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How safe is Mexico? Data on U.S. citizen deaths from the U.S. State Dept.

How safe is Mexico? Data on U.S. citizen deaths from the U.S. State Dept.

Mar 10th, 2011, 07:21 AM
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How safe is Mexico? Data on U.S. citizen deaths from the U.S. State Dept.

The U.S. Department of State compiles data on U.S. citizen deaths abroad by ‘non-natural’ causes and makes this info available on-line with the title “Death of U.S. citizens abroad by non-natural causes”. Last year I read an LA Times article based on this data that said Mexico was far and away the most deadly country for U.S. travelers.

I was curious as to how many of the Mexico deaths were occurring at tourist locales compared to the violent border towns so I downloaded the data and parsed it a bit. Also looked at data from other countries I’ve visited the past decade during the time of the study, including Canada, Tanzania, Australia, France, Venezuela, Panama, Guatemala, Holland and England. No comparison, Mexico had far more deaths than these other places (with more visitors too of course).

Here are some interesting tidbits gleaned from the downloads:

* 1,724 U.S. citizens died in Mexico from ‘non-natural’ causes during the almost 8 years covered by the survey (October 2002 to June 2010). By comparison, there were just 102 deaths reported in Canada and deaths in the other countries I visited ranged from 9 in Tanzania to 96 in Australia.

* Here’s a breakdown of how these people died in Mexico:

724 Vehicle accident (bus, auto, motorcycle, pedestrian combined) 42%
384 Homicides 22% of all deaths
225 drowning
154 other accident
41 suicide
43 Drug-Related
16 Execution

* Here’s a breakdown of how U.S. citizens died in Canada:

33 Vehicle accident
24 Other accident
14 Suicide
13 drowning
10 air accident
5 Homicide

* Dept. of Commerce estimates 19 million U.S. visits to Mexico, 12 million to Canada in the most recent year with data, so for about 1.6x as many visits there are 17x as many deaths in Mexico compared to Canada.

For homicides the ratio is 80 times higher in Mexico if you include ‘executions’.

OK, drug war violence, poverty, lots of guns -- we get it, Mexico in general is a relatively dangerous place compared to other tourist destinations. But what is the risk in popular tourist areas compared to, say, border towns?

Most of my 40 or so trips to Mexico have been to Pacific resorts (the rest to border towns or to the Colonial cities San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato and Queteraro). Since the Pacific resorts are common destinations for Fodorites I thought I’d compile the death rate info for them first.

The thirteen towns I checked had a total of 18 homicides, with 5 each in Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan, 75 traffic deaths, and 75 drownings (Cabo San Lucas is the most dangerous for this). So while a U.S. citizen is much more likely to drown or to be killed in a traffic accident than to be killed in a homicide there were still 3.6 times as many homicides at these resorts as in all of Canada (18 versus 5).

Here are the city summaries, with comments based on personal experience where appropriate (I included ‘executions’ with ‘homicide’ and ‘maritime deaths’ with ‘drowning’ to cut down the number of categories):

38 Puerto Vallarta homicide (5) traffic (10) drowning (6) suicide (8) other (9)
(surprised at the number of homicides, I always felt PV was safe [visited four times]. 5 isn’t many compared to the border towns but to put it in perspective, 5 is as many as Canada had in the same time period … lot of suicides)

33 Mazatlan homicide ( 5) traffic ( 11) drowning (8) suicide ( 6 ) other (3 )
(less surprised by five homicides since Mazatlan is in Sinola, which is a well-known drug corridor. Recently three cruise lines decided to by-pass Mazatlan because of robberies against cruise day-trippers and because two men were shot in the parking lot of a tourist hotel … always felt comfy there myself, staying in the Zona Dorado tourist area north of town)

26 Cabo San Lucas homicide (0) traffic (6) drowning (17) suicide (2) other (1)
20 san jose del cabo homicide (1) traffic (6) drowning (12) suicide (0) other (1)
8 Los cabos homicide (0) traffic (1) drowning (5) suicide (0) other (2)
(I’d consider these three together since it’s one area … I’d expect a lot of drowning victims in Cabo since Solmar beach is very dangerous, but surprised that San Jose has 12 drownings as well since the ocean is much calmer there … surprised at the relative lack of homicides, Cabo has a raw edge at times due to the prostitution and drugs and I would have thought someone would have gotten the blade over a girl or a deal gone sour … would have expected more traffic deaths, have seen several bad accidents on the corridor highway … why did Vallarta have 4x as many suicides and 5x as many homicides?)

