Mexico — it's safe if you stay inside resort areas, experts say after 7 killed in Playa del Carmen
The Mexican state of Quintana Roo is home to some of the country’s most popular resort areas, including Cancun, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen.
They’re seen as attractive tourist destinations where travellers can soak up the sun, lounge in the sand and swim in the waters of the Caribbean Sea.
WATCH: March 16, 2018 — Are tourist spots in Mexico actually dangerous?
However, the state has also borne witness to growing violence over the past two years — including near resorts.
That violence has included the following incidents:
- January 2017: A deadly shooting that killed five people including a Canadian outside Playa del Carmen’s Blue Parrot nightclub
- February 2018: A ferry explosion that hurt 25 people in Playa del Carmen
- January 2019: A shooting that killed seven people at the “Las Virginias” bar in a low-income area some distance from Playa del Carmen’s tourist zone
Incidents like these have prompted questions about how safe it is to travel to Mexico — particularly the resort towns that tourists favour.
Violence has indeed increased in parts of the country but neither the Canadian government, nor travel or police specialists who spoke with Global News were ready to say it’s not safe to go there altogether.
Quintana Roo is home to over 1.5 million people and 11 municipalities, including Cozumel and Solidaridad, where Playa del Carmen is located.
Crime data collected at the state level suggests it’s become a more violent place since 2015.
Quintana Roo’s rate for intentional homicide per 100,000 people was 43.7 in November 2018, the last month for which statistics are available, according to the website Mexico Crime Report.
That’s more than three times what it was in the same month two years ago.
Car robbery with violence has also grown, from a rate of 2.9 per 100,000 population in November 2016 to 10.4 in the same month last year.
Violence related to organized crime increased throughout Mexico in 2017, “including in the states of Quintana Roo (Cancun and Playa del Carmen) and Baja California Sur (Los Cabos), according to a Canadian travel advisory for Mexico.
That advisory noted those areas but did not include them among places to avoid — although the feds did issue a travel warning for Playa del Carmen after the ferry incident in March 2018.
A report prepared for members of U.S. Congress shows groups including factions of the Zetas and Gulf cartel holding influence over Quintana Roo in 2017.
Elsewhere, groups such as El Chapo’s Sinaloa cartel were observed controlling Mexican regions such as Chihuahua State (which includes Ciudad Juarez) and jostling with organizations such as Jalisco New Generation, the Knight’s Templar and La Familia Michoacana for control of Baja California.
The violence, however, isn’t growing inside resorts, said Walter McKay, a B.C.-based police specialist who developed a program to raise policing standards in Mexico.
WATCH: March 8, 2018 — Canada issues travel advisory for Mexican tourist destination ahead of spring break
Like the most recent incident, the violence is largely happening outside the resorts, he told Global News.
The Las Virginias bar shooting took place in a low-income neighbourhood away from the tourist zone, McKay noted.
And “that will always happen” in numerous places around Mexico, he said.
“That happens in Puerto Vallarta, that happens in any of these high-class hotel resorts all over Mexico. You just don’t hear about them that much unless there’s a Canadian or American involved in the death through the shooting.”
Mexico isn’t violent in the “right areas,” just as Canada and the United States aren’t, McKay said.
Nevertheless, he had tips for people to stay safe if they visit the country.
They included staying on the beaches or inside your resort.
“Don’t be an adventurer,” he warned.
WATCH: Jan. 19, 2017 — Is Playa del Carmen still safe?
By that he meant, don’t venture into areas beyond resorts just because you’re curious.
“These are the guys that get in trouble, who disappear, who have Facebook posts that aren’t answered anymore because they’re going to see what it’s like,” McKay said.
“They usually look like a tourist, they carry an iPhone or whatever, they look like a shiny ATM machine is what they look like, and they want to see where the real people live, and people are just going to take advantage of it.”
Tourists will generally be safe in resort areas because neither the government, businesses or organized crime want to “kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.”
All, he said, have a vested interest in the resorts’ success.
“They actually have their own tourist police, which are basically the best and brightest of any police academy that they specially train, and they have to speak English,” McKay said.
“They’re also taught western-based law so they can more fully assist any tourist who gets into trouble, because they really want them to come back.”
Travel expert Barry Choi echoed McKay’s advice, saying much of the violence is related to drugs.
“It’s possible you could be in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said.
“But they’re not looking to kill tourists, right?”
He recommended that tourists be careful about arranging transportation, booking a cab through a hotel or having them arrange you a driver instead of hailing one off the street.
Like McKay, he warned people against wandering off resorts to see the “real Mexico.”
When it comes to tourist destinations, “if you were telling me there was an increase at one resort where 50 tourists were murdered, I’d be concerned myself.”
However, the crime statistics that exist now “really relate to the bigger state and the drug problems going on down there.”
If you ask McKay, Mexico is “as safe as it has ever been,” at least where tourism is concerned.
- With files from The Associated Press