Mexico Rebounds With Festivals And Events In 2013

Mexico

Mexico, apparently immune to the scary headlines that might as well have been “Dying In Mexico A Sure Thing For Tourists,” is enjoying a robust return to business-as-usual. In fact, the Mexican Tourist Board predicts record numbers of visitors to the country in 2013.

With the cloud of doom retreating from over Mexico, annual events are heating up. Here are some festivals and events to look for in 2013.

Merida International Arts Festival – Merida, Yucatan, January 5-23, 2013
The state of Yucatan and the city of Merida host an arts festival featuring live concerts, opera, dance, theater, poetry readings, art and photography exhibitions and films from all over the world. Many events happen at the Jose Marti Cultural Center, Olimpo’s Cultural Center, Merida’s city theater, the University of Yucatan and Jose Peon Contreras Theater.

Corona Rally Mexico – Guanajuato State, March 11-13, 2013
The cities of Guanajuato, Silao and Leonin Guanajuato State host this exciting event.
The 2005 Corona Rally is a two-day, 600-mile race through central Mexico’s plateaus and mountains. In addition to 15 legs of intense off-road driving, festivities include traditional dance, music and food.Extreme Adventure Hidalgo Competition– Husteca, Hidalgo, February 23-26, 2013
This competition, which will take place in the mountainous region of the state of Hidalgo, is one of the most important adventure competitions available worldwide. More than $60,000 in prizes will be awarded at the competition that will require kayaking, trekking, mountain biking, canyoneering, swimming and caving. Teams from countries sourced from around the world will participate.

This video shows some of what contestants go through to prepare for Extreme Adventure Hidalgo:




[Photo Credit- Flickr user El Emanem]

Mexico: Safer But Not Safe Says Travel Warning

mexico

Troubled with crime, Mexico has been on the bad list of places to visit for quite some time. But the situation is improving. Murders of U.S. citizens are down. Drug-related violence seems limited to isolated areas of the country. But a new warning issued by the U.S. Department of State urges caution.

The State Department is warning travelers to “defer nonessential travel” to the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango and Tamaulipas in Mexico. The continuing concern involves Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) that are “engaged in a violent struggle to control drug trafficking routes and other criminal activity,” says the State Department warning.

The latest travel warning urged caution when visiting Mexico, including Mazatlan in the state of Sinaloa, saying travelers “should exercise extreme caution particularly late at night and in the early morning.”

Giving credit to an improving situation in Mexico, the State Department notes that 32 U.S. citizens were murdered in Mexico in the first six months of 2012, compared with 113 in all of 2011. Still, the number of kidnappings and disappearances throughout Mexico is of concern with both local and expatriate communities victimized.Casting a more positive light to illuminate efforts being taken to improve the situation, Rodolfo Lopez-Negrete of the Mexico Tourism Board said the protection of tourists “is at the pinnacle of importance to the Mexican government,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

Indeed, festivals and events continue in Mexico and draw big crowds. Fifteen thousand people turned out for a mass yoga class in Mexico City, once a central location in the drug wars ravaging the country, now an area where no advisory is in place, as we see in this video:


[Photo Credit- Flickr user MattMawson]

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]

Google Street View Offers Virtual Trips Around Mexico’s Ancient Monuments

Google Street View, Palenque
We’ve talked a lot about Google Street View here on Gadling. It seems that every month a new attraction is added to this amazing and somewhat sinister application.

The latest is a series of views of the great monuments of Mexico. Google has been cooperating with the National Institute of Anthropology and History to take images of important sites such as Teotihuacan, Palenque and Chichen Itza. They hope to have 80 sites online by the end of the year.

The uber-cool archaeology news website Past Horizons reports that instead of the usual Google Street View van, a tricycle took the 360-degree panoramas. This method has been used at other sensitive sites like Stonehenge. I’ve taken a look at some of them and they’re as crisp and clear as the photos Google took of your house.

The Mexican sites are only some of hundreds of important spots around the world taken as part of the Google World Wonders Project. Hit the link to see more.

[Photo of Templo de la Calavera at Palenque courtesy Tato Grasso]

I Traveled To Mexico And Came Back Alive

Two weeks ago I did something absolutely crazy. I packed a bag, got on a plane, and spent an entire week traveling in Mexico.

