We have regularly posted security reports from Jack at HX-Harary Security that offers an overview of the security situation in Mexico. These make for pretty grim reading, but if you are headed off the beaten path it is good to know what could await you. Last week we also brought you a piece from Danny at NomadSOS about visiting Playa del Carmen. Danny is on the ground in the area and was a responder to the shooting at the Blue Parrot nightclub. He is able to offer a unique and valuable insight.
The security situation in Mexico remains fluid. Some areas are definitely not suitable for tourists, while other tourist zones are better protected and face a lower risk. Protests flared in recent days over petrol prices – roads were blockaded, while looting and violence broke out.
It is not possible to say that an area is absolutely safe for visitors, as everything involves risks. The threat of crime and violence often receives more attention, overshadowing health risks and the potential for road traffic accidents.
The most important thing to do before travelling anywhere is to research your destination. Understand the local risks and responses, and work out what you would do should you find yourself in that situation. Always make sure you have appropriate travel insurance. (We see so many incidents where people face huge bills because they did not have the coverage they needed.)
To start you off on your research, we have included some of the most recent travel advice from the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office for Mexico. To read the advice in full and to read advice from other countries, please click on these links –
Please note that the travel advice varies – it is worth reading them all and reaching your own conclusion.
UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office
There was a shooting incident at the state prosecutor’s office in downtown Cancun on 17 January. This follows a separate shooting at a nightclub in Playa del Carmen on 16 January. There is currently an increased police presence in the Cancun area, including in the hotel zone. The situation in the hotel zone is calm. You should continue to follow the advice of the local authorities and your tour operator.
UK health authorities have classified Mexico as having a risk of Zika virus transmission. For more information and advice, visit the National Travel Health Network and Centre website.
The hurricane season normally runs from June to November and affects both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. You should monitor the progress of approaching storms on the website of the US National Hurricane Centre and follow the advice of the local authorities, including any evacuation orders. See our tropical cyclones page for information and advice about what to do if you’re caught up in a storm.
Protests have affected Mexico City and other parts of the country. There have been protests across Mexico following petrol price rises announced on 1 January 2017. This includes the blocking of highways and looting. You should avoid demonstrations and follow the advice of the local authorities if you’re in an area where a protest is taking place.
Illegal roadblocks have been reported more frequently, particularly in the states of Guerrero and Chiapas. If you’re driving in these states, travel during daylight hours and use toll roads, although you may still encounter disruptions. If possible, travel by air if you’re visiting a major tourist destination in Guerrero. Due to an increase in violent crime in recent months, you should exercise a high degree of caution in Acapulco and surrounding areas.
424,860 British nationals visited Mexico in 2014. Most visits are trouble-free.
The security situation can pose a risk for foreigners. Be alert to the existence of street crime as well as more serious violent crime like robbery, assault and vehicle hijacking. In certain parts of Mexico you should take particular care to avoid being caught up in drug related violence between criminal groups. See Crime and Violence
There is a low threat from terrorism. See Terrorism
Take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before you travel.
Cozumel, Mexico by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash
Safety and Security
Crime and violence are serious problems in Mexico and the security situation can pose a risk for foreigners. Many Mexican and foreign businesses choose to hire private security. You should research your destination thoroughly and only travel during daylight hours. Monitor local media and inform trusted contacts of your travel plans.
The Mexican government makes efforts to protect major tourist destinations like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta and these areas have not seen the levels of drug-related violence and crime experienced elsewhere. There have been several instances of armed crime both within and outside tourist areas in Acapulco. Six people, including foreign nationals, were killed in a shooting at the Blue Parrot nightclub during a music festival in Playa del Carmen on 16 January 2017.
When driving, avoid isolated roads and use toll roads (‘cuotas’) whenever possible. Keep car doors locked and windows closed, especially at traffic lights. There have been a number of violent car-jackings and robberies along the Pacific Highway and you should be careful when travelling on this route. Those travelling in large camper vans or sports utility vehicles (SUVs) have been targeted in the past. If you suspect you’re being followed or watched, drive to a police station or other safe place.
Be particularly alert on public transport, at airports and in bus stations. Theft on buses is common so keep an eye on your belongings at all times. Buses have also been hijacked. Where possible, travel on first-class buses using toll roads, which have a lower rate of incidents than second and third class buses travelling on the less secure free (‘libre’) roads. Most first-class bus companies perform security checks when passengers board the bus.
Passengers have been robbed and assaulted by unlicensed taxi drivers including in Mexico City. In Mexico City, use the better regulated ‘sitio’ taxis from authorised cab ranks. At airports, use only authorised pre-paid airport taxi services.
Women travelling on their own should be particularly alert when travelling on public transport. There have been incidents of rape on urban buses (‘micros’) on routes in the south of Mexico City. Most attacks have occurred early in the morning or late at night. Several serious sexual offences have also occurred in tourist areas outside of Mexico City. Take care even in areas close to hotels, and especially after dark.
