Friends and colleagues have been asking me pretty frequently lately about the State Department's recent travel alert for Mexico. Because college spring break season is upon us, the media has been reporting on this alert quite frequently, and come universities have even gone so far as to officially warn their students about the dangers of travel to Mexico in an attempt to prevent them from going there. So, is the hype about the alert and spring breakers all it's cracked up to be in the news? Well, yes and no.
First, let's examine the alert. The State Department has three levels of messages for international travelers. In order of significance from least concerning to most concerning, they are travel advisories, travel alerts, and travel warnings. State currently has travel alerts for five other countries in addition to Mexico, and defines the alert as the following: "Travel Alerts are issued to disseminate information about short-term conditions, generally within a particular country, that pose imminent risks to the security of U.S. citizens. Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, coups, anniversaries of terrorist events, election-related demonstrations or violence, and high-profile events such as international conferences or regional sports events are examples of conditions that might generate a Travel Alert." The most important thing to note about this particular alert is that IT IS NOT NEW. Travel advisories for Mexico have been out for some time, and this alert just renews the alerts that have been out for at least 18 months. The media is making a big deal out of it NOW because of spring break, NOT because it is something new the State Department has all of a sudden become worried about.
Next, let's examine the actual threat to college students. As the State Dept will tell you in its alert, there are thousands of people that visit Mexico every day without incident and have a great time. It's all in WHERE YOU GO. There are several off-limits towns and cities, and even entire states, in Mexico that State details in its alert. Probably not a good idea to hit Durango for a week of fun in the Mexican sun. However, the all-inclusive and other relatively higher-end resorts in places like Cabo San Lucas, Cozumel, and Cancun are relatively safe...as long as you stay within the "tourist" areas and don't go wandering off. There have been some DTO-related incidents a few dozen miles outside of Cancun in recent weeks, but not against American tourists. There have also been some incidents north of Acapulco, and a few years back, drug enforcers were bashing skulls in Acapulco proper. However, none of these incidents were specifically targeting US citizens or college kids.
The whole point is, be smart. If you're in college, I'd like to think you have more than two brain cells to rub together. However, if you're in college, you may be on a pretty tight budget. Mexico is NOT the place to go backpacking through the desert or the jungle on a few bucks for a week. If you go there on vacation, you need to find a place that has security, is located in a "resort area" or other place frequented by mostly tourists, and generally a location you wouldn't call seedy, run-down, or otherwise nasty. If you can't afford this option, then try Jamaica or the Bahamas on for size instead.