GASP! The horrors! Haven’t you heard? Mexico is dangerous! It isn’t safe to travel there anymore. Go somewhere else – anywhere but Mexico. There be dragons out there…

One of the hottest topics in North American travel at the moment, the question of whether or not you should travel to Mexico has been hotly circulating about Gadling for the better part of six months now.

Chris Owen in February posted an article about 22 cruise ship passengers in Mexico who were recently robbed at gunpoint. As he states in the article, however, this also recently happened in St. Kitts, and I haven’t heard many cries for avoiding the small Caribbean nation.

Fellow Gadling blogger Dave Seminara even went so far in a recent article to highlight the point that the homicide rate in Puerto Vallarta (where the gunpoint, cruise robbery took place) is actually lower than many American cities.

Nevertheless, I feel compelled to rehash this topic due to a recent conversation I had with a Canadian woman on a sailing catamaran in Maui. This, and the fact that I just spent an entire week in Mexico and managed to come back alive.While sailing in Maui I found myself discussing with a woman – who we shall call Carol – the recent addition of direct flights from Calgary to Maui by the Canadian airline carrier Westjet. To be fair, Mexico’s recent bust has been Hawaii’s recent boom, given the fact that many winter travelers who once frequented Mexico are now flocking in droves to what are considered to be “safer havens.”

“Everyone is coming to Maui now because you simply can’t go to Mexico anymore,” explained Carol. “Did you hear what just happened down there? A girl was mugged INSIDE of her hotel and was robbed! Can you imagine? Inside the resort!”

Then, with a squinting of the eyes and a lean towards my body she whispered in a seemingly prophetic tone, “it simply isn’t safe to travel to Mexico anymore.”

I bit my lip in reaction to her crowdsourced ignorance. Later that day, I opted to take 16 seconds of my life to look up the armed robbery statistics for the city of Calgary for the first quarter of 2012.

The result? Eighty-seven reported robberies in the first three months of the year, an increase of 19 percent from the same time period in 2011.

While I could rattle statistics off from a slew of different sources, the bottom line and the main point which needs to be made is that traveling to Mexico is no more dangerous than living in any major global city. Of the 60 countries I’ve wandered through and after 20+ visits to Mexico, you know where I’ve felt the most in danger (including when I thought I was kidnapped in Borneo)?

When I got lost on the south side of Chicago.

Also, Carol, there are a few travel safety basics, which need to be employed when traveling anywhere in the world with a much lower income level than we experience back home. Don’t flaunt expensive jewelry, don’t hang a $3000 Canon camera around your neck and don’t pay for a $1 bottle of water and flash a wallet, which is teeming with $100 bills. Chances are, you’re asking to be robbed. This isn’t called travel safety; this is called common sense.

You know where else people get robbed of expensive cameras, by the way? Maui (usually via car break-ins).

Sure, there are a lot of crazy headlines coming out of Mexico right now, such as rampant beheadings, mass graves and guys who mix corpses in huge vats of acid. But guess what? These people aren’t tourists; they’re drug lords. If you’re someone who’s heavily entrenched in the cocaine and marijuana trade then yeah, it might be dangerous for you to travel to Mexico right now. If you just want to go down and score some waves, soak up some sun, or experience the vibrant local culture, however, chances are that you’re going to be fine.

So why am I so fired up about this? Because what many headlines unfortunately fail to display is that the real, true victims of the Mexican violence are the peace-loving, everyday Mexican citizens who rely on tourism dollars to survive.

I have stood on the sandy shores of a campground on the Sea of Cortez and literally had a woman weep at my feet, thanking me for deciding to come and visit Mexico. Ever since the violence started, she claimed, the tourist business has completely dried up and her and her family are liable to lose their business, their house and their land because Americans who once came for the great fishing and cheap beer now go elsewhere because it’s “safer.”

I ask you, Carol, which one is worse? Having your camera taken from you, or having your house taken from you?

So, yes, I just traveled to Mexico for a week, and here is a rundown of what happened:

I ate fish tacos and lobster tails on the shores of an empty beach while drinking $1 beers after a day of surfing perfect, empty waves. I had long conversations with local people who smile and are friendly and are genuinely interested in what I have to say. I shopped at local supermarkets. I stayed in a $20/night guesthouse on the beach, not a fancy resort with a security guard. I hired a fishing boat. I entrusted my life to Mexican taxi drivers who took me exactly where I needed to go.

I wasn’t beheaded, and I wasn’t robbed. I traveled to Mexico and I came back alive.