In Depth

Is it safe to visit Mexico?

North American nation’s murder rate has hit all-time high in 2019

Mexico’s skyrocketing murder rates have hit a new high after rising by almost 10% year-on-year in the first three months of 2019, newly released figures show.

A total of 8,493 people were assassinated between 1 January and 31 March, leaving President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador facing a “public outcry” amid a “sense that the country is spinning out of control”, reports the South China Morning Post.

This year’s bloodshed follows what was the most violent 12-month period in the North American nation’s history, with more than 33,500 murders - the highest number since records began in 1997.

Lopez Obrador was sworn in on 1 December having “campaigned on a promise to drive down violence”, the BBC says. He had claimed that the murder rate had not risen since he took office, but the the new statistics from the National System for Public Security say otherwise.

Nevertheless, Mexico remains one of the most visited countries in the world. In 2017, the country hosted 39.3 million international visitors - a 12% increase on the previous year - and is currently the sixth-most visited nation on Earth.

But as Mexico’s murder rate continues to rise, is it still safe to visit?

Violent crime

Mexico has the 17th-highest murder rate in the world per 100,000 inhabitants, and the third-highest for overall murders, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

However, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) reports most of these are drug- and gang-related killings, meaning tourists are rarely targeted and the violence is “concentrated in specific areas, and some regions are almost completely spared”.

The FCO urges potential visitors to “research their destination thoroughly”, but has not issued any warnings against travel to any part of the country.

The US Department of State (DOS), on the other hand, has published a list of states that US citizens should avoid, as statistics show that more Americans were murdered in Mexico than the combined total murdered in every other foreign country.

The DOS warns against visiting five Mexican states - Sinaloa, Colima, Michoacan, Guerrero and Tamaulipas - all of which are either bordering the US or on the country’s Pacific coast. The rest of Mexico is considered safe for tourists.

The British authorities also warn of the potential danger of so-called “express kidnappings” - short-term abductions that either see the victim forced to withdraw money from an ATM to give to the kidnappers, or the victim’s family made to pay a ransom.

Road safety

The DOS says that “due to poor cellular service and hazardous road conditions”, visitors are advised to research their routes if they are looking to drive across parts of the country. 

The US state department warns that in remote areas, “you may come across unofficial roadblocks, including on main roads, manned by local groups seeking money for an unofficial local toll”.

Natural disasters

The two main natural phenomena that threaten safety in Mexico are hurricanes and earthquakes.

Hurricane season normally runs from June to November and can affect both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, causing flooding, landslides and disruption to transport services.

Earthquakes are harder to predict, with tremors occurring regularly across the entire country and more frequently in the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero.

In September 2017, a 7.1-magnitude earthquake caused major damage to buildings in the states of Puebla and Morelos and in the Greater Mexico City area, killing an estimated 370 people.

Health

No vaccines are required to enter Mexico, but advice site SmarterTravel says visitors should drink only boiled or bottled water, and avoid ice in drinks, in order to avoid any waterborne diseases.

The FCO adds that upon arrival in Mexico City and other high altitude areas, visitors “may feel a lack of energy, shortness of breath or headaches” caused by altitude sickness, and advises resting while the body adapts to the changes.

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