Crime in Mexico: cruise passengers robbed at gunpoint

Crime in Mexico has caused cruise lines to carefully assess whether or not they should be bringing business to the country. Recently, the situation has been improving as narco drug lord activity remains focused in areas where cruise passengers do not travel, and some of the world’s biggest Carnival celebrations ended this week without incident. Nevertheless, twenty-two cruise passengers recently robbed at gunpoint on a normally safe ship-sponsored shore excursion, is causing the travel industry to take another look at safety.

It’s not the first time cruise passengers have been robbed at gunpoint — that also happened in November of 2010 on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts.

“At the time of the robbery, the passengers were traveling to the Brimstone Hill Fortress, a well-visited UNESCO World Heritage Site on the southern Caribbean island,” reported CruiseCritic. The article reports that masked gunmen “put a tree across the road to block the bus.”

On a Celebrity Cruises ship-sponsored tour, the excursion was canceled indefinitely pending the outcome of the investigation. No one was harmed, calls for increased security went out, and law enforcement in St. Kitts pointed to their nearly spotless record of being a safe destination for travelers.

Thursday’s incident happened in Puerto Vallarta, when passengers who came ashore from Carnival Splendor were robbed while on a ship-sponsored tour. Held at gunpoint, they were “stripped of cameras, watches and other valuables they had with them,” reports Informador. Here too, no one was harmed, calls for increased security went out, and the Shore Excursion, a seemingly harmless nature walk, was canceled pending investigation.

“Carnival also apologized to the passengers for the ‘unfortunate and disturbing event’ and said it is working with passengers to reimburse them for lost valuables and assist with lost passports or other forms of identification,” said CruiseCritic.

The incident once again raises questions about the safety of tourists in Mexico, an ongoing matter that concerns not only cruise lines, but hotels, resorts, and pending spring breakers set to go south of the border within the next 30 days.Earlier this month, The U.S. State Department issued a new travel warning for Mexico, superseding last April’s warning. Cartel violence stemming from drug trafficking, specifically, violent struggles among the criminal organizations for control of trafficking routes, has resulted in a rising number of carjacking’s, kidnappings and gun battles throughout Mexico.

“U.S. travelers should be aware that the Mexican government has been engaged in an extensive effort to counter TCOs (Transnational Criminal Organizations) which engage in narcotics trafficking and other unlawful activities throughout Mexico,” said the State Department in the new warning posted on their website.

Though crime is nothing new for Puerto Vallarta. Not quite a year ago, in May of 2011, Leonard Schell, a Canadian father of two, was stabbed 25 times in his Puerto Vallarta home and robbed of about $13,000, bank cards, and passports, as reported. “They cut him from his lip to his throat. It’s terrible, and just to rob money,” said Elba Ruiz, Schell’s wife.

Still, Mexican tourism officials claim they are the victims of an unfair media focus, concentrating on isolated incidents, not typical of what visitors to Mexico commonly experience.

Rodolfo Lopez-Negrete, chief operating officer of the Mexico Tourism Board wants to prevent more scare-off-the-tourists bulletins such as one released in March 2011, when the Texas Department of Public Safety bluntly told travelers to, “Avoid traveling to Mexico during Spring Break and stay alive.”

“We believe that these travel alerts are too broad-based and making very blind statements about Mexico that do not reflect the reality,” Lopez-Negrete said at the time.

Really? Tell that to the 22 tourists robbed at gunpoint in Puerto Vallarta this week.

This latest incident of crime involving tourists in Mexico adds yet another legitimate reason for travelers to stay away from Mexico or at least exercise extreme caution when visiting.

Hotel guests and cruise passengers will have added concern as they normally experience a destination through a sponsored tour or excursion, promoted as the safe way to go. Tour operators are said to be vetted by the hotels and cruise lines, implying they are safe to travel with.

