Stay Safe in Mexico
|Affected regions : Baja California Norte, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Guerrero, Michoacán, Nuevo Leon, Sinaloa and Tamaulipas.|
Most of those killed in drug-related violence since 2006 have been members of transnational criminal organizations. The Mexican government is making significant efforts to protect visitors to major tourist destinations.
Recreational areas and tourist destinations in Mexico are generally unaware of the levels of drug-related violence and crime reported in the border region and in areas along major smuggling routes. Nevertheless, crime and violence are serious problems and can occur anywhere.
Government travel report
Since 3 October 2016, the emergency number for the states of Baja California, Coahuila, Colima, Chiapas, Chihuahua, Durango, Guanajuato, Morelos, Nayarit, Nuevo León, Oaxaca, Puebla, Quintana Roo, Sonora, Tlaxcala and Zacatecas is 911. The rest of the country still uses the old emergency number: 066. In January 2017, the whole country will start using 911.
In most cities, location is very important as safety changes from place to place. Areas near the city centre (centro) are safer at night, especially the “Plaza”, “Zócalo” or “Jardín” (main square) and adjacent areas. Stay in populated areas, avoid poor neighbourhoods, especially at night, and do not walk there at any time if you are alone. People travelling alone have reported violent attacks in seaside resorts, so stay alert and avoid suspicious people. If you want to visit one of the slums, only go there on a guided tour with a reputable guide or tourism company.
Since 2006, violence related to drug cartels has become a problem; see below for issues related to drug trafficking.
Political violence in Chiapas and Oaxaca has decreased in recent years and is a much smaller threat than drug-related crime. It should be borne in mind, however, that the Mexican authorities do not look favourably on foreigners participating in (even peaceful) demonstrations or supporting groups such as the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional and its leader Subcomandante Marcos, even though their images and slogans on T-shirts and caps are often sold in the markets.
As in any city, do not wave cash or credit cards around. Use them discreetly and put them away as soon as possible.
The Mexican legal system was until recently governed by the Code Napoléon, but if you run afoul of the law in Mexico, the penalties are much harsher than in many other countries.
Beggars are usually not a threat, but in urban areas you will find a lot. Avoid being surrounded by them, as some of them may steal your property. Giving two pesos quickly can get you out of this kind of trouble (but may also attract other beggars). Most poor and homeless Mexicans prefer to sell jewellery, chew gum, sing or offer some kind of service rather than beg.
In other cities, such as Guadalajara and Mexico City, security is greater than in most other places in Mexico. However, caution should be exercised.
Problems related to drug trafficking
Understand that the country is in a phase of transition. Former President Felipe Calderon waged war against the drug cartels, and they in turn waged war against the government (and more often against each other).
Some cities in the north and on the border of Mexico, such as Tijuana, Nogales, Nuevo Laredo, Chihuahua, Culiacán, Durango and Juárez, can be dangerous if you do not know your way around, especially at night. Most crimes committed in the northern cities are related to drug trafficking and/or police corruption. However, because law enforcement is so overwhelmed or involved in drug trafficking themselves, many northern border towns that started out somewhat dangerous are now hotbeds where criminals can operate with impunity. Ciudad Juárez in particular bears the brunt of this violence, accounting for almost a quarter of all murders in Mexico, and trips to the scene of the crime require special attention.
Outside the northern states, cartel-related violence is concentrated in certain regions, especially in the states of Michoacán and Guerrero on the Pacific coast. However, caution is advised in any major city, especially at night or in high-crime areas.
Note that tourists and travellers are largely of no interest to the drug cartels. Many popular destinations such as Oaxaca, Guanajuato, Los Cabos, Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, Cancún, Merida and Guadalajara are not affected by this phenomenon, simply because there are no borders. Ciudad Juárez is currently one of the main battlegrounds in the war on drugs, and although foreign travellers are not often targeted here, the presence of two warring cartels, many small opportunistic gangs and armed police and soldiers has created a chaotic situation to say the least.
Although hardly surprising, Monterrey is the new victim of drug-related violence. Once crowned the safest city in Latin America, it is the working environment and entrepreneurial spirit that has defined the city for most Mexicans. Today, it is the latest city to fall into the hands of drug gangs, and deadly shootings take place even in broad daylight. People have been kidnapped from high-profile hotels, and while the city is not yet a mirror image of Ciudad Juarez, it is not far from it.
Strangely enough, Mexico City is the safest city in the area and people go there to protect themselves from the violence at the border because many politicians and military people are there.
Drug use is discouraged in Mexico because although possession of small amounts of all major drugs has been decriminalised, use in public places will result in a fine and will most likely get you into trouble with the police. The military has also set up random checkpoints on all major highways to look for drugs and weapons. Drug use is also frowned upon by a large part of the population.
Tips for the beach
Jellyfish sting: Vinegar or mustard on the skin, take something to the beach.
Stingrays: Water as hot as possible – the heat deactivates the poison.
Sunburn: Bring sunscreen with you when you go to the beach as it is not available in some areas.
Riptides: Very dangerous, especially during and after storms.
