Despite stepped-up anti-crime efforts by Mexico’s local, state, and federal government security forces, the US and Canadian governments continue to warn their citizens to “exercise a high degree of caution” or “avoid non-essential travel” to many parts of Mexico.
In its most recent security advisory on Mexico, Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development Canada (DFATD) advises travellers to “avoid non-essential travel” to the southwestern states of Michoacan (except for the city of Morelia) and Guerrero (except for the cities of Ixtapa, Taxco, Zihuatanejo, and the tourist zone of Acapulco). For those high-profile exceptions, DFATD urges only a “high degree of caution.”
There is an important distinction between these two warning levels, especially for Canadians with travel insurance. Generally, if DFATD issues a formal warning to avoid non-essential travel or avoid all travel to certain countries or regions prior to the effective date of your travel insurance or its purchase date, the insurer may not cover losses incurred in that area. However, if the government advisory is issued after you have purchased your trip, or its effective date, you will be covered—although you may be told to leave immediately.
The US Department of State also urges a deferral of non-essential travel to the state of Guerrero, except for the cities of Acapulco, Zihuatanejo, and Ixtapa. Ironically, the State Department advisory notes that Guerrero was the most violent state in Mexico through the first 10 months of 2013, with 1,718 homicides and 205 reported cases of kidnapping.
The State Department advisory on Mexico, last updated on January 9, 2014, is a highly detailed report. I recommend you read it as it describes each state’s warning levels, reports on criminal activities, and areas to avoid.
Though Mexico’s problems with drug cartels and outlaw gangs have been widely publicized, tourism remains at high levels. To keep it there, tourism officials have been giving their own tips on how to stay safe. For example:
- Do not go out with unnecessary jewellery, cash, credit cards, or valuables. Take only what you need and keep the rest locked in a secure hotel safe.
- Do not invite strangers to your room, especially when you do not know the person, if you are alone, or if your valuables are not secured. If you must have guests, register them at your hotel or condo, and/or ask for and take photo copies of IDs. Escort the individual off the premises—don’t let them wander among other rooms or condos and put others at risk.
- When you go out at night, bring only your ID and the necessary cash, not a wallet full of cash and credit cards ripe for pickpocketing. Don’t flash your money around and don’t leave cameras, smart phones, or wallets unattended.
- When you go out, or return home, late at night, take a taxi regardless of the distance to your lodgings. Do not walk home late at night, inebriated, in dark areas with uneven sidewalks, and expect good things to happen. You wouldn’t do this at home, where you know your surroundings, so don’t do it when you travel and are unfamiliar with the language, customs, and laws.
- Don’t use or carry drugs on the street, be drunk in public, urinate on the streets, or otherwise break the law, as in any other city.
I also strongly urge you to discuss the trip interruption/cancellation conditions of your travel insurance with your insurer or agent if you are planning a trip to any countries where there are security issues, such as Mexico or elsewhere in Latin America.