Mexico has hit the headlines time and time again this year, for all the wrong reasons.
Last Sunday tourists watched as a man’s body washed ashore at Caletilla Beach in Acapulco, located in the state of Guerrero. Horrifying images show stunned beachgoers standing near the water as officials removed the body.
On Thursday, 16 people — including six police officers — were killed in two confrontations also in Guerrero, during a bloody gun battle that lasted half an hour.
The next day, gunmen on water scooters shot at a roving vendor on a beach in Cancun’s glittering hotel zone, an incident believed to be unprecedented for the Caribbean city.
According to a police report, the afternoon shooting happened in front of a hotel in the heart of Cancun’s resort-studded strip. The vendor was unhurt.
It’s just the latest in a string of violence and gruesome murders in the country. In Cancun last week there were 14 killings reported in a period of just 36 hours — the highest ever in the country’s recorded history, according to Mexico news outlet Noticaribe.
More than 100 people have now been slaughtered in Cancun since the beginning of 2018, as cartels continue to spread fear throughout Mexico.
However, tourists continue to flock to the hugely popular country despite these horror stories.
Mexico ranked as the six most-visited nation on the planet in 2017, with a whopping 39 million international tourists.
The notorious Acapulco, once an iconic destination for a beachside holiday, a glamorous combination of sun, sand and surf immortalized in film and song, has become a “hell on Earth.” But that’s not keeping the tourists away.
“Tourists are certainly coming back, but it will never be the way it was,” taxi driver Miguel told the UK’s Telegraph. “You shouldn’t feel unsafe here. People believe everything they read in the newspapers, but for ‘normal’ people it’s not as crazy as that.”
Acapulco is located in the state of Guerrero, which is experiencing a record tourist season. The state reported more than 1.3 million visitors, Fox News reports, and during the summer of 2017 alone, Acapulco welcomed 690,000 tourists — a 7 percent increase compared to the year before.
Officials are desperately trying to make the area safer, including deploying 1740 police officers, 250 police vehicles, two helicopters and even drones to monitor the area’s main beaches, Travel Agent Central reports.
The Tourist Assistance and Protection Center has also recently opened, to respond specifically to any incidents visitors experience.
“The local, state and federal government authorities are committed to providing the highest security measures for all visitors through the services provided by the continuous surveillance in the tourist areas of the destination,” Port Authority director Alex Casarrubias said. “The shared goal in Acapulco is to provide a safe environment for our visitors to be able to enjoy a pleasant stay.”
However, for now, tourist are warned not to visit Guerrero — including Acapulco. The US State Department issued an updated travel advisory on Guerrero this month putting it at level four, meaning tourists are warned to not visit.
What are the risks?
Following the recent gruesome reports, Mexico’s tourism board is hoping to set the record straight when it comes to tourist safety.
“While Mexico faces challenges with crime and violence, like many countries around the world today, the overwhelming majority of those incidents are related to Mexican individuals,” the Mexico Tourism Board said in a statement.
“In the very rare recent cases where foreigners have been impacted, the majority of the cases found that those individuals were involved in suspicious or criminal activity not associated with tourism.”
While Mexico clearly has a huge problem on its hands, it’s important to note that some locations are experiencing more killings than others.
According to Mexico’s government, there were 29,168 murders nationwide in 2017, an increase of 27 percent, AP reports.
While the official homicide rate stands at 20.5 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2017, experts say it could be as high as 24 per 100,000 as the numbers are based on murder investigations, not murder victims and a single investigation could have multiple victims.
Meanwhile, Guerrero had a significantly higher murder rate of 64.2 per 100,000 inhabitants. The western state of Colima had a rate of 93.6 and Baja California Sur, home to popular tourist area Los Cabos, had a rate of 69.1, according to AP.
The spectacular tourist spot of Cancun has also seen a spike in killings. Located in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, things are so bad here that the murder rate has doubled in the past year — with 169 killings in the first half of 2017.
How to stay safe in Mexico
Travel advisories from Australia and the US state that visitors should exercise a “high degree of caution” when in Mexico — the second lowest of four travel advice levels.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) warns of high levels of violent crime and drug-related violence.
“Murder, armed robbery, sexual assault and kidnapping are risks, including in popular tourist destinations and beach resorts. Risks increase after dark,” the department says.
This is DFAT’s main advice for Australians considering visiting Mexico:
• Pay close attention to your personal security at all times
• Avoid traveling at night outside of major cities, including on major highways
• Avoid changing money at the airport if possible, or change only small amounts to avoid attracting attention
• Use only official taxis from airports. Pre-pay your fare at one of the official taxi company booths located in the arrivals hall at airport terminals
• Use only radio-dispatched taxis or taxis based at designated stands (sitios), especially in Mexico City
• Use only first-class buses
• Using toll (cuota) roads may reduce the risk of crime when driving
• Don’t leave your drinks or food unattended, especially in bars or nightclubs
• Don’t accept food, drinks, gum or cigarettes from new acquaintances
• Monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks. Avoid trouble spots.
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