How to stay safe when traveling to Mexico

Several cities in Mexico have seen violence due to organized crime.

Tourists are starting to fear for their safety after a string of horrific murders in Cancun, Mexico.

On April 4-5, the popular tourist destination experienced 14 homicides over the span of 36 hours. The deaths occurred in six different incidents and are believed to be targeted and tied to organized crime.

Unfortunately, the violence isn’t new to Mexico. In October 2017, Mexico saw 35,000 hotel nights canceled for the next year after violence erupted and the U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory. Then on March 16, a level 2 travel warning was issued for Mexico, stating that travelers should “exercise increased caution.”

One area with a level 2 warning is Mexico’s Quintana Roo state, which is home to tourist destinations including Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Riviera Maya. The State Department recognizes that most of the crime in this region seems to be tied to criminal organization assassinations, and that “turf battles between criminal groups have resulted in violent crime in areas frequented by U.S. citizens.” These altercations, however, have led to the deaths of innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire.  

The advisory also includes some level 4 warnings, which means travel is strongly discouraged. This includes travel to the Colima, Guerrero, Michoacan, Sinaloa, and Tamaulipas states because criminal activity, such as homicide, kidnapping and robbery.

Tips for staying safe

Even with the travel warnings, U.S. travelers are still flocking to Mexico. According to AAA, Cancun was the fifth most popular spring break destination for Americans in 2018.

If you plan on visiting Cancun, Tulum or one of the other hotspots in Quintana Roo, there are some things you can do to stay safe. The Bureau of Consular Affairs suggests American travelers stay on high alert when visiting local bars, avoid displaying signs of wealth (like wearing expensive jewelry) and avoid driving at night. ATM skimming is also prevalent throughout Mexico, so tourists should be extra diligent when getting cash and do so at indoor machines in well-lit areas.

Doing your research is also important. Reading through the State Department’s Mexico Crime Report for your desired region will give you some background information on violence and resources to keep you and your family safe.

Before you go, it’s also probably a good idea to sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which sends alerts of safety threats, and makes you easier to locate in case of an emergency.

Want to change your plans?

If the news from Mexico makes you want to change your travel plans, it might be difficult if you didn’t take the necessary precautions. Currently, no airlines have posted travel advisories to Mexico, so it will cost you (typically $150-$200) to change or cancel your reservation with a non-refundable ticket.

Going forward, however, there are some things you can do.

The first step is to purchase travel insurance, which can be a nice safeguard if you’re heading to a volatile region. Some plans won’t cover cancellation under these circumstances; in fact, several insurance plans don’t provide coverage in areas under advisory from the State Department. Still, most plans include a “Cancel for any reason” feature that allows you to cancel up to 48 hours before the trip and get up to a 75% reimbursement for your costs. This add-on usually costs extra, but it’s a nice option to have at your disposal if you feel uncomfortable before departing for your trip.

If you want to avoid Mexico altogether, there are some other destinations to consider. While parts of Puerto Rico are still recovering from Hurricane Maria, the city of San Juan has been welcoming tourists for months. Round-trip airfare is affordable (around $340 from Atlanta), accommodations are plentiful, and the weather is always just right.

Another top spot in the Caribbean is the Dominican Republic, where tourism increased by 4% in January and February. There is also the beautiful island of Barbados, where round-trip airfare from New York currently hovers around $330, about $300 less than flying to neighboring islands like Martinique and St. Lucia.

Brittany is reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @bjonescooper

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