Mexico is a popular vacation destination with more than 40 million tourists visiting in 2017. But in the past year, various parts of the country have been besieged by gang violence, assaults, natural disasters and even reports of poisoned liquor.
On March 8, ahead of spring break season, the U.S. State Department issued a security alert for the popular resort spot Playa del Carmen after the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City received a security threat against the town.
The alert, which was later downgraded to include on five neighborhoods, came less than a month after an explosion on a tourist ferry in Playa del Carmen injured 24 people, including five Americans. And in December the U.S. Office of Inspector General opened an inquiry to investigate possibly tainted booze at all-inclusive resorts in Mexican resort towns like Playa Del Carmen and Cancun.
It's all left travelers wondering if it is safe to travel to the country.
Experts say yes.
"The vast majority of destinations that tourists and travelers visit are safe," says Zachary Rabinor, the President and CEO of Journey Mexico, a travel company with three offices in Mexico. "Like in the rest of the world, unsafe areas have more to do with local petty crime or if visitors engage in unsafe activities or visit unsafe establishments."
Currently, as a country, Mexico's threat level, according to the State Department, is a level two. That means tourists should "be aware of heightened risks to safety and security." For context, the Bahamas are also rated a level two (due to crime like burglaries and robberies).
Five states in Mexico have a level four rating — Colima, Guerrero (where Acapulco is located), Michoacan, Sinaloa (where Mazatlan is located) and Tamaulipas (part of which borders Texas) — the same ranking as war zones like Afghanistan and Iraq. The State Department recommends that Americans should not travel to those locations due to "widespread violent crime."
But as long as you're not traveling to one of these areas, "there is no reason to do more than to be aware of the warnings and to exercise the normal degree of caution that should be done while traveling anywhere," says Christopher Wilson, the deputy director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center.
"Don't drink the tap water, have a cab called for you instead of flagging one down on the street," recommends Wilson.
Additionally, leave a detailed itinerary with family and friends that includes contact information for hotels and guides, says Rabinor. Also avoid wearing flashy or expensive jewelry that would make you stand out among a crowd.
Where to travel now
There are some great, safe places to go, say the experts.
La Paz, on the eastern side of Baja California Sur on the Sea of Cortez, is quickly becoming a well-known beach vacation destination, particularly for those fond of snorkeling and diving. Tour operators offer whale watching excursions, swimming with whale sharks (the largest fish in the world) or day trips to Isla Espíritu Santo where visitors can swim with the sea lions, snorkel over coral reefs and dive in artificial reefs made growing out of two sunken ships.