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.
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.
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.
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.