It was my birthday and I was in Chihuahua, the last place in Mexico that I wanted to be. The city had been all over the news. Worried about the number of students who head to Mexico for spring break, in March the U.S. State Department had issued a warning that strongly advised against travel to Mexico, stating, among other things, the following:
“Recent violent attacks have prompted the U.S. Embassy to urge U.S. citizens to delay unnecessary travel to parts of Durango, Coahuila and Chihuahua states and advise U.S. citizens residing or traveling in those areas to exercise extreme caution. Drug cartels and associated criminal elements have retaliated violently against individuals who speak out against them or whom they otherwise view as a threat to their organizations. These attacks include the abduction and murder of two resident U.S. citizens in Chihuahua.“
That warning made me more than a little nervous, but at the end of my Copper Canyon tour I was bound for the town of Zacatecas in central Mexico. The only reasonable way to get there was to take a bus from Chihuahua. I was confident that it wasn’t dangerous to travel in Mexico in general, but not so sure about Chihuahua. And so, I gritted my teeth, steeled myself against fear, and stepped aboard a bus to, telling myself I’d be OK if I didn’t go out at night and took all the normal precautions.
The bus arrived in Chihuahua at dusk and let us off in the central business district, next to an entire square city block that had been razed. Cars zoomed up and down the main boulevard but there were few pedestrians in sight. I looked across the barren lot to the lights of hotels on the other side and briefly considered picking my way through the chunks of concrete littering the site until common sense kicked in; I had only the name of a hostel I hoped would have a room available and no idea how to find it. Fortunately, at that very moment a taxi driver picked up my bag and ushered me to his vehicle.The ride was four whole blocks and he charged me $40 pesos, amounting to nearly $1 US per block, but since the driver waited until the hostel owner confirmed she had a room he was worth every last centavo.
The next morning I let myself out the double set of locked metal doors and headed out to investigate. By day, Chihuahua was a different place. I strolled the two blocks to the city’s massive cathedral and wandered around the central square. Women pushed baby strollers and children chased pigeons around the square. Office workers in crisp suits sat for a quick shoeshine before hurrying to their jobs. Tourists clustered around guides, straining to hear the history of Chihuahua over the din of traffic. Nowhere was there a hint of danger.
I crossed the street and leaned against the walls of the Palacio del Gobierno – the municipal offices of the Governor of the State of Chihuahua – hoping to take a photo of the entire Cathedral square, but try as I might I couldn’t catch a break in the pedestrian and vehicle traffic. I was about to give up when a young man approached me and asked if I would like to come into the Governor’s offices to take a photo from a second floor window overlooking the square. Jorge, who worked in the public relations office, ushered me into private offices where legislative meetings take place and threw the shutters wide, inviting me to take all the photos I wished. When I’d had my fill, he presented his business card and insisted I call him if I needed anything during my time in Chihuahua.
This type of courtesy was repeated time and again during my three day stay in Chihuahua. On my way back from a museum another young man who was washing cars on the street greeted me and we struck up a conversation. He had been a police officer in Copper Canyon until recently and he wanted to practice his English; he also gave me his number and told me to call if I needed any help. Back at Cathedral square, two teens insisted I take their photo, one posing like a muscle man, arms raised to flex biceps. “You tell everybody we are Chihuahuasenses!” they grinned. Even when I walked into the Quality Inn San Francisco Hotel unannounced, inquiring if I could see rooms in order to write a review, I was treated like royalty. Not only did I see rooms, I got a tour of the entire hotel was invited back to have breakfast in their restaurant the following morning. I heeded the warnings not to go out at night, but by day I walked the city center and never once feet at risk or even the least bit uncomfortable, leading me to reflect on our State Department warnings.
