How safe is Mexico - A Traveler's Guide to Safety over Sensationalism: An independent website presenting relevant crime statistics about Mexico compared to other popular travel destinations to allow travelers to make their own mind about their personal safety when visiting.

Arizona Daily Star, September 13, 2014 7:00 pm, By Ernesto Portillo Jr.

Four years ago, the Southwestern Mission Research Center ceased taking busloads of inquisitive folks to tour northern Sonora, along the routes blazed by Jesuit explorer Eusebio Francisco Kino. The trips, which had been occurring for more than three decades, came to a halt over fears of insecurity in the small towns.

But the center has resurrected its tours, starting with one late next month. It’s a good sign, not just for the center and its volunteers of Pimería Alta fans, but for many on both sides of the line who long for a time when cross-border trips were common, part of daily life, and not given to second-guessing.

Resumption of the mission tours reflects the reality that traveling in Sonora is not the dangerous activity it was once. “This is the interface with Mexico,” said Michael Brescia, president of the nonprofit SMRC and associate director of the Arizona State Museum at the University of Arizona.

Brescia said the upcoming tour will allow visitors to “get beyond the headlines.” The headlines, however, had truth to them.

When SMRC cancelled its trips in 2010, the residents of northern Sonora struggled with the chokehold that competing cartels had placed on their towns. Cartel gunmen, armed with weapons smuggled from the U.S., shot it out between themselves or with Mexican law enforcment and military in the Sáric-Tubutama area, about 40 miles south of the border. There were a number of sensational shootings that shattered the peacefulness of the Altar River Valley.

Tourists stayed away, as did Southern Arizonans with long ties to their ancestral families’ towns of Caborca, Oquitoa, Pitiquitio, San Ignacio and Magdalena de Kino, where the missionary explorer’s remains are interred in the town plaza. These family connections long preceded the creation of the border in the mid-1800s.

Kino established missions in the Pimería Alta, the region generally composed of northern Sonora and Southern Arizona, in the late 1600s.

The center’s tours — in its heyday there were six a year — took more than 6,000 people to see these communities firsthand, and to meet people like Doña Chata, the elderly caretaker of the church on the plaza in San Ignacio who hosted a Sunday lunch in her small backyard overlooking planted fields irrigated by the acequia, and Gloria Elena Santini, who spearheaded the restoration of the 200-year-old La Purísima Concepción del Caborca in Caborca, which shares similar design and construction with Mission San Xavier del Bac south of Tucson.

Brescia said these connections to the past are personal today.

Before the decision was made to re-establish the mission visits, a trial-balloon weekend trip was made in the spring, said David Yubeta, a longtime volunteer who traveled with docents from Mission San Xavier. The towns were peaceful and there were no hints of danger, said Yubeta, a retired preservationist for the National Park Service at Tumacácori. In Tubutama, the police were present, which reassured him.

But what was more telling was that the residents were joyful that a tourist-filled bus — the first one in several years — rolled into their towns. People welcomed the Kino followers. “They asked if the tours were returning,” Yubeta said. Dale Brenneman, a Mission Center board member, sure hopes so.

She said Sonoran friends and contacts report that daily life is calm on the Kino trail. “I don’t see a particular threat to Americans coming down,” said Brenneman, curator of documentary history at the State Museum. What the center and the townspeople hope is that the next bus of visitors will return to Tucson and tell their friends and families that it’s all right to travel in Sonora. “They’ll be our ambassadors,” Brenneman said.

The tour is scheduled for Oct. 31 to Nov. 2, the Day of the Dead weekend. The tour has 22 people signed up. A second tour is planned for spring 2015.

Take a trip. Learn some history and culture. Get a deeper understanding of our shared region. Contact Brenneman at tours@southwestmissions.org or at 621-6278.

 

From the online print edition of The Economist, Nov. 24, 2012

NEXT week the leaders of North America’s two most populous countries are due to meet for a neighborly chat in Washington, DC. The re-elected Barack Obama and Mexico’s president-elect, Enrique Peña Nieto, have plenty to talk about: Mexico is changing in ways that will profoundly affect its big northern neighbour, and unless America rethinks its outdated picture of life across the border, both countries risk forgoing the benefits promised by Mexico’s rise.

The White House does not spend much time looking south. During six hours of televised campaign debates this year, neither Mr Obama nor his vice-president mentioned Mexico directly. That is extraordinary. One in ten Mexican citizens lives in the United States. Include their American-born descendants and you have about 33m people (or around a tenth of America’s population). And Mexico itself is more than the bloody appendix of American imaginations. In terms of GDP it ranks just ahead of South Korea. In 2011 the Mexican economy grew faster than Brazil’s—and will do so again in 2012.
Yet Americans are gloomy about Mexico, and so is their government: three years ago Pentagon analysts warned that Mexico risked becoming a “failed state”. As our special report in this issue explains, that is wildly wrong. In fact, Mexico’s economy and society are doing pretty well. Even the violence, concentrated in a few areas, looks as if it is starting to abate.

