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MmePerdu May 4th, 2019 02:15 PM

Assessing Travel Risk.
Reading the travel section of the NYTimes today I came across an article discussing assessing travel risk all over the world. There's a link to a US State Department color-coded map that rates countries & areas of countries in 6 categories, from "Exercise Normal Precaution" to "Do Not Travel." I've never been one to worry much short of all-out war or ongoing terrorist activity so I'm not mentioning this because I'm a worrier. What does interest me is in zooming in to the map of Mexico, my latest regular destination, there are some areas including Michoacan that I've been considering that are in the "Do Not Travel" category and others tagged "Reconsider".

I know the US state department leans toward alarmist compared with other countries' evaluations but I'd be interested to know what others think after looking at the map, here: My intent is not to evoke yelps of "ignore it all" because I lean toward ignoring already. I follow the Mexico trip reports & posts here and know some of you know the country well, so I am interested in your thoughts about the areas deemed unsafe from personal experience or from others' reports on the ground.

baldone May 4th, 2019 03:44 PM

One problem I have is that the State Department maps are strictly defined by state boundaries. Guanajuato state (where I live) is considered one of the most violent, if not the most violent state in Mexico these days. Yet it gets a yellow (increased caution) while Michoacan gets a red (do not travel)? Celaya, Salamanca, Apaseo El Alto and Grande, & Irapuato (in Guanajuato) are far more insecure these days than Morelia & Patzcuaro or even Uruapan (in Michoacan). Just too arbitrary and reactive to be dependable. That said, the toll road between Uruapan and Lazaro Cárdenas has had some problems, mostly with night time buses. Though there's been reports of daylight issues too. Reportedly, toll road access from the campo has been stopped, which was the source of carjackings. I'd drive it again, but avoid the Tierra Caliente/Apatzingan area. I do have a short trip planned through the 'dangerous' part of Guanajuato coming up. If I never post again, something bad probably happened.
Probably the other part of the country where I'd hesitate to drive is in Tamaulipas, south from either Reynosa and/or Matamoros. Though the area south of Monterrey was uneventful. I suppose Guerrero too which I don't know at all, nor have much interest at present in going. Except maybe Taxco.
PS I'm still working on the Veracruz report!

MmePerdu May 4th, 2019 04:28 PM

That's what I figured, definitely lacking fine tuning which makes planning in the areas you mention a bit of a crap shoot, or moving target. Hmm. I'm almost always on my own so no one but myself to bounce options. I guess that will mean I'll just come back here when the time comes. And look for other resources to refine the process. I've been looking at Patzcuaro & Morelia though it looks like Patzcuaro is more expensive than some places so that alone, even without banditos, may be the deterrent.

I'm looking forward to "Veracruz." And not a particularly scary part of the map.

crellston May 5th, 2019 03:50 AM

I read a lot about how unsafe Mexico was when planning our trip last year. The reality was that we found it to be one of the friendliest, most unthreatening places we have ever visited. A few years previously, we had read the same things about Colombia and again, after spending a couple of months wandering around the country came back with much the same opinion - the concerns were overdone - apart from the driving standards which were by far the worst of anywhere I have been!

The U.K. FCO is far less circumspect than the US state department. Although some of its advice verges on stating the obvious - like stay away from drug cartels!

In Mexico we travelled mostly by bus and, apart from a couple of trips from Oaxaca and San Cristóbal, always during the day. We had especially dire warnings about Zacatecas but, apart from a heavy army presence, noticed nothing untoward.

We loved both Morelia and Patzcuarao and, in hindsight, would have preferred to spend the Christmas holidays in either of them than where we did in Guadalajara. Both were great places although on balance, Morelia had more going on in the city whereas Patzcuaro, nice though it was, was more about getting out into the surrounding villages.

MmePerdu May 5th, 2019 09:12 AM

Originally Posted by crellston (Post 16914413)
I read a lot about how unsafe Mexico was when planning our trip last year. The reality was that we found it to be one of the friendliest, most unthreatening places we have ever visited . . .

Yes, indeed, as has been my experience. But I think the reality is that both are true simultaneously. Or stated in another way, friendly does not necessarily mean safe. And that saying "Mexico is safe" can be as misleading as saying "Mexico is not safe," altogether lacking in finesse (and, to hopefully leave the obvious aside, that it can be true of many places in most countries).

