Tourists flock to this sun-drenched country, but is it safe?

The Temple of Kukulcan at the site of the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza is one of Mexico's most visited landmarks - Yiming Chen

The Temple of Kukulcan at the site of the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza is one of Mexico’s most visited landmarks – Yiming Chen

Some countries are still safe, or green, on the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) travel website. Those sporting orange (leisure travel advised against) or painted entirely red (all travel advised against) vary over time – the decade-long “axis of evil” nation is the travel destination of avant-garde adventure of another.

Mexico has always been somewhere in between. Drug-related crime and violence have long been a part of daily life in some areas – places like Sinaloa state and Ciudad Juárez being synonymous, in the unsubtle eyes of foreign media, with gruesome murders and lawlessness. .

Even taking that into account, the FCDO’s map for Mexico has rarely looked so concerning. It resembles – appropriately – military camouflage, with many bands of orange adjoining a decreasing number of green areas. The fine print on its website now features no less than 27 bullet points describing exactly where tourists should and shouldn’t go.

Among the orange areas is the state of Zacatecas, which I find both surprising and discouraging. One of my first trips to Mexico, in 2006, was to write about the so-called “silver cities” – former mining towns that grew rich in colonial times from precious metals.

San Miguel de Allende is renowned for its profusion of colonial-era architecture - Getty

San Miguel de Allende is renowned for its profusion of colonial-era architecture – Getty

I loved this trip. I was blown away by the alluring architecture, delicious food, welcoming people, and cactus-strewn landscapes. There was no sense of risk. Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt had just been there, filming The Mexican. Real de Catorce was like a peyote-induced dream. In San Miguel de Allende, I found traces of Beat writers. Of the region’s eponymous capital, I wrote that it was “the only ‘Silver City’ that truly resembles a city – big, bold and full of chic shops and restaurants. It was here that the first silver vein in the Americas was discovered.

Today, the FCDO advises against all travel to Zacatecas, “with the exception of the city of Zacatecas accessible by plane”. My visit as a Mexican virgin had been a road trip. Like many more following – in Baja California, Chiapas, Tabasco and Yucatán. Mexico is a land of huge skies and long empty highways; it was made for driving vacations.

So what should we think of the current advice? Is it time to forgo the Mexican vacation until the good times return – if they ever do? Is the mosaic of secure and less secure regions and cities too complicated to make a visit practical and, above all, pleasant?

It’s worth bearing in mind that Mexico was one of the only countries that remained open to tourists during the darkest days of the pandemic. It is a nation of copers and optimists. Plus, Mexico is a major destination by any standard. It welcomed 45 million international visitors in 2019 and 32 million last year, more than five times the number received by the UK. Tourism accounted for 13.1% of the country’s total GDP – the largest share among G20 countries. It depends on the travel industry; he makes a serious effort to ensure the safety and happiness of travelers.

Much of Mexico's crime revolves around international drug trafficking - Shutterstock

Much of Mexico’s crime revolves around international drug trafficking – Shutterstock

No one denies that Mexico has a crime problem. A US Congressional Research Service report estimates that between 125,000 and 150,000 organized crime-related homicides took place between 2006 and 2018. Drug trafficking, mostly to the United States, is worth up to $29 billion. dollars (£25 billion), making it an attractive “business”. sector in a developing country for those on the margins and in the underworld.

Many of those who are victims of violence are drug lords, gang members and local politicians. Most shoots are planned in advance. The heinous murders of women and other innocent victims are, tragically, also carefully targeted. Their deaths are symbolic, meant to send a message to rival gangs or the police. Foreign visitors have been killed recently – two Canadians, one of whom was wanted by Interpol, in the resort town of Playa del Carmen in January, and two tourists in Tulum in February, caught in the crossfire – but such incidents are rare. More than 500,000 British nationals visit Mexico each year and “most visits are seamless”, according to the FCDO.

