Mexico has been getting a bad rap. Yes, some areas are dangerous. But more than a few cities are not only beautiful vacation spots, but perfectly safe as well. Mexico has plenty going for it for U.S. tourists, from easy flights to bargain prices to cultural standouts.
First off, it's important to know the difference between the two different travel advisories the U.S. State Department issues: . A travel alert is a short-term caution, signaling events that should be over fairly quickly: tumultuous elections, labor strikes or protests, and viruses, among other things. Travel warnings are more long-term, signaling overall red flags for entire countries. While Mexico is currently under a travel warning, the State Department acknowledges that the tourist resort cities below are generally safe for U.S. citizens.
And in case you were wondering…the U.S. State Department shares everything it knows about where is safe to travel -- and where isn’t -- on its website. The press representative we spoke to assured us that staffers don’t have any insider knowledge they hold back; that’s what the “No Double Standard” policy ensures.
Of course, whenever you are traveling internationally (or in the U.S., for that matter), certain common-sense precautions are necessary: Keep cash and electronics out of sight, stick to areas tourists frequent, and don't go out alone at night.
Here are four tourist destinations in Mexico where you can generally feel safe.
Why It’s Safe: Besides petty thefts, which virtually every tourist destination deals with, overall crime -- like homicides -- is almost non-existent, at 1.83 murders per 100,000 citizens.
Why It's Great: Great snorkeling, 20 miles of beautiful beaches, and pretty sunsets are all draws. The nightlife is also appealing to 20-somethings, though in recent years Cancun has shed its spring break rep for a more family-friendly vibe.
The U.S State Department Says: Currently, there is no travel advisory for Cancun. Of course, because it’s a very hot tourist spot, the general rules to staying safe apply: don't wear expensive jewelry or conspicuous designer accessories, and never walk by yourself late at night.
Why It’s Safe: Mexico City has one of the best police-officer-to-citizen ratios in the world, with . The murder rate -- 8.4 for every 100,000 citizens -- is also lower than some cities in the U.S., such as 14.8.
Why It's Great: The Mexico City metro, the second largest train system in North America (who knew?) makes it inexpensive and easy to get around the entire area. Zocalo, a vast square deemed to be the heart of Mexico City, is surrounded by cathedrals. The street food, including tacos and tortas, is as cheap as it gets, and so, so good.
The U.S State Department Says: Currently, there is no travel advisory on Mexico City.
Playa Del Carmen
Why It’s Safe: Playa Del Carmen is located in Quintana Roo, a state that is known for its lack of crime and prevalence of high-end tourist resorts with excellent security. Just like in Cancun, visitors to Playa should practice standard tourist precautions, but can be basically free of the fear of major crime.
Why It's Great: Playa del Carmen has great nightlife, arguably the best shopping in the Riviera Maya, and wonderful restaurants, but it has kept the essence of Mexico, as well as a laid-back ambience, in a region where mega-resorts and mass-tourism are the norm.
"We love Playa," shares Gaetana Holtje of Richmond, VA, who's vacationed there twice with her husband, Bill. "It has a quaint, walkable-town feeling that we didn't have when we visited Cancun. We don't feel nervous about safety at all. Bill worries more about my shopping when we go," she laughs.
The U.S State Department Says: There is currently no travel advisory for Playa Del Carmen.
Cabo San Lucas
Why It’s Safe: You have the options of flying into Cabo San Lucas International Airport or arriving by cruise ship. Most of us would be unlikely to try driving there, but in case the thought does cross your mind, don't. Carjacking can happen, especially at night. But otherwise, you can relax in this favorite tropical hideaway of tourists and Hollywood glitterati alike.
Why It's Great: At the southern tip of Mexico's Baja Peninsula, Cabo San Lucas -- a beach town on the stretch of coastline collectively known as Los Cabos (The Capes) -- has long been a popular vacation spot for sun-worshipping party seekers. (Hence, the nickname Cabo San Loco.)
The U.S State Department Says: There is currently no travel advisory for Cabo San Lucas. Stick to toll roads if you absolutely must drive and only do so during daylight hours.