U.S. authorities are sending an array of warnings to Mexico-bound spring break travelers: Be alert against criminal activity, watch out for counterfeit medication, avoid unregulated alcohol, don’t possess or use drugs.
The information comes from a spring break travel alert issued this week by the U.S. Embassy & Consulates in Mexico — and it follows several high-profile eruptions of disorder or violence around the country this year. Most recently, four Americans who crossed from Brownsville, Tex., to Matamoros were kidnapped earlier this month; two were killed and a third was injured.
“Crime, including violent crime, can occur anywhere in Mexico, including in popular tourist destinations,” the recent travel alert says, echoing a similar one put out last year. “Travelers should maintain a high level of situational awareness, avoid areas where illicit activities occur, and promptly depart from potentially dangerous situations.”
The embassy’s alert directs travelers to the U.S. State Department’s travel advisory for Mexico, which is broken down by state and was last updated in October. Tamaulipas, where the Americans were kidnapped, is one of six states that carry a “Do Not Travel” warning.
Most Mexican states — including those with tourist hot spots such as Cancún, Cozumel, Cabo San Lucas and Oaxaca — fall under the lower Level 2 category, where travelers are urged to “exercise increased caution.” But the alert warns visitors not to let their guard down, even in those less-risky areas.
“U.S. citizens should exercise increased caution in the downtown areas of popular spring break locations including Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, and Tulum, especially after dark,” it says.
In addition to crime, the travel alert warns of the risks of unknown substances or drinks, cautioning that unregulated alcohol could be tainted, counterfeit medication could contain dangerous ingredients and drug use could result in arrest, illness or worse.
“U.S. citizens have become seriously ill or died in Mexico after using synthetic drugs or adulterated prescription pills,” the warning says.
Travelers should limit the amount of cash they carry, be careful when withdrawing money, stick to regulated taxi services or app-based ride-shares and stay with a group in clubs and bars or getting around at night, the embassy says. The alert recommends participating in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, which provides information on safety conditions and contact information to the U.S. government.
Another U.S. jurisdiction put out a much stronger warning last week when the Texas Department of Public Safety urged Texans to avoid trips to Mexico altogether during spring break and after.
“Drug cartel violence and other criminal activity represent a significant safety threat to anyone who crosses into Mexico right now,” the department’s director, Steven McCraw, said in a statement. “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 department wrote that “many people do travel to Mexico without incident” but said “the serious risks cannot be ignored.”
Dale Buckner, CEO of security services firm Global Guardian, told The Washington Post last month that resort destinations are typically in “somewhat of a bubble” where the government has placed extra security and violence is not usually directed at visitors.
“If you’re at one of these hubs and you’re at a high-end resort, you’re going to see security and guys with guns on the beach,” he said. “They’re intentionally creating a safer environment; for the most part, it works.”
He urged travelers to take the kind of preparation they should make before they go anywhere in the world: planning for illness or injury and the need to return home in an emergency; knowing how to get out of a natural disaster; and anticipating what to do if they were hacked or kidnapped. And he said tourists also need to plan their activities with safety in mind, avoiding unnecessary risks.
“We highly encourage people to go to Mexico and enjoy it,” he said last month. “You just need to do a little bit of homework.”
Those who work in the travel industry in Mexico say the country is vast and cannot be painted with a single brush. Zachary Rabinor, founder and CEO of travel planning company Journey Mexico, said in an email last month that his staff monitors safety situations and operates where there are no travel restrictions.
“We are confident that with proper preparation and information, travel to and within Mexico continues to be a great option,” he said last month. “While there is no 100% guarantee of complete safety when traveling anywhere, even within the U.S. and Europe, working with a trusted and professional destination specialist minimizes risk and keeps travelers in the right places at the right time.”