Hotel guests get picked up and dropped off at their safe hotel, for the most part without incident. Cruise passengers know that if the locally operated tour runs late, the ship will wait for them. Those going ashore on their own take a risk using unapproved operators. If their tour runs late, the ship will leave without them. But most of those also end with great memories of a beautiful destination they may want to visit again.

It’s a hot-button topic with Gadling readers as well, causing a variety of comments both in support and against travel to and in Mexico.

In response to a photo gallery run not long ago titled Mexico’s Safest Destinations, one reader commented:

“It was not the sight of 4 armed guards loading ATM machines that scared us but the fact that we were drugged at our resort and my husband ended up in a Mexican ICU, I can tell you first hand as a nurse, YOU DO NOT WANT to get sick in MEXICO.”

Considered safer than Mazatlan, where cruise lines have abandoned all calls, Puerto Vallarta continues to get ships calling from a number of lines and has a brisk hotel business. But, like the caution they urge about Mazatlan, the U.S. Department of State warns, “You should also exercise caution when traveling at night outside of cities in the remaining portions of this state.”

Readers disagree here too with one commenting:

“Puerto Vallarta is safe!? lmao I was chased back to my hotel by three drunk Mexicans throwing rocks at my head for no reason while I was on vacation. I thought it was safe and this was 6+ years ago.”

Still, many Americans and Canadians travel to and live in Mexico, without incident. Another reader, a New Yorker who lives in Mexico during the winter, has a different take on safety in Mexico:

“(I have) been coming to Mexico since 1970, never had a problem. Have owned a home in Cozumel for 6 years. My wife and I live here winter and spring, then summer and fall in Upstate NY I’ve told many of my NY friends it’s safer here than going a NY mall on a weekend. If you don’t go looking for trouble it won’t find you. But don’t let the word get out too much, we don’t want our beautiful little island to change.”

It’s a long, ongoing battle between those in favor of travel to Mexico who love the place and those against who urge caution; one not likely to end any time soon.

Flickr photo by HBarrison

Renewed Mexico travel warning threatens spring break travel plans

The U.S. State Department has issued a new Mexico travel warning, superseding last April’s warning. Apparently, cartel violence stemming from drug trafficking, specifically violent struggles among the criminal organizations for control of trafficking routes, has resulted in a rising number of carjackings, kidnappings and gun battles throughout Mexico.

“U.S. travelers should be aware that the Mexican government has been engaged in an extensive effort to counter TCOs (Transnational Criminal Organizations) which engage in narcotics trafficking and other unlawful activities throughout Mexico, says the State Department in the new warning posted on their website today.

Detailing the problem, the State Department says “The TCOs themselves are engaged in a violent struggle to control drug trafficking routes and other criminal activity. As a result, crime and violence are serious problems throughout the country and can occur anywhere. U.S. citizens have fallen victim to TCO activity, including homicide, gun battles, kidnapping, carjacking and highway robbery.”

Mexico government figures indicate that 47,515 people were killed in narcotics-related violence between December 1, 2006 and September 30, 2011, the warning states. Most of those killed were members of the criminal organizations.

The big problem: State Department numbers indicate that 120 U.S. citizens were murdered in Mexico in 2011, up from 35 in 2007, according to the warning.

Bad news for college students, the government says spring break destination Rocky Point is a key area in the international drug and human trafficking trades and can be extremely dangerous.

Arizona college student Juan Pantoja told, “I was there two or three months ago. I go down there often and go to Rocky Point. I have never thought twice about it. It’s always a good time.” University of Arizona student Chase Tsui added, “I would love to go visit my boyfriend’s family, but the problem is getting there. My mom still has this thing about going to Mexico, so she still doesn’t want me to go.”

The updated warning advises against nonessential travel to areas within 16 Mexican states, including Veracruz and the border areas of Aguacalientes and Zacatecas, and Colima and Michoacan says TravelWeekly but notes that no advisories are in effect for the state of Quintana Roo (Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya and Tulum), the Riviera Nayarit, Mexico City, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Guadalajara and Guanajuato (San Miguel de Allende and Leon).

