Is it safe to travel to Cancun or other parts of Mexico?

Apr 16, 2022

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This week, the Quintana Roo government deployed 6,000 army troops in the tourist hub of Cancun, according to local news outlet Reportur.

This increased security presence is in response to recent crime and drug trafficking issues that prompted a U.S. Consulate warning earlier this year about travel to Cancun. The government hopes that the added security will calm nervous travelers and prevent troubles during this busy time for travel.

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Related: Going to Mexico for spring break? The U.S. has this travel alert for you

The question is, how dangerous is the current security situation in Cancun? And how safe is Mexico overall? Should visitors be worried or cancel trip plans?

The U.S. State Department in their recent travel advisory recommended visitors to Quintana Roo state “exercise increased caution.” While ominous-sounding, this is only the second most severe out of the State Department’s four warning levels.

The U.S. State Department uses a four-level system to issue travel advisories for each country, based on potential risks. (Screenshot courtesy of the U.S. State Department)

According to the State Department website, visitors to the Cancun area are advised that “criminal activity and violence may occur in any location, at any time, including in popular tourist destinations. Travelers should maintain a high level of situational awareness, avoid areas where illicit activities occur.

“While not directed at tourists, shootings between rival gangs have killed or injured innocent bystanders. U.S. citizens have been the victims of both non-violent and violent crimes in tourist and non-tourist areas. Exercise increased caution after dark in downtown areas of Cancun, Tulum, and Playa del Carmen, and remain in well-lit pedestrian streets and tourist zones,” according to the warning.

Related: Two tourists killed at upscale resort

Despite the ongoing concerns, Dario Flota Ocampo, Director of the Quintana Roo Tourism Board (Cancun’s home state) told The Points Guy in an email that “Quintana Roo remains a safe destination to visit … it continues to operate normally and remains one of the world’s leading destinations.”

Cancun remains a popular destination, not only because of attractive flight deals, and many hotel and resort options, but it also offers a huge variety of activities and tours beyond simply sitting at the beach consuming burritos and margaritas (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Aerial view of Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico

The Allianz Partners travel insurance company reported Cancun is the #1 summer foreign travel destination for Americans in 2022, based on booking data from their airline partners, an increase of 19% above already high 2021 levels. According to Daniel Durazo, director of external communications for the insurance provider “travel insurance should be on your packing list.”

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Intrepid Travel, which leads regular tours in the Cancun area and throughout Quintana Roo, is keeping an eye on safety issues in Cancun. Matt Berna, Intrepid Travel’s managing director for North America told The Points Guy, “We’ve been monitoring the Cancun situation for quite a while as violent crime has been on the rise. We follow the U.S. State Department travel advisories. We just heard today about the deployment of the soldiers in Cancun, and we will watch the situation very closely to see if we need to amend any itineraries.”

Safety app

To support traveler safety, the Quintana Roo Tourism Board created the Guest Assist App for free download. The app supplies safety information, legal advice, a complaint line, COVID-19 information, and provides access to a 24/7 bilingual call center for visitor assistance.

The State Tourism Board website Mexican Caribbean Travel also provides safety advice. In addition, Director Ocampo wrote that the state has an “ongoing security and protection strategy in place, and … is continuing communications with the State Police, alongside federal and local agencies and the private sector to maintain updated security measures to keep a safe and enjoyable environment for residents and visitors.”

The crime and drug presence in Cancun has partially been blamed on the tourist demand for illegal narcotics. In an effort to reduce demand, or at least make visitors aware of the risks of buying street drugs, Reportur.mx first reported that hotels have recently been asked to require all guests checking in to sign a form confirming: “I have read and am aware of the legal consequences of the purchase of drugs in Mexico.”

Check warning levels

Visitors to other areas in Mexico should consult the U.S. State Department’s Travel Advisory site’s warnings before travel. Americans are currently warned “do not travel to” the regions of Colima, Guerrero, Michoacan, Sinaloa and Tamaulipas “due to crime and kidnapping.” The State Department is recommending potential visitors to “reconsider travel” to the popular tourist areas of Baja California, Nayarit and Mexico State.

On a recent visit to Mexico City, which is at an “exercise caution” advisory level, I saw a massive police presence in the upscale neighborhoods of Polanco and Roma, to the point of having multiple police on every street corner for many blocks. Most police were of the slouching, unarmed, rent-a-cop variety, but some were in full military gear with body armor and automatic weapons.

Large groups of locals and visitors walked and biked the streets with comfort during late weekend nights. All seemed peaceful — except for one semi-comical skirmish between young street vendors and police which involved the police getting battered by thrown pink pastries, and the vendors getting battered with their own tables.

On my recent visits to resorts and small towns in the Puerto Vallarta/Riviera Nayarit region, I noted well-staffed security teams patrolling most properties, along with a moderate, but visible police presence in smaller towns like Sayulita.

Bottom line

The CDC has rated Mexico as “High Risk: Level 3” for COVID-19 infection, which suggests that unvaccinated travelers should avoid nonessential travel. This is the same ranking the CDC gives the U.S., so visitors should be comfortable taking the same precautions as at home.

In general in Mexico, mask usage remains much more common than in most areas of the U.S., both by staff and customers at most businesses, with many shops and hotels still requiring masks in indoor public areas.

Featured image of Cancun, Mexico with an aerial view of Quintana Roo courtesy Getty Images.

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