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Traveling to Mexico on Spring Break? Beware of this State Department Alert

Americans are being urged to take extra precaution if traveling to Mexico for Spring Break due to risks of violent crime and kidnappings

by Fergus Cole

March 13, 2023

Photo: Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Courtesy of Nicole Herrero / Unsplash

Following a high-profile case involving the kidnapping of four Americans by members of a Mexican cartel, officials in the U.S. have issued warnings to travelers planning to head to Mexico for the upcoming Spring Break period.

The U.S. Department of State (DOS) updated its travel advisory following the kidnapping of four U.S. citizens—two of whom were killed—in the border city of Matamoros in the northern state of Tamaulipas. As a result, the DOS currently has a level 4 ‘do not travel’ warning in place for Tamaulipas, along with five other Mexican states—Colima, Guerrero, Michoacan, Sinaloa, and Zacatecas.

“Violent crime – such as homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery – is widespread and common in Mexico,” reads the travel warning. “The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in many areas of Mexico, as travel by U.S. government employees to certain areas is prohibited or restricted. In many states, local emergency services are limited outside the state capital or major cities.”

Photo: Cancun, Mexico. Courtesy of Braden Collum / Unsplash

A further seven states—Baja California, Chihuahua, Durango, Guanajuato, Jalisco, Morelos, and Sonora—have a level 3 ‘reconsider travel’ warning in place due to crime and kidnapping. Another 17 states have level 2 ‘exercise increased caution when traveling’ warnings in place, including the popular destinations of Mexico City, Oaxaca, Baja California Sur (including the exclusive resort of Los Cabos), and Quintana Roo, which is home to the popular Spring Break destinations of Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum. Only two Mexican states—Campeche and Yucatan— have a level 1 ‘exercise normal precautions when traveling’ warning.

The DOS warning was followed by a similar notice issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). It advised Texans to avoid traveling to Mexico for Spring Break “due to the ongoing violence throughout that country.”

“Drug cartel violence and other criminal activity represent a significant safety threat to anyone who crosses into Mexico right now,” said Steve McCraw, Director of DPS. “We have a duty to inform the public about safety, travel risks, and threats. Based on the volatile nature of cartel activity and the violence we are seeing there, we are urging individuals to avoid travel to Mexico at this time.”

The updated travel warning comes just weeks before Spring Break 2023, a holiday that has typically seen more than a million Americans travel south of the border for yearly celebrations.

Photo: Mexico City Airport. Courtesy of José Pablo Domínguez / Unsplash

According to the Mexican Secretary of Tourism, around 13 million of the 20.6 million tourists who entered Mexico by air in 2022 came from the U.S. And according to AAA Travel, international Spring Break bookings are up 30% this year compared to 2022.

Paula Twidale, Senior Vice President of Travel at AAA, urged travelers still planning their vacation in Mexico to urge caution: “Nothing is going to guarantee your safety, but what we can tell people to do is, when they go to a resort area … don’t have a false sense of security.”

Twidale recommended safety precautions to those traveling to Mexico, including ensuring they have travel insurance, traveling in groups of two or more, not carrying around cash or other valuables, not leaving drinks unattended, and staying within their resort where possible.

“There’s a lot in Mexico. It’s a very popular destination,” added Twidale. “People travel to Mexico and travel safely to Mexico. You’ve got to know where you’re going.”

While the kidnapping and murder of U.S. citizens in Matamoros made international headlines last week, incidents of such crime against tourists in Mexico are not uncommon. According to the Washington Post, more than 550 Americans and tens of thousands of Mexicans are missing after having traveled to the country. However, millions more Americans visit Mexico yearly without problems, and it remains a popular tourist destination.