Mañana in Mexico

The first place where Americans will notice these changes is in their shopping malls. China (with more than 60 mentions in the presidential debates) is by far the biggest source of America’s imports. But wages in Chinese factories have quintupled in the past ten years and the oil price has trebled, inducing manufacturers focused on the American market to set up closer to home. Mexico is already the world’s biggest exporter of flat-screen televisions, BlackBerrys and fridge-freezers, and is climbing up the rankings in cars, aerospace and more. On present trends, by 2018 America will import more from Mexico than from any other country. “Made in China” is giving way to “Hecho en México”.

The doorway for those imports is a 2,000-mile border, the world’s busiest. Yet some American politicians are doing their best to block it, out of fear of being swamped by immigrants. They could hardly be more wrong. Fewer Mexicans now move to the United States than come back south. America’s fragile economy (with an unemployment rate nearly twice as high as Mexico’s) has dampened arrivals and hastened departures. Meanwhile, the make-up of Mexican migration is changing. North of the border, legal Mexican residents probably now outnumber undocumented ones. The human tide may turn along with the American economy, but the supply of potential border-hoppers has plunged: whereas in the 1960s the average Mexican woman had seven children, she now has two. Within a decade Mexico’s fertility rate will fall below America’s.

Undervaluing trade and overestimating immigration has led to bad policies. Since September 11th 2001, crossing the border has taken hours where it once took minutes, raising costs for Mexican manufacturers (and thus for American consumers). Daytrips have fallen by almost half. More crossing-points and fewer onerous checks would speed things up on the American side; pre-clearance of containers and passengers could be improved if Mexico were less touchy about having American officers on its soil (something which Canada does not mind). After an election in which 70% of Latinos voted for Mr Obama, even America’s “wetback”-bashing Republicans should now see the need for immigration-law reform.
No time for a siesta

The least certain part of Mexico’s brighter mañana concerns security. This year has seen a small drop in murders. Some hotspots, such as Ciudad Juárez, have improved dramatically. A third of Mexico has a lower murder rate than Louisiana, America’s most murderous state. Nevertheless, the “cartels” will remain strong while two conditions hold. The first is that America imports drugs—on which its citizens spend billions—which it insists must remain illegal, while continuing to allow the traffickers to buy assault weapons freely. American politicians should heed the words of Felipe Calderón, Mexico’s outgoing president, who after six years and 60,000 deaths says it is “impossible” to stop the drug trade.
Compare the murder rate and body count of each Mexican state against entire countries with our interactive equivalents map.

The second black spot is that Mexican policing remains weak. If Mr Peña is to keep his promise to halve the murder rate, he must be more effective than his predecessor in expanding the federal police and improving their counterparts at state level. That is just one of several issues that will test Mr Peña. He cannot achieve his ambition to raise Mexico’s annual growth rate to 6% by relying solely on export manufacturing. Upping the tempo requires liberalising or scrapping state-run energy monopolies, which fail to exploit potentially vast oil and gas reserves. Boosting Mexico’s poor productivity means forcing competition on a cosy bunch of private near-monopolies—starting with telecoms, television, cement and food and drink. That means upsetting the tycoons who backed his campaign.

This newspaper gave Mr Peña a lukewarm endorsement before July’s election, praising his economic plans but warning that his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ran Mexico in an authoritarian and sometimes corrupt manner for most of the 20th century, has not changed much. Facing down interests within his own party may be Mr Peña’s hardest task. The head of the oil workers’ union is a PRI senator. The teachers’ union, which is friendly with the party, is blocking progress in education. A new labour reform has been diluted by PRI congressmen with union links.
Mr Peña, a good performer on the stump, should appeal beyond the PRI to a broad consensus for change among Mexicans. Time will tell if he measures up to the task. But the changes in Mexico go beyond the new occupant of Los Pinos. The country is poised to become America’s new workshop. If the neighbours want to make the most of that, it is time for them to take another look over the border.

 

The following article was published on LonelyPlanet.com in June of 2012

Robert Reid, Lonely Planet author

"Every week or so I get asked, ‘Is it safe to go to Mexico?’ I had always said, if you’re thoughtful about where you go, yes. But after my most recent trip there, I’m changing my answer… to a question:

Do you think it’s safe to go to Texas?

