As most of my fellow Mexico blogs have addressed recently, the news coverage around security in Mexico has reached fever pitch in the last few months. A flurry of articles in the US press is sending everyone into a panic, which is only amplified by so-called experts busily spreading fear regardless of facts. Some people are convinced that tourists are being gunned down in Cancun on a daily basis (NOT TRUE!! Reality: drug cartels killed the man who was the area’s “anti-drug chief’), and that rebel armies are seconds away from taking over Mexico City (NOT TRUE!! Reality: I am not aware of any nearby rebel armies, and I reckon that even if they did exist– if they tried to storm the city, they would end up stuck in traffic & probably lose motivation by the time they arrived at any important government buildings).
My recent favorite is an e-newsletter my friend Todd forwarded me from a travel agency in Omaha, NE who specializes in trips to Mexican beaches. The email alert starts off with:
“So, is Mexico Dangerous?? Should I Go there?
If you have plans to visit Tijuana, on the California boarder,
Juarez, Mexico on the Texas boarder, Nogales on the Arizona
boarder, Mexico City or similar cities – don’t go! As the news is
correctly reporting, there are some major drug “wars” between
rival gangs, and who’s going to run the drugs across the US boarder.
There is a travel advisory on traveling to the U.S./Mexico BOARDER
TOWNS, that have the drug traffic problems. On the other hand,
if you’re going to beach locations like the Riviera Maya /Playa del
Carmen area, Cancun, Cabo San Lucas etc., you’re over 1,000
miles from where they are having the major problems. “
Now to be clear, I do not dispute the risks of being a tourist in the towns along the border. (Although I have no idea where the Texas “boarder” is…) But I love how they throw in “Mexico City or similar cities” just for good measure. First, given that Mexico City is one of the top 5 largest cities in the world with 20+ million people, what are the “similar cities” in Mexico that you should avoid??? Helpful. Also, what is the basis for listing Mexico City in the first place? Even the State Department Travel Alert for Mexico does not highlight Mexico City as a place to avoid because of violence.
Anyway, what I consider important to remember here is: any city can be dangerous if you’re an idiot. By no means am I trying to make light of the situation on the border, which I fully agree has become disturbingly violent and is wise to avoid as a tourist. But Mexico is a huge country (761,000 square miles, 3x the size of Texas). The drug-related drama on the border is NOT indicative of what you will experience in the remaining 90% of Mexico.
To make it even easier for potential visitors, I have written up a quick quiz to help you determine your risk level for traveling in Mexico. As I said, obviously bad things can happen anywhere, but there are some fairly clear issues that you should consider first.
The Official MidwesternerInMexico.com Quiz for Determining your Risk of Violence in Mexico
(please answer yes or no to the following questions)
- I am the head of a powerful drug cartel.
- I am employed by a recent drug cartel start-up, and my title is “Business Development Manager, Mexico”.
- I cannot leave the house without my 3 diamond rings, diamond stud earrnings, and emerald necklace.
- I only travel by limo.
- I insist on wearing shorts, sandals with socks pulled up to mid-calf, a Hawaiian shirt, and a floppy hat at all times, while using my obnoxious American “outside voice”.
- I have a tendency to flash wads of cash while trying to pay for a $10 peso bottle of water with a $1000 peso bill.
- I travel strictly using libre taxis hailed off the street in Mexico City, like the green VW bugs, because I don’t want to pay the extra $30 (+/-) pesos for a safer sitio taxi.
- I am a high-level Mexican law enforcement official actively engaged in the fight against drugs and am not on the narco payroll.
- I prefer to drive long trips between cities in Mexico only at night, and I am too cheap to pay the tolls to drive on the safe, well-maintained cuota highways.
- I insist on going out drinking by myself, getting loaded, then stumbling around the back alleys of Mexico City singing “You are my sunshine” at the top of my lungs.
- I sell drugs to a circle of depressed, soccer-moms in a US suburb, and I am traveling to Mexico to take advantage of the crazy dollar/peso exchange rate to find a new dealer for my drug supply.
- I am visiting Mexico to conduct a major business transaction for which I intend to convert $20,000 USD into $306,000 pesos in public at the airport currency exchange desk.
- I ask taxi drivers to take me on tours past the homes of local drug lords, where I get out of the taxi and take photos from the middle of the street during broad daylight.
- I insist on traveling to parts of Mexico City not mentioned in guide books or specifically mentioned as areas full of criminals, like Tepito, a.k.a. the “Thieves’ Market”.
OK, end of quiz! Time to review your score.
If you answered yes to #1, #2, or #8: I strongly recommend you avoid travel into Mexico, leave Mexico if you are already here, or seriously consider a new line of work.
If you answered yes to #3, #4, or #6: perhaps you have forgotten that you are visiting a country where the daily minimum wage for 2009 is $54.80 pesos. That is $3.58 USD PER DAY at the current exchange rate. Please bear this in mind and stop flaunting your money like a fool.
If you answered yes to #7 or #9: have you checked the exchange rate lately?? During the 8 months we have been here, it has gone from 10 pesos / 1 dollar to 15.3 pesos / 1 dollar. Stop being a cheap ass and spend the extra pesos to pick the safe option.
And finally, if you answered yes to #5, #10, #11, #12, #13 or #14: you are simply not very smart and probably shouldn’t be allowed to travel, period.
I hope this insightful quiz has eased your fears about travel to Mexico, as long as you are not an idiot or a criminal.
In our eight months here, we have been amazed by all that Mexico has to offer and truly hope we have the chance to show more of our friends & family around Mexico City and beyond. I do not feel scared or nervous on a daily basis. I take normal minor precautions and have thus far (knock on wood) been completely fine here in the heart of the action, D.F. Hopefully our stories will inspire others to travel to Mexico’s amazing cities, towns, beaches, and jungles as well. It is totally fair to be a little worried and take the appropriate extra precautions for travel in an unfamiliar land, but don’t let the craziness of the border drug wars prevent you from experiencing the rest of a beautiful country.