According to Forbes Magazine, which used the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program to compare murder rates in the for U.S. for cities with populations over 250,000, in 2006 the most dangerous city was Detroit, with 418 cases of murder and non-negligent manslaughter (47.3 murders for every 100,000 residents), followed by Baltimore, with 276 cases in 2006 (43.3 murders per 100,000 residents). Overall in the U.S., the homicide rate is 5.4 per 100,000 residents. Homicide rates in Mexico, while certainly higher at 10.8 per 100,000 inhabitants (source Wikipedia as provided by a United nations survey), have been steadily declining since the 1980’s. According to the El Paso Times, “Mexico City’s homicide rate today is about on par with Los Angeles and is less than a third of that for Washington, D.C.” Considering that most violent crime in Mexico is directly related to drug trafficking and fighting among the cartels, and that when tourists are involved it is usually a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Mexico may even be safer than the U.S. Elsewhere in the world, Brazil comes in at 25 per 100,000 residents and in Venezuela in 2008 the murder rate hit 58. Yet the State Department has no alerts for either of those two countries.
Part of the problem is politics; elected officials have to be seen as doing something about the war on drugs and so they blame Mexico, while ignoring the huge American appetite for illegal drugs that drives the Mexican trade. Sensationalist media coverage is also a culprit. I am frankly mystified. I have been traveling solo in Mexico for nearly two months and have not felt unsafe at any time. In fact, I recently noticed that surveillance cameras cover every inch of the Centro Historico (Old Town) in both Zacatecas and Guanajuato, and residents and hostel managers in most places I have visited confirmed that it was totally safe to walk around alone at all hours of the night. Certainly, there are places in Mexico that are best avoided; I would no more visit Cuidad Juarez, Matamoros, or Tijuana than I would go to Afghanistan or Iraq at this juncture. But a thorough reading of the State Department advisory gives the impression that Mexico travel is dangerous and Mexican officials are rightly outraged. Consider this: how would we have reacted if other countries had advised against traveling anywhere in the U.S. after the 9/11 terrorist attacks?
Can’t view the above slide show of Chihuahua, Mexico? Click here.
Can bad things happen in Mexico? Of course. While I am not going to be buying drugs on the streets of Mexico, there is always the chance that I could be in the wrong place at the wrong time and get caught in a drug cartel gunfight. But I could also be shot down on the streets of Chicago or killed in an auto accident. We need to adopt a modicum of common sense regarding this issue. Mexico is a vibrant, gorgeous country with a rich culture and amazingly friendly people, and this is also one of the few places in the world where the U.S. dollar still goes a long way. So, is it dangerous to travel in Mexico? Not if my experience is representative. Come visit Mexico. The rest of the world is here.
If you enjoyed this article you may also be interested in my experience with dental tourism in Mexico.
Check prices for accommodations in Chihuahua at Booking.com, Hotels.com, or HotelsCombined.com. Read reviews about hotels and guest houses in Chihuahua, Mexico at TripAdvisor.
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62 thoughts on “Is Mexico Travel Dangerous?”
I really don’t consider Mexico to be a dangerous destinations, mainly because I have never encounter any kind of problem while I’m there, only in one ocation I have a little problem, luckily with BestMex car insurance, they solved everything, I actually recommend Mexico as a destination the beaches at Baja are amazing, and the “Magic Towns” actually offer something unique.
As a Mexican I completely agree with everything you said, Barbara.
Yes, some people are being paranoid because of the kidnappings and massive graves but they should bear in mind that the victims of said actions are involved, in one way or the other, with organized crime.
Organized crime has never ever targeted tourists because of two simple reasons: Logistics and lack of information on the target.
Mexico is the safest country for tourists to visit in the American continent (other than Canada, of course)
Thanks so much Raphael. I love Mexico so much that I hate how badly it is maligned in the press.
i am from europe and live since 2.5 years in the Yucatan Peninsula, it is very safe, only some thefts and burglaries……..
Really a great and interesting blog, I admire your wonderful experience, you present many beautiful scenes I will certainly be back.
Wow so many negative comments here. On the plus side Chihuahua has one of the highest quality of life ratings in Mexico and 7th in IDH with 0.9117 and PIB of 16,472 USD. Don’t listen to the comments, some people just find joy on learning about the misery of others. Great post.
I visited Chihuahua two years ago. To be honest, I was nervous. Nothing happened. There are problems. That is for sure, but judging an entire country for problems in certain areas is just not fair. I went to Chihuahua two years ago, DF and Cuernavaca last year. Hope to come back soon to enjoy learning about this beautiful country and enjoy some tasty food!
