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

A Mexican traveler’s money-saving tips

Headed to Mexico on a budget? Then you’re headed to the right place. In my experience, Mexican businesses and their employees are some of the friendliest and most service oriented people I’ve met, so you should take advantage of the freebies they’re usually willing to offer to visitors. A couple of years ago I started exploring the country of my ancestors, usually with a friend for company. Here are a few of the money saving tips I learned during my travels to Mexico City, Monterrey, and San Luis Potosi.

Take advantage of the free rides some nice restaurants will offer you back to your hotel
My friend and I discovered this service in Mexico City late one night after dinner and drinks at an Argentine steakhouse. We asked our server if the restaurant could call a cab, and instead he offered us the use of the restaurant’s car and driver. We gave the driver a reasonable tip and saved ourselves the cost of a cab fare. This service isn’t available at every restaurant, but all you have to do is ask to find out.

Don’t be afraid of street food
Sure, we splurged at that Argentine restaurant, but my friend and I also ate a lot of our meals on the side of the road, where you can get a hearty, delicious, and inexpensive meal at a food cart. Believe me, it was not easy convincing my friend that street food is safe and delicious. In San Luis Potosi, I finally convinced him to try a street vendor’s gorditas, which are fat tortillas that are split open and stuffed with meats and cheeses. When we were headed home, he admitted it was the best meal he had the entire trip, and it only cost us a couple of dollars!

Keep reading for more tips below…
Visit free admission museums
They’re everywhere, especially in Monterrey and Mexico City. I couldn’t believe how many museums are gratis, while I pay to get into most museums in the U.S. These attractions are a great way to learn more about the local history and culture. You might be approached by a museum guide, but you probably don’t need to hire one. Most of the Mexican museums I’ve been to are visitor friendly, with written explanations in Spanish and English for each exhibit. A word of caution: get there early. Some museums in Mexico close as early as 4pm.

Grab a free city map and guide instead of buying one
Some cities, including San Luis Potosi and Monterrey, have great tourist information centers. San Luis Potosi has one in the town square, and Monterrey has a couple of them in the bus station. Just ask for the oficina de turismo. It shouldn’t be too hard to find one, and they offer free maps and attraction guides in English, handed out by friendly greeters.

Skip the overpriced hotel breakfast
Many hotels in Mexico offer breakfast, but if it isn’t free, then skip it. The one time I ate at a hotel the food was okay, but overpriced and not so traditionally Mexican. Instead, I suggest hitting the streets to find a panaderia, a bakery where you can buy pan dulce, or traditional Mexican sweet bread. Throw in a cup of Mexican hot chocolate or coffee and you’ve got a quick, inexpensive breakfast. Yum!

Use public transportation instead of a taxi whenever possible
When we visited Mexico City, we decided to take a day trip to Xochimilco, a borough of the city that’s known for its series of canals that tourists and locals travel by boat. We could have taken a cab, but we were told it would cost us around $30. Instead we took the light rail train, which connects to the city’s metro system. It took us a little longer to get to Xochimilco, but we took in the landscape along the way, and it cost us less than $5 round trip.

Book your flight through a Mexican airline
Okay, this tip isn’t for everyone, but if, like me, you live in South Texas or another area near the border, this could work. When I was headed to Mexico City, I had a friend drop me off at an airport near the border in Reynosa, Mexico. If you don’t have anyone to drive you into Mexico, take a taxi or a bus to the airport. My plane ticket from Reynosa to Mexico City cost less than $300 on Mexicana, a reputable airline. Compared to the fares I found on several U.S. airlines, that saved me at least $200.

Shop around for a cash exchange rate

Casas de cambio,
or cash exchange houses, are everywhere. Especially in tourist hot spots, you should look around for the best rate. Use an exchange house instead of a bank and you’ll be out of there with your cash more quickly and easily.


Galley Gossip: The best thing about being a flight attendant – Travel! (Monterey & Carmel, CA)

The best thing, by far, about being a flight attendant, besides all the cool people you get to work with and all the interesting passengers you meet, is being able to travel anywhere in the world (as long as there’s an airport) at a moments notice on your day off – for free! Well…that is as long as there’s an open seat on the airplane. So when the husband had to go to Carmel, California for work two weeks ago, I jumped on the computer, logged onto the airline website, and pulled up the passenger loads.

Oh. My. Goodness. I couldn’t believe my eyes! The flight to Carmel was open. As in wide open! Which was kind of weird, because the flights these days are never open. Immediately my fingers began clicking the keyboard as fast as they could type, checking the passenger loads on the return flight back to Los Angeles. Unbelievable. The flight home was also open. Not wide open, no, but there were seats available, and more than two of them. Two seats, that’s all I needed.

I yelled out, “We’re going with you!” We, being, the kid and I.

That’s when I realized I hadn’t been back to Carmel since my son was born, a little over two years ago! What a shame, considering Carmel is one of my favorite places to go for a quick weekend getaway. What’s so great about Carmel? Everything!

The town of Carmel is charming, located just steps away from the ocean. There you will find peace and relaxation as well as galleries and restaurants. For me, nothing compares to an early morning jog on the winding path overlooking the breathtaking beach while the fog rolls in, followed by a scrumptious breakfast at Katy’s. Don’t even get me started on the flowers, particularly the lavender, which makes the place smell so good, especially this time of year!

Not to mention, I was born in Monterrey, a short drive from Carmel, where there are so many wonderful things to do with a kid, like visiting the sea otters at the Monterey bay aquarium. Of course we’d have to make a stop at the Highlands Inn for lunch, one of Carmel’s most romantic hotels, where we got married five years ago. I mean what’s not to love about sitting on a wooden deck, the smell of pine trees enveloping you, as you take in sweeping views of the ocean. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a whale or two through the binoculars left outside on the patio table. If that’s not enough, Point Lobos State Reserve is a fantastic place to go for a hike, while Pebble Beach provides the golfer a world renowned course. And who doesn’t love that drive to Big Sur? Needless to say, Carmel, as well as Monterrey, are quite special to me.

I could hear the husband climbing the stairs. “What did you say?”

“We’re coming with you.” I spun around in the leather chair just as the husband walked into the office. “The flights are open! I can’t believe it,” I mumbled, pointing at the screen.

“Me, neither, ” said the husband, who can’t even remember the last time he’s taken advantage of my flight privileges. He can’t take the stress of possibly being bumped from flight to flight all day long. Leaning over my shoulder, he said, “Let’s make it a long weekend. I’ll book a hotel in Carmel.”

“I’ll start packing!” I exclaimed, jumping off the computer and dragging my suitcase out of the closet. It was 4pm and the flight to Carmel departed at 8am sharp the following morning. I couldn’t wait to get on that flight!

Get on the flight we did, no problem. Man, there are times when I really love my job!

While you’re reading this post about Carmel, I’m on my way home from Honolulu. That’s right, I’m taking my mother and son, as well as the husband, to Oahu for the weekend, which I’m sure I’ll be writing about soon. Until then, enjoy my little photo gallery of Monterey. (Little photo gallery because the camera broke mid trip)

(The above photo was taken at the Point Lobos State Reserve )