The latest Travel Warning for Mexico was updated by the US Department of State on December 8, 2016. In addition to the State Department warnings, the Center for Disease control has also released a Travel advisory for Mexico, regarding the Zika Virus for pregnant women. I'll take a look at the reality of that too. (Click here to read the most recent statistics on the Zika Virus in Mexico updated every Tuesday)
The year 2016 was a banner year for tourism in Baja California Sur and all of Mexico. Mexico remains one of the top 10 worldwide tourist destinations. All major airports on the Baja peninsula reported increased international travel. Cabo San Lucas remains the #1 tourist destination on the west coast of Mexico and La Paz and Cabo San Lucas were the only Mexican ports to have an increase in cruise ship passenger traffic. More than 11 times more people will visit Mexico this year than visit London. Baja California Sur has 10 of the best beaches in Mexico on the Pacific side and Sea of Cortez side. You will find all of these beaches not only amazing places but safe as well.
Excepts from the Official US State Department Warning for Mexico - December 8, 2016
The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens about the risk of traveling to certain parts of Mexico due to the activities of criminal organizations in those areas. U.S. citizens have been the victims of violent crimes, including homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery in various Mexican states. This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning for Mexico, issued April 15, 2016.
Gun battles between rival criminal organizations or with Mexican authorities have taken place on streets and in public places during broad daylight. The Mexican government dedicates substantial resources to protect visitors to major tourist destinations and has engaged in an extensive effort to counter criminal organizations that engage in narcotics trafficking and other unlawful activities throughout Mexico. There is no evidence that criminal organizations have targeted U.S. citizens based on their nationality. Resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico generally do not see the level of drug-related violence and crime that are reported in the border region or in areas along major trafficking routes.
U.S. government personnel are prohibited from patronizing casinos, sports books, or other gambling establishments in the states of Coahuila, Durango, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, San Luis Potosi, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, Jalisco, Colima and Nayarit.
Kidnappings in Mexico take the following forms:
Traditional: victim is physically abducted and held captive until a ransom is paid for release.
Express: victim is abducted for a short time and commonly forced to withdraw money, usually from an ATM, then released.
Virtual: an extortion-by-deception scheme where a victim is contacted by phone and coerced by threats of violence to provide phone numbers of family and friends, and then isolated until the ransom is paid. Recently, hotel guests have been targets of such "virtual" kidnapping schemes.
U.S. citizens have been murdered in carjacking and highway robberies, most frequently at night and on isolated roads. Carjackers use a variety of techniques, including roadblocks, bumping/moving vehicles to force them to stop, and running vehicles off the road at high speeds. There are indications that criminals target newer and larger vehicles, but drivers of old sedans and buses coming from the United States are also targeted. U.S. government personnel are prohibited from intercity travel after dark in many areas of Mexico. U.S. citizens should use toll roads (cuotas) whenever possible. In remote areas, cell phone coverage is limited or non-existent.
The Mexican government has deployed federal police and military personnel throughout the country as part of its efforts to combat organized criminal groups. U.S. citizens traveling on Mexican roads and highways by car or bus may encounter government checkpoints, staffed by military or law enforcement personnel. In some places, criminal organizations have erected their own unauthorized checkpoints, at times wearing police and military uniforms, and have killed or abducted motorists who have failed to stop at them. You should cooperate at all checkpoints.
Putting the Warning in Perspective
What is living on the edge dangerous to one person is the daily mundane to another, so we'll just look at the statistics and put them in perspective with daily life.
In the first half of 2016 one American was murdered in Baja California Sur (Los Cabos) and 8 Americans were the victims of homicide in the northern state of Baja California. That is statisically just on pace with 2015.
The final 2016 numbers are not yet available but it looks like ninety-seven US Citizens were murdered in all of Mexico. For those 97 families that is tragic. But an estimated more than 26 million Us tourists visited Mexico last year and the vast majority of them had an uneventful, safe and enjoyable vacation in Mexico. When you look at the statistics, your chance of being murdered in Mexico on vacations is about five times LESS than being murdered by a family member in your own home. (that's a little scary, no?)
There are parts of Mexico I will not travel to at the current time. None of those ugly places are in Baja. There are not highway roaming bandits looking to feed wayward tourists to their Doberman, I have yet to see a pirate in the Sea of Cortez, nor is Mexico on the verge of revolution. There is perhaps no country in the world that welcomes North Americans with such open arms.
