EFAM | Escape From America Magazine

Safety in Mexico: Reality vs. Sensationalist Media Hype

In the last few months, I have had the good fortune to visit Mexico a couple of times. For a single mom whose family and friends have no problem with me romping around Buenos Aires, taking my young kids to the Amazon, or climbing mountains in Africa, I cannot say that I was sufficiently prepared for the distinct reaction I got when people heard I was going to Mexico:

“You are going where? But what about the cartels?”

“Wow. I wouldn’t go there even if someone paid me”.

“Pretty irresponsible to be going there.You’ re a mother – you shouldn’t be putting yourself into situations like that…”

To which my response was:  “Have you ever been to Mexico?Oh, you haven’t… Well then, please at least tell me specifics as to what this violence is where I am going. What area is it in, and what specifically should I be on the lookout for?”

And, shocker…they have no idea. They just know it’s for sure really, really bad and I am totally going to get kidnapped/raped/shot/then probably beheaded for good measure.

Let’s work off facts here, not just blatant, misguided, baseless fear. The US government advises against visiting very specific places where drug cartels are warring over the billions of dollars made yearly trading illegal substances into the United States, and the efforts by the Mexican government to put an end to the drug traffic. Problems come in when, after hearing “warning” and “Mexico,” all too many Americans perceive the advisory for the country as a whole, which it clearly is not. Leslie Bassett, Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, declared that the intention of the alert is to inform people of some violent acts that are taking place in specific states of Mexico. She clarified that in no way does this alert seek to negatively portray the tourist destinations.

I can’t exactly sense the fear in my friend Fernando here, who recently visited Mexico for the first time.

Mexico is roughly the size of Western Europe. Of Mexico’s 2,500 municipalities, only 18 have been considered to be a security problem.  Please read that sentence again. Pretty sure that leaves you with a 2482 very safe options if you want to travel to Mexico. Yes, there are places in Mexico that have had problems with drug violence. But the majority of Mexico’s organized-crime killings last year took place in a mere three of Mexico’s 31 states: Chihuahua,Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon. I am not here to dispute that there has been and is drug violence in Mexico.I am here to point out that those specific places are likely nowhere near where you as a tourist or expat are planning to go.

I would hope you would find it downright silly if you heard a Mexican saying that they would never, EVER, consider going hiking in Oregon nor go golfing at Myrtle Beach because they heard reports of there being drug-related gang violence in South Side LA. Well, you know what? Where you most likely would be going in Mexico is perhaps further from the violence, distance-wise, than Oregon is from LA. The bandits are not going to travel 800 miles to come after you, American tourist drinking margaritas on the beach or taking pictures atChichen Itza. They actually don’t care about you, I am sorry to inform.

Three problem areas to be avoided (Tijuana, Juarez, and Nuevo Loredo), and how far these places actually lie from main tourist areas.

Don’t be stupid. Don’t buy or sell drugs in Mexico. Don’t flash large amounts of money or jewelry. Don’t visit the specific border towns notorious for violence. That is a given. Use common sense and you will be as fine in Mexico as you would in most other tourist destinations around the world.

Let’s look at some actual statistics from the UN Office of Drugs and Crime:  In drug offenses, Mexico recently ranked 12th in the world, and the US 4th. When it came to homocides with firearms, the US ranked 7thand Mexico 17th, (39.56 per 100,000 vs. Mexico’s 20.6). Yes, that means the US has 92% more homicides with guns than Mexico. So all of those people in the US telling you that you will get shot and killed in Mexico should be more worried about themselves.

Recent FBI statistics show the murder rate per 100,000 inhabitants in Baltimore is 43.3, Washington D.C. is 29.1 and Detroit is 47. Mexico, however, which suffered an especially violent year in 2008, recorded a murder rate of about 10 per 100,000. You do the math…

Travel writer Kyle Ellison put it perfectly when he said: “While I could rattle statistics off from a slew of different sources, the bottom line and the main point which needs to be made is that traveling to Mexico is no more dangerous than living in any major global city. Of the 60 countries I’ve wandered through and after 20+ visits to Mexico, you know where I’ve felt the most in danger (including when I thought I was kidnapped in Borneo)?  When I got lost on the south side of Chicago.”

In the last couple of months, I have personally visited Mexico City, Queretaro, Puebla, Mazatlan, Baja, and Veracruz. I have had nothing except phenomenal experiences, met some of the warmest, most welcoming people, and not for one moment did I feel unsafe in any way. I have enjoyed scuba and snorkeling, I have rafted, climbed, and hiked to hidden waterfalls and caves. I have explored archeological ruins, I have seen gorgeous art and architecture, and I have eaten some of the most memorable meals of my life. To have missed out on any one of these experiences because of what I heard from some media outlet needing the next sensational story would be sad and senseless. I would travel to Mexico alone, and I would travel with my three small kids. No second thoughts on that whatsoever.

