Crime In Mexico: Is Baja Safe For Travelers?

baja sunsetFifteen years ago, my brother who lives near San Diego took me to coastal Baja in Mexico and the experience has stayed with me ever since. We ate fish tacos, went swimming at a sublime, deserted beach and fell asleep on the beach to the sounds of the surf. In December, I’m heading west to visit my brother again, this time with my wife and sons, ages 3 and 5, but when I asked him to take me back to the same places we visited long ago he told me that it wasn’t safe.

“No one goes down there any more,” he said. “Those places are all ghost towns.”

And after contacting Budget, the company we’d reserved a car with at its LAX location, and being told that we weren’t allowed to take our rental car down to Mexico, I wondered if perhaps my brother was right.day of the dead in mexicoCrime in Mexico is serious business and anyone who suggests that safety isn’t a legitimate concern is kidding themselves. But I’ve been traveling to different parts of Mexico for years, including recent trips in 2009, 2010 and 2011, and I still believe that there are parts of the country that are safe to visit.

In March, I wrote a piece about safety in Puerto Vallarta in the wake of an armed robbery incident involving cruise ship passengers, citing crime statistics indicating that several U.S. cities have higher murder rates than Puerto Vallarta. The post generated nearly 100 comments, with readers deeply divided on the issue of safety in Mexico.

The U.S. Consulate in Tijuana has a useful page on how to avoid being a victim of crime in Baja with a host of common sense tips, such as stay sober and avoid traveling at night. The most recent State Department travel warning for Mexico, issued in February 2012, has the following segment on the safety situation in northern Baja.

You should exercise caution in the northern state of Baja California, particularly at night. Targeted TCO assassinations continue to take place in Baja California. Turf battles between criminal groups proliferated and resulted in numerous assassinations in areas of Tijuana frequented by U.S. citizens. Shooting incidents, in which innocent bystanders have been injured, have occurred during daylight hours throughout the city. In one such incident, a U.S. citizen was shot and seriously wounded. According to the Government of Mexico, as of August 2011, the city’s murder rate was approximately 20 per 100,000. During 2011, 34 U.S. citizens were the victims of homicide in the state. In the majority of these cases, the killings appeared to be related to narcotics trafficking.

Most observers agree that southern Baja, including Cabo San Lucas is generally regarded as safe. But in an effort to help readers decide if northern Baja is safe to visit, I reached out to two writers with extensive experience there. Nikki Goth Itoi is the author of the indispensable Moon Guide to Baja, the guidebook you want to pick up if you are considering a visit to Baja. And Carla White, a resident of the Ensenada vicinity for ten years, is the editor of Baja.com , a terrific resource for anyone planning a visit to the region.

nikki goth itoi moon guidesNikki Goth Itoi, author of the Moon Guide to Baja

Mexico has gotten a lot of negative publicity due to the narco-violence there. How has that impacted Baja?

Tijuana is a much more interesting place now for visitors because it’s become a city for locals. All the tourism dried up, so now it’s a local scene. There are galleries, cafés, artsy places that don’t just cater to people from San Diego popping over for the night. It’s not as Americanized.

What safety tips do you have for visitors to Baja?

In terms of safety, all the basics apply. Be careful where you go. Don’t go out late at night. Don’t go to the red light districts. Be as inconspicuous as possible. Stay in well-lit places and don’t drive at night. It comes down to common sense in traveling to a foreign country. There’s going to be petty crime and that kind of stuff happens.

You have two young boys, ages 6 and 4, would you hesitate to take them to northern Baja right now?

No, I wouldn’t at all. I’m planning that trip right now.

Some would call you crazy, right?

People have this sense that Mexico is to be avoided, period. Rosarito is a ghost town. But those who live down there think there’s a comeback in the making in northern Baja and it’s centered on food and wine.

People have to do what they are comfortable with. If you’re worried about safety and headlines you saw in the news, you’re not going to have a good time. I don’t try to win people over.

beach in baja stormy dayCrime in Mexico is covered in the U.S. media more than crime in U.S. cities is. If you look at crime data for major U.S. cities, the numbers are lower in Baja. If they’re not comfortable, some are better off staying in San Diego, but Baja has a lot to offer.

The people are very warm. The hospitality is wonderful. Between the eco travel opportunities and the food, wine and cultural opportunities, there’s a lot to discover in Baja. So if you are intimidated by Tijuana, go east and use one of the quieter border crossings. You can also go in a caravan – with a group, there’s always safety in numbers.

