Why I’m Not Afraid of Mexico

It was the same story two years ago. Don’t go to Mexico, you’ll get decapitated. People will try to sell you drugs in the street. It’s not safe and the entire country is corrupt.

It’s like telling a person to not shop at the grocery store because one bad fruit surely means the entire stock is spoiled.

I could get used to that view.

Mexico has its share of problems, yes. President Calderon has Mexican military deployed in 10 states to replace corrupt police, cartel violence breaks out at random and there is an ongoing war on drugs. As a result, claims of human rights abuse against the military have sprung up all over the place, making it hard to figure out exactly who the bad guys are. There are problems in Mexico that I’ll never understand, but it doesn’t mean I’d pass up an opportunity to get to know the place.

I might be starting this post on a bad note. I want to tell you about neon-blue waters, the best damned guacamole I’ve ever eaten, and the friendliest people I’ve ever encountered. I’ve only visited the Riviera Maya and Cancun on two separate occasions, but here’s the big secret, folks: stay away from the troubled regions (especially near the US border), and you stay away from trouble.

In a place where almost 44% of the population live below the poverty line, towns like Cancun have built enormous resorts to entice outsiders, and it works. We’re all looking for escape. We flock to foreign countries and dish out dollars expecting the best service possible, and it’s always beyond my expectations. Of the three different resorts I’ve visited, I have yet to encounter a disagreeable person. The bartenders whistle while they work, declaring it to be Happy Hour 24/7, and the grounds are always groomed to perfection. Service is always kind and courteous, even when the workers don’t rely on tips. Despite Mexico being the most heavily populated Spanish-speaking country in the world, most people in the service industry have become bilingual. That’s right — we go to their country and expect to converse in English.

Pausing for food at Mercato 28.

You might argue Cancun and the greater area aren’t “real” Mexico, but that’s a stupid argument and there’s merit in every new experience. It’d be a sad world if we passed up an opportunity to meet amazing people, try new food or explore a different country because we live in fear. I stayed by myself at both Cancun Caribe Park Royal Grand and at the Laguna Suites, and only felt wary for the first little while. When you get over the thought that everyone is out to get you, life gets a lot more fun. Trust me.

Cruising through the mangroves.

Instead I went snorkelling, laughed until I cried with some new friends, got knocked over by ocean waves, witnessed a whole lot of thong bikini action and ate the biggest chile poblano on the planet. I soaked in a hot tub and had a butt massage from a gorgeous masseuse. I walked around Isla Mujeres where the only danger was dodging zooming golf carts, and met some representatives from Yucatan Holidays whose enthusiasm for their country rivals my own for Newfoundland. I had a driver who offered to take me back to my resort even though he was off-duty, and a Royal Holiday organizer who took every request of ours to heart and did everything he could to make us happy.

So yes, danger is real, but it’s real anywhere. Get schooled about the places to go and the places to avoid, don’t go venturing down any shady alleyways, mind your own business and be polite. Do your research. Being smart will get you a lot further than being afraid.

  • January 30 2011

    As long as you travel smart you should never have a problem is what I say! :)
    Glad you had a great time!

  • January 30 2011

    I love this post, especially the last line. Being afraid is no way to live. My family is going to Mexico in May for my cousin’s wedding and my dad is pretty hesitant about the whole thing. I might have to show my dad this post to assure him Mexico isn’t all bad.

  • January 30 2011
    Lupita Garza-Grande

    Thank you for posting this! As a Mexican now living in the US I greatly appreciate people like you that have the common sense to know that there are some places in Mexico that are still worth visiting. You’ve done a great service to Mexico and its people. Blessings!

  • January 30 2011

    Fear tastes like chicken, just add salsa and you’re good to go.

  • January 30 2011

    You had me at butt massage.

  • January 30 2011

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. Thanks for adding an intelligent strain to this conversation. People are so crazy. I can walk out my door and get hit by a bus…if I’m going to die I would rather do it with white sandy beaches and rolling green waves.

