Safety and Security in Mexico
Mexico – the land of kidnappings, drug gangs, shoot outs in the streets, massive criminal organizations in armed conflict with the corrupt police. That type of sensationalism works well if you want to sell newspapers or get clicks on a “news” website. The reality is that most of the country is very peaceful. However, the states bordering the US tend to have the most security issues along with a few other areas of the country.
I took a look at the US Department of State Travel Advisory on Mexico and checked out each state we might visit on our trip. The result? All states we intend to visit have no listed security concerns except the Estado de Mexico.
|US Department of State Travel Advisory for Mexico|
|States we will visit:||Advisory:|
|Guanajuato (Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende)||No Advisory|
|Queretaro (Queretaro)||No Advisory|
|Federal District (Mexico City)||No Advisory|
|Estado de Mexico (Teotihuacan pyramids)||Exercise caution|
|Puebla (Puebla)||No Advisory|
|Oaxaca (Oaxaca)||No Advisory|
|Tabasco (Villahermosa)||No Advisory|
|Campeche (Campeche)||No Advisory|
|Yucatan (Merida, Progreso, Chichen Itza)||No Advisory|
|Quintana Roo (Cancun)||No Advisory|
|Just passing through:|
Since we only plan on being in the Estado de Mexico to visit the Teotihuacan pyramids for the day and that area isn’t listed as dangerous in the travel advisory, our overall risk on the trip is low. We will be passing through the state of Veracruz on a major highway while heading east toward Cancun, but don’t plan to stop. I’m not trying to downplay the potential for violence in Mexico, but rather hope to present a realistic picture of the security situation. Some areas present elevated risk of violence, other areas are okay. We’re sticking to the okay areas.
I like to put things in perspective. It isn’t as if we live in a risk free world. Right here at home in Raleigh, the headlines show continuous episodes of gun violence, murder, robberies, gang activity and similar horrible things all the time. At the time of writing this post, the headlines reveal two separate violent murders in the area (the first incident left several others severely injured from the shootout). To phrase it in a more objective sense: 1,199,998 area residents were NOT murdered in the last week while two were. 99.99983% of us survived. In Mexico, 122 million people are fine while several tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands are not over the course of a year.
From an international perspective, the USA is also dangerous, according to this travel advisory from the British government:
Violent crime, including gun crime, rarely involves tourists, but you should take care when travelling in unfamiliar areas. Crime associated with the illegal drugs trade is a major issue in Mexican states bordering Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas. Some foreign nationals have been among the victims of crime in the border regions, but there is no evidence to suggest they have been targeted because of their nationality. Research your destination before travelling, be vigilant, and follow the advice of local authorities.
What if this advisory said “exercise caution in the state of Michigan due to severe gang related violence in regions of Detroit”? We would think it ridiculous. That’s the way I view travel advisories in Mexico – avoid the specific dangerous cities or regions mentioned in the advisories and use caution everywhere just like you’re at home. But don’t skip visiting the country at all (whether it’s the US or Mexico) just because some areas have elevated risks.
Some general precautions go a long way like maintaining a low profile. Leave the thick gold necklaces, sparkly diamond rings, and other flashy bling at home. We are fortunate to not own any of that stuff (which is how we can afford to spend seven weeks in Mexico), so we are good on that front. Don’t pull out wads of $100 US bills when trying to buy tacos from a street vendor. Avoid pickpockets and petty theft by using money belts or keeping your real wallet hidden, only carrying what you need for the day, and having back up credit cards in another location.
Actual real safety concerns in Mexico
What concerns me the most? Food poisoning, water born pathogens from contaminated drinking water or fresh fruits and vegetables, and motor vehicle accidents where we might be the pedestrian victims. Roughly in that order.
There’s a good chance someone will get sick at some point while we’re in Mexico, and for that there are antibiotics, rest, hydration, and doctors. To avoid catching a bug in the first place, we can skip really dodgy street vendors. But food-born pathogens don’t always discriminate based on appearance or status of the restaurant. If it’s a busy establishment, that’s usually a good sign that the restaurant hasn’t killed it’s local fan base and the food turns over quickly enough to avoid spoilage.
Water quality is highly variable across the country and even between one hotel, apartment, or restaurant and the one next door. We’ll stick to bottled water for drinking unless it’s patently obvious that the tap water is safe (like filtered water in a nice hotel). Lucky for us, bottled water is cheap and ubiquitous (and often ice cold).
While we’re walking around, we’ll have to keep our eyes open and hold hands with the three year old while crossing busy streets. We walk along our fairly busy streets at home so all of the kids (and adults) are accustomed to avoiding errant drivers and crossing the street carefully. Practice makes perfect?
Are we crazy?
No, just adventurous. Nothing in life is risk free. It all comes down to assessing the risks and ensuring you avoid or mitigate any risks you can. Being an objective educated risk taker is a good strategy in life generally and applies to traveling overseas just as much as it does to choosing a long term investment strategy, where to live, or what to do for a living.
Other posts on Mexico at Root of Good:
What do you think? Are we crazy?