I live in Mexico and I feel safe. I have never witnessed any violent act nor has any friend or family member. There are certain cities I would not recomend you to go but most of Mexico is safe. Im from Acuna Coahuila and we would love to have any of you visit our beautiful city. Your visit will be safe and we will be the kindest hosts you will ever want to meet.
Thank you Angel. I couldn’t agree more. Condemning all of Mexico because of
selected areas have high crime and murder rates is akin to judging the
entire US as unsafe because of the recent shootings in Tucson.
Great post and it is 6 months old. I am curious as to your thoughts as the violence has escalated to an nauseating amount in the past few months. I am glad you posted also so that people don’t feel a safeness that is not true in Mexico right now. It’s a mess and it’s very dangerous.
While I’m sure your travels take you to great places and you’ve experienced some wonderful times. I felt obligated to post something to this blog because it comes up in a search about safe travel to Mexico.
First of all, I live in Texas and I have family and friends who live or have been affected by the atrocities Mexico. Including being killed and kidnapped for ransoms.
While I understand you being taken, like many posters here, with the propaganda of the Mexican tourism blitz, your facts are far from the reality and your attitude towards a poster who tried to explain a kidnapping situation that happened to them was sad. Sadly, it is a daily if not hourly and very common occurrence and because someone didn’t articulate an age of the kidnapped does not make them a liar.
If you think that it is normal to drive to work at any time in the USA with decapitated humans with their genitals, hands and other body parts cut off and tortured and then hung from a highway then I am not sure where in American you live. I am glad you had a non eventful time in your travels, you are one of the very fortunate persons. To deny that a country and it’s people have not been tortured, exploited, killed, kidnapped on a daily basis because you believe it untrue or don’t read about it in the press is preposterous and very dangerous to promote as safe. If you can with a clear conscience keep up such a blog where claiming that there is some sort of smear campaign going on angered me.
Every day, there are many killed, kidnapped, tortured, mutilated. There have been over 30,000 murders (these are only the bodies found)since 2007. There have been over 10,000 alone in the northern countries since January this year! Where in the world do you read that an city in the USA has these stats??? There is a reason that the US government has a very high level you should not go to Mexico advisory. Please don’t make light of it or Mexicans who have lost all hope. Educate yourself and ask and pray they get help, the citizens are starting to cry out for help all over Mexico. Google it, make calls and quit promoting safe travel where it could potentially get someone killed.
When you wake up and tell me that Detroit found a mass grave of 79 innocent dead people and human heads on the sides of the highways then I’ll take you seriously, until then you should refrain from your comments about smear campaigns and people lying about a genocide of a beautiful and and its peoples over drugs.
I will hope you post this because it’s absolutely the truth. You will not find every day news about this because if you do your research hundreds of journalists have lost their lives for reporting on it over 600 police officials have died.
Please don’t tell me it’s safe to go to Mexico.
The American people need to get their heads out of the sand and understand this is already starting to spill over our borders and guess what, it’s starting to make the main stream media.
I am attaching blogs of Anonymous Mexicans. Read them an their comments and tell me you want to go to Mexico.
google the LA times they have been following the war in Mexico for years.
Listen to your government, it is trying to protect you.
Very interesting. I spent 5 weeks in Mexico and, like you, felt very safe there.
I finally made it to Mexico! I was just in Chihuahua and it seemed safe, but I was spending time with a local, so he knew where to avoid the dangerous neighborhoods. And the downtown area was calm and safe and I agree I don’t think Chihuahua city is that bad.
And overall I don’t think Mexico is as dangerous as the media is making it out to be. You just need to avoid the dangerous cities and bad areas of town. But most places tourists go are not too bad.
I just wrote a post on safety in Mexico: http://gomadnomad.com/2010/10/13/ask-gomad-nomad-is-mexico-safe/
Bad things can happen anywhere and not only in Mexico. A driver from Mexico was shot in San Antonio, so it can happen in any country.
Thank you Barbara for this post.
Nearly brought tears to my eyes… I felt proud while reading it.
Sandra – you are very welcome. I was enchanted by Mexico and you have every reason to be proud.
