Tulum Beach, Riviera Maya

Scared of narco-terrorists? So are we.

Scared of narco-terrorists? So are we.

Source: USA Today Travel

But that doesn’t mean we’ve written off all of Mexico, where the ramped-up war against and between violent drug cartels has spooked many would-be visitors.

Border areas notwithstanding, “most of the country has a pretty low crime rate,” and tourists usually aren’t targets, notes international security expert Bruce McIndoe of iJET Travel Intelligence. “Yes, there’s room for collateral damage, but you can get struck by lightning, too.”

Even the U.S. State Department, whose recently expanded warning cautions against non-essential travelto parts or all of 14 (out of 31) Mexican states, exempts most of the country’s marquee tourist spots — including these nine:

Cancun/Riviera Maya 


Mexico’s tourism chief has met with Texas officials to head off a potential warning against visiting Mexico during the lucrative Spring Break and summer vacation seasons. The meeting on Monday followed a robbery last week of a tourist bus in the resort city of Puerto Vallarta. “Mexico received 22.7 million tourists last year,” Rodolfo Lopez Negrete, chief operating officer of the Mexico Tourism Board, said in an interview. “In addition to that, we received at least 5 million passengers who came through the different cruise companies through the different ports of call in Mexico, and these numbers exclude the hundreds of thousands of people from the U.S. who cross the border into Mexico every day.” Lopez Negrete’s message to the Texas Commission on Public Safety and other officials was clear: well-publicized drug violence which has claimed an estimated 40,000 lives in Mexico since 2006 is limited to a handful of places, mainly border cities like Juarez, and is not a threat to tourism. “We should not be perceived as a dangerous country overall, because we’re not,” he said. “We have a challenge and we are combating that challenge. “Those pockets where this violence is taking place are very well identified. These are gangs against gangs. This is totally unrelated to tourism. This is not about attacking tourists, and if you take into account the volume of tourists that Mexico receives every year, compared to the number of instances that we have had, it is a miniscule, miniscule part.” The U.S., and Texas in particular, is vital to Mexico’s tourist trade, which is the nation’s second largest industry. About 60 percent of tourists who fly into Mexico are Americans, and one third of those fly through Texas. In 2009, Texas officials urged Texans to avoid Mexico, a warning which significantly damaged the tourism industry. Lopez Negrete said this is his third trip to Texas to meet with state officials. He wants any new travel advisory, which he expects to be issued next week, to be ‘proportional.’ “We recognize we cannot hold off whatever they intend to do,” he said. “What is critical here is that any warning not be general but be specific, and will stress that our major resort destinations are not painted with a broad brush along with the destinations that we have in Mexico which have experienced violence.” Cancun is a top destination for U.S. spring break visitors, and Puerto Vallarta, La Paz, Cabo San Lucas in the Baja California Sur, and the cities of Guadalajara and Mexico City are popular among American tourists.

Cancun’s manicured beaches, cheap margaritas and plethora of U.S. chain restaurants have helped make it the country’s top destination for party-hearty types. But the Caribbean state of Quintana Roo, which runs south to the Belize border, is gearing up for a different celebration. Though some doomsday theorists equate the end of the “Long Count” Maya calendar on Dec. 21, 2012, with the end of civilization, local tourism promoters beg to differ — and are touting everything from archaeological lectures to a “Mayan Galactic Alignment” cruise.

Riviera Nayarit 

Stretching 100 miles along Mexico’s Pacific coast from Nuevo Vallarta north to San Blas, this region packs a lot of stylistic variety. Prefer all-inclusive chain hotels? Try Nuevo Vallarta. If money’s no object, slip inside the gated enclaves of Punta Mita. If you like water sports by day and watering holes by night, the town of Sayulita is your spot. If you’re seeking peace and quiet in an artsy village, check into one of San Francisco’s (aka San Pancho’s) small hotels. Beach options range from secluded, rocky coves to palm-fringed expanses flanked by the Sierra Madres.

Los Cabos 

The coastal towns of Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo, connected via a 20-mile expanse of glitzy resorts and gated all-inclusives known as The Corridor, cater to tourists of all stripes — from tequila-swigging spring breakers to privacy-obsessed Hollywood stars. (Arriving in June: global honchos bound for the G20 financial summit.) While desert sun and the turquoise Sea of Cortez may be the area’s biggest draws, up-and-coming San José del Cabo offers free art gallery walks on Thursday evenings from November through June.


This colonial city on the Yucatán Peninsula is the ideal spot from which to explore important Maya archaeological sites like Chichen Itza and Uxmal. The city has one of the largest historical centers in the Americas (next to Mexico City and Havana), and many of the Spanish colonial buildings from its wealthy past remain. (Look for carved Maya stones that were used in the construction of some.) Check into one of many small, elegant hotels downtown near the central square, or stay in the countryside at one of several fabulously restored haciendas.

San Miguel de Allende 

Yes, there’s a Starbucks. But despite its gringo trappings (and glut of gringo residents), San Miguel retains its essential Mexican colonial loveliness. From its luminescent neo-Gothic church to its shady patchwork of central plazas that are a gathering spot for locals and visitors alike, it’s one of the country’s most welcoming towns. Visit during “fiesta season” — September through December — when the weather is temperate and there always seems to be a feast, procession or party going on along its cobbled streets.


You could spend days just hanging around the central plaza — one of Mexico’s most enchanting. Surrounding restaurants serve spicy, complex molés, among other regional specialties. And the people-watching is superb. But tear yourself away to explore nearby crafts villages whose residents, descendants of Zapotec Indians and other indigenous groups, weave rugs, carve wooden animals, create pottery and more. Also nearby: major archaeological sites such as Monte Albán.

Valle de Bravo 

For decades, this scenic 17th-century town of whitewashed buildings with red-tile rooftops has provided a weekend playground for the elite of Mexico City, two hours away. But its fabulous setting on the shores of sparkling Lake Avándaro surrounded by pine-forested mountains is attracting outdoors enthusiasts for paragliding, wakeboarding, mountain biking and more. Pine groves east of town are wintering grounds for millions of monarch butterflies that migrate from Canada, providing a not-to-be- missed spectacle from November through February.

San Cristóbal de las Casas 

Though it’s not easy to reach — the closest airport in Tuxtla Guitierrez is more than an hour’s mountainous drive away — this Spanish colonial outpost and former center of a failed Zapatista uprising in 1994 is well worth the journey. The one-time backpacker and bohemian hangout is now home to upscale boutique hotels and restaurants, and serves as a convenient launch pad for rafting and hiking trips and explorations of traditional Maya-speaking villages. The haunting Maya ruins of Palenque are about a five-hour drive to the northeast.


Founded by Jesuit missionaries in 1697 and site of a failed government tourist project that would have turned it into a West Coast Cancun, this small Sea of Cortez town lures kayakers, scuba divers, fishermen and sailors with easy access to what author John Steinbeck described as an ocean filled with “ferocious life.” An uninhabited string of five nearby islands makes up Loreto Bay National Park; about 2½ hours away on the Pacific side of the peninsula, gray whales congregate in protected Magdalena Bay to mate and give birth from January through March.


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