Is it safe to travel to Mexico? What to know ahead of spring break.

As spring break planning heats up, incidents of violence in Mexico continue to make news - leaving travelers to wonder if a perennially popular destination is safe to visit.

A rash of recent headlines proclaimed that the U.S. State Department was warning against visiting Mexico leading up to the busy vacation season. While the department has "do not travel" warnings in place for six states, a representative told The Washington Post it has not updated its travel advisories for Mexico since October.

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The U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Mexico have, however, issued a handful of security alerts since January for Ciudad Juárez and several cities in Sinaloa and Quintana Roo states. Reuters reported that an Aeromexico plane was struck by gunfire in early January; the Culiacán airport closed due to violence following the arrest of alleged fentanyl trafficker Ovidio Guzmán, son of Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán.

"In light of widely publicized security incidents in popular tourist destinations, please remember that all destinations have some level of risk," a Jan. 23 alert about taxi disputes in Cancún notes. "Violent crime - such as homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery - is widespread and common in Mexico."

A California public defender died in January at a resort in Baja California in what local authorities characterized as a fall from the third floor of the hotel. His family has questioned that ruling, the Orange County Register reported, pointing to analysis of the autopsy that showed injuries inconsistent with a fall.

The United States, of course, has its own problems with violence; mass shootings have averaged more than one a day in 2023 and homicides reached their highest levels in decades over the last few years. Other countries, including Canada, Germany and Australia, routinely warn their citizens about gun crime when traveling to the U.S.

Through November of last year, more than 30 million U.S. citizens traveled to Mexico, an increase of 18 percent from the previous year, according to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce. Here's what government, security and travel experts say visitors should know.


Where is there a 'do not travel' warning from the U.S. State Department?

Mexico is one of the rare destinations that does not receive an overall travel advisory; U.S. officials break travel advice down on a state-by-state level.

The State Department says Americans should not travel to six states - Guerrero, Colima, Michoacan, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, and Zacatecas - due to the risk of crime and, in most of those states, kidnapping. The resort town of Acapulco is located in Guerrero, and the cruise port Mazatlán is in Sinaloa.

Officials advise Americans to follow the travel restrictions that are placed on U.S. government employees; for example, government workers are allowed to visit Mazatlán by air or sea, but must stay in the town center and the "Zona Dorada," which includes beaches and resorts.

Officials say tourists should "reconsider travel" to seven other states: Baja California, Chihuahua, Durango, Guanajuato, Jalisco, Morelos and Sonora.

Most Mexican states have a "Level 2" designation, which means "exercise increased caution" - the same advice given for countries including France, Costa Rica, Italy, Spain, the Bahamas and the United Kingdom. The 16 states and federal district where people should exercise increased caution include Mexico City; Quintana Roo - home to popular tourist destinations such as Cancún, Cozumel and Tulum; Baja California Sur, where Cabo San Lucas is located; and Oaxaca.

Only two states have the lowest-risk designation of "exercise normal precautions": Campeche and Yucatán.


What is happening with Uber in Cancún?

Last month, the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Mexico warned in a security alert that disputes between local taxi driver unions and Uber drivers in Quintana Roo "have occasionally turned violent, resulting in injuries to U.S. citizens in some instances."

The alert came amid protests by taxi drivers who were angry over a court ruling favorable to Uber drivers, the Associated Press reported. Cabdrivers blocked a road between the Cancún airport and tourist area, forcing some travelers to walk or get transportation from law enforcement officials, local media wrote.

Dale Buckner, CEO of security services firm Global Guardian, said the company's assessment of the clash is that it has "cooled down."

"It's not a major factor today," he said. "That doesn't mean it can't come back."


Has drug cartel violence in Mexico increased?

In a risk analysis, Global Guardian wrote that cartel-related violence increased significantly in August across many parts of the country, including Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez and Guadalajara.

In the autumn of 2021, violence erupted in areas popular with visitors, including a suspected gang shooting in Tulum that killed two tourists and the shooting death of two men in Puerto Morelos near Cancún. That December, gunmen pulled up to a Cancún beach and fired into the air. That happened despite the addition of Mexican National Guard troops to tourist-heavy destinations in Quintana Roo.

"Specifically since covid, you're seeing the different major cartels . . . fracturing," Buckner said, leading to violence as factions grapple to fill a power vacuum.


Are Mexico resorts safe?

While violence has spilled over in some resort destinations, Buckner said it is not generally targeted at tourists.

"These large vacation hubs where Canadians and Americans and the rest of the world love to go . . . they are living in somewhat of a bubble," he said. Government officials know that tourism is vital to the economy and put additional security in those locations.

"If you're at one of these hubs and you're at a high-end resort, you're going to see security and guys with guns on the beach," he said. "They're intentionally creating a safer environment; for the most part, it works."


Should I cancel my trip to Mexico?

Sebastián Muñoz Amezcua said the Mexico City-based travel company he co-founded, Rutopia, hears concerns about safety from potential travelers all the time. The company connects Indigenous communities to travelers.

"What I say is, 'Mexico is huge,'" he said. "First of all, you can't just talk about Mexico as one whole destination; you have to separate it in parts."

The company mostly operates in the southern and central part of the country, avoiding areas in the north that are seen as more risky.

Robert Almonte, former U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Texas who conducts training on Mexican cartels for police departments, said he has been advising against travel to Mexico for the last couple of years.

"It's just too unstable," he said. Almonte said he is not concerned "that tourists or a spring breaker is going to be a target - because they're not. My concern is they'll be in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Buckner says anyone traveling to Mexico - or anywhere in the world, for that matter - should have a plan for what to do if they get sick or injured and need to return home in an emergency; how to get out of a natural disaster and what to do if they were hacked or kidnapped.

"If you can't answer those three things, don't get on the plane," he said.

He said travelers also need to bear in mind that where they go and what they do will matter: Staying in a well-known tourist area during the day is far safer than heading out into the city late at night and drinking, he said.

"We highly encourage people to go to Mexico and enjoy it," he said. "You just need to do a little bit of homework."


How do I stay safe if I'm traveling in Mexico?

The U.S. State Department says tourists should "exercise increased caution" when visiting local bars, clubs and casinos and avoid wearing expensive watches or jewelry. They should be "extra vigilant" when visiting banks or ATMs.

Travelers should also make sure their fellow travelers and people at home know about their plans, and send a GPS location to a friend if separated. The department says to text a photo of a taxi number or license plate to a friend if taking a cab alone.

Almonte said he would advise making arrangements for ground transportation through a resort and not venturing away from the resort once there. He also recommended staying with a group, even on the beach.

Muñoz said travelers should research where they plan to go and the activities they want to do, not just for safety but also for environmental impact. He said his company knows the territory it operates in and carefully vets the local providers whom it works with.

Zachary Rabinor, founder and CEO of travel planning company Journey Mexico, said in an email that his business has assembled a map and state-by-state analysis showing where there are no travel restrictions and where they continue to operate. He said his staff constantly monitors news and safety-related situations.

"We are confident that with proper preparation and information, travel to and within Mexico continues to be a great option," he wrote in an email. "While there is no 100% guarantee of complete safety when traveling anywhere, even within the U.S. and Europe, working with a trusted and professional destination specialist, minimizes risk and keeps travelers in the right places at the right time."

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