24 La Paz homicide (2) traffic (9) drowning (7) suicide (3) other (3)
(2x the homicides as the Cabo/San Jose area with a fraction the number of tourists. Interesting)

7 Mulege homicide (1) traffic (4) drowning (2) suicide () other (-)
4 Loreto homicide (0) traffic (3) drowning (1) suicide (0) other (0)
(small, sleepy towns mid-penninsula, I’m surprised there were 11 deaths here … probably the traffic deaths were from the highway traffic, not in the towns … how the hell do you get killed in Mulege?)

16 Acapulco homicide (1) traffic (5) drowning (3) suicide ( 4) other (3)
7 Manzanillo homicide (-) traffic (2) drowning (3) suicide (-) other (2)
7 Ixtapa homicide (1) traffic (1) drowning (2) suicide (-) other (3)
10 Zihuatanejo homicide (2) traffic (2) drowning (2) suicide (-) other (4)
(most surprising thing to me about this list is that Acapulco had only one homicide while Zihua and Ixtapa had 3. I’ve been to all of these places and Acapulco was the only one that I occasionally felt uncomfortable in, and the drug cartels routinely kill each other and line the bodies up beside the highways as reminders; Zihua and Ixtapa were comparatively laid-back, and Manzanillo was pretty dead for tourism when I was there)

22 Guaymas/San Carlos homicide (-) traffic (15) drowning (7) suicide (-) other (3)
(only place on the list I haven’t visited but I threw it in for completeness … probably the high traffic deaths are because Arizonans often drive down since it’s not that far from the border)

If you want to check the death lists for yourself you can get it from this site http://travel.state.gov/law/family_i...death_600.html by entering country name and dates, then converting to a downloadable Excel file. Once it’s a file you can quickly do word searches to cull out any data of interest.

More later on the border towns, the Colonial towns that I visited and the Caribbean resorts.
Bill_H is offline  
Mar 10th, 2011, 08:52 AM
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I'm no crime expert but the population of PV is a LOT larger than the Los Cabos area. I think you'd need to put these figures in terms of percentage of the number of people living there to have a more accurate comparison. Right?
suze is online now  
Mar 10th, 2011, 01:14 PM
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This is great information but it doesn't tell the whole story. I suspect the number of random murders of US citizens is a small fraction of the reported numbers.

One key element that is missing from these stats is the number of US citizens that were murdered as a result of participating in illegal activities. This should be reported as a separate category.

I hope someone can find this information and post it here!
guell is offline  
Mar 10th, 2011, 01:34 PM
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Good point. I've heard details of someone getting killed in PV, but it was not a tourist sipping margaritas by the pool. It was a foreigner (US/Canadian) trying to break into the local drug trade or unsavory associations like that.
suze is online now  
Mar 10th, 2011, 01:58 PM
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Here are some additional numbers for selected border towns, Cancun and Cozumel , a couple of larger cities I haven’t visited plus a few Colonial cities I have been to.

Border towns (176 homicides – about 45% of the total in all Mexico – in just three towns)

165 total deaths Tijuana homicide (99) (didn’t break down the others)
68 Ciudad Juarez homicide (44)
58 Nuevo Laredo homicide (33)
38 Mexicali homicide (11)
24 Matamoros homicide (8)
19 Nogales homicide (5)

Colonial cities

4 Guanajuato homicide (1) traffic (3)
10 San Miguel De Allende homicide (-) traffic (3) suicide (4) other (3)
3 Queretaro homicide (1) traffic (2)

(I’ve spent a couple weeks in San Miguel, briefer stays in the other two, and felt comfortable as a tourist in each of them. San Miguel in particular seemed warm and gracious, with a large contingent of ex-pats. I was told I could carry my expensive camera gear anywhere in San Miguel day or night without fear of getting robbed and such was the case).

