Column: Mexican tourism safer than most think

Spring break — a week of relaxation, sleep and, for thousands of Arizonans, Mexico. Just a few hours south of our state is a sandy paradise with looser alcohol laws and freedom from mainstream, college-town police officers.

As someone who took a trip to Puerto Peñasco last week, I feel reasonably qualified to inform a future traveler of the hazards that come with such a dangerous excursion.

Despite what the reader may be thinking, I’m not talking about the cartel or ubiquitous travel alerts that caution Americans about kidnapping drug lords. And don’t lose sleep over thoughts of gunfights or gang wars. The typical spring breaker should, instead, be prepared to have other grievances.

Regardless of the city — Rocky Point, Cabo San Lucas or Cancun — anyone traveling to Mexico will have to face swaths of worried friends, relatives and colleagues. For some, it’s too risky, others too dirty and most are unable to resist mentioning cartels, drugs, guns or theft.

With the news always cycling through stories of border violence and listeners obsessed with stereotypical Mexican narratives, one can’t help but feel a knot of apprehension as they cross the border. In fact, international news sources disproportionately covered Mexican violence compared to other countries of the Americas, according to a 2014 report by Kimberly Heinle, Octavio Rodriguez Ferreira and David A. Shirk of the University of San Diego.

It’s no surprise that fear of travel to Mexico seems much higher than many other American nations.

“According to FBI crime statistics, 4.8 Americans per 100,000 were murdered in the US in 2010,” writes Robert Reid, travel editor for Lonely Planet. “The US State Department reports that 120 Americans of the 5.7 million who visited Mexico last year were murdered, which is a rate of 2.1 of 100,000 visitors.”

Although this subject deserves more research, this should still encourage Americans to reconsider some of their preconceived notions.

This is not to make light of crime in Mexico or to refute that certain states of Mexico are dangerous. The Mexican murder rate, according to a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report, is a concerning 18 per 100,000. Nor is this a denial of the tragic crimes that have happened and will inevitably happen again to some foreign visitors. But, maybe the fear most American travelers have of Mexico is rooted more in sensationalist news stories and xenophobic dialogues pertaining to Mexican people than facts.

Although Mexico regained the status of “Travel Warning” from the U.S. Department of State in December 2014, that travel warning calls out particular states and cities, none of which, interestingly, include the most populous spring break destinations. In fact, the Department of State site makes mention of the thousands of American visitors who travel safely to Mexico every day.

Despite the majority of Mexican states having no “Travel Warning” from the Department of State, the UA’s own travel policy and procedures requires extensive extra steps to receive approval for a trip anywhere in Mexico. This means groups must plan much earlier than other, non-travel warning destinations, even ones thousands of miles away, and could be rejected through multiple means. Of course, scrutiny by the school is warranted, but maybe proximal locations that are known for their American tourism can be treated with the appropriate nuance.

In reality, the average American tourist has few reasons to fear travel in Mexico. The same basic safety procedures we expect from anyone in an American city are the same behaviors travelers should expect to use.

Don’t travel to unfamiliar places late at night, don’t travel alone, and don’t make wealth or valuable possessions painfully obvious to strangers. Be rational, and everyone from your crew can expect to make it home.

Instead of focusing a Mexico Spring Break discussion around the “dangers” of any trip to Mexico, we should instead discuss the more substantial threats of binge drinking, illegal drug use and fighting — all known to be widespread during spring break wherever it’s celebrated.

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Jacob Winkelman is a sophomore studying political science and English. Follow him on Twitter.


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