My point is to wonder if there is any way to introduce some finesse into the process of planning. I believe generally it's a given that one is less safe while traveling, by it's nature, than at home. Away from home, even in our own country, awareness of our surroundings decreases because familiarity decreases. We're more vulnerable. And cliches exist because they're true often enough. Generalities aside, I've also read that even in areas of significant cartel activity, tourists are unlikely to be affected. So then where are the vulnerabilities? Baldone mentions buses in Michoacan. Now that's specific & very useful. One can experience delightfully friendly people, but maybe best to avoid some bus routes. Much more useful than "Mexico friendly," "Mexico dangerous."

My usual habit is to go to one place, stay a month & take occasional day trips. It works well for me because I prefer familiarity to movement. But rather than do that on my next trip, I'm considering week-long stays. Everyone seems to love Guanajuato, and I'm sure I would too, but that certainty makes me believe I might want to find places a bit less traveled. I don't delude myself that no other tourists is possible or even desirable. A balance between the 2 would be nice and that search brought me to THE MAP. I think I'll proceed with the thought that as I make choices I'll stay open to diverting when new information dictates I'd be more comfortable doing so. I've done it before, have no problem with loose plans. I also know that nothing is 100% and not unlike my travels in places like Pakistan or on a freighter in the Strait of Hormuz, a suggestion of danger can add spice to the experience. We all have to die of something & at this point the world doesn't owe me a thing.

Fra_Diavolo May 5th, 2019 10:37 AM

We were in Oaxaca and Mexico City back in February. Although there have been strikes and road blockages in Oaxaca we had no difficulties. A friend of mine (not an alarmist) who lives in San Luis Potosi wrote recently of troubles in Zacatecas and Guanajuato. "Guanajuato . . . is now even worse than SLP or Zacatecas. Gangs closed the highways down for three days, hijacking and burning buses after the police tried to arrest the leader of a Huachicolero (petro-thieves) outfit."

Baldone -- I'm also looking forward to your report on Veracruz State as I'm considering spending a couple of weeks there next February.

MmePerdu May 5th, 2019 04:02 PM

I'm not much concerned with strikes & road blocks, thinking they're usually manageable. For instance, taxis in Oaxaca can likely get us to the airport one way or another. And several months ago I enjoyed a night in Chiapa de Corzo before my flight as a precaution after a month in San Cristobal de las Casas, friends who live out of town having been delayed at road blocks coming in to town. My concerns are more in the areas of robbery & cross-fire, though I fear in my case robbers would be sorely disappointed. It sounds like your non-alarmist friend is justifiably concerned and I take note.

Fra_Diavolo May 6th, 2019 06:32 AM

Article in the NYT today about fuel theft in Guanajuato state.

suze May 6th, 2019 08:30 AM

I know only Puerto Vallarta from visiting twice a year. Because it is in the state of Jalisco (which does show up on warning notices) people become alarmed. If you look at the areas of concern they are along state borders north and inland and a good 8-10 hour drive from PV. But Vallarta is most definitely not "a place less traveled" like you are seeking.

Daniel_Williams May 7th, 2019 07:24 AM


I have had wonderful experiences throughout Mexico. Every trip to the country, I expand beyond the previous years’ experiences but sometimes I wonder if I’m stepping into a zone that I’ll regret. I’m possibly more bold than some since my Mexico travel experiences began in Monterrey some 16 years ago—most foreign nationals don’t seem to go to that area of the northeast, undoubtedly due to bad press and no beaches, yet I’m always delighted to be in Monterrey. Even so, I had been cautious expanding beyond the confines of that city’s Centro when in the northeast due to advisories.

As an example, close as it is to Monterrey, when I booked one night in Saltillo in 2016 en route by bus from San Antonio to Queretaro, there was an advisory in red when I booked my hotel on TripAdvisor. I decided I would just do one night (in my mind, if the city seemed tense, I would just taxi from bus station to hotel and back) to stay safe. I ended up annoyed at the warning as i was enamoured by the fun energy of the beautiful central plaza there at night and wished I’d planned a bit more time there to see the Museo del Desierto, etc...

