balcony, stopped marching, and began to serenade me. In moments the rest of the band joined him. A hundred revelers crowded around, laughing and waving up at me.
State Department sez “You should defer non-essential travel to the northwestern and southern portions of the state (the area west and south of the town of Arcelia on the border with Estado de Mexico in the north and the town of Tlapa near the border with Oaxaca), except for the cities of Acapulco, Zihuatanejo, and Ixtapa. In those cities, you should exercise caution and stay within tourist areas. You should also exercise caution and travel only during daylight hours on toll highway (“cuota”) 95D between Mexico City and Acapulco and highway 200 between Acapulco and Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa. In Acapulco, defer non-essential travel to areas further than 2 blocks inland of the Costera Miguel Aleman Boulevard, which parallels the popular beach areas.”
We spent quite a bit of time in Guerrero. Our friends who live near Saladita acknowledge that the area has felt dangerous in years past, but they say that things are lightening up. We had an excellent trip on Highway 200, and spent an even better week hanging out on the beach. That said, I did experience some trauma:
Then we got to the difficult part: walking down the beach carrying a surfboard. First of all, I wasn’t sure which way the fins were supposed to face. Was there a cool way for the fins to face? Secondly, I have almost no upper body strength so it was actually a struggle to keep the surfboard balanced under one arm. The board kept wobbling in the breeze and slipping, and I had to stop five or six times to switch arms. If carrying the board is making me feel like a total idiot, I really can not wait to get in the water.
The State Department list of no-go states is long, and I could go on and on contrasting their warnings with my anecdotal evidence, but I’ll rest my case.