The Mexico Quandary: Safety or Savings?

If you’ve ever longed to vacation in Mexico but thought it was too dangerous, you might want to reconsider. Michelle Higgins of the New York Times writes an engaging article about the common misconceptions and fears many travelers feel toward this beautiful country. She details which areas tourists should avoid as well as the cities that are perfectly safe and could be your dream destination.

Tourists walk along the beach in front of Zazilkin, a hotel with rustic cabanas in Tulum, on the Yucatán Peninsula. Photo by Michael Nagle.

WHEN Alex Trettin and his wife, Jenn, suggested to family and friends that they take a group vacation to Mexico, the reaction was mixed. About half of the group of 29 immediately signed on for the November trip to the Riviera Maya, south of Cancún, where they would visit Maya ruins, fish and lounge by the pool at an upscale resort for the bargain price of $150 a person a night. The other half hesitated, citing concern about Mexico’s continuing drug war.

“My aunt stated she hoped we didn’t have any issues with the drug cartels,” said Mr. Trettin, a Mexico-travel specialist in Tacoma, Wash., who assured everyone that the beach resort they were going to near Playa del Carmen was far from the violent clashes they had seen on television. Ultimately, they all went, but the concerns that some in the group expressed are indicative of the quandary many travelers face when they consider the safety risks versus the convenience and affordability of a vacation in Mexico.

While most of the drug-related violence has been in the northern border region of Mexico, far from the Maya temples of the Yucatán, the regional cuisine of Oaxaca or the beachesof Baja California Sur, violence has erupted in tourist destinations like Acapulco and the state of Michoacán, home to the famous monarch butterfly sanctuaries. Even Cancún’s safety was questioned earlier this year after eight employees of a strip club there were killed when a group of men threw Molotov cocktails into the building in an area not frequented by tourists.

To combat the perception that violence has been widespread, tourism officials in Mexico have invested $30 million in advertising and social media initiatives to spread the word that much of the country is safe for tourists. “Visitors have the right to be well informed,” said Alfonso Sumano, the regional director for the Mexico Tourism Board for the Americas. Many of the affected areas, he said, “are very far from the destinations tourists visit.”

The Mexico Quandary: Safety or Savings?