Don’t leave food and drinks unattended in bars and restaurants. Travellers have been robbed or assaulted after being drugged.
Street crime is a serious problem in major cities and tourist resort areas. Pick-pocketing is common on the Mexico City Metro. Dress down and avoid wearing expensive jewellery or watches. Limit the amount of cash or credit/debit cards you carry with you. Keep a close watch on briefcases and luggage, even in apparently secure places like the lobby of your hotel.
Take care when withdrawing money from ATMs or exchanging money at Bureau de Change. It’s generally safer to use ATMs during daylight hours and inside shops or malls.
Be wary of people presenting themselves as police officers trying to fine or arrest you for no apparent reason. If in doubt, ask for identification and if possible note the officer’s name, badge number, and patrol car number.
Foreign visitors and residents may be targeted by scam artists. Be wary of strangers approaching you or contacting you by phone asking for personal information or financial help. If you or your relatives or friends are asked to transfer money to Mexico make absolutely sure that it is not part of a scam and that you have properly checked with the person receiving the money that they are requesting it.
Short-term opportunistic kidnapping – called ‘express kidnapping’ – can occur, particularly in urban areas. Victims are forced to withdraw funds from credit or debit cards at a cash point to secure their release. Where victims have friends or relatives living locally, a ransom may be demanded from them. You should comply with requests and not attempt to resist such attacks.
Longer-term kidnapping for financial gain also occurs, and there have been allegations of police officers being involved. Be discreet about discussing your financial or business affairs in places where you may be overheard by others.
Drug-related violence in Mexico has increased over recent years. The violence is concentrated in specific areas, and some regions are almost completely spared. Make sure you research your destination thoroughly.
Many fatalities are suspected gang members killed in turf wars between the different organisations that compete for control of trafficking routes into the US. Drug-related violence is a particular problem in the northern states of Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, Sinaloa and Durango, and also in Guerrero, Jalisco, Michoacán and Nayarit. Armed clashes between security forces and drug groups can occur at any time without warning. You should exercise extreme caution outside of tourist areas in all of these states.
The FCO no longer advise against all but essential travel to Ciudad Juarez. You should, however, take care, travel during daylight, inform relatives or friends of your travel plans and use reputable hotels only.
Outbursts of politically-motivated violence can occur across the country, with a recent increase in the states of Guerrero and Mexico City.
You can drive in Mexico using a UK licence or an International Driving Permit. Driving standards are very different from the UK. Roads can be pot-holed. Be prepared to stop unexpectedly and beware of vehicles moving slowly, changing lane without indicating and going through red lights. Many local drivers don’t have any form of car insurance.
To reduce air pollution, Mexico City and some other parts of the country have introduced restrictions on driving. Cars may be forbidden from entering certain areas on particular days, based on their number plates. These regulations are strictly enforced and offenders face heavy fines and temporary confiscation of their vehicle. This only applies to older vehicles and not to newer models which are often used for car hire. Please double check with your car hire company directly.
There is an additional driving restriction in Mexico City, where vehicles without registration plates from the State of Mexico (Estado de Mexico) or the Federal District (DF) are not allowed to enter Mexico City from Monday to Friday between 5:00am and 11:00am.
You may come across unofficial roadblocks, including on main roads, manned by local groups seeking money for an unofficial local toll.
If you take part in adventurous sports (including paragliding, skydiving, scuba diving and jet-skiing), make sure adequate safety precautions are in place. Equipment may not meet UK safety and insurance standards. Only use reputable operators, and satisfy yourself that the company is using the most up-to-date equipment and safety features, and that they are fully licensed and insured. Check that you’re covered by your travel insurance for all the activities you want to undertake. British nationals have been injured and in some cases killed participating in extreme sports.
Swimming and water sports
Shark attacks are relatively rare in Mexico, but you should take care particularly when surfing, research the local area and follow the advice of the local authorities.
Around many lagoons in tourist areas (eg Cancun) you’ll see signs warning about crocodiles. Respect these warnings and don’t walk too close to the water. Tourists have been seriously injured in crocodile attacks.
In some hotels, balcony balustrades may not be as high as you expect and there could be a risk of falling.
Foreign nationals have been caught up in property scams. Before making financial commitments and buying property in Mexico, you should seek independent qualified legal advice.
Mexico has an established multiparty democracy. Political demonstrations are common in Mexico City and can occur across the country. These can be tense and confrontational and could potentially turn violent. Onlookers can be quickly drawn in. You should monitor local media and avoid all demonstrations.
The Mexican constitution prohibits political activities by foreigners. Participation in demonstrations may result in detention and deportation.
The Mexico City Command and Control Centre (Centro de Atención a Emergencias y Proteción Ciudadana de la Ciudad de México) has information and advice on safety in Mexico City. Monitor their twitter page ‘Safe City’ for up-to-date information and advice on accidents, road blocks, demonstrations, etc in Mexico City.
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