Latin America

In wake of Australian surfer murders, is Mexico safe for tourists?

Foreign embassies issue extensive warnings about the dangers of traveling in the country

David Marcial Pérez
A member of Mexico's federal police force in Guerrero state.
A member of Mexico's federal police force in Guerrero state.RODOLFO VALTIERRA

The recent murders of two surfers from Australia in Sinaloa state have once again put the international spotlight on the rampant violence in Mexico.

Although the preliminary investigation of the murders points to a botched robbery attempt, by criminals who were connected to drug-trafficking and other organizations, it is clear that more foreign visitors to Mexico are becoming victims of crime.

Some governments advise their citizens to stay away from certain states and areas

Despite having a homicide rate of 25 murders per 100,000 residents – a similar figure to Brazil – Mexico is not the most dangerous country in Latin America. Colombia and Venezuela have higher rates,  according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

But many foreign embassies are labeling Mexico as a dangerous and “high risk country,” and advise their citizens through official government websites to take extreme precautionary measures.


The information posted on the US State Department’s website is very detailed. While it says that millions of US citizens safely travel to Mexico for schooling, pleasure and business, the department adds that there is no solid evidence that organized crime groups are specifically singling out Americans as targets.

US citizens can become crime victims in any part of the world, including US cities, even as innocent bystanders, the State Department says.

US citizens are encouraged to avoid situations in which they may be isolated or stand out as potential victims”

“US citizens are encouraged to lower their personal profiles and to avoid displaying indicators of wealth such as expensive-looking jewelry, watches, or cameras,” states the last travel warning issued May 15. “US citizens are encouraged to maintain awareness of their surroundings and avoid situations in which they may be isolated or stand out as potential victims.”

The number of US citizens reportedly murdered in Mexico was 81 in 2013 and 100 in 2014, according to the State Department.

Among the most dangerous states, where kidnappings are on the rise, are Tamaulipas, Guerrero, Michoacán and Mexico. It also states that casinos or any places of entertainment are especially dangerous for foreign tourists.


In an extensive warning, the Spanish Embassy explains about the growing dangers of kidnappings (whether actual or virtual), extortion attempts and muggings taking place in public places such as transport systems.

The recommendations Spanish diplomats give to their citizens include avoiding: making public comments about personal wealth or other family members, especially children; wearing valuable-looking clothes or expensive jewelry; driving expensive-looking vehicles; and driving on highways at night.

The Spanish Embassy also recommends that traveling should also be avoided to certain rural areas unless necessary. These include the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, Sinaloa, Sonora and Nuevo León.

Among the areas that may be safe to visit and stay, but by using extreme precaution, are the states of San Luis Potosí, Veracruz and Zacatecas


The UK government states that crime and violence are the major problems that could affect British citizens who are traveling to Mexico. “Many Mexican and foreign businesses choose to hire private security,” the foreign travel advice website states.

The government also recommends that Britons stay off highways at night and avoid toll roads.

Tamaulipas, Guerrero and Michoacán are the states most mentioned in the latest travel warning updated on December 3.

There have been incidents of rape on urban buses (‘micros’) on routes in the south of Mexico City”

“Women traveling on their own should be particularly alert when traveling on public transport. There have been incidents of rape on urban buses (‘micros’) on routes in the south of Mexico City. Most attacks have occurred early in the morning or late at night. Several serious sexual offenses have also occurred in tourist areas outside of Mexico City,” states the advisory.

Among the states singled out where drug-trafficking related crimes are most serious are the states of Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas, Sinaloa, Durango, Guerrero, Jalisco and Michoacán.


Similar to Spain’s advisory, the French government warns its citizens to stay away from certain areas “unless it is absolutely necessary” to travel to these regions.

The government particularly mentions Mexico City’s poor neighborhoods of Tepito and the district of Doctores, as well as the outskirts of the Mexican capital. Warning is also given to French citizens to stay away from the states of Sonora, Chihuahua, Nuevo León, Sinaloa, Durango, and the northern areas of Michoacán and Veracruz.


In its advisory, the Australian government warns its citizens to exercise “a high degree of caution” when traveling to Mexico, and advises them to keep abreast of the latest news about the country before going.

The government asks citizens to “reconsider” their travel plans to the high safety risk states of Michoacán, with the exception of the cities of Morelia and Lázaro Cárdenas; Guerrero, except the tourist zones Acapulco, Ixtapa-Zihautanejo and Taxco; and Tamaulipas.

English version by Martin Delfín.

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