    When I went to the middle east (Jordan and Israel) in 2000 everyone thought we were out of our minds. We were warned that we would be hated on site (we can’t really hide our albino skin and red and blond hair) and if they could see our wrists or elbows they would stone us.

    That is BS. I have never met more kind people in my life. It was an experience, people would drive by us on the road and do a quick u-turn so they could come back and stare at our hair and complexions because they hadn’t seen any like ours in real life. But I did my fair share of staring too (how is it possible that there is not a speck of green ANYWHERE??) and we were greeted with great hospitality and kindness. It’s a huge trust thing when you go to a country where you can’t even begin to think about speaking or understanding the language OR numbers or writing and so you want to buy something and you hand all your money to the cashier and they take what they need and give you the change back.

    I have NEVER had a bad experience in any country that I’ve visited and I couldn’t even begin to imagine that I will. Of course…I plan to not be stupid…but general rule…if you want to be treated well…treat others well…

    Jamaica, Jordan, Israel, Mexico (x4), and Ireland (x2) good people are good people no matter where they live!!!! :)

    • February 01 2011

      Love this post!

  • January 30 2011

    Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.
    ~ Helen Keller

    I loved my time in Cancun. I had been forced out of Akumal by tropical storm downpours and retreated to Ciudad Cancun to eek the last two days out in a cramped triple room at a hostel with two club hopping Italians, good times.

    I think anybody who thinks there is a “real” Mexico ( or any place ) and a “fake”, is clearly operating under a false paradigm. I thought about the same thing while I was there, about perception of some places as more legit, more “real”. It’s complete bullshit to place a value judgment on place. In the least it limits your experience, at worst it makes you genocidal maniac.

    Butt Massage, heh.

  • January 31 2011

    Loved falling your tweets from the trip – and you’re exactly correct, danger is present wherever we’re at. It’s how we insulate ourselves that really maters .

  • January 31 2011

    Glad you had a fabulous time! I will never ever understand why people are so ridiculously scared of Mexico. There are so many other way more dangerous places in the world. I hope your press trip will help change peoples ignorant assumptions.

  • January 31 2011
    lou brewer

    As you can tell from my email address my son gave me we love it in Cancun., This will be our 11th year and going twice this year. We have traveled all over the Q.ROO and Yucatan exploring all the Mayan ruins,cenotes,and great snorkeling. We have no problem in renting a car and going places on our own and feeling totally safe. I am a retired Police Officer of 30 years so I am very conscience of my surroundings at all times. I feel safer down there than I do in places in San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles. The deeper you go into Mx the safer it is. Every town in the world has an element sto stay away from when we check into our timeshare at the CASA MAYA I always ask Humberto where not to go and his advice has always been good. We love the Mexican and Mayan people awe meet each years and find them to be friendly,generous good people and we often receive besos and abrazos from them. We are not rich Americans and feel totally comfortable being in and among the locals, we take the bus everywhere and always if the bus is full they ask us to take their seat. With greatest respect to the Mexican and Mayan people.
    Lou Brewer

  • January 31 2011

    Brilliant piece, Candice! If we listened to the narrow-minded fear-mongers we’d never travel anywhere, which would be sad indeed. It’s bad enough that some people allow reports of isolated (albeit terrible) incidents that occur in a few specific areas to color their opinion of an entire country or populace….it’s even worse when the media does it.

    And I simply cannot understand why some travel snobs keep insisting that visiting (any) country’s tourist areas somehow means that the experience is any less real or authentic. Do they really think that if someone visits Daytona Beach, the Grand Canyon, Times Square, or Disneyland that they’re not seeing the “real” U.S.? How ludicrous. Mexico is a huge country full of wonderful people and beautiful places…..and with so much coastline, quite a few of those places are beaches. As anyone who has been there knows, they are a very real part of Mexico.

  • January 31 2011

    Kudos – great post. Just the other day my cousin had put this question on her facebook status: “Holidays: Victoria BC or Mexico?” Someone responded that she should go to Victoria as she’d have less chance of getting mugged, raped or killed.