I’m no expert but I’m glad advisories did not deter me from these and other places I’ve grown to love such as San Luis Potosí, Zacatecas, Querétaro and numerous others.

best wishes,


MmePerdu May 7th, 2019 11:34 AM

I'm so glad for the input of regulars to Mexico, whose trip reports I always so look forward to reading. After Daniel's post above I had a closer look at the US State Dept's travel advisories and one thing stood out to me, the sentence "There are no restrictions on travel for U.S. government employees" added to a number of the entries. I have a feeling that this might be a tool to help separate significant warnings from the routine variety. I assume the list is, as a whole, spawned by an over-abundance of caution, have thought that for many years and have generally paid no attention. But I've begun listening with one ear as I return to Mexico and expand my areas of interest. The phrase in question may help. As the map did little to pinpoint particular areas of more concern, the descriptions seem to be more specific and distinctions made within states, activity on particular routes between communities, for instance. So I'll likely read the advisories as I plan, as a tool among others to steer me toward some areas rather than others. It can't hurt at this point as there are so many places to see and it may be as good a criteria as any for narrowing down the possibilities.

This is the page to which I refer:

Daniel_Williams Jun 23rd, 2019 06:23 AM

Hi mmeperdu,

I wanted to add to your topic, as I am now presently in Tampico in Big Bad Tamaulipas state, where the State Department says “Do Not Travel” and the Canadian equivalent says “avoid unnecessary travel”. I arrived by bus from Monterrey, passing through a pretty large swath of Tamaulipas and stopping in the capital Ciudad Victoria, my first time on this route and in Tampico.

I had been reluctant to even tell friends and family I was doing this (just saying Mexico) as I didn’t want them to spook me or worry. Even I questioned the wisdom of such a trip despite my suspicions about these unnuanced official warnings, but I wanted to split the journey between Monterrey and Veracruz differently and as much as I love places along the central highway 57 corridor (San Luis, Qro., etc...), I wanted to experience a different sector of the country.

Well, I’m still here and Tampico is amazing, in my mind one of the great Mexican cities (a trip report will come!). Those warnings make me mad as they likely discourage people from visiting some stellar and eye-opening places. Tampico, for one, doesn’t deserve that.

MmePerdu Jun 23rd, 2019 08:13 AM

Daniel_Williams, thanks for checking in again & your last paragraph speaks directly to the issue. Very glad to know you made it to Tampico in one piece, will be even more glad when you make it out & onward as I'd be so annoyed if the state department was right and because I'm looking forward to your report!

It's just occurred to me, it would be much more useful if the travel advisories contained details of the reasoning for the warnings. We, for whom they're written presumably, would be much more likely to read them & use them. And now it's also occurred to me that they aren't for us at all but for themselves, to deflect liability.

Daniel_Williams Jun 23rd, 2019 09:14 AM

Just to be clear, the “Do Not Travel” is not
specifically for Tampico, but rather for Tamaulipas State as a whole. As Baldone mentioned earlier, I do think one of the issues is making blanket statements about an entire state.

As for safety, I’m truthfully more concerned about getting run over by a car than some other woeful end.

baldone Jun 23rd, 2019 11:07 AM

Daniel, check out 'El Porvenir' while you're still there if you have time. A classic Tampico tavern/eatery. When we were there the owner and his son, a New York trained chef, gave us a tour of the place and we chatted for awhile as we were the last ones to leave. I liked Tampico and look forward to your report. I'm curious too as to what the weather is like right now.

baldone Jun 23rd, 2019 11:18 AM

And then there are nonsense scare-mongering articles like this:

Daniel_Williams Jun 23rd, 2019 02:12 PM

Baldone—Curious as to what the weather is like? Being Tampico, it should not surprise that “hace calor” has been the conversation-starter and it’s humid. However, I was surprised that the water was actually somewhat (pleasantly!) cool at Playa Miramar and with the wind at the Gulf of Mexico, there felt surprisingly nice!

baldone Jun 23rd, 2019 04:14 PM

Probably a dumb question on my part. Never been to the gulf this time of year.

Daniel_Williams Jun 24th, 2019 06:56 PM

Mmeperdu—in case you were wondering, I have left Tampico and am now in Veracruz (the city) for the first time, so I made it out! Worst thing that happened was a tummy upset; while not fun in the least (and I was sad I could not try El Porvenir consequently), overall it was a nice stay.

MmePerdu Jun 24th, 2019 09:48 PM

No, not fun in the least but I'm glad you survived it & Tampico. Curious when you wrote you were there, I read some articles several years old about Tampico & it seemed dire, empty buildings with trees growing out the windows, residents having left what seemed a genuinely violent situation. Given your feelings about the place it must be better? Or was it really never bad, if you know? If you prefer I can wait for The Report.

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