To be clear, violence in Mexico is no joke. There have been over 47,000 drug-related murders alone in the past five years. Its murder rate – 18 per 100,000 according to this United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime report – is more than three times the US rate of 4.8 per 100,000. Though Mexican tourism is starting to bounce back, Americans appear more reluctant to return than Canadians and Brits (5.7 million Americans visited in 2011, down 3% from 2010 – and, according to Expedia, more than four of five bookings were adults going without children). Many who don’t go cite violence as the reason.

What you don’t get from most reports in the US is statistical evidence that Americans are less likely to face violence on average in Mexico than at home, particularly when you zero in on Mexico’s most popular travel destinations. For example, the gateway to Disney World, Orlando, saw 7.5 murders per 100,000 residents in 2010 per the FBI; this is higher than Cancun or Puerto Vallarta, with rates of 1.83 and 5.9 respectively, per a Stanford University report (see data visualization here, summarized on this chart, page 21). Yet in March, the Texas Department of Public Safety advised against ‘spring break’ travel anywhere in Mexico, a country the size of the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy combined. Never mind that popular destinations like the Bahamas, Belize and Jamaica have far higher homicide rates (36, 42 and 52 per 100,000). Why the singular focus?

Before you nix Mexico altogether, consider these five things:

1. Mexico may be more dangerous than the US overall, but not for Americans.
According to FBI crime statistics, 4.8 Americans per 100,000 were murdered in the US in 2010. The US State Department reports that 120 Americans of the 5.7 million who visited Mexico last year were murdered, which is a rate of 2.1 of 100,000 visitors. Regardless of whether they were or weren’t connected to drug trafficking, which is often not clear, it’s less than half the US national rate.

2. Texans are twice as safe in Mexico, and three times safer than in Houston.
Looking at the numbers, it might be wise for Texans to ignore their Public Safety department’s advice against Mexico travel. Five per 100,000 Texans were homicide victims in 2010, per the FBI. Houston was worse, with 143 murders, or a rate of 6.8 – over three times the rate for Americans in Mexico.

3. And it’s not just Texas.
It’s interesting comparing each of the countries’ most dangerous cities. New Orleans, host city of next year’s Super Bowl, broke its own tourism record last year with 8 million visitors. Yet the Big Easy has ten times the US homicide rate, close to triple Mexico’s national rate.
Few go to Ciudad Juarez, a border town of 1.3 million that saw 8 to 11 murders a day in 2010 (accounts differ – CNN went with 8). It’s unlikely to ever be a tourism hostpot, but things have been quietly improving there. By 2011, CNN reported, the homicide rate dropped by 45%, and the first six weeks of this year saw an additional 57% drop, per this BBC story.
If that trend in Juarez continues all year, and it might not, the number of homicides would have dropped from over 3000 in 2010 to 710 in 2012. Meanwhile New Orleans’ homicide rate is increasing, up to 199 murders last year, equivalent to 736 in a city with the population of Juarez.

4. By the way, most of Mexico is not on the State Department’s travel warning.
The best of Mexico, in terms of travel, isn’t on the warning. The US warns against ‘non-essential travel’ to just four of Mexico’s 31 states (all in the north: Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango and Tamaulipas). The warning goes on to recommend against travel to select parts of other states, but not including many popular destinations such as Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, the Riviera Nayarit, Cancun, Cozumel and Tulum.
Meanwhile, 13 states are fully free from the State Department’s warning, including Baja California Sur, Yucatan, Mexico City, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Guanajuato and others.

5. Malia Obama ignored the Texas advice.
Of all people, President Obama and first lady said ‘OK’ to their 13-year-old daughter’s spring break destination this year: Oaxaca. Then Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum made snide remarks over that, perhaps overlooking that Oaxaca state has a smaller body count from the drug war than his home state’s murder rate (Oaxaca’s 4.39 per 100,000 to Pennsylvania’s 5.2).
Oaxaca state, not on the US travel warning, is famed for its colonial city, Zapotec ruins and emerging beach destinations like Huatulco. Lonely Planet author Greg Benchwick even tried grasshoppers with the local mezcal (Malia apparently stuck with vanilla shakes.)

So, can you go to Mexico?

Yes. As the US State Department says, ‘millions of US citizens safely visit Mexico each year.’ Last year, when I took on the subject for CNN, one commenter suggested Lonely Planet was being paid to promote travel there. No we weren’t. We took on the subject simply because – as travelers so often know – there is another story beyond the perception back home, be it Vietnam welcoming Americans in the ’90s or Colombia’s dramatic safety improvements in the ’00s. And, equally as importantly, Mexico makes for some of the world’s greatest travel experiences – it’s honestly why I’m in this line of work.

So yes, you can go to Mexico, just as you can go to Texas, or New Orleans, or Orlando, or the Bahamas. It’s simply up to you to decide whether you want to."

Robert Reid is Lonely Planet’s New York–based US Travel Editor and has been going to Mexico since he was three (most recently to Chacala).

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