  • January 31 2011

    I agree you shouldn’t fear all of Mexico, but the northern areas are amazingly dangerous and although I love Mexico City, it is not the safest place in the world. And while you’ll argue that my saying Cancun (or Cabo san Lucas) isn’t “real Mexico”…. it isn’t. The tourism influence in that area generally insures that you aren’t going to be exposed to the worst excesses in Mexico — although the recent mass slaughter in Acapulco were a bit of an eye-opener in that tourist area. I am not a fearful traveler (went to Somaliland, Sudan, Syria and others on my trip), but there are tons of places in Mexico that I wouldn’t go to right now.

  • January 31 2011

    You make a very good point, Candice. Often times it’s all the bad stuff that gets reported on TV (hey it sells!) and people think that’s all the country is about. Heck, I live in New York, probably “the most dangerous place” of all if we’re talking about how the news portrays it with 9/11 and all.

  • January 31 2011

    Thanks for weighing in, everyone! Love hearing your thoughts, and glad you mostly agree. Josh: “I thought about the same thing while I was there, about perception of some places as more legit, more ‘real.'” YEP! That sums it up for me. Michael, I understand and I get what you’re saying, and like I said, avoid those areas where trouble runs rampant. But I still stand by Cancun being “REAL” Mexico, it’s just “different.” I could argue St. John’s isn’t a “real” Newfoundland experience. But it is. Because it’s in Newfoundland. Ya know?

    Shit I’d sell my firstborn for some guacamole right now.

  • January 31 2011

    Maddening, isn’t it? I think most of us believe we’re not heavily influenced by the media, yet we go haywire when we hear third-hand from the media that certain regions of the world are dangerous, and we actually stay away!! Craziness. I think your statements are well-put, Candice. I’m trying help open people’s eyes too.

  • February 01 2011

    I think as long as you are smart when you travel in Mexico, you should be okay.

    I am originally from El Paso with a big portion of my family living in Juarez. We have had family friends kidnapped.

    Now again, I’m not saying that the entire country is bad but I’m with Michael, there are definitely areas you should avoid.

    • October 20 2016

      I saw an old post you have about mexico just wondering if i can ask you a few questions its a very old post so i am not sure if its even any good anymore

  • February 01 2011

    It looks like you had an amazing time. I too loved Mexico. I think it is all about choosing where you go, and yes, you do think about how the “real” country is nothing like the resort parts, but the again, you’re on VACATION. Play philanthropist another day, right?

  • February 01 2011

    Dear Candice:

    I was born in Cancun and have been living here all my life. As a local, I can’t thank you enough for putting some perspective into this whole issue.

    I’m glad you love my city so much and would love to meet you next time you drop by.

    I’ll be linking your excellent post from my project to promote the good image of Cancun, “Cancun is Safe!”. I’d appreciate if you could also mention my site wether in this post or in another part of your site, as it contains a wealth of information to help people stay calm about their Mexico travels: Maps, testimonials, graphics, spreadsheets, etc. All filled with hard data and facts.

    Again, thanks and warm regards from Cancun!

    Camilo Olea
    Cancun is Safe!

  • February 01 2011

    Went to Puerto Vallarta when I was 14 with my family. Wasn’t a huge fan, but I’d like to check it out as an adult. I don’t think I was old enough to be able to deal with the poverty outside the resort or the people coming up to you trying to sell things.

  • February 01 2011

    i so heart this. even quoted it on my tumblr! wise words of travel advice yet again.

  • February 01 2011

    People being afraid of Mexico is ridiculous. Sure the border towns are having some problems but I was there for 5 weeks, alone, no Spanish, wandering the streets looking for delicious tacos and never had a problem.

    I’d ever go as far to say it’s one of the safest countries I’ve been in the last year.

  • February 02 2011

    I’m loving the comments going on here, I really appreciate all your thoughts and I’m glad to bring in readers from Mexico. Ayngelina, your comment was by far my favourite: so nice to hear a different perspective on the border towns.