Caribbean resorts

59 Cancun homicide (2) traffic (13) drowning (23) suicide (6) other (15)
42 Cozumel homicide (2) traffic (7) drowning (29) suicide (-) other (4)

(death totals are fairly high but mostly due to drowning and traffic. Fewer homicides combined than either Puerto Vallarta or Mazatlan on the Pacific side)

A couple other large cities with fairly heavy ex-pat presence:

42 Guadalajara homicide (5) traffic (24) drowning (-) suicide (1) other (8)
11 Monterrey homicide (3) traffic (5) drowning (-) suicide (-) other (3)
Bill_H is offline  
Mar 10th, 2011, 02:24 PM
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First of all, before I write this, I'm not brushing off the impact of anybody dying. It's sad.

But, Bill, I think you're making an assumption here that isn't warranted. You're using the word "tourist" as if this has to do with tourism ... "compared to other tourist destinations" ... "with a fraction the number of tourists" ... "felt comfortable as a tourist in each of them" ...

The title of the report doesn't say anything about tourists. It refers to deaths of U.S. citizens. Mexico has a huge U.S. expat population. As in any group, some people will die, and it will be from all manner of causes. Tourists have died in Mexico, but I'd bet the majority of deaths reported here are of expats who live there. Sad in every case, but are these statistics so unexpected?

I would not read anything into this about how safe it is to visit Mexico.
Jeff_Costa_Rica is offline  
Mar 11th, 2011, 12:20 AM
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I'm glad to see the statistics, because my intuition was that being in traffic is the greatest risk a typical tourist takes in Mexico, and it seems that is the case.
WillTravel is offline  
Mar 11th, 2011, 04:48 AM
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Travel.state.gov

is a great site to review for specifics

regarding crime other risks.

Travel to Mexico a lot

outside of the border areas

and drug areas and big inner cities can be nice.

In most tourist areas not a lot of risk.

Caracas Venezuela tonnes scarier than most of Mexico for me

Murder rate still higher in Venezuela Guatemala City

Colombia big cities even Russia than Mexico statistically.

So for me based on my experience there and elsewhere

not sure that Mexico is all bad

as your post seems to suggest...

Still insuremytrip.com always wise for me and

travel in dodgy areas not for the clueless newbie.
qwovadis is offline  
Mar 11th, 2011, 06:53 AM
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I can only recall one tourist getting shot in PV, after a robbery attempt which he resisted, the others were not tourists, two, at least, were in the drug trade. That's over a period of 18 years that I've lived here, it was far, far more dangerous when I lived in Los Angeles, but I don't, and the Mexican Government doesn't, recommend not going to L.A.
So to the State Dept, I say Phooey
cabron is offline  
Mar 12th, 2011, 06:35 PM
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I would not read anything into this about how safe it is to visit Mexico.

Jeff, I would hope readers take at least three things from the article.

First, the number of traffic deaths seems very high, so I would be extra careful crossing the streets or especially driving (I’ve driven all the paved Baja roads south of Loreto and some of the dirt ones, and also have driven in Jalisco and Sinola, and am not surprised at the high death rate). 724 or 42% of all the reported deaths were due to traffic accidents and this is much higher than anywhere else. Seven times as many U.S. citizens died in traffic accidents in Mexico as died from ALL causes in Canada, for example.

Second, the number of drowning seems high to me (225). The lesson I would garner is to be careful where I swam and stay out of the water if drinking. Wonder how many of these are spring-breakers or scuba divers or just people swimming in the surf …

Third, while the number of homicides and executions is very high most of these occur in the border towns and not in the tourist areas. But having said that, the homicide rate for U.S. citizens at tourist areas is still higher than in, say, Canada. And higher in some areas than others.

I'd bet the majority of deaths reported here are of expats who live there

I agree that it’s too bad the death data doesn’t break it down better as to expats vs short-term tourists, but I seriously doubt the ‘majority of deaths’ are expats. They should be better attuned to the traffic patterns (and less likely to be drunk and rowdy) and I would hope more knowledgeable about where it’s safe to swim. I’d bet inebriated spring breakers would be more likely candidates for accidents. I live in a city with a large university and every year it seems there are reports of spring breakers falling off motel balconies in Mazatlan or drowning in Cancun.

As for the homicides, the ones in Puerto Vallarta especially seem to have struck a nerve, with comments like It was a foreigner (US/Canadian) trying to break into the local drug trade or unsavory associations like that. (carbon) and One key element that is missing from these stats is the number of US citizens that were murdered as a result of participating in illegal activities (guell), or I've heard details of someone getting killed in PV, but it was not a tourist sipping margaritas by the pool. It was a foreigner (US/Canadian) trying to break into the local drug trade or unsavory associations like that.(suze).

I get the impression people think the typical Vallarta homicide victim is an unsavory expat doing something wrong but I didn't find facts that support this when I did a search.

Here are the three Puerto Vallarta homicides (U.S. citizens) I could find data for (one of them wasn’t included in the State Department homicide list, so it’s actually six instead of five total):

3/28/2008 David Parrish, 21 year old college student, shot near the Marina during spring break at 4 PM. A report said two men were robbing his mother and when he interceded he was shot and killed. The men were caught but released by a judge. (This one was not on the State Dept. list I linked to earlier)

This death definitely does not fit the ‘unsavory expat’ profile – broad daylight in a usual tourist area. http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_8758977


2/11/2009 Tim Connor, 47, sleeping in a time-share condo near Los Muertos beach with his wife when someone broke in at 4 AM and stabbed him to death, injuring his wife as well. He was a tourist, not an expat, but had been to PV several times over the past 10 years and was well-known among the expats. Apparently a robbery gone awry.
http://www.examiner.com/gay-travel-i...urist-murdered


3/26/2008 Felicia Melton-Smyth, a tourist on a group trip from Wisconsin, stabbed to death and robbed in her hotel room by a 36 year old homeless man. This one was only two days after the 21 year old college student was killed.
http://www.channel3000.com/news/16402749/detail.html

There were also three homicides I couldn’t find any data on with an English language search, occurring 4/19/2006, 9/14/2003 and 12/30/2002. Maybe someone with better Spanish skills could dig up a description of these from one of the Mexican newspapers?

You could start with this site, where they have a write-up of the Connor killing. Looks like there's a search box in the upper right corner. (warning, the photo at the bottom of the page is very graphic):

http://www.noticiaspv.com/archivo/21960

Regarding the apparent drug war shooting, I saw one reference to two Canadians that were executed when I searched on 'puerto vallarta homicide'. One had drug convictions in B.C., both had been living in Vallarta for a year or so ‘without visible means of support’, and they were gunned down by Mexicans who knew them, so the thinking is this was drug-related. But these guys were not part of the U.S. statistics.

http://communities.canada.com/vancou...-vallarta.aspx ... the link to the Mexican paper has some very gory photos of the bodies.

Anyway none of the three most recent U.S. homicides appear to be due to drugs; all three were apparently innocent tourists, not dodgy expats.
Bill_H is offline  
Apr 4th, 2011, 09:54 AM
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As a U.S. citizen married to a Mexican citizen and living in Baja, the use of 'U.S. citizen' is too broad in this article. You are assuming by your language in the first paragraph that they are U.S. travelers, which I would bet many are not. Many members of my husband's family are U.S. citizens who were cultured, schooled, and grew up in Mexico, not the U.S. If something happened to them in Mexico, the stats may place them in the category of being a U.S. traveler when that is erroneous. I personally do not think of a U.S. traveler as someone who grew up in Mexico and still lives in Mexico, but that is my two cents.
bajagoon is offline  
Apr 6th, 2011, 09:13 AM
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The two stabbing deaths were committed when the victims confronted the robbers. As was true of the kid who was shot. The two drug guys who were killed, of course they were not on the US list, they were not Americans. I know of two more homicides here, but those two were committed by US Citizens.
That's a total of 4 I know about, missed one. so only 3 homicides by non US citizens.
Over 8 years, doesn't sound like anything anyone should worry two much about, they have found 8 bodies in Long Beach, NY just the other day.
cabron is offline  
Apr 9th, 2011, 09:43 AM
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The two stabbing deaths were committed when the victims confronted the robbers

Sounds like you are blaming the victims, which is hard to believe. In both cases they were attacked late at night in their hotel/condo rooms by Mexicans carrying knives who killed them ... who was confronting whom?

As was true of the kid who was shot.

The report said two Mexicans (who were caught but allowed to escape jail) were robbing his mother and he came to help her. Again, hard to blame the victim, all the robbers had to do was walk away and not shoot.

But at least you are no longer saying that all the murdered were expats or involved with drugs. That's some progress.

Over 8 years, doesn't sound like anything anyone should worry two much about

In absolute terms I agree six homicides of US Citizens in 8 years in Vallarta isn't really high, but in relative terms it's not that low either. More than in all of Canada during the same period, for example, with far less tourist visits in PV. 6x as many as Cabo/San Jose/Los Cabos combined, with similar numbers of tourist visits. Why?

I personally don't think the resort areas are particularly unsafe, but when the "How safe is ----?" posts come up on Fodors most of the replies are very misleading. Here are some sample quotes from you and others like you when this Q was asked:

"Unless you are buying or selling drugs you will be fine."

"so far the violence is done by and within the drug cartels."

"I find Mexico no less safe than any other big city anywhere in the world."

"It's not safer "now"... the tourist areas have ALWAYS been safe. The situation on the border and in certain states with the drug wars has *never* effected places like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, etc"

"For the average tourist flying into one of the resort destinations, to my knowledge there have been no reports of violence under those circumstances."

"I have been to both places (Vallarta 19 times, Cabo San Lucas for the 1st time last year). I think there are both safe for tourists doing normal tourist things. There have never been reports either place of violence ..."


Blanket statements like "There have never been reports either place of violence" simply don't hold up given the report I linked to.

Not long ago I also felt these tourist areas were safe havens (I was attacked for suggesting to someone on another Fodors thread that Puerto Penasco was safe, for example, even accused of owning a business down there by one shrill harpy), but the article in the LA Times that contained the State Dept link was an eye-opener, with the high drowning and traffic deaths in particular.

And when I dug in a bit and saw that there were several times more deaths in the Pacific resorts than in all of Canada I was surprised, and can no longer agree with the rosy scenario. As I just said, the level of violence at the resorts is not terrible, but there is more violence and more risk (especially from swimming and traffic) than the Fodors posts indicate.

they have found 8 bodies in Long Beach, NY just the other day

Yes, but they weren't tourists either ... are you sure you want to go there, turn this into a comparision of the murder rate in the US vs Mexico? I'm pretty sure you will lose that argument too. The morning you posted this one of the headlines in USAToday was "13 more bodies found in Mexico mass graves" near eight other mass graves with 59 more bodies, as an example. Guys were being pulled off of busses and executed for no apparent reason.

Maybe just stick to discussing the problems in the tourist areas?
Bill_H is offline  
Apr 17th, 2011, 10:14 AM
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Appreciate being kept aware of danger zones. Have you information relating to recent kidnapping/execution of people pulled off buses on Monterrey/Texas border route? i.e. might it be local buses rather than tourist buses and connected to drug gangs?
tenaya is offline  
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