Q: I always used to travel to Mexico for cheap prescriptions and dental work, but now I'm worried about the escalating violence. My daughter wants to go to an all-inclusive somewhere in Mexico. Do you think it's safe to "make a run for the border"?
- Jack Browner, Amarillo, Texas
A: Jack, as I always say, don't let fear get in the way of your life. I travel to Mexico several times a year, and this coincided with reports of violence and during the H1N1 scare. But the fact is tourism to Mexico is up 20 percent this year, and that includes 5 million Americans!
Let's look at the facts: There is increasing violence in Mexico, primarily fueled by drug cartels. However, the danger is usually limited to border cities such as Tijuana, Nuevo Laredo and Ciudad Juarez. Anecdotally, I have heard that tourists still feel quite safe in Nuevo Progreso, but in most border cities you can expect to see Mexican soldiers patrolling the streets.
However, take a look at a map, and you'll see how far the resort towns are from the border. The all-inclusive resorts that your daughter is looking into will be in places such as the Riviera Maya, Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta and a host of other destinations. Although Acapulco has seen an increase in trouble, resorts are fully aware of the negative perception of Mexico as of late, and are doing their part to tighten security and make guests feel safe.
That doesn't mean you should leave your common sense at the door. More than a drug-fueled attack, tourists are more likely to get snagged by pickpockets and thieves, so be on alert. Never carry valuables such as jewelry and watches. Carry small sums of money and leave your passport in the hotel safe. Visit cities during daylight and always travel in pairs or groups, not alone.
If you want to be extra cautious, sign up for the Smart Travel Enrollment Program (STEP) through the State Department. This is a free service provided by the government that will provide travelers with the latest information on safety and security in Mexico. The State Department will also be able to assist registered travelers if an emergency occurs.
Bottom line, Mexico continues to be a cost-friendly destination for American travelers, and there are great experiences to be had down there. Be smart, don't be governed by fear, and you'll have a good time.
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