Well, this site looks way better than my aol blog. I think I will use WordPress aswell.Your thoughts on this Regards.
Barbara: It is my Son’s half-brother, his father and step-mothers son. You did not go through this for 8 days, wondering if he these monsters were starving him, abusing him, torturing him or if they killed him. By the grace of God, he was returned safely. No it was not in the news because the hostage negotiators did not want to put his life in further danger by doing so. 90% of kidnappings in Mexico, go unreported. Believe what you want….I just hope that you never go through this. The kidnapping happened when they went to visit the kid’s sick Grandma. He was kidnapped outside of her home at gunpoint. I feel a duty to let people know that this does happen.
Concerned: Thank you for clarifying. There have been some attempts to hack the comments section, so I am quite careful. I am very, very happy that he was returned safely and so sorry your family had to go through this. Bad things do indeed happen on the road – in any country – and we all need to be aware of what is going on around us at all times when we travel.
Safe? Just wait until a loved one of yours who is a U.S. Citizen and is on vacation there, gets kidnapped and held for ransom. This happened to my Son’s 5 year old little brother. He was released last Thurs. night after being held for 8 days. His family had to come up with $6000.00 dollars to give the kidnappers who originally demanded $500,000. Kidnapping for ransom in mexico is BIG business right now. It not only happens to tourists young and old, it happens to mexican citizens. They keep this hush hush so that we won’t be scared to travel there. I myself, have been pulled over by a tijuana police officer who demanded money or he would take me and my fiance to jail. My Husband is Mexican but we will stay out of Mexico.
Concerned: While I realize that there are some kidnappings that occur in Mexico, I’m afraid your comment does not have the ring of truth. You say, “This happened to my Son’s 5 year old little brother.” If I am not mistaken, the brother of your son would be your son, so when you describe him this way I have to question if this comment is real. Are there dangers in Mexico? Of course. Are there dangers in the U.S.? Of course. There are neighborhoods in U.S. cities that I would not enter and things I would not do – like flash money – even in the States. There are also people out there who are fear mongering about Mexico. So I ask, what were the circumstances surrounding the incident to which you refer? Where are they from and was it in the news? If so please point us to the news articles. All of us want to be informed, but non of us need to be affected by false rumor, if that’s indeed what this is.
Having just moved from Detroit, Michigan to San Antonio, Texas I have been looking into places to go on long weekends in Mexico. I have been to many cities within Mexico and safety is always a concern especially when traveling alone. Most of the violence that is happening currently in Mexico is to the Northern in Border cites. Thankfully many who travel are going to coastal beaches along the Southern borders. As the drug crime continues to mount I am afraid those responsible for keeping everyone safe have an overwhelming task ahead of them, one that is only continuing to grow. For those traveling to Mexico on Vacation I suggest staying at your resort and not venturing out to the cities or towns nearby without speaking to locals or doing some research. I enjoyed your posting and am so glad your trip has gone so well.
Congratulations on you post, and it is discouraging how your state department handles this information, my cuntry is beautiful and i’m very proud of it, thank you for seeing the big picture 🙂
I was glad my daughter sent me your comments. I am leaving the first of June for a 3 month stay in Sonora. I have never been afraid to travel anywhere sola, but have been reading awful things on other sites and was beginning to doubt my choice. After reading yours and other comments here I am moving forward with my plans. Yea!!
I live just 3o miles from the Chihuahua, not close to Juarez, and friends and I go every Tuesday to have lunch. Everyone there is so friendly and helpful. Also was just in PV, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas and found people to be the same in these cities. Can’t wait to spend the summer in beautiful Mexico.
The comparison between how Europeans feel about the US, and how many Westerners feel about Mexico, is deeply flawed. For starters, the problem about Mexico is not the probability of becoming the victim of a crime (which is roughly twice that of the US). No, the problem is that, unlike in the US, in Mexico you cannot trust anyone once you’ve been victimized. You cannot trust the police, you cannot trust the investigators (Ministerio Publico) and you cannot trust judges. 99 out 100 crimes go unpunished in Mexico, and the office of the general attorney is expert at making up suspects and jailing them. Mexican jails are full of innocent people whilst the streets teem with career criminals. I have lived in the US for 4 years now, and I now that, should anything bad happen to me, you can always trust policemen, and the justice system in general. In Mexico, policemen are more often than not associates of criminals and the justice system is, well, a good idea as Gandhi would say.
