Hawaii or Mexico? Sun-starved travelers love both, but given worries about Mexico's drug-gang violence, Hawaii has had the edge. Now that could to be changing.
"We've certainly seen an uptick in people buying travel to Mexico'' says AAA Washington's Ron Wigand. "It swings back and forth over the years. People love Hawaii but as the prices get higher, more people start shifting back to Mexico.''
That's likely one reason. Hawaii airfares and hotel rates are rising as the islands attract more visitors from Canada and Asia.
Just a guess, but I think it also might have something to do with the U.S. government softening its stance when it comes advice on international trouble spots, going instead with more detailed reports that target specific areas to be avoided, while easing concerns for others. Read my recent Travel Wise column in the Seattle Times for more details.
Example: In an overall warning on travel in Mexico - the longest and most detailed among those for 36 countries, the U.S. State Department urges travelers to pass on travel in the state of Sinaloa, home to one of Mexico's most powerful drug cartels, except Mazatlan where it recommends sticking to the Zona Dorada (the "Golden Zone" filled with high-rise hotels and beaches) and the historical center.
And so, after dropping Mazatlan from their itineraries in 2011, some cruise lines are returning. Holland America and Norwegian added Mazatlan to their Mexican Riviera itineraries for later this year and 2014.
“We could have thrown in the towel when the ships left in 2011,'' Frank Cordova, Sinaloa's secretary of tourism told Cruise Industry News, "but instead we stepped up not only to improve our security, but also with one billion peso investment in new infrastructure,'' including a new lighted, cobblestoned corridor between the port and downtown.
The State Department's decision to replace a giant red light with a few flashing yellows and lots of greens no doubt had its political and economic motivations. But it was the right thing to do. Travelers looking for guidance will find plenty of safe choices.
No advisories, for instance, are in effect, for Guanajuato, an art-filled colonial mountain city known for its art and music. Same goes with the popular American ex-pat enclave of San Miguel de Allende. Also Cabo San Lucas, La Paz, Cancun, Merida, Cozumel, Oaxaca and Mexico City. There's no recommendation against travel to Guadalajara or Puerto Vallarta.
The situation is more nuanced in the state of Guerrero where the government recommends avoiding travel in northwestern and southern areas except for Acapulco, Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa. There, the advice is to exercise caution, stay within tourist areas, and in Acapulco, avoid areas further than two blocks inland of the Costera Miguel Aleman Boulevard.
Bottom line: For those who care what the U.S. government has to say about travel, the current warning on Mexico is far more useful than it's been in past years.
Could it improve? Sure. One way would be to keep the advice more current. The last update was in July, and there was no mention of the tropical storms in September that caused mass evacuations of tourists from Acapulco.
It's always wise to poll a variety of sources. Talk to people who live in Mexico or visit frequently. Read the blogs and forums on web sites such as tripadvisor.com. And check out what other governments are telling their citizens.
Canada offers advice on travel to Mexico here. Australia posts advisories on its website.
I've traveled somewhere in Mexico every year for the past five or six, collecting memories of eating freshly-caught fish on the beach; listening to band concerts in shady parks and talking with locals as they wander through the markets, enjoying a Sunday afternoon with their families. I'm confident you will experience the same.