Take a vacation from violence. Come to Mexico!

The truth about violence in Mexico in 2012 —Mexico is safer than Disneyworld!* (and way cheaper…)

Awww, Mickey. Don’t fret—come to Mexico!

If you have any doubts about coming to Mexico, please read this entire article by Lonely Planet’s travel editor.  Of, course, we’ve been telling you so (ie: ranting about this) for ever now. But then, we at the Casita always were ahead of our time. : )

* Well, far safer than Orlando Florida, Houston Texas, New Orleans, etc. etc. etc.



Are You Safer In Mexico Or America?


Emphasis (underlined), commentary (orange bold and italic) and happy faces are ours…click here to see the original article

As Lonely Planet’s US Travel Editor, I frequently get asked if it’s safe to go to Mexico. I have always said that, if you’re thoughtful about where you go, the answer is yes. But, after my most recent trip there, I’m answering the question with another question: Do you think it’s safe to go to Texas?

: )

To be clear, violence in Mexico is no joke. There have been over 47,000 drug-related murders alone in the past five years. Its murder rate — 18 per 100,000 according to this United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime report – is more than three times the US rate of 4.8 per 100,000. (not according to the statistic sites i found but still, read on.) Though Mexican tourism is starting to bounce back, Americans appear more reluctant to return than Canadians and Brits (5.7 million Americans visited in 2011, down 3% from 2010 – and, according to Expedia, more than four of five bookings were adults going without children). Many who don’t go cite violence as the reason.

Ack. we know, we know. and our guests tell ridiculous tales of friends’ and family’s shock and awe at their Mexico travel plans.

“for example... Orlando saw 7.5 murders per 100,000 residents in 2010 according to the FBI; this is [far, far] higher than Cancun or Puerto Vallarta”What you don’t get from most reports in the US is statistical evidence that Americans are less likely to face violence in Mexico than at home, particularly when you zero in on Mexico’s most popular travel destinations. For example, the gateway to Disney World, Orlando, saw 7.5 murders per 100,000 residents in 2010 according to the FBI; this is higher than Cancun or Puerto Vallarta, (which are a zillion times higher than San Miguel de Allende) with rates of 1.83 and 5.9 respectively, per a Stanford University report (see data visualization here, summarized on this chart, page 21). Yet in March, the Texas Department of Public Safety advised against “spring break” travel anywhere in Mexico, a country the size of the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy combined. Never mind that popular destinations like the Bahamas, Belize and Jamaica have far higher homicide rates (36, 42 and 52 per 100,000). Why the singular focus?


Before you nix Mexico altogether, consider these five things:

1. Mexico may be more dangerous than the US overall, but not for Americans.

According to FBI crime statistics, 4.8 Americans per 100,000 were murdered in the US in 2010. The US State Department reports that 120 Americans of the 5.7 million who visited Mexico last year were murdered, which is a rate of 2.1 of 100,000 visitors. Regardless of whether they were or weren’t connected to drug trafficking, which is often not clear, it’s less than half the US national rate.

2. Texans are twice as safe in Mexico and three times safer than in Houston.

Looking at the numbers, it might be wise for Texans to ignore their Public Safety department’s advice against Mexico travel. Five per 100,000 Texans were homicide victims in 2010, per the FBI. Houston was worse, with 143 murders, or a rate of 6.8 – over three times the rate for Americans in Mexico.

3. And it’s not just Texas.

It’s interesting comparing each of the countries’ most dangerous cities. New Orleans, host city of next year’s Super Bowl, broke its own tourism record last year with 8 million visitors. Yet the Big Easy has ten times the US homicide rate, close to triple Mexico’s national rate.

Few go to Ciudad Juarez, a border town of 1.3 million that saw 8 to 11 murders a day in 2010 (accounts differ – CNN went with 8). It’s unlikely to ever be a tourism hostpot, but things have been quietly improving there. By 2011, CNN reported, the homicide rate dropped by 45%, and the first six weeks of this year saw an additional 57% drop, per this BBC story.

If that trend in Juarez continues all year, and it might not, the number of homicides would have dropped from over 3000 in 2010 to 710 in 2012. Meanwhile New Orleans’ homicide rate is increasing, up to 199 murders last year, equivalent to 736 in a city with the population of Juarez.

4. By the way, most of Mexico is not on the State Department’s travel warning.

The best of Mexico, in terms of travel, isn’t on the warning. The US warns against “non-essential travel” to just four of Mexico’s 31 states (all in the north: Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango and Tamaulipas). The warning goes on to recommend against travel to select parts of other states, but not including many popular destinations such as Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, the Riviera Nayarit, Cancun, Cozumel and Tulum. 


Meanwhile, 13 states are fully free from the State Department’s warning, including Baja California Sur, Yucatan, Mexico City, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Guanajuato and others.

5. Malia Obama ignored the Texas advice.

Of all people, President Obama and first lady said “OK” to their 13-year-old daughter’s spring break destination this year: Oaxaca. Then Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum made snide remarks over that, perhaps overlooking that Oaxaca state has a smaller body count from the drug war than his home state’s murder rate (Oaxaca’s 4.39 per 100,000 to Pennsylvania’s 5.2).

