Mexico: How safe?

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

     It all depends on where you're going. As a new travel warning issued by the U.S. State Department points out, the areas of concern continue to be the Northern border towns of Tijuana, Nogales, Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, Monterrey and Matamoros..
      To often in the past, these types of government warnings have taken a broad-brush approach, simply advising against travel to a country as a whole. What's different about this warning, issued Sunday following the shooting in Ciudad Juarez of three people with ties to the American consulate, is its level of detail and the way it rightly targets only towns where drug-related violence has been rampant. 
      This could have something to do with the fact that Mexico's tourism economy is very fragile and the U.S. government doesn't want to do anything that might damage it, but let's hope it also has something to do with a new, more responsible approach to travel warnings in general. Here's what I wrote on the subject in a previous column for The Seattle Times.
      As the State Department points out, millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year (including tens of thousands who cross the land border daily for study, tourism or business and nearly one million U.S. citizens who live in Mexico), and this isn't likely to change.
       I just returned from 7 days in Mazatlan (The restored Plaza Machado is pictured above) and Sayulita, and experienced nothing out of the ordinary. Both were packed with Americans and Canadians enjoying their vacations on the beaches and in town at the local cafes and restaurants. 
     The Mexican people, of course, are concerned about what's happening in their country and are worried that the violence could spread, and how worries about it could hurt their tourist economy. It was interesting to observe a military "show of force,'' one evening in Sayulita when a truck with armed soldiers did a once-around the town square. 

       The bottom line: If you're planning a vacation soon to Mexico, by all means go, but heed the State Department's advice and use common-sense precautions such as visiting only legitimate business and tourist areas during daylight hours, and avoiding areas where drug dealing might occur. Monitor developments on the State Deparment's Web site

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