I will insist on my previous point: it’s not just foreigners who think Mexico it’s dangerous, it’s Mexicans!! The discourse of “there is no danger, just the perception thereof” has become the discourse of President Calderon. He’s an absolute idiot. Denying crime and violence does not help overcome it. I know Barbara Weibel does not minimize Mexico’s violence and crime issues to support Calderon’s discourse, but it echoes it.
Safety is the top concern of Mexicans right now. Reforma newspaper reported last week that 20% of restaurants have closed down. Cuernavaca, Monterrey, Acapulco, Tijuana, Juarez -all in the Top 10 of Mexican cities by population- are failed cities, in the sense that the state has long lost its monopoly of violence. What goes on or does not go on there depends on the whims of the drug cartels. Their might cannot be measured by the bodies they leave behind them, since they only kill when they confront a rival gang. Their might is measured in their power to corrupt the State.
Anyway, I appreciate Barbara’s post. But as much as I want foreigners to come to Mexico, my ethical conscience tells me that I need to make you aware of the risks that you are taking: Mexico is a wonderful place that you can visit at your own risk. The violence and crime in the nation are very high and they are the main reason why millions of middle-class Mexicans have left the country. I may follow suit in fact. Do you have any idea how many kidnappings we have in Mexico every month?
Mexico has a wonderful culture, vivid history, outstanding natural sites, etc.. But it is also an increasingly dangerous, violent and lawless place.
I missed this post at the time. It was when I was away. I came to it today via Blogging Boomer and your FB.
It makes me wonder how many USers realize that many Europeans feel the same way about visiting their country?
I have, over the years, met a good number of people who either will not holiday in the US because of the perceived violence there (I think it would be fair to say that the blame for that can be laid at Hollywood’s door, although the European press can be pretty sensationalist too.) Or if they do venture across the pond, they won’t leave the safety of Disney World or wherever they are staying. Tourists have been shot in Miami and in Texas in recent years to the best of my memory.
I had few qualms about walking around Manhattan at night, and plenty of people told me I was crazy.
A very good friend of mine was travelling South East Asia last year, and returned to the news that there had been at attempted attack on her daughter, who’d been staying in her house, right outside her own front door. Further, within a week of her leaving her house had been robbed, and a mutual friend was knifed when he tried to call the police because a customer in his bar refused to pay for a meal. Yet my friend had wandered, solo, throught Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and other places without so much as a hint of trouble.
So, basically, it can happen anywhere. I worked, briefly, in the tourist business, and one of the first things I was told to get my head around was no matter how intelligent or high-flying a customer might be at home, when they come on vacation they leave their brains behind, and I found that largely to be true. People let down their guard and do silly things they wouldn’t do at home. Travellers, as opposed to tourists, don’t usually do that.
My appetite to visit Mexico is whetted with every entry I read in your blog! Maybe a little study of the country’s geography would be adviseable before a trip, but otherwise I can’t wait!
Thank you, islandmomma, for an extremely thoughtful comment. You basically nailed it! I do hope you have an opportunity to visit Mexico because it is stunning and I really feel very safe here. Hope your trip was fun, as well.
Good post. Excellent that you are starting a discussion. Mexico sounds like a fantastic place to travel, but crime is the biggest factor for me in deciding weather or not to travel in Mexico or even in the rest of Central America.
Yes, Stephen. I hope I can convince others to come here. It is really wonderful!
I have been to your site before. The more I learn, the more I keep coming back! 🙂
Great post, Barbara, I thought you laid it out very well.
The comments have been a really good read. I found Daniel Sosa Tellez’s comment so poignant.
I live full-time in the central highlands and, for the most part, feel from moderately safe to very safe. A friend was recently car jacked and we have our share of car thefts but I really don’t feel threatened.
The press in the US is unbelievable! So is the anger and xenophobia.