Travelers are advised to stay within the tourist areas of Acapulco, Ixtapa, Mazatlan, Monterrey and Zihuantanejo.

Flickr photo by scazon

Say It Ain’t So: Weezer will headline cruise

The sea is rollin’ like a thousand pound keg, and Weezer is getting ready to rock the Carnival Destiny’s lido deck. The Grammy Award-winning band has just announced they will be entertaining 2,500 passengers on a 4-night sailing from Miami to Cozumel (yes, Mexico’s own ‘Island in the Sun‘) in January.

The bill also features Dinosaur Jr., with other acts including Sebadoh, Gene Ween, Wavves (how appropriate), Dave Dreiwitz, the Antlers and more. The bands will perform shows festival-style on four stages day and night, with Weezer rocking the pool deck as the ship sets off and again in the indoor main theater. Weezer fans will have a chance to get photos with the band and participate in a Q&A session.

The whole shebang was put together by Sixthman, the same company that puts on cruises featuring rock and roll acts such as Kid Rock, Lynyrd Skynrd, Lyle Lovett, Kiss, 311 and more. Prices for the Weezer Cruise, which sails from January 19 to 23rd, start at $699 per person.

[Photo by James, Wikimedia Commons]

Mexico spring events feature surf competition

Mazatlan, Mexico has been in the news around the world of travel for all the wrong reasons. Cruise lines stopped going there because of crime incidents that were of concern not long ago. But many Gadling readers who have been there tell a much different story.

Theirs is a story of a beautiful place with great people, fabulous food and a lot to do and see. As Mazatlan prepares to celebrate what they call a “Vibrant Spring Calendar of Events” its only fair to feature their side of the story too.

A good first stop if considering travel to Mazatlan would be their web site, GoMazatlan, where a great deal of information is available. A quick click to AboutMazatlan and we see several airlines fly there every day and that there is not one day of the year less than 80 degrees. That’s a good start.

Mazatlán hosts a year-round calendar of events that include international sporting tournaments, culinary fairs, eclectic cultural festivals and holiday celebrations.

New this year, is the Quiksilver Surf Clásico Mazatlán, an international surf, music and fashion festival taking place June 1 – 5. The five-day event brings the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) 2011 Star event schedule where athletes will compete for an $85,000 purse. Back on shore, spectators enjoy a full schedule of fashion shows, culinary fairs and live music performances.

“We are proud to showcase such a diverse array of spring events that reflects the vibrant spirit of Mazatlán and its people,” says Carlos Berdegué, vice president of the Mazatlán Hotel Association. “Premier events like these alongside our rich heritage draw thousands of visitors who are welcomed into the warmth and vitality of daily life in Mazatlán.”

Here are some other events coming up this Spring

Mazatlán’s International Bike Week 2011 runs April 27 through May 1 when more than 15,000 Motorcycle fans gear up for five days of high-octane fun and adventure for the 16th annual event. Featuring bike parades, stunt exhibitions, drag races, custom bike competitions, accessories and apparel expos, as well as live music, entertainment, local restaurant sponsors, free contests and giveaways this one looks like a lot of fun.

Jose Limon Dance Festival – The 135-year-old Angela Peralta Theater sets the stage for one of the year’s most anticipated performing arts events April 29th through May 5th. The festival honors the legacy of pioneering Sinaloa dancer and choreographer, Jose Limón and includes expositions, literary presentations and the Summit of Academies, a nationwide assembly of dancers.

ArtWalk is for lovers of fine art who will find much to explore on the first Friday in May. Old Mazatlán’s art galleries and workshops will be open for free tours, exhibit debuts, and lectures by visiting and local artists.

Marina Mazatlán Fishing Tournament Mazatlan is recognized worldwide as a first-class fishing destination,drawing top anglers from around the world for the premier Marina Mazatlán tournament. Complete with festive dinner receptions, onshore events and an official awards ceremony, international anglers are sure to be hooked.

