Headlines announcing the latest drug war casualties, the U.S. State Department's warning about travel to Mexico, and the Texas Department of Public Safety's recommendation to spring breakers to avoid Mexico, all add to the popular perception of Mexico as a country rife with violence. But this isn't the whole picture. 22.4 million people visited Mexico in 2010, and the vast majority of those visitors, when asked if they would return, said they would. These visitors to Mexico's fabulous beach destinations and picturesque colonial cities tell a far different story from the one we glean from the media headlines about violence in Mexico.
While vacationing in Cancun with his wife, John Aldrich from Washington State said: "We don't have any fear or any reservations about coming down to this area of Mexico at all. It's very secure here. We feel very safe here." Barbara Kienbaum of Indiana stated: "I would say for people to come to Cancun, come to Mexico, and not listen to the people in the United States that say you should be afraid to come to Mexico because of all the bad press, because it certainly does not apply for the Yucatan or for Cancun. I feel very safe here." Their experience, and that of the majority of visitors to Mexico, belies the commonly-held notion that Mexico as a whole is unsafe.
The reality is that Mexico is a large and diverse country. Stretching over 758,500 square miles (1,964,375 square km), Mexico is roughly three times the size of the state of Texas, and is home to 31 UNESCO World Heritage sites, 174 protected natural areas, and 180 archaeological sites which are open to the public. Many would-be visitors don't realize the incredible size of Mexico and the great distances between popular tourist destinations and the areas experiencing violence.
I personally have traveled over 3000 miles by car in Mexico in the past year, as well as a few trips by air, and have visited a wide variety of beach destinations and colonial cities including Guadalajara, Morelia, Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, Huatulco, San Cristobal de las Casas, Campeche, Merida, Cancun, Cozumel, and Playa del Carmen, besides the city of Oaxaca, where I live. Most of these places I visited with my family. During my travel I saw no evidence of any violence whatsoever and experienced no hassles or trouble besides the occasional police or military roadblock. At no time did I ever fear for my safety or that of my children. On the contrary, even though I've traveled extensively in Mexico since 1997, time and time again I'm bowled over by the beauty of this country and the warmth of its people.
Certain locations in Mexico have seen increasing levels of violence in the past few years, but the vast majority of Mexico's interior cities and beach towns remain safe and worthwhile vacation destinations, offering gorgeous landscapes, rich culture, and warm hospitality.