A closer look at the FCDO map reveals that the main areas to avoid are Chihuahua, which is mostly desert; the northeast border with Texas, which has always been dodgy; and the Sinaloa Cartel hotspot. The most obvious losses from a visitor’s perspective are Michoacán and Guerrero – as the Monarch Butterfly Reserve is in the former and Acapulco in the latter. Also keep in mind that no locations in Mexico are marked red – unlike Venezuela – and that the FCDO is toning down its warnings when providing more detailed information. “If possible, travel by plane if you visit a major tourist destination in Guerrero”, does not sound like an alarm bell.

Monarch butterflies in Michoacan, Mexico - Sylvain Cordier

Monarch butterflies in Michoacan, Mexico – Sylvain Cordier

Most tour operators – and even independent travelers – tend to go to the “green” areas of Mexico. Danny Callaghan, CEO of the Latin American Travel Association (, said: “As in many parts of the world, we are seeing problems with organized crime and gang-related violence in some parts. of Mexico, but I don’t think it will have a huge impact on tourism in the country.

“The problems are not targeted at tourists, so unless a tourist is ignoring local advice or is very unlucky, there is no reason for them to be in more danger than they are by wandering in parts of London Go with a reputable tour operator and they will make sure you have quality local guides, so tourists can simply have a great holiday in this amazing part of the world.”

Mexico’s legendary rail journey, the Copper Canyon, is not off limits. Neither are the most beautiful parts of Baja California. All of Yucatán, including the Mayan sites, is still shaded in green, as are Oaxaca and Chiapas. Mexico City – the most exciting and vibrant metropolis south of New York – is fully open and, with the usual big city caveats, safe.

And, if you feel like repeating my first transformative Mexico experience (I’ll be back tomorrow), plan a route through San Miguel, San Luis Potosí, Real de Catorce, and the city of Guanajuato. These contain enough churches, squares, cobbled streets and mining museums filled with treasures for everyone – and the only color you need to think about is silver.

Complete FCDO Mexican No-Go Zones

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) advises against all but essential travel to:

The state of Chihuahua except:

  • The town of Chihuahua

  • The Ciudad Juárez border post (accessible by federal toll road 45)

  • Federal toll road 45D connecting the cities of Chihuahua and Ciudad Juárez

  • The Copper Canyon Railroad to/from Chihuahua and towns immediately on that route, including Creel

  • The route from Creel via San Juanito to San Pedro

  • National Highway 16 from San Pedro to Chihuahua

The state of Sinaloa except:

  • The cities of Los Mochis and Mazatlán

  • Route 32 which connects El Fuerte and Los Mochis

  • Federal Toll Road 15D which runs the length of the state

  • The Copper Canyon Rail Line to/from Los Mochis/El Fuerte and towns immediately along this route

The state of Zacatecas except:

The state of Tamaulipas except:

The state of Colima except:

State of Guerrero except:

  • The city of Acapulco accessible by Federal Toll Road 95D

  • The city of Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa accessible by plane

  • The city of Taxco accessible by federal toll roads 95D and 200D

The State of Michoacán except:

  • The city of Morelia accessible by federal toll roads 15D, 126 and 43

  • The town of Pátzcuaro is accessible by federal toll roads 14D and 15 from Morelia.

  • The 15D Toll Road

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) also advises against all but essential travel to the following parts of these states:

In the State of Baja California:

the city of Tijuana with the exception

  • Airside transit via Tijuana Airport

  • The Cross Border Xpress bridge from the airport connecting terminals across the Mexico-US border.

  • Federal Toll Road 1D and Via Rápida cross Tijuana to the border

the town of Tecate in Baja California (including roads between Tijuana and Tecate)

(Note: FCDO does not advise against all travel or all but essential travel to any part of the state of Baja California Sur.)

In the state of Guanajuato:

In the state of Jalisco:

  • the areas south and southwest of Lake Chapala to the border with the state of Colima

  • the northern municipalities of Hostotipaquillo, San Martin de Bolaños, Chimaltitán, Bolaños, Totatiche, Colotlán, Santa Maria de los Ángeles, Huejúcar, Villa Guerrero, Mezquitic and Huequilla el Alto

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