    Erica, I’m truly sorry to hear about your connection with kidnappings. xo

  • February 03 2011

    After our trip to Mexico for my daughter’s wedding to a great young Mexican man from Guanjuato, we fell in love with Mexico too. It was a plan to begin a travel agency here in the US that focused on travel to Mexico as our specialty! Upon returning from that visit, I was convinced that travel to Mexico is a GREAT idea AND very safe. Mexico’s tourism trade is their top industry and supports their economy. They take great pride in keeping it safe and attractive to visitors. They protect every aspect of its tourism. The comments on their hospitality and overall “welcome mat” greetings is very true. We at Goin Latin Travel, are even more committed to sending folks on their greatest vacation – into Mexico (away from the border, for sure). See our experiences on http://www.Facebook.com/GoinLatin

    • February 08 2011

      Love your story, thanks so much! :)

  • February 03 2011
    Scott T

    Will never stop coming to PV each year, unless I am unable, love the people, love being right downtown amongst the friends that we have made there, love the atmosphere and everything about it! Each day is beautiful!

    • February 08 2011

      I MUST make it to that side of the country at some point….not quite so easy, but doable. Glad to hear it rocks!

  • February 03 2011

    Don’t just stick to the resorts – I live in Mexico City and think it’s the greatest city in the world (OK, I just know US, Canadian, European, and Mexican cities) as do most of the people who’ve visited me here. Comprehensive, dirt-cheap transit, elegant, walkable neighborhoods, trees and gardens everywhere, ancient ruins and canals, more art and history than you could absorb in a year, sun every day except in summer (!), never gets very hot, delightfully friendly and funny locals, cheap and delicious food, cheap accomodations, great bars and music scene, and the air is a lot cleaner than it was just a couple years ago. Nothing more tragic than people flying to somewhere in Latin America and laying over for a couple of hours when it deserves two weeks minimum.

    • February 08 2011

      Hehe, one of my guides was from Mexican City and he similarly believes it’s the greatest city in the world..so much variety, I love it. Cheapest flight I can find is $405 one way…I’ll get there at some point!

  • February 06 2011

    excellent post.
    personally, i never went to mexico to experience ‘real mexico’, whatever you want that to be, i went to enjoy sun, ocean, beach and drinks. resorts aren’t real life, that’s why we go to them… hurrah escapism.

  • February 07 2011

    I’m glad I came across this post as I’m planning to move to Mexico for a bit, but people are trying to convince me not to as it’s dangerous! Your opinion makes me go and don’t be scared :) Thanks!

    • February 08 2011

      Don’t be scared, have a BLAST! I’m positive you will!

  • February 07 2011

    LOVE Mexico. Felt 100% safe there the entire time.

  • February 09 2011

    I love Mexico. I love the people. I love the culture. I would just use a dose of common sense if I went there… like anywhere else on this planet. I wouldn’t loiter in Juarez and I’d pick some place other than Mexico City – but I’d do that anyway because I don’t want to be in a big polluted city. I have pedaled quiet back roads from Puerto Vallarta to Colima and met the most fantastic warm, welcoming Mexican cyclists. I have kayaked on 4 occasions some of the most beautiful waters out of Loreto and met kind hearted people along the way. Visiting the Copper Canyon- even though it’s in the north- is still near the top of my bucket list.

  • February 19 2011

    Just returned from the Yucatan for the 2nd time since November and it is truly wonderful. Our 1st trip was to Merida, the capital of Yucatan, for a wedding and we were a little nervous due to the news we were getting in the states. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Merida is a wonderful city; very peaceful and safe — our visit coincided with the Day of the Dead festivities and even with HUGE crowds, it felt safer than the states. People are friendly and proud of their Mayan roots. It was such a great trip, we booked another and just returned from our 2nd stay in Merida. This time we took buses to Progreso and Celestun and again had a wonderful time despite our lack of Spanish. We are not resort people and have booked another week for November in Celestun. It’s worth the trip to see the pink flamingos and it’s beautiful untouched coast. In conclusion, no matter where you travel, stateside or otherwise, you have to use your head and be aware of your surroundings — we found the Yucatan to be safer than mostAmerican cities, including our own; Boston.

    • February 22 2011

      Never been to Merida, but glad you had a great time! Would LOVE to be there for the Day of the Dead festivities!