Oaxaca state, not on the US travel warning, is famed for its colonial city, Zapotec ruins and emerging beach destinations like Huatulco. Lonely Planet author Greg Benchwick even tried grasshoppers with the local mezcal (Malia apparently stuck with vanilla shakes.)

So, can you go to Mexico?

Yes. As the US State Department says, “millions of US citizens safely visit Mexico each year.” Last year, when I took on the subject for CNN, one commenter suggested Lonely Planet was being paid to promote travel there. No we weren’t. We took on the subject simply because – as travelers so often know – there is another story beyond the perception back home, be it Vietnam welcoming Americans in the ’90s or Colombia’s dramatic safety improvements in the ’00s. And, equally as importantly, Mexico makes for some of the world’s greatest travel experiences – it’s honestly why I’m in this line of work.

So yes, you can go to Mexico, just as you can go to Texas, or New Orleans, or Orlando, or the Bahamas. It’s simply up to you to decide whether you want to.

Robert Reid is Lonely Planet’s US Travel Editor and has been going to Mexico since he was three (most recently to Chacala).


YES,     YES   YES!   Whatcha waiting for???  Enjoy “some of the world’s greatest travel experiences” in style—the peso is super high against the dollar and great San Miguel de Allende deals are everywhere, thanks to bad tourism caused by the misleading hype. (sigh).

Truth will prevail in the end!

Hasta pronto!

xo, Casita de las Flores, San Miguel de Allende hotelito with heart...
—Your best value (and most fun) alternative to
expensive hotels and B&B’s in super-safe San Miguel de Allende



Washington Post on Violence in Mexico—in very few, specific places, the rest is safer than many US cities


The major media chimes in on violence in Mexico, as well as a few expats and residents. It’s about #$@%! time. You tell me: are the media suffering from hysteria fatigue, or is America getting tired of the gory exaggerated misconceptions about its beautiful, misunderstood neighbor?


Of course, you guys—being inquiring, informed, intrepid and intelligent world travelers—already knew all of this. (Forward this to your less savvy friends. Then you can say “Te lo dije!” That’s Spanish for “I told you so.”)


Some juicy tidbits to whet your appetite for truth, sanity and an end to media fearmongering: (Forgive me, but i’m going to put these direct quotes from the Washington Post in really big, colorful text, just for the sheer joy of it.)


“’It’s a real shame for people to write off a whole country without looking at the map and at the statistics.’ Without a solid understanding of the geography (761,606 square miles) and the nature of the drug wars (internecine fighting), many foreigners assume that all of Mexico is a war zone. But it isn’t…”


“Of 2,500 municipalities (what we call counties), only 80, or fewer than 5 percent, have been affected by the drug war, which accounts for only 3 percent of all crime. Mexican cities are also safer than some urban centers north of the border: Mexico City, for example, has 8.3 homicides a year per 100,000 people. That’s fewer than Miami (14.1) and Chicago (16.1).”


Reprinted from the Washington post. Click here to go to the original article.


Viva Mexico lindo!

washington post masthead

Mexico: A guide to which parts are safe to travel to, and which are dangerous

washington post pyramid image

By , Published: December 16, 2011

Shortly before Arnoldo Pedroza was scheduled to lead a tour south of Mexico City, the local guide started to worry that recent disturbances would sabotage his trip. He followed news updates anxiously, hoping that the area would cool off and officials wouldn’t ban visitors.You’re thinking drug cartels, vendettas and gunfire? Wrong. Pedroza was worried about spraying lava, not flying bullets.


“It is an active volcano,” said Pedroza of Popocatepetl, the volatile volcano up which he led a group of American mountaineers a few weeks ago. “I was afraid that it was going to pour lava, but it stayed quiet.”Mexico’s second-highest mountain is an apt metaphor for the country itself: Despite threatening rumblings, danger doesn’t always materialize. Sometimes it’s even all in our heads. Yet misperceptions dog Mexico, which has been seriously shaken by the ongoing turf battles between drug cartelsand the frontal-assault strategy employed by President Felipe Calderon’s government.“There’s a big gap between perception and reality,” says Margot Lee Shetterly, a Hampton, Va., native who relocated to Mexico with her husband six years ago. “It’s a real shame for people to write off a whole country without looking at the map and at the statistics.”Without a solid understanding of the geography (761,606 square miles) and the nature of the drug wars(internecine fighting), many foreigners assume that all of Mexico is a war zone. But it isn’t.“The episodes of violence are in very specific pockets,” says Rodolfo Lopez-Negrete, chief operating officer of the Mexico Tourism Board, “and are unrelated to tourism.”For proof, Lopez-Negrete rolls out the statistics, derived from a combination of government and non-government sources: Of 2,500 municipalities (what we call counties), only 80, or fewer than 5 percent, have been affected by the drug war, which accounts for only 3 percent of all crime. Mexican cities are also safer than some urban centers north of the border: Mexico City, for example, has 8.3 homicides a year per 100,000 people. That’s fewer than Miami (14.1) and Chicago (16.1). On a global scale, Mexico is safer than many of its neighbors. In 2008, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported Mexico’s homicide rate as 11.6 per 100,000, significantly lower than Honduras (60.9), Jamaica (59.5) or El Salvador (51.8).But these figures don’t negate the fact that some places in Mexico are extraordinarily dangerous — so dangerous that they should be mummified in crime tape.“We are very much focused on Mexico,” says Hugo Rodriguez, chief for Western Hemisphere Affairs in the State Department’s Office of American Citizens Services. “Providing U.S. citizens traveling to and living in Mexico with accurate information about the security situation there is a high priority for us.” The agency’s travel warning on Mexico, last updated in April, specifies the dangers by state, delineating the possible threats to Americans, 4.7 million of whom visited from January through October.


