Spring Breakers head to Mexico despite drug wars

While drug war violence has sent Mexican PR into a whirlwind, spring breakers have been unswayed by the persistent safety warnings and bad press. According to the AP, spring break reservations to Mexico remain resilient in the face of such setbacks, even growing slightly over last year. The big three of the Yucatan peninsula – Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and the Riviera Maya, are the top destinations according to reports.

The students, party-monsters, and brus hit these resort communities for good reason and with high confidence. With patrolling guards and a resort safety buffer, a city like Cancun is likely safer than St. Louis. While the resort areas in Mexico are generally quite tame, Acapulco is a recent example of how bad things can get. Acapulco, the original Mexican beach destination on the Pacific Coast, saw a string of gruesome gang violence earlier this year in the form of 14 beheadings. There is no priceline deal to Acapulco that can fill the void left by that kind of press. Predictably, travel to this region has lapsed dramatically.

The beautiful beaches, low prices, and an 18 year old drinking age form an alliance of desirability that many students adore. This spring break, grenade horns will sound and tank draped bros will mockingly shout “Cabs a’here” at every feasible opportunity, but there will almost certainly be no gang violence in tourist areas. As with all travel, as long as vacationers exercise caution and stay in the resort comfort zone, all will be fine. In fact, I will be visiting the Mayan Riviera in June, and my only concern is whether I will have time to go swimming with Whale Sharks.

flickr image via PriceTravel Pictures’

Mexico limits U.S. dollar purchases in bid to beat drug lords

Worried that your money isn’t green enough? Well, in Mexico, the contrary may be true. If you’re headed to Mexico this year, you’ll want to bite the bullet and exchange some greenbacks for pesos. New currency laws came into effect in parts of the country last month that limit U.S. dollar-purchases to $100 per cash transaction (the most a business can accept). And, some businesses won’t be able to take even your Washingtons and Lincolns, let alone your Benjies.

The effort is related to anti-money laundering efforts, particularly as they relate to the drug trade. Even at banks you’ll feel currency-related constraints, reports USA Today, where “the amount of dollars foreigners can trade for pesos at banks and money exchangers to no more than $1,500 per month.” This doesn’t compare to the limits out on the street, though:

In addition, the tourism board says, several Mexico states – most notably Quintana Roo, home to the major resort destinations of Cancun, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen – have imposed a $100 limit on cash purchases. And regardless of location, airlines at Mexican airports can no longer accept U.S. cash for checked bag fees or other charges, says Tim Smith at American Airlines.

But, you’re still good when you pay with plastic – the sky’s the limit (along with whatever your bank has imposed on you.

[photo by redjar via Flickr]

From World Cup to contemporary tourist destination: part one

The World Cup is first and foremost a sporting event, though it’s also a chance for national brands to be disseminated widely, and for a sense of shared excitement to gather around the countries competing. No country has the opportunity to launch an ambitious branding effort like the host country, of course, and South Africa has done a good job drumming up interest in its people, history, and sights.

The next step, at least for anyone interested in tying an increased national profile to prospective tourist revenue, is to motivate people to actually visit the countries in question. Following, one hotel or resort each from countries selected from World Cup Groups A, B, C, and D ideal for putting their country’s modern (and in most cases relatively reasonably-priced) foot forward.

Group A. Mexico: Hotel Básico, Playa del Carmen.

Hotel Básico is minimalist yet completely Mexican in spirit, a blending of edginess and warmth. The tourism portrait of Mexico doesn’t usually extend to contemporary cool. This is a shame, especially given Mexico’s strong modernist bona fides. Hotels as bold as Básico go some distance toward rectifying the impression. Doubles from $178.

Group B. Argentina: Home Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires.

There are pricier and cushier hotels in Buenos Aires, but none gathers the ridiculous cool of post-economic crisis Buenos Aires like Home. Décor is chic and fresh, and the location in ultra-hip Palermo is perfect for stylish city slickers. Doubles from $130.

Group C: Slovenia: Nebesa, Livek.

The marriage of modernity and mountains is wonderfully center-stage in Slovenia. Nebesa, from its mountain perch in the tiny village of Livek on the Italian border, gathers this Slovenian tradition. The views are extraordinary (see above) and the houses are perfectly executed. Houses for two from €210 per night.

Group D: Germany: Arte Luise Kunsthotel, Berlin.

Berlin, in the immortal words of its mayor Klaus Wowereit, is “poor but sexy.” Germany’s most electrifying city isn’t just sexy and poor. It’s also remarkably easy on the wallet for visitors, and happily this fact extends to the city’s hotel stock. The Arte Luise Kunsthotel, located in the exciting Mitte ‘hood, features artist-decorated rooms in a range of themes. Double rooms from €79.

(Image: Flickr/Andrea Musi)

Dispatch from Playa del Carmen (Slogan: It’s like Cancún except slightly more tolerable!)

I’m currently relaxing at a laid-back outdoor restaurant on Avenida Quinta, Playa del Carmen’s shop-lined pedestrian walkway, accompanied by a bottle of the local firewater. Okay, I’m drinking a Corona.

From where I’m sitting, I can see a Dairy Queen, a place selling the hideous (“but comfortable!” they always insist) Crocs, a Hertz Rent-a-car, and a store called “Playa T-Shirts,” where you’ll find tees emblazoned with such clever, understated phrases as “I [Heart] Farts” and “If you think I’m a bitch, you should meet my friends.”

Dreadlocked backpackers, socks-and-sandals tourists, and (I assume) some actual Mexicans walk by, gazing into shops and turning down hucksters offering jewelry (“No, gracias”), hotels (“No, gracias), and marijuana (“No… luego”).

Worn out from four hours of swimming, sunning, and reading A Confederacy of Dunces on the beach, I contemplate my next move. “I’ve got to get out of this town,” I think to myself, looking at my John Kennedy Toole novel on the table and smiling at how it’s title is actually an apt description of touristy Playa.

Don’t get me wrong, Playa is a decent town– it’s like Cancún except you don’t want to shove a scissors through your aorta as soon as you arrive– but episodes like the following one are far too common:

A tall, heavy American man, dining at a nearby restaurant with his daughter, is berating his waiter who, the American feels, is trying to screw him with a bad exchange rate– he clearly wasn’t– after the man tries to pay with US dollars. “We will not be coming back!” the American shouts. “Tell your jefe, we will not be coming back!”

The guy and his daughter start to storm off before the daughter whispers something to her dad. “Well, I’m sure they have bathrooms here,” the man says. So the previously indignant father-daughter combo returns sheepishly to the restaurant, asks another waiter where the bathroom is, and the daughter answers nature’s call. The first waiter stares daggers at the American dunce who does his best to avoid eye contact.

I return my attention to my guidebook, decide to visit the beach town of Tulum a couple hours south, and buy the next bus ticket out of town. Sure, Playa wasn’t my favorite town in Mexico, but it could have been worse.

It could have been Cancún.