Not just Mazatlan has events, festivals and attractions open and ready for travelers, Cozumel, Mexico also has beaches, shopping, activities, Scuba diving, and more. Check their web site out too at

Flickr photo by marlinphoto

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Cozumel: Paradise found in Mexico

In the news, it seems we most often read of a Mexico that is unsafe to visit. Always with an eye on the safety of their passengers, cruise lines have modified itineraries for ships that call at Mazatlan on several occasions. While frequent visitors to Mazatlan stand up for it as a testament to it being safe, it seems the place just can’t get over the safety issue. Travelers want to go places to have fun, not to get robbed, beat up or shot at. Still, to discount the entire land of Mexico as unsafe would be wrong. There are some very safe places to visit in Mexico and Cozumel is one of them.

Cozumel is an entirely different place and to think for even a minute that it is unsafe to visit because it has a Mexico after it’s name is about as wrong as saying Martin Sheen is crazy because Charlie is.
First, let’s get our bearings straight. Cozumel is the biggest island in Mexico, located on the Yucatan Peninsula on the eastern, Caribbean side of Mexico. Mazatlan is on the west side of Mexico, way far away from Cozumel. It is separated from the Yucatan Peninsula by the Yucatan channel which is 12 miles wide.

The town of Cozumel is called San Miguel with a population of about 95,000 people. Most of the population of the island is in the town of San Miguel, on the west coast of the Island facing mainland.

On a land vacation, there are plenty of luxury hotels, first class facilities and services. Cozumel International Airport (CZM) is easily accessible from most major cities by many airlines and not far from hotels, beach and other attractions. Cozumel is world renowned for its diving because it hosts one of the largest coral reefs in the world, a big attraction for SCUBA freaks and snorkelers.

On a cruise vacation, one of the most attractive parts of the deal is that you unpack once but get to visit multiple destinations. As your floating hotel goes from place to place, you can choose to go ashore to get up close and personal with wherever it is you are visiting or stay on the ship. In most cases, it’s worth getting off the ship but if you’ve been there before there is a temptation to stay on board and enjoy the ship while most passengers are gone.

Cozumel, Mexico is one of those places that no matter how many times you have been there, the order of the day is to get off the ship. If you cruise much, odds are you will be seeing Cozumel from time to time and that is a very good thing.

That said, let me introduce you to a place I found in Cozumel years ago and return to almost every time we visit.

Paradise Beach is a short cab ride from the cruise terminal and a must-do destination when visiting either by land or sea. It’s a day at the beach like no other with crystal clear water and some of the best food and drink on the island.

Located 5 miles from the International Cruise Ship Pier, it’s about a $10 cab ride each way and there are plenty of cabs available. Once there, one of the first things you notice is how very clean the place is. From the parking lot to pretty much every square inch of the 300 foot-wide sandy beach, the place is spotless, much like you might find in a 5 star beach resort.

The next thing you’ll notice is that it is free. There is no admission here like many other beaches and prices for optional services, food and beverage are reasonable. You could probably just come here and sit in the sand on the beach for free but that would be a mistake. They have some of the best food and beverages on the island which really add to the whole experience.

Chairs are available to rent for only $2 (I paid $15 on Miami Beach not long ago) and the array of toys they have to play with is considerable. A trampoline, 14 foot-tall climbing iceberg, full snorkel gear, floating mats , kayaks, 10ft water slide, a Jungle Joe floating multi-tiered climbing structure, paddle boards, coconut trees to climb or a spacewalker bungee can be had for $12, unlimited use, all day.

It’s a good idea to get there early but only because more time at Paradise Beach is just a good idea. Once settled in, someone will be by to attend to your every need. They will bring you food from an extensive menu that does not get any more authentic than this. Try the Chicken Quesadillas or Guacamole and Chips. You will thank me later. Everyone does.

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