Millions of people head to Mexico every year for an exciting, relaxing and affordable getaway. However, tourists shouldn’t let the country’s easy-going vibe lull them into a false sense of security — there are very serious safety concerns in some areas of the country. No matter where you’re travelling, it’s advised to keep a low profile and thoroughly research your destinations and travel arrangements.
Drug-fuelled gang violence can be a problem, particularly in areas close to the US-Mexico border. Tourists have occasionally been injured in the crossfire from shootouts, which can occur in broad daylight with innocent bystanders injured in the crossfire from gun battles. While violent crime isn’t widespread across Mexico, it’s strongly advised to check the Government of Canada's website for travel warnings and, once you’re travelling, to monitor media reports about local areas that you’ll be visiting.
There’s nothing that says ‘foreigner’ like wearing shorts and thongs while carrying a camera around your neck. Simply standing out from the crowd can make you a target for thieves — avoid wearing expensive jewellery and watches while sightseeing. Don’t flash your iPad or iPhone around and ensure you’re very discreet with your money. Pickpockets often work public transportation routes, so when you’re on a bus or train keep your bags in front of you and stash other items inside pockets that are close to your body.
Kidnapping and Extortion
A rampant criminal activity in Mexico involves kidnapping for ransom, and this includes targeting ‘wealthy’ tourists. In most cases, the victim is released once the ransom is paid. There are also ‘express’ and ‘virtual’ kidnappings. An express kidnapping is where the victim is detained and forced (by threat of violence) to withdraw money from a series of ATMs. Virtual kidnappings aren’t really a kidnapping at all — the criminals obtain personal information about their victims (for example, by watching hotels and bribing the staff) and then place a telephone call where they pretend that a loved one is being held for ransom. In reality, the victim’s travelling companion may simply be out shopping or sightseeing.
Watch out for fake taxis — the driver will charge you extreme rates and may, on occasion, rob you. Don’t flag down a taxi in the street. Instead, have your hotel call you a taxi or rent a vehicle for any long day trips you may wish to take. Registered taxis in Mexico are typically gold and maroon coloured. Most of the locals are friendly, but resist the urge to stick out your thumb and hitchhike. Also, don’t accept rides from strangers or offer to give them a lift. There’s a real risk of robbery, kidnapping or assault.
Road conditions can be challenging, so be very careful at all times and avoid driving at night. Main roads and private (toll) roads are usually well-maintained, but other roads can have huge potholes, sunken shoulders and speed bumps that are more like little mountains. Take sensible precautions against carjacking and highway robbery. Where possible, use toll roads (cuota) rather than the free roads (libre) that are less secure. Drive with the doors locked and the windows up, and keep a generous distance from cars around you to avoid being boxed in.
Tourists often joke about ‘Montezuma’s revenge’, as the local tap water and food are infamous for causing diarrhea and other sicknesses. Stick to bottled water and watch out for things that have been prepared with tap water, like ice and salads. Street food vendors are everywhere, and if you’d like to indulge it’s best to buy only piping hot foods. Dairy products can also cause problems as they may not be pasteurised. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in Mexico. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!
While Mexico has a national health care system, you’ll have to be sure that your travel insurance covers any health-related emergencies. If you don’t have coverage, you might be required to pay for treatment upfront. There are certainly quality hospitals and clinics in Mexico, but not all clinics have English-speaking staff. Also, be aware that the quality and availability of medical services decreases outside of the larger urban centres.
In some areas in Central America and Mexico, certain insects carry and spread diseases like American trypanosomiasis (Chagas disease), chikungunya, dengue fever, leishmaniasis, malaria, onchocerciasis (river blindness), West Nile virus, and Zika virus. Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.
Mexico has a few natural events that can disrupt travel plans and occasionally cause harm to travellers. Hurricanes often occur from June to November, and can shutdown international flights and local infrastructure. Earthquakes happen throughout most of Mexico especially in Oaxaca and Guerrero. Check for weather warnings before you travel, and if you are caught in a disaster make sure you follow the directions of local authorities.
NOTICE: While the Information is considered to be true and accurate at the date of publication, changes in circumstances after the time of publication may impact on the accuracy of the information. We strongly recommend verifying the travel advisory of your destination prior to departure.
DISCLAIMER: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of all information as at the date of publishing, Allianz Global Assistance does not accept liability for any errors or omissions. Allianz Global Assistance strongly recommends seeking the guidance of a professional travel agent/agency for further information on a specific destination. On your next trip, whether to another province or country, ensure you have travel insurance as it may assist you in cases of unforeseen medical emergencies and other types of mishaps that can happen while you travel. Travel insurance does not cover everything, please always refer to the policy document for full terms and conditions, including limitations and exclusions. Allianz Global Assistance is a registered business name of AZGA Service Canada Inc. and AZGA Insurance Agency Canada Ltd. Photography Credits: T photography, ChameleonsEye, Gerardo C.Lerner, Shutterstock.com.