You spent time traveling alone and also with your kids researching the book in Baja. Did you ever have any safety issues?

I’ve never had any issues whatsoever. We’ve been pulled over for questionable reasons in Tijuana, but it’s always been fine.

carla white baja.comCarla White, editor of Baja.com

You’ve lived just outside Ensenada for ten years. Is Northern Baja safe?

We are very aware of the articles that come out about safety in Mexico and we roll our eyes. We watch the San Diego news down here and we look at the U.S. and go ‘wow,’ the crime that goes on up there is so random. I have friends and relatives in L.A. and Orange County who won’t come down here because they’re afraid. It’s difficult to explain to them that we find it safe here. They think we’re crazy.

Have you ever been robbed or had any other safety issues there?

I had an ATM issue in Rosarito a couple years ago. Someone tried to grab my card. I was robbed. I went to the police and they were very responsive, in fact, the Rosarito government was very responsive as well. But this same kind of thing happens in the U.S.

Did the thief drive you around and make you withdraw money at various ATMs?

No. He didn’t have a gun. I walked into an ATM booth and I had already put my pin code in and a young, nice looking guy at the machine next to me said, ‘Oh, here, let me help you with that.’ And I told him I didn’t need help. And he was very aggressive and out of the corner of my eye, I saw another guy approaching the booth, so I actually abandoned my card and just got out of there. For me, it was personal safety first. They were able to withdraw $2oo or $300 from my account.

What about other people in your social circle. Have any of them been robbed or had other security issues?

About two years ago, there were some burglary issues up and down the coast. But there were no violent attacks that I’m aware of.

How would you compare the safety and crime situation now compared to a few years ago?

Things definitely got worse when the economy hit the skids a few years ago. I can’t speak to Tijuana as much; I’m more familiar with Rosarito and Ensenada. Tourism from the U.S. just stopped and that may have inspired some of the crime that happened. I’ve lived here for about 10 years and I’ve felt safer here than I’ve ever felt in the U.S.

Recently we’ve seen things improve. We’ve seen more tourism – not necessarily from the U.S., but from Mexico and Europe, and an upswing in the economy. And the government has stepped in and has been very sensitive to travelers and tourists.

Of the areas in Northern Baja that are frequented by tourists, are there any you would advise people to be more cautious in than others? Or avoid entirely?

bajaNot really. I even love Tijuana. It has the best restaurants and is a fun, interesting place. But I wouldn’t be hanging out in the bars there after midnight! A tip that I would give any traveler is to stick to the toll roads, especially at night. I would use the same precautions in Baja that I’d use anywhere in terms of doing things after dark. As far as specific locations, I think I would stay in the main, touristy areas.

What about Ensenada?

I feel very safe in Ensenada. I’m not a bar scene person but I feel comfortable in Ensenada after dark. You just have to keep your eyes open.

So for Americans looking for a safe beach getaway in northern Baja what do you recommend?

I would highly recommend Ensenada. There are great hotels and it’s super sensitive to travelers’ needs and desire for safety. And I don’t not recommend Rosarito Beach.

A good outcome to all the bad press Mexico has gotten in the U.S. is that it created a hyper-awareness here, so I think tourists can feel safe here as long as they pay attention to their awareness and surroundings.

What about police shakedowns in Baja. Are they still a fact of life?

A lot of people have had occasions where they’ve been pulled over and it turned out to be a shakedown. I would say that was happening quite a bit about six years ago. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ve had nothing like that happen recently, nor am I aware of it happening to anyone else in my community in many years.

But if you are pulled over, is it best to pay the bribe or insist on going down to the police station?

It seems easier to pay $20 and go on your merry way but you need to tell them to take you to the nearest police station. Maybe you were really speeding and it was a real ticket but you’re better off either way. A lot of Americans go down to Baja and think, ‘Wow, I’m in another country. I can do whatever I want here.’

Some people think they can drink themselves into a coma and then hit the road, and it’ll be fine because this is Mexico. But the bottom line is that if you are pulled over, the best bet is to go to the police station. And ask for their identification. If it’s a scam, you’re calling their bluff. And make sure you have insurance and have your paperwork with you.

