Is it safe to travel to Mexico? How can you reconcile the great travel deals with the reports of drug violence?
Robert Reid, U.S. travel editor for Lonely Planet, and Peter get to the bottom of the recent State Department alert and other troubling news reports.
Peter Greenberg: We’ve done the radio show from Mexico four or five times this year. I don’t need you to convince me that it’s a cool place to go. But, in light of the statistics that people see in the press, what do you think?
Robert Reid: “Should I go to Mexico?” is the question I have been asked the most in the last couple years. There’s swine flu; there’s reports about the drug war; there’s new and expanded warnings from the State Department. I always say, if you plan carefully and pick where you’re going, you actually can go.
The State Department came out with a new travel warning to Mexico in late April. Seventeen out of 30 states in Mexico are not included on it. Not included are the places people usually go like Quintana Roo, the Yucatán State, the Southern part of Baja where all the beaches are, Mayan ruins and the colonial towns around Mexico City like San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato. Locals as well as travelers tell me it feels the same there. The reports of the drug war feel as distant there as they do here. Plus, there are a lot of deals as a result of some of these news reports. Prices are going down.
Ideas for Mexico travel: Mexico & Central America Travel section
PG: When you have all these states on a travel warning or travel advisory for the State Department, it does send a negative message to most travelers, who probably don’t know where these states are located.
RR: Absolutely, I understand that. If someone is not comfortable, they shouldn’t go. First, you need to consider that Mexico is about the size of Western Europe. There’s an area that’s bigger than Britain and Ireland that is not on the travel warnings. And there are other smaller areas outside the warning as well.
Second, look at the results of some of the crime reports. The Washington Post had an article last year that the homicide rate in our nation’s capital is four times greater than Mexico City. A lot of people won’t go to Mexico City because of pollution and crime. The crime rate has gotten a lot lower. It’s cleaned itself up. The bicentennial for the Mexican revolution a couple of years ago really cleaned up the capital.
My message is always the same: Make sure you have the full picture, the 360-degree-picture, before you make a decision. There are a lot of good things to be had in Mexico if you do choose to go.
PG: I agree. Look at Cozumel. It is probably the most popular cruise ship port in the world. And yet anytime somebody hiccups the cruise ships say we’re pulling out of Mazatlan or we’re pulling out of Cozumel. Guess what happens a week later? They’re back. It’s so fickle and capricious. It’s not based on real facts. It’s based on fear.
Learn more: Is Mexican Travel Safe: Peter On The O’Reilly Factor
RR: During the swine flu crisis a couple of years ago, some cruise ships stopped going to places like Puerto Vallarta, where there were no reported cases of the swine flu. Instead, the ships went to places like San Francisco where there were reported cases of swine flu. It is worth listening closely to reports.
For example, Mérida is a great Mayan town near Mayan ruins in the Yucatán that had fewer nuisances with drugs last year than Wichita, Kansas. I fear that we perceive Mexico through a keyhole of the worst common denominator. No doubt, it’s a grizzly image, but it’s not the full picture.
PG: I’ll call a spade a spade here, Mexico has been seen in an almost racist way by Americans for so many years. They imagine dusty border towns, guys wearing sombreros and doing shoot ’em ups. They see it how it was portrayed in the movies. If you couple that perception with the drug cartels or with the swine flu or with select crime reports, suddenly everybody starts running for the border.
RR: “Real Mexico” is an elusive target; so is “real America.” A lot of people judge it by Tijuana, cruise ship ports, or upside-down margaritas in Cancun. Somebody who has traveled around Mexico wouldn’t consider those place “real Mexico.” I’m in this business because of Mexico. I think it is an asset to be close to such a diverse, wonderful and friendly country. I’m sad that more people don’t take advantage of it. I’m not trying to discount news reports. There are some grisly reports, particularly in Northern Mexico. I would never consider driving in from Texas on the roads where there have been hijackings, etc. That area is easily avoided. Travelers have almost always avoided it.
PG: I haven’t seen a lot of tourism brochures for Ciudad Juarez.
RR: That’s the last place I’d tell you to visit. It’s a dangerous city. It is not a tourist destination. And I’m reticent to dismiss a place because it’s not touristy. Somebody might put down Cleveland as not touristy. There are a lot of reasons to go to Cleveland. Juarez is not a place I would go.
PG: Isn’t it ironic that we’re talking about crime and murder in Mexico and I’ve spent so much of the year enjoying the ocean, the beaches and the beautiful sunsets in Mexico? Where have you been?
RR: I’m in Newark, New Jersey.
PG: Ladies and gentleman, I rest my case.
By Peter Greenberg for PeterGreenberg.com.
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