There’s nothing like reading about two overseas cyclists being murdered near one of the towns you are going to.
This triggers various reactions: sadness for them and their families, shock as to how they were killed, and then self-interest given that we are due to be nearby.
It is only natural then to reflect on how safe Mexico is to visit.
Our thinking had been: we know the murder count in Mexico is crazy and we know that large parts of the north appear to be effectively lawless, with intense gang violence, suspected widespread corruption and the breakdown of the the police and army as respected peace-keeping units.
But we though the South was okay. Famous places like Cancun and Cozumel. The Yucatan peninsula is heavily touristed, full of American spring breakers causing havoc and making memories and even now Hollywood celebrity jaunts. Perfect beaches, some of the best ancient history on the planet (the Mayan ruins) and within striking distance of the big USA cities. It must be safe, right?
Then we read the Foreign Office website:
The Mexican government makes efforts to protect major tourist destinations like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta and Nuevo Vallarta and these areas have mostly not seen the levels of drug-related violence and crime experienced elsewhere. However, there were shooting incidents at a nightclub in Playa del Carmen on 16 January 2017; at the state prosecutor’s office in downtown Cancun on 17 January 2017; and two shootings in downtown Cancun on 14 March 2017. There was also a shooting on Palmilla Beach in Los Cabos on 6 August 2017. There is currently an increased police presence in the Cancun area, including in the hotel zone.
On 21 February 2018, an explosive device detonated on a tourist ferry operating between Playa del Carmen and Cozumel, Quintana Roo. The explosion injured 20 people, including tourists. On 1 March, local authorities found an undetonated device on another ferry operating on the same route. The Mexican authorities are continuing to investigate the incident.
Note: we are taking a ferry from Cancun to Isla Holbox, an island near Cozumel.
So what to think now? The two cyclists were a day’s travel from Cancun in Chiapas and near the town of San Cristobel which is on our route. I tracked down a UK expert on Mexico. Now, she works for travel agency selling holidays to Mexico, so she may not be neutral, but I figured that she knows the country well. Her response to my fears:
This issue hits the crux of the travel experience: how much risk do we take to expand our horizons and experiences? Is the risk a positive or a negative for you?
Another question: do we perceive information accurately, removing our biases? It is impossible to do so completely, of course, but we have to be mindful that 513,800 UK nationals visited Mexico in 2016 and none were killed in violent attacks.
I talk to a travel journalist friend who says: “There have been bombs and murders in London but you still go up to London” and this is a good point. My reply was that in London I fit in as a local whereas in Mexico I am unambiguously not local; I am a tourist and I might be perceived to be worth robbing.
What are we going to do? Not sure yet. The wife and I haven’t really discussed this yet but we will. If we need to change the plan then we can, up to a point. We do not want to panic but also we do not need to take unnecessary risks.