Is Mexico safe?

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I’ve been travelling to Mexico for 40 years, on and off. And I’m not the only one: with its non-stop sunshine and low, low prices, Mexico is a top-three destination for older travellers looking to escape winter. Problem is, every time I tell people I’m going there, they ask me the same question: “Is Mexico safe?”

It’s a fair question. There’s been no shortage of headlines on the drug war that’s been raging in the country for the past seven years — especially in Mexico itself, where the tabloids make a living describing the daily murders. Still, I tell people, most of the violence takes place in the northern cities close to the U.S. border where the drugs are headed, places like Ciudad Juarez. That’s a long way from the places most tourists spend their time, like Cancun and Acapulco and Cozumel.

It’s also a long way from my favourite Mexican getaway, Puerto Vallarta. I’ve spent a fair bit of time there in the past 10 years, and when I’m there, I wander at will, from the beaches to the The church of Guadelupe, Puerto Vallarta, Mexicodowntown shops to the “Mexican” parts of town, where not too many palefaces are seen. In all that time, I’ve never seen any sign of trouble.

That doesn’t mean it’s not there, though. A friend of mine, Allan, spends his winters in PV, as I call it — a true Canadian snowbird.  He loves the city, has a Mexican girlfriend, and wouldn’t stop going there for love or money. But the past couple of years, his e-mails have become troubling.

Allan lives in a Mexican part of town, and a couple of years ago he saw a shootout on his street. Not long afterward, the police chief was attacked in broad daylight. There was even a gun battle in the nearby beach town of Bucerias, where I spent a few days on my last trip.

That kind of news gives you pause. While I’m still pretty certain the Mexican drug gangs aren’t looking to shoot tourists, I finally have to face the fact that bad things do happen — even in tourist centres like PV.

The question is, will that stop me from going to Mexico? After long thought, the answer is no. Despite the bad stories, I still feel safe walking its streets: crime exists, but the chances of running Three police on the waterfront in Puerto Vallarta, Mexicointo it are still very small. The city has tourist police who patrol the most frequented areas, and the presence of lots of gringos usually — but not always — keeps real criminals at bay.

Still, I think the next time I touch down in PV I’m going to be a little more careful where I go, maybe stay a bit closer to the tourist areas, and avoid isolated places after dark.

Look at it this way: I live in Toronto, where in the past couple of years gang members have opened fire in a crowded downtown mall and a patio restaurant, and every week seems to bring another story of a 16-year-old kid being gunned down by some wanna-be gangsta. So even in my own city, I take some sensible precautions: stay out of seedy places and go home before the night gets too old.

It works for me in Toronto, and I think it works for most of the gringos who still go to Mexico by the millions each year: according to travel industry figures, 40% of Canadian sun trips go there, and that figure isn’t going down.

So, my advice is: don’t get too scared by the headlines. Millions of people still lead safe, peaceful lives in Mexico, and they’d be more than happy to see you. But be careful out there.

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About Author

Paul Marshman is a retired journalist who spent 30 years as a writer and editor on Canadian newspapers, while travelling to the ends of the earth. Now he continues to travel while passing on his travel experiences to you.

5 Comments

  1. I am impressed with your website! I too have been to Mexico many times and have never had a problem where I felt I was ever in any real danger or even in harms way. With my wife I had driven into Mexico from Canada a couple of times, very much off the beaten path of the average tourist. I did have a sense of apprehension many times about going to some places that seemed dangerous but I think that was due to my inflamed imagination brought on by what I had heard or read in the papers. It was not the reality of the situation. I was also encouraged by the fact that my wife was a citizen of Mexico and knew the language and customs very well. I have also talked to several people over the years about travelling through the country side and into the less known cities and they have very good stories to tell. I think the Mexican nationals have more to fear than tourists.

  2. I was interviewed by a reporter from Guadalajara and he asked me if I had ever been a victim of crime. I said yes, twice in my hometown of Yorkton, once in Prince Albert, Twice in Saskatoon an three times in Regina. He asked me if I had ever been a victim of crime in Mexico and I said no, never. Andrea’s son told his mother he wanted to come to Canada with me so he could get a good job, live with me and make $10 an hour (he works in a high end restaurant six days a week for minimum wage ($5. a day) Andrea said, “absolutely not, do you realize the police tasered and killed a visitor to Canada in the Vancouver airport, there are school shootings, mall shootings, theatre shootings, gang shootings. Those countries (Canada and the USA) are far too dangerous. You stay at home in Mexico where it is safe.” I have driven down twice by car and once on my motorcycle and it was a great trip, one of my life’s great experiences. I have found most people who meet their end there are involved in drugs, excessive use of alcohol or gay prostitution where they get robbed, beaten and sometimes killed if thy resist as happened to a Canadian man half a block from my home. Go there, have fun, behave yourself, make friends with the locals and enjoy a rewarding cultural experience. A Mexican family were over at my house the other night (nicest people you could ever meet) and Francisco said, “it’s really funny, all us Mexicans want to come to Canada and all you Canadians want to go to Mexico.” …………

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