Scared to visit Mexico? How about Panama?

News reports of ongoing crime and attacks on travelers in Mexico have land vacationers looking for alternative destinations and cruise ships headed in the opposite direction. Sure, those beheadings, murders and shootings are happening in remote areas of Mexico for the most part, but stories of such activity combined with travel warnings by trusted sources are enough to shift our focus elsewhere.

A look farther south, past Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua finds the welcoming and relatively-safe-compared-to-Mexico nations of Costa Rica and Panama.

Checking in first with the US Department of State for travel warnings or alerts, Costa Rica has the higher rating of the two.

“Adventure tourism is popular in Costa Rica, and many companies offer white-water rafting, bungee jumping, jungle canopy tours, SCUBA diving, and other outdoor attractions. U.S. citizens are urged to use caution in selecting adventure tourism companies.” says the Department of State, adding “The Government of Costa Rica regulates and monitors the safety of these companies, and registered tourism companies with operating permits must meet safety standards and have insurance coverage.”

Still, the murder of an Argentinian tourist on Thursday raises the question of security and safety for tourism in the Central American country which receives every year more than 2 million visitors.

It seems there is danger anywhere if we look hard enough.

Maybe we should look at this whole security issue a bit differently by seeing where construction of new tourist destinations is happening. With the idea that surely no responsible company would build a multi-million dollar property someplace unsafe to travel, let’s take a look at Panama.

The Westin Playa Bonita Panamá, the first Westin in Panama, is set to be unveiled in October of this year. Currently under construction, the 100 million dollar beach hotel will offer the largest meeting and banquet space in the Republic of Panamá and is being brought to life by Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, Inc. and Bern Hotels & Resorts.

“We believe the first Westin in the Republic of Panamá is one of the most exciting new prospects the destination has seen in decades. Our goal is to create an exclusive lifestyle beach hotel that showcases the Republic of Panamá’s natural beauty and redefines the nation’s travel industry,” said Herman Bern Jr., President of Bern Hotels and Resorts. “The beach hotel will cater to the luxurious demands of a diverse set of international consumers that visit the destination. With our premier location, accommodations and amenities, we will provide guests with an inimitable business or leisure experience.”

Conceived as what the operators call “a contemporary luxury oasis”, the 611-room Westin Playa Bonita Panamá will offer beachfront views of the Pacific Ocean through the lobby’s massive floor to ceiling windows along with seven restaurants, four bars and 65,000 square feet of meeting space.

A 20-minute drive from Panamá City, the beach hotel is also in close proximity to various attractions, historic landmarks and national parks. Known primarily for the Panama Canal, Panama also lists world-class surfing, a low risk of hurricane problems and use of the US dollar as it’s currency among other reasons for Americans to visit the southernmost Central American country.

Panama may be just far enough away from Mexico to avoid crime problems that spill over the borders of neighboring countries yet positioned quite nicely to be a good choice for secure travel in a warm-weather climate.

22-year-old Ali Philbrick thinks so and will call Panama home for the next six months as she teaches English to middle or high school students in the Central American country’s capital reports

“While I’m young, I might as well help people,” said Philbrick, who earned an undergraduate degree in math in 2010. “The ability to speak English is really important to [Panamanians] because with the Panama Canal, their economy is changing.”

Panama is the newest program opened by WorldTeach, a nonprofit organization that provides about 500 volunteer teachers annually to meet needs identified by foreign governments.

Companies building, non-profits sending in people to help, these are all non-typical, documentable indicators of a safe destination to visit. While travelers are urged to be aware of security alerts and warnings and pay attention to news reports, it seems there is often more to the story of travel security.