Note: There is no definitive answer to the “Is Baja safe” question. If you talk to people who have gone there and were robbed, the answer is ‘no,’ it isn’t safe, and if you talk to people who have gone and enjoyed themselves the answer is ‘yes’ it was fine. As our experts said, every traveler needs to decide what they are comfortable with.

[Photo credits: Flickr users Ani Carrington and uteart; Nikki Goth Itoi and Carla White]

Crime In Mexico, Just Part Of The Deal

Crime in Mexico

Crime in Mexico continues to concern travelers. Recent accounts of death by a drug lord urge caution when visiting Mexico, yet the country still ranks high as a desirable travel destination.
Seeming to run deeper than ever, crime has weaved its way through Mexico in some unlikely areas as well. Affecting everything from the police, accused and indicted with claims of extortion and false imprisonment, to the launch of an app that could have predicted a recent earthquake, crime continues. Maybe, just in spite of tourism-charged efforts to paint a different picture of Mexico, crime is always going to be a deadly part of the canvass.

Police in Mexico’s northern state of Tamaulipas discovered the bodies of 14 men placed in plastic bags and left in a small delivery truck just this week. All of the men, between 30 and 35 years of age, are suspected to be the victims of the ongoing war between drug cartels, as reported by news organizations as far away as the Daily Star in Lebanon.

Granted, Tamaulipas is one of the areas most affected by drug cartel violence, but the deaths still add to the more than 47,000 people killed in drug-related violence since Mexico launched its “war against organized crimes” in 2006.

To counter the perception that all of Mexico is riddled with crime, the Mexico Tourism Board is making efforts to put a new face on the country.The Mexico Taxi Project, an advertising campaign, seeks to “change perceptions about conditions that tourists find there,” said the New York Times shortly before the program’s launch last November.

In the commercials, reminiscent of a cross between the HBO series “Taxicab Confessions” and Discovery’s “Cash Cab,” we see (via hidden camera) the cab driver asking his passengers how their (insert name of city in Mexico) vacation went. Predictably, the (very touristy but believable-looking) passengers had a (wonderful, safe, fabulous, highly recommended) time and can’t wait to come back.




Nice try, probably typical of the visits of many travelers, but news of a Mexican businessman found slain recently after accusing federal police of various crimes is troubling.

Of even more concern is that the incident is not isolated. As reported by the Latin American Herald Tribune, last September, more police officers were arrested and accused of even more crimes including extortion, bodily injury, abuse of authority and crimes against health.

It seems that the element of crime in Mexico has a way of becoming part of the best, most well directed efforts one could imagine.

Mexico City, host to a magnitude 8.0 earthquake in 1985 that claimed 10,000 lives, has been developing a new Blackberry app to provide early warning for earthquakes. When it failed to work for a recent magnitude 6.5 quake, the problem was found to be that the epicenter of that quake was in an area not yet covered by the app.

Carlos Valdés, head of the National Seismologic Service, told beyondbrics that crime in the state has blocked their efforts and that seismologists have been beaten up and threatened by armed assailants on the highways of the western state of Michoacan.

Still, tourism is growing in Mexico with most locations one might visit considered safe. Our immersion in Mazatlan last year revealed a safe and friendly destination. Fans and supporters of Mexico urge travel in spite of the U.S. Department of State’s warning of caution.

Gadling’s Dave Seminara, a fan of and frequent traveler to Mexico, may have nailed the “What to do?” question in his article, “Crime in Mexico: Is Puerto Vallarta unsafe for travelers?” answering,

“…Mexican officials are smart enough to know that they’ll need to redouble efforts to prevent crimes like this one from occurring again. In the meantime, travelers who are concerned about violent crime should consider visiting smaller towns, rather than big cities – not just in Mexico but also in many countries around the world.”

To Live and Die in Mexico

[Flickr photos by sarihuella]

Crime in Mexico: Is Puerto Vallarta unsafe for travelers?

My colleague Chris Owen has raised some good points about crime in Mexico in his piece on Saturday about the bus full of tourists who were recently robbed at gunpoint near Puerto Vallarta (PV), but as someone who has visited PV three years in a row, 2009-11, I’d like to offer another perspective on this issue.

Early reports of the incident left the impression that the tourists were robbed by a group of armed men in the city of Puerto Vallarta. But those reports were soon corrected to reflect the fact that the incident actually occurred in a remote jungle area well outside the city and involved a lone gunman, not a gang. Those early reports went viral across the Internet and the erroneous stories are likely to leave a lasting impression on Americans considering a trip to this region.