For Baja California the current travel warning reads:
"Baja California (includes Tijuana, Rosarito, Ensenada, Tecate, and Mexicali): Exercise caution in the northern state of Baja California, particularly at night. According to the Baja State Secretariat for Public Security, the state of Baja California experienced an increase in homicide rates from January to July 2016 compared to the same period in the previous year. While most of these homicides appeared to be targeted criminal organization assassinations, turf battles between criminal groups have resulted in violent crime in areas frequented by U.S. citizens. Shooting incidents, in which innocent bystanders have been injured, have occurred during daylight hours."
The violence referred to in the warning is again, almost entirely crime on crime and virtually transparent to the foreign population. But remember, Tijuana is now a city of 1.6 million people and the fourth largest metro area in Mexico. Huge efforts have been made in the Rosarito Beach areas and the confidence in North American travelers is returning. Like locations in Baja California Sur, there appeared to be a territorial struggle between cartels with the violence peaking in the summer of 2015. But the northern state of Baja California remains not only the most popular US destination but the second most dangerous destination for US tourists with 17 Americans killed there in 2015. But all of Mexico is not like the border areas. If you haven't been more than 100 miles south into Mexico, you don't know Mexico.
The travel warning for Baja California Sur reads as follows:
"Baja California Sur (includes Cabo San Lucas and La Paz): Exercise caution in the state capital of La Paz. Baja California Sur continues to experience a high rate of homicides. Many of these homicides have occurred in La Paz, where there have been ongoing public acts of violence between rival criminal organizations."
We saw diminishedviolence in the capital city of La Paz in 2016, but a number of drug related incidents spread out the violence out over the southern half of Baja California Sur. There were are a number of body drops and homicides in Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo. One attack on the residence in San Jose del Cabo used a 50mm grenade launcher. There was one public incident of gunfire in Cabo San Lucas last spring. There were also drug related incidents in Guerrero Negro, Todos Santos, and the remote community of Comondu. But only a handful of incidents across the state were even witnessed, and I could not find any reports of collateral damage victims in 2016.
There has been an increase of 'kidnappings" in Baja California Sur. Most of the incidents that I could find reports of were of the virtual type. A cell phone is stolen and family information is gleaned from the phone and connected social media accounts. A demand for ransom is made with urgency before it is discovered the person really isn't missing. AS far as I could find Norther Americans have not been the victim of this crime.
As a La Paz resident of 16 years, this really has not affected my daily life or that of other of residents or visitors.
Despite the poor treatment by the US over the last 160 years, the Mexican people remain generally open and friendly to North American visitors. Opening trade with the US has provided economic opportunity for Mexico that the current administration threatens to renege. Campaign insults, separatism, walls, and threats of trade changes have left a bitter taste in the mouth of the vast majority of Mexicans for the new US president. The US overproduction of oil has left many country's economies in peril, including Mexico's. Since the threats of a campaigning Trump began to weigh heavily on the Mexican peso in September the value of the currency has dropped 18% against the US dollar and fuel prices have risen more than 18% and threaten to rise even higher in February. This is in whole and in part respectively, blamed on Trump. Should trade deals be negated, mass deportation begins and a wall actually is constructed look for the American welcome in Mexico to diminish. It would usually be unwise to express support for these policies and the new president too loudly while in Mexico. A Trump T-Shirt would be an invitation to violence.
The Zika Virus
The first reported cases of the Zika Virus in Baja California Sur came in the third week of October 2016. Two known cases are being observed in the southern state, there are no reported cases of Zika in the northern state of Baja California. Mexico's statistics do not differentiate between cases locally acquired or cases contracted during travel. In 2016 there were only 23 confirmed cases of Zika in Baja California Sur and none in the northern state of Baja California.
Since the Zika virus has become as much a concern for our readers as the US Travel Warning we have a separate dedicated page for information on the Zika Virus in Mexico updated weekly with the latest statistics from the Mexico Secretary of Health.
This is the same breed of mosquito that carries dengue and malaria, BTW.
Much of Mexico never gets a 'killing frost' so we almost always have live mosquitoes, but much of Central Mexico is at too high an altitude to be threatened by this species of mosquito. Here in Baja, we also need rain for a 'bug season' and that won't happen again in the tropical reaches until early July. With tropical diseases ranging from good old Malaria to dengue, you should always avoid insect bites.
"Bully up America", as Teddy Roosevelt would say.
When on vacation anywhere you should take extra steps to avoid being the victim of petty crime. Americans are notoriously unaware of their surroundings when traveling. (rate high as both unaware, worst dressed and only exceeded by the French as the rudest in a recent traveler's survey) The more adventurous you get, off the beaten path or exploring sketchy neighborhoods the more you put yourself at risk. There are three kinds of people, those that like to scare, those that like to be scared and those that want to make the decision on their own. Be informed with real information when making your own risk assessment.
Come visit us in Baja and don't miss out.