In big cities – especially Mexico City – it is better to play it safe with taxis. The best options are to call a taxi company, ask your hotel or restaurant to call a taxi for you, or take a taxi from a landline (“taxi de sitio”). Taxis can also be hailed in the middle of the street, which is acceptable in most of the country, but particularly dangerous in Mexico City.
As chaotic as it can be at times, the metro is the best way to get around Mexico City: it’s cheap (5 pesos for a ticket as of 21 May 2014), safe, has an extensive network covering almost anywhere you want to go in the city, and is extremely fast compared to all road transport, as it doesn’t have to endure constant traffic jams. If you’ve never been on a crowded metro, avoid the rush hours (usually 6am to 9am and 5am to 8pm) and do your homework: First check which line (linea) and station (estacion) you want to take and the address of the place you want to reach. Your hotel can give you this information, and metro maps are available on the internet and at the stations. Most stations also have maps of the surrounding area.
Avoid taking the metro late at night, but during the day many stations are patrolled by police and the metro is safer than the public bus. Your biggest worry on the metro is pickpockets, so keep your important belongings and wallet safe.
A word of warning for those used to European or American metro systems that operate 24 hours a day: Even in Mexico City, the last metro leaves around midnight and service does not resume until early morning. Prices for taxis are correspondingly high and you should be alert if you are travelling during this time.
When travelling by bus, do not put your valuables in the big bag in the storage room of the bus. If the police or the army check the luggage, they can take out what they need. Especially on night buses when passengers are mostly asleep. The use of a money belt (worn under clothes and out of sight) is strongly recommended.
- All distances on signs and speed limits are in kilometres.
- Petrol is also sold per litre, not per gallon, and is slightly cheaper than in the United States.
If you are entering the country by car from the USA, you should purchase Mexican liability insurance before or immediately after crossing the border (legal protection coverage recommended). When you pay for your temporary import permit (to leave the border area), it is common for several booths in the same building to sell Mexican car insurance. Even if your US (or Canadian, etc.) insurance covers your vehicle in Mexico, it may not (under Mexican law) cover liability (i.e., if you hit something or hurt someone). If you have an accident without this insurance, you will probably spend time in a Mexican jail. And even if your own insurance (theoretically) covers your liability in Mexico, you’ll be filing your claim behind bars! Don’t take any chances, take out Mexican car insurance.
Never exceed the speed limit or run stop signs or red lights, as Mexican police will use any excuse to stop tourists and give you a ticket. In some cities, the police cannot give you a ticket, but they can give you a warning. The fine for speeding can be up to US$100, depending on the city.
Since April 2011, the police have been cracking down on drunk driving throughout the country, especially in Mexico City, the big cities and the beach resorts. There are random checkpoints all over the country where every driver has to stop and take an automated test for drunk driving. If you fail, you will end up in a Mexican jail. If you don’t want to drink and drive home, don’t do it in Mexico.
At certain red lights you will mainly find beggars and window cleaners; in some areas of Mexico City it is especially recommended to always close your windows. Window cleaners will try to clean yours: a strong and firm “NO” is recommended.
Some areas of Mexico are known for the travellers’ diarrhoea often referred to as “Venganza de Moctezuma” (the revenge of Montezuma). The reason is not so much the spicy food, but the contamination of the water supply in some of the poorest areas of Mexico. In most small, less industrialised towns, only the poorest Mexicans drink tap water. It is best to drink only bottled or purified water, as both are readily available. Be sure to specify bottled water in restaurants and avoid ice cubes (which are often not made from purified water). As in the United States, water in most major Mexican cities is purified by the municipal water company. Most restaurants in these poor areas only serve water from large jugs of purified water. If you get sick, go to the local clinic as soon as possible. There are medicines to fight bacteria.
Medicine in the cities is highly developed, the public hospitals are as good as the American public hospitals, and just like them, they are always full. It is recommended to go to private hospitals for faster service.
Before travelling to rural areas of Mexico, it is advisable to get anti-malarial medication from your doctor.
Travellers are strongly advised to make sure that the meat they eat is thoroughly cooked, as roundworm infections are on the rise, especially in the Acapulco region.
Besides the risk of malaria, mosquitoes are known to transmit the West Nile virus. Be sure to take an effective insect repellent with you, preferably one containing the active ingredient DEET.
The AIDS/HIV infection rate in Mexico is lower than in the United States, France and most Latin American countries. However, if you plan to have sex, make sure you use a latex condom to reduce the risk of getting or spreading the virus.
As in every western country, cases of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome have been reported in Mexico. It is an acute, rare (but often fatal) disease for which there is no known cure. The virus is thought to be found in animal faeces, especially those of rodents. Therefore, do not venture into animal burrows and be especially careful when entering enclosed spaces that are not well ventilated and lack light.
Vaccination against hepatitis A and B and typhoid is recommended.
If you are bitten by an animal, assume that the animal was carrying rabies and seek medical attention immediately.
In remote areas, a first aid kit is required and aspirin and other similar items are sold without a doctor’s prescription.