But a look a recent annual homicide rates in medium-sized American cities reveals that some have a higher murder rate than Puerto Vallarta.

Puerto Vallarta– population- 255,725- homicides- 56 (2011) rate per 100,000-21.96
Miami– population- 399,457- homicides- 84 (2010) rate per 100,000- 21.0
Cleveland– population- 396,815- homicides- 88 (2011) – rate per 100,000- 22.2
Oakland– population- 390,724- homicides- 95 (2010) – rate per 100,000- 24.35
St. Louis– population- 319, 294- homicides- 144 (2010) – rate per 100,000- 45.14
New Orleans– population- 343,829- homicides- 199 (2011)- rate per 100,000- 58.0
Orlando– population- 238,300- homicides- 28 (2011)- rate per 100,000- 11.76
Las Vegas- population- 583, 756- homicides- 86 in 2011, 116 in 2010- rate per 100,000- 14.75/19.89
Buffalo– population- 261,310- homicides- 36 in 2011, 55 in 2010- rate per 100,000- 13.79/21.07

The tourists in Puerto Vallarta weren’t harmed, and because murders are often gang or drug related, homicide rates aren’t always an accurate barometer to gauge the overall threat level to tourists. But they do give you a general idea on the level of violent crime in a place.

I disagree with those who argue that bloggers and the mainstream media shouldn’t report incidents of crime in tourist destinations like Puerto Vallarta. Chris is right to report on this and other incidents. But he writes that “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.”

I have to respectfully disagree with the notion that travelers should avoid an entire country, especially a huge one like Mexico, which has 31 states and a population approaching 100 million, based upon one or more individual incidents in specific places. There were 199 homicides in New Orleans last year. Granted, the vast majority of them didn’t involve tourists, but even if they had, would that mean that tourists should also avoid skiing in Vermont, visiting vineyards in Napa or seeing the Grand Canyon? I don’t think so. There are dangerous places in Mexico, but there are also plenty of safe places as well.And Chris obviously knows this as well, as this post about his trip to Mazatlan last October illustrates. His point that visitors should exercise caution is a good one– travelers should always exercise caution in any city, pretty much anywhere in the world. But what does it mean to exercise “extreme caution?”

Does that mean that tourists should remain cloistered inside an all-inclusive resort afraid to go out without a bulletproof vest and a Glock tucked in their waistband? The truth is that you can build an anecdotal case against visiting almost any city in the world by finding examples of crimes that have been committed there. The tourists who were robbed have every right to be angry and I wouldn’t blame them for not wanting to return to Mexico, but their story doesn’t necessarily negate the experiences of millions of other tourists who have traveled to Mexico without incident.

I’ve traveled to Puerto Vallarta and the surrounding region with my wife and two small children three years in a row and we’ve always felt very safe, even at night, even in un-crowded non-touristy areas, like the working class neighborhood of Pitillal. That doesn’t mean that bad things can’t happen there, but I would return in a heartbeat. There is also a huge community of American and Canadian snowbirds in Puerto Vallarta, and all of the long-time winter residents I’ve met there over the last few years have told me that the city is pretty safe.

After noting the recent cruise passenger robbery incident, Owen notes, “crime is nothing new for Puerto Vallarta though.” I don’t think that crime is new for any medium-sized city anywhere in the world. Owen cites the case of a Canadian who was brutally murdered in Puerto Vallarta on May 30, 2011 as further evidence that PV is a dangerous place. But as others have noted, the victim wasn’t a tourist- he lived in PV and operated a business there. Local police indicated that the crime scene seemed to indicate that the victim and perpetrator knew each other.

That doesn’t reduce the impact of the crime but the fact is that violent crimes occur in even the safest of places. The Amanda Knox case, for example, played out in Perugia, a beautiful hill town in Umbria. Would you avoid visiting Umbria or the whole of Italy based upon the murder of one British exchange student?

Obviously the incident involving the Canadian expat and the tour bus robbery aren’t the only crimes that have occurred in Puerto Vallarta and crime there and across Mexico remains a serious problem. But I think it’s a mistake to seize upon a news report here or there and then make broad, sweeping conclusions about the security situation in the entire country.

