The information comes from a spring break travel warning issued this week by the US embassy and consulates in Mexico — and follows several high-profile outbreaks of disorder or violence across the country this year. Recently, four Americans who crossed to Matamoros from Brownsville, Tex., were kidnapped earlier this month; two were killed and a third was injured.
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“Crime, including violent crime, can occur anywhere in Mexico, including in popular tourist destinations,” says the recent travel warning, following on from a similar one released last year. “Travellers should maintain a high level of situational awareness, avoid areas where illegal activity occurs, and depart immediately from potentially dangerous situations.”
The embassy’s warning directs travelers to the U.S. State Department’s travel advisory for Mexico, which is broken down by state and last updated in October. Tamaulipas, where the Americans were abducted, is one of six states with a “Do Not Travel” warning.
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Most Mexican states — including those with tourist hotspots like Cancún, Cozumel, Cabo San Lucas, and Oaxaca — fall under the lower Tier 2 category, where travelers are urged to “be more careful.” But the warning warns visitors not to let their guard down, even in those less risky areas.
“U.S. citizens should use extra caution downtown in popular spring break locations, including Cancun, Playa Del Carmen and Tulum, especially after dark,” it says.
In addition to crime, the travel warning warns of the risks of unknown substances or beverages, warning that unregulated alcohol can be contaminated, counterfeit drugs can contain dangerous ingredients and drug use can lead to arrest, illness or worse.
“U.S. citizens have become seriously ill or died in Mexico after using synthetic drugs or counterfeit prescription pills,” the warning reads.
Travelers should limit the amount of cash they carry, be careful when withdrawing money, stick to regulated taxi services or app-based ride-shares, and stay with a group at clubs and bars or move around at night, says the embassy. The alert recommends participating in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, which provides information on safety requirements and contact information for the US government.
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Another US jurisdiction issued a much stronger warning last week when the Texas Department of Public Safety urged Texans to avoid traveling to Mexico at all during spring break and beyond.
“Drug cartel violence and other criminal activity pose a significant security threat to anyone entering Mexico at this time,” the department’s director, Steven McCraw, said in a statement. “We have a duty to inform the public about safety, travel risks and threats. Based on the volatile nature of cartel activity and the violence we are seeing there, we are urging individuals not to travel to Mexico at this time.”
The department wrote that “many people travel to Mexico without incident” but said “the serious risks cannot be ignored.”
Dale Buckner, CEO of security services firm Global Guardian, told The Washington Post last month that resort destinations are typically in a “somewhat bubble,” where the government has placed extra security and violence is usually not directed at visitors.
“If you’re at one of these hubs and you’re at a luxury resort, you’re going to see security and men with guns on the beach,” he said. “They purposely create a safer environment; for the most part it works.
He urged travelers to make the kind of preparation they should before going anywhere in the world: plans for illness or injury and the need to return home in an emergency; knowing how to get out of a natural disaster; and anticipate what to do if they are hacked or kidnapped. And he said tourists should also plan their activities with safety in mind and avoid unnecessary risks.
“We strongly encourage people to go to Mexico and enjoy it,” he said last month. “You just need to do a little homework.”
Those who work in the travel industry in Mexico say the country is vast and cannot be painted with one brush. Zachary Rabinor, founder and CEO of travel planning company Journey Mexico, said in an email last month that his staff monitors security situations and operates where there are no travel restrictions.
“We are convinced that travel to and within Mexico, with the right preparation and information, will continue to be a great option,” he said last month. “While there is no 100% guarantee of complete safety when traveling anywhere, even within the US and Europe, working with a trusted and professional destination specialist minimizes risk and keeps travelers in the right place at the right time.”