Yet countless tourists balk at the border, unsure of where — or whether — to go.Well, we’ll tell you. We spoke to security experts, tour operators, government officials and expats for advice on where you can comfortably kick off your sandals and places you should avoid or explore with caution.


One quick PSA: No matter the destination, always be aware of your surroundings and follow the commandments of common sense: Register with the U.S embassy, don’t walk in the dark alone, keep the bling at home, etc. Street crime, like multiple days of rain or a vengeful plate of beans, can really ruin a good vacation.Visit with abandon (and your family)We know what you want: to plop down on the beach, sip a margarita and feel your stresses turn to goo beneath the hot Mexican sun.You’re not alone. About 90 percent of tourists flock to the beach resorts on both coasts, says Lopez-Negrete. Nor will you be disappointed. The majority of beach resorts, especially along the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, are sheltered oases.“Quintana Roo and the Mayan Riviera are safe by Mexican standards and safe by Latin American standards,” says Pablo Weisz, regional security manager for the Americas at International SOS and Control Risks, referring to the state and nickname of the major beach destinations.Mark these in your vacation planners as safe: Cancun, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen on the Yucatan Peninsula, and on the Pacific side, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas. Some spots left out of the glossy brochures also make the list, such as the colonial city of Campeche, a World Heritage Site on the gulf, and Merida, a city west of Cancun on the Yucatan. In addition, most day trips from the strands, including outings to the Mayan ruins, also occupy the lowest rung on the risk ladder. These excursions include Tulum, Uxmal and Chichen Itza.“I would take my family to these areas,” says Temo Tarrago, an Americas risk specialist with iJet, a global security risk assessment firm, offering the ultimate stamp of approval.The open lanes of travel don’t lead only south; they also wiggle inland, to colonial towns delightful with culture, crafts and heaping plates of regional cuisine.“Leon is large, safe and modern, but is also 400-plus years old. It’s the country’s leather capital; there is outstanding shoe shopping,” Shetterly wrote by e-mail. “From Leon, you have access to Guanajuato (World Heritage Site), San Miguel [de Allende] (expat enclave, tons of art, culture, concerts, great food, etc.) and even Queretaro(a gorgeous colonial city that is closer to Mexico City).”The experts also place smiley-face stickers next to the state of Chiapas, home to ruins, biosphere reserves, textiles and the cultural city of San Cristobal de las Casas.Finally, Oaxacadominated 2006 headlines because of protests gone awry, but the city known for its culinary traditions (pass the mole) has calmed down. The teachers union still strikes periodically, but the protests are typically peaceful. If you’re considering going to Oaxaca soon, your timing couldn’t be better: The strikes have already taken place this year. All’s likely to be quiet until the next school year.Go with caution, or a burly friend

 Pack your precautions for some areas that have improved substantially but still present slight risks.

Border town Tijuana has always worn a badge of dissolution, thanks to a spinning turnstile of partiers, drug suppliers and underworld denizens. But the government’s recent crackdown on the cartels has helped clean up the place.

“Tijuana is perfectly fine,” says Lopez-Negrete. “It has gone through a major renovation and transformation.”

Security experts agree on the metamorphosis but place an asterisk beside the town’s name. “It’s not as much of a concern,” says Weisz, “but that doesn’t mean that it should necessarily be considered safe.”

As safeguards, avoid low-end bars and drink or eat only items that have been prepared in front of you. Also, travel during the day and plan your modes of transportation in advance.

Mexico City is a beast of a different nature. The capital city of 20 million people isn’t pocked with drug-related skirmishes, but it does suffer from endemic street crime. Pickpocketing, shake-downs and kidnappings are common occurrences.

“It is a challenge by sheer size,” Tarrago says. “There are no drug cartels, but it does have organized crime.”

Tarrago reminds visitors to hire cabs only from authorized taxi stands and hotels, to keep valuables well hidden and to avoid unfamiliar places at night. “Know where you’re going and be aware of your surroundings,” says the Mexican native, recommending the upscale areas of Polanco and Las Lomas.

Although Guadalajara is unraveling and has experienced drug cartel-related activity, the violence hasn’t spilled over to Lake Chapala, less than 30 miles southeast. Ringed by small communities, the country’s largest freshwater lake draws retired North American expats and migratory