The fact is that tourists have been robbed in probably every decent sized city in the world at one point or another, including American cities. The difference is that, in large U.S. cities, an armed robbery might not even make the paper if the victim isn’t hurt. When I lived in D.C. (I’m now in the suburbs), I knew two women from my apartment building who were robbed at gunpoint, in separate incidents, coming home at night from the Potomac Avenue metro stop. Neither incident merited even a brief mention in the Washington Post.

Puerto Vallarta’s economy revolves around tourism and Mexican officials are smart enough to know that they’ll need to redouble efforts to prevent crimes like this one from occurring again. In the meantime, travelers who are concerned about violent crime should consider visiting smaller towns, rather than big cities- not just in Mexico but also in many countries around the world.

One place that I highly recommend is San Pancho, a lovely beach community about an hour north of Puerto Vallarta that is about as safe as Mayberry.

Photos taken by Dave Seminara. (1) Beach in PV, 2) the pool at the Westin- Puerto Vallarta and 3) the beach in San Pancho.)

Crime in Mexico: cruise passengers robbed at gunpoint

Crime in MexicoCrime 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 CTV.ca 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

Carnaval Mazatlan a festive celebration, but safe?

carnaval mazatlanCarnaval Mazatlan started this week and runs through February 21. Like other celebrations, glittering costumes, exotic foods and dancing street musicians are all part of the festivities. But this year’s Carnaval, while featuring a full program of activities designed for the whole family, comes on the heels of a renewed travel warning to Mexico questioning the safety of a visit south of the border.

“Thousands of North American visitors will join in the full array of festivities, which celebrate Mazatlan’s rich heritage, authentic cuisine, music and welcoming spirit of its residents,” says GoMazatlan, the marketing arm of the Mazatlan Hotel Association.

But will Americans traveling to Mexico be safe?

The U.S Department of State’s updated warning on travel to Mexico points out “an increasing number of innocent people are being targeted by transnational criminal organizations (TCOs)”, something that Mexican President Felipe Calderón generally doesn’t like to acknowledge or discuss says HSsecuritytoday, a web site targeting news and analysis on homeland security affairs.

Issuing a “strong caution” against “nonessential travel to areas within 16 of Mexico’s 31 states,” Spring break trips to Mexico are being discouraged. In fact, National Public Radio (NPR) says Mexican drug wars have gotten so bad that the Mexican people are out on strike – not because they need better wages, but because of crime that’s nearly shut down the country’s tourism industry. In turn, NPR reported how locals and tourists have been “extorted, kidnapped and intimidated by local gangs,” said Huliq just this week.

While Americans may be debating a trip to Carnaval in Mazatlan, Canadians seem to have made a clear decision not to visit. In the latest case troubling Canadians, a Calgary woman was found badly beaten in a five star resort hotel elevator last month in Mazatlan and placed in a medically induced coma later undergoing reconstructive surgery for injuries to her face. The headline in Canadian news reports: Calgary woman Sheila Nabb emerges from coma after horrific Mexico hotel beating. Not good a good sign.

In 2011, six Canadians were killed in Mexico and 50 were assaulted. According to the State Department US citizens murdered in Mexico increased from 35 in 2007 to 120 in 2011.

To be fair, the State Department also says that “the Mexican government makes a considerable effort to protect US citizens and other visitors to major tourist destinations,” which we found to be true visiting Mazatlan last October where armed Mexican Marines stood watch over Day of the Dead celebrations happening during our visit. But at that time, crime in the state of Sinaloa, where Mazatlan was located, was not a concern.

The travel warning updated by the State Department earlier this month breaks down crime by states in Mexico and notes “You should defer non-essential travel to the state of Sinaloa except the city of Mazatlan where you should exercise caution particularly late at night and in the early morning. One of Mexico’s most powerful TCOs is based in the state of Sinaloa,” which causes concern for many and will probably result in a lower than normal turnout for one of the best Carnaval celebrations in the world.

Dating back 113 years, Mazatlan’s celebration began in 1898 and is today recognized as the third largest Mardi Gras in the world, following Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans. During Mazatlan’s Carnaval, locals and visitors converge for colorful parades, dance performances, art exhibitions, open-air street festivals, outdoor concerts by international artists and a grand firework display.

It will be a shame if, after all that time, Mazatlan’s Carnaval gets shut down by criminal activity. Still, the words of caution by a relative of Canadian Sheila Nabb are hard to ignore: “Stay out of Mexico. It seems to be getting worse and worse.”


Organized Crime In Mexico's Meth Market

Flickr photo by Kashmera