There was a distinct lack of drug cartel activity as I recently snorkeled here on the very tranquilo Coronado Island in the Sea of Cortez…

Mexico ranks tenth as an international travel destination in the world and, regardless of the negative media hype, remains the number one international tourism destination for North Americans traveling abroad. Many tourists to the country are repeat visitors, which demonstrates that the vast majority of tourists are satisfied and leave with overwhelmingly positive impressions.

The Mexican government is expecting 2012 to be a good year for tourism. In fact, Mexico is expecting 52 million tourists to visit its five southern states – that compares to 22 million foreign visitors to all of Mexico in 2011.

If you choose to not visit Mexico in response to media hype, that is obviously your choice. But just know that there are millions of other Americans out there living life to the fullest and exploring an amazing country full of warmth, culture, natural beauty and history, right in the backyard of the US. I hate to say it, but if you sidestep Mexico due to fear, it is your loss. As Mark Twain put all so well, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Give Mexico a chance – I am willing to bet you may just end up falling in love with the country as so many other travelers and expats have.


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  1. david February 22, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    Hi. I am weighing in here on the- I-love-Mexico side of the argument so read at your own peril fearful people.

    I am planning a trip this Spring to Yucatan Peninsula with a 65 yr old woman friend from Rochester NY who has never been to Mexico before but really was eager to go. Well, she went to LA recently and was told by all her old friends that she will be murdered robbed and kidnapped if she goes to Mexico. They put the fear of God into her. I tried to explain that it is safer there than in the US from my experience and statistically as well, but of course she is still afraid, and on the fence whether she will go or not. I now hope she doesn’t go because I don’t want to baby sit a frightened American retiree in paradise. I want to have fun and relax and see Mayan, etc.

    The irony is, she has just announced that she wants to move to Detroit, MI to be near family. She didn’t say anything about fear there but I just read that Detroit has the highest crime rate in the US in 2012, even higher than when they were the official murder capital of the US in the 70s. 386 homicides per 100,000 people.

    By contrast the state with the lowest murder rate is Yucatán. Its murder rate of 2 per 100,000 was comparable to Wyoming and Montana.

    •Washington, D.C.’s murder rate is nearly quadruple that of the Mexican capital, Mexico City. Washington’s murder rate was 31.4 per 100,000 people in 2008; Mexico City’s rate in 2009 was 8.

    I think I would visit let alone move toYucatan over Detroit for many reasons but if one is frightened of phantom crime look at the numbers.

    I understand there are people who don’t like new experiences and are afraid of all sorts of things. They might enjoy staying home and watching COPS or that guy with the slow spooky who dissects unsolved murders on TV or Nancy Grace. Love her. She’s SO mean. (Not really. Mean people suck.)

  2. Ana February 27, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    Bible!!!!! Americans stop being ignorant!!!!! Mexico is a wonderful place

  3. Nathan Segal March 15, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    There is no shortage of people complaining about violence in Mexico. What many of these people don’t seem to realize is that they’re being manipulated by the media. I’ve traveled all over Mexico for eight years and I’ve lived in Mexico for three of those years.

    I’ve never had a problem with violence of any kind. And for those of us who spend time in Mexico we look around and wonder what’s going on. Lots of media disinformation. I am really tired of hearing it.

  4. Nathan Segal March 16, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    It is truly refreshing to read your article. As one who has traveled to Mexico extensively for eight years I have yet to encounter any issues of violence. And of those eight years I’ve lived three of those in Mexico, mostly in La Paz, BCS, and Bucerias, Nayarit.

    There’s an enormous amount of media hype and fear-mongering. I’m really tired of well meaning but ignorant people who come up to me and tell me about the dangers of Mexico. And many of them have never been there. It’s sickening as to how many of these people let the newspapers do their thinking for them.

    Thanks again for your post.


  5. Tony January 14, 2014 at 11:22 pm

    It can be dangerous in certain parts of Mexico for some people, but these are not really the places most US tourists ever head out to. In the US, most tourists normally don’t head out to South Chicago or inner city Detroit on their vacations either.

    My wife’s family lives in some of the danger areas and we no longer travel there, not even to visit the relatives who continue to live in what is a very dangerous locale. On the other hand, my wife and our teenage daughter traveled all over the country in safer areas the last 3 summers without any problem at all. They traveled to ‘dangerous’ Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador as well. El Salvador was their favorite country they visited!

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