In February, the U.S. Department of State upped its travel alert for Mexico, and over the past year or so, the media has been abuzz with reports of drug-fueled violence, murders and kidnappings south of the border. So what does that mean for travelers?
The State Department’s travel alert warns of violence in the Mexican border towns; however, Mexico’s beach resorts such as the Riviera Maya, Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta are still considered to be a safe option—and also a great bargain with a glut of travel deals (more on that later).
State Department advisories on safety and security serve a good purpose, but those alerts should be taken with a grain of salt.
Back in February 2008, we spoke with Doug Koneff, Director of the Office of American Citizen Services and Crisis Management, who explained, “The criteria is that we have to give Americans information on traveling safely and living overseas. … It’s called the ‘No Double Standard,’ which is a very firm rule that any information on risks shared with official Americans has to be shared with private American citizens as well.”
Koneff said that anything from an upcoming election to a hurricane threat merits a travel alert (not to be confused with longer-term “travel warnings”).
That said, rising violence in Mexico is not a myth. Mexican officials report that warring drug cartels and other violence resulted in the deaths of more than 6,000 people last year, and more than 1,000 people were killed in the first two months of 2009 alone.
The greatest increase in violence has been in border cities such as Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez and Nogales. Both the U.S. and Mexican government have responded to the escalating violence by sending additional forces to border cities.
Although attacks on tourists and innocent bystanders aren’t common, one scenario to be aware of is something called “express kidnapping.”
According to David Robillard, who heads up the Mexico office of risk consulting firm Kroll, “Express kidnappings are not planned and don’t last very long. Imagine it’s 10 p.m. and you need some cash, and you’re surprised [by robbers] at the machine and forced to take out your maximum. They then hold you until midnight so you can take out your next daily limit, and then probably take you somewhere far away and dump you.”
The State Department acknowledges that millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year, and points out common-sense precautions are the best way to avoid dangerous situations: Skip the shady areas where prostitution and drug deals may occur; stick with legitimate business and tourist zones in daylight hours; and don’t walk around carrying large sums of cash or flashy jewelry.
Just as when visiting any other city, U.S. citizens traveling throughout Mexico should exercise caution in unfamiliar areas and be aware of their surroundings at all times.
According to the State Department, for any emergencies involving U.S. citizens in Mexico, contact the closest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. For more information, visit travel.state.gov or www.usembassy-mexico.gov.
While travel to border cities is not advisable right now, there’s no need to cancel your plans to visit tourist destinations such as the Riviera Maya, Cancun, Los Cabos, and Puerto Vallarta. Deciding against travel to Cancun because of an incident in Tijuana is like not visiting New Mexico because of apparent crime in New York.
And as an added bonus, there’s that silver lining of the economic crisis: The weakened peso means Americans can stretch their dollars farther, and Mexican resorts are so eager for those dollars that incredible deals abound. Mexico is also serviced by nearly every major U.S. airline, which means you can get to the popular tourist spots within a few hours.
MEXICO TRAVEL DEALS
El Dorado Spa Resorts & Hotels by Karisma is offering an “It’s Your Choice” promotion, offering suite upgrades for $40, plus a choice of bonus offerings such as couples massages, beachfront dinner for two or $200 El Dorado dollars. “Gourmet-inclusive” rates begin at $171 per person, per night, including meals and activities. This promotion runs through December 22, 2009. www.karismahotels.com
Dreams Puerto Vallarta is offering a “Dreams Do Come True” promotion for up to 30 percent savings on Deluxe Room category rates for travel until August 14, 2009, and up to 20 percent savings on reservations made in suite accommodations through December 23, 2009. Guests also receive up to $200 in resort coupons for spa services, dining and specialty wines. www.dreamsresorts.com
Secrets Resorts & Spas’ “A Secret Escape” promotion offers $200 resort credit for guests who book a minimum three-night reservation before March 31, 2009 for travel through June 27, 2009. Guest will receive $100 in spa credits, $60 for one dinner, and $40 for wine. This offer is valid for new reservations made at Secrets Capri Riviera Cancun, Secrets Maroma Beach Riviera Cancun and Secrets Silversands Riviera Cancun. www.secretsresorts.com
Palace Resorts is offering $200 credit towards spa and golf for guests who book three nights or longer at any Palace Resort in Cancun or the Riviera Maya (except Cozumel Palace, Vallarta Palace and Isla Mujeres Palace) before August 19, 2009 for travel between June 1, 2009 and August 22, 2009. Rates start at $156 per person, per night, based on double occupancy. www.palaceresorts.com
At The Royal Playa del Carmen guests can save up to 15 percent on Junior Suite accommodations when booking 120 days in advance for travel before December 21, 2009, starting at $173 per person, per night. Guests can also upgrade their suites for as little as $13. www.RealResorts.com
By Sarika Chawla for PeterGreenberg.com.
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