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

Mexico’s safest destinations

MexicoCrime in Mexico has kept travelers away from some parts of the country that are riddled with the results of drug cartel operations. Everything from murder to mass graves and the acts of brutal drug lords has caused the U.S. Department of State to issue warnings against travel south of the border. Still, there are a number of places deemed safe by a variety of sources that are worth a look if not a trip to visit.

Our first five safe places to visit come from the San Francisco Chronicle’s Five Safest Places in Mexico. At only 1.1 deaths per 100,000, the agricultural state of Tlaxcala is rated as Mexico’s safest state followed by the Yucatán at 1.3 that has a well-developed tourist infrastructure and thousands of archaeological sites.

Up next is Puebla at 1.85 with 2,600 historic buildings, a wealth of archaeological sites, and virtually nonstop festivals originating in five distinct pre-hispanic cultures ahead of the small state of Querétaro with just 2.02 deaths per 100,000. Best-known for its role in ending Spanish rule, the state also claims three of Mexico’s major wineries and maintains a Cheese and Wine Museum.

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Renewed Baja California Sur, sfgate tells us, was the first flash point when President Calderón upset the drug cartels’ equilibrium and has been barely touched by drug violence. Adventure travelers will find hiking, kayaking, surfing and windsurfing, zip-lines, cave paintings and hot springs here.Tapping Lonely Planet for more safe places to visit in Mexico we find Mexico City, now cleaned up to be a ‘Disney version’ of its former gritty self, Todos Santos where “well-heeled New Mexico artists, organic farmers and even some Hollywood types have snapped up property and put down roots” and San Miguel de Allende where regular festivals, fireworks and parades dominate the local scene.

  “If it’s resorts you want,” says Lonely Planet, Huatulco is a rare success story in recent resort development. This former fishing village has become the Oaxacan beach resort of choice lately, benefiting from its gentle development plan that keeps much of the 12 miles of sandy shoreline completely unspoiled and the town under six-stories high.”

Finally, rapidly growing Playa Del Carmen comes in to round out our list of ten safe places to visit in Mexico. More than a day trip for cruise passengers, visitors come from all over the world in what looks to be a very safe destination, just one of the many we found in Mexico.

Flickr photo by RussBowling