  • February 19 2011

    I should have added that I would not drive into Mexico or visit any border or northern towns even if some of them are beautiful. The locals in Merida had concerns about migration from Mexico City for fear crime would follow so I guess I’d follow their lead there too — even if it’s me just being paranoid.

  • April 09 2011

    Was at the Park Royal Cancun, the sister hotel of the Cancun Caribe Park Royal Grand, in November and had a blast in Cancun. I never felt unsafe in Mexico and took the very inexpensive local bus to get downtown a few times. So many things to do in Cancun. I’m glad I wasn’t there for spring break. Did you hear that a woman was attacked by a shark at the Cancun Caribe Park Royal Grand in Feb?

    • April 11 2011

      Agh, yes! Literally the week after I was swimming on that exact beach, it happened. Love that place though, and Cancun.

  • May 05 2011

    Mexico is my second home and I have never felt afraid in any part of it. We live right near TJ and we still travel through there to visit Baja. I wouldn’t want to “visit” TJ anymore, but it’s not as scary as it is made out to be. I’m glad you enjoyed your time in Mexico!

    • May 09 2011

      Thanks, Christy! Glad to hear you had a similarly awesome experience.

  • September 11 2011

    I’ve never been to Mexico but after reading your article I really feel tempted to go there, especially after my last not-so-positive Spanish vacation experience…

  • May 16 2012

    i’m originally from el paso texas very close to juarez. and i was into illegal activities which i am not gonna describe here this is back in 2006-2007.i agree that the touristic part’s of mexico are 100 complete safe but believe you me the north can be an extremely dangerous place for any tourist to visit. i did a lot of illegal activities in juarez and sinaloa there were murders and massacre’s almost daily the fight for control between los zetas cartel and the sinaloa cartel is beyond your wildest nightmare.the mentality in teens as young as 17 and 19 is to kill and murder to impress commanders in the cartels is like something out of a horror movie.you can be kidnapped tortured decapitated and thrown into acid waste just for buying drug’s of dealer’s affiliated to a drug cartel the news is not exaggerating about the north part of the country but to think that all of mexico is bad is dumb there is violence everywhere in the states’ and i feel safer in cancun than south los angeles just stay away from certain border towns and you will have the time of your life

  • April 13 2013

    thanks for this post. I am going next Saturday and not looking forward to it. Not afraid for myself, but my two teenage kids. I keep thinking they will be the next Natalee Holloway or we will end up on an episode of “Locked Up Abroad.” Seeing this post made me realize I need to stop watching tv with my husband!

    • April 24 2013

      Hahaha, ditto! :) You’ll love it, I swear. I had the greatest time there!

  • January 06 2015
    Ryan Woodford

    Having spent part of the past fall in Veracruz, Mexico I’m going to advise avoiding that region as well. The experience, despite being a relatively enjoyable one, was not safe and may make the average traveller very uncomfortable.

    Most of the police force (well over 500) was fired in the last year for corruption and replaced with recruits that look no older than 20. Despite heavily armed police as well as military presence on every block that hosted foreign travels (The big hotels, restauraunts, the city center) we were targetted on several occasions by both people with the intenion to stick us up for money and those who intended to do us harm for simply the sake of doing it.

    Without going into too much detail, being rushed at by knife wielding assailiants in a high-end restauraunt surrounded by no-less than 15 police officers armed with assault-rifles would not make for an enjoyable trip had I been there to relax with family or friends. We also had planned a day excursion to some local tourist area’s including archaelogical sites and ruins that would be canceled due to the previous bus being hijacked and the passengers kidnapped for randsom.

    (I know it is a 4-year old post, but I think it is relevant to contribute)
    There is also a large percentage of the population in that region from neighbouring Caribbean countries as well; my experience involved a lot of encounters with Hondurans. I’m not saying this is a bad thing however these individuals seemed to have a deep rooted hatred for American’s, which they initially assume Canadian’s to be in most occurances.

    My advice would be to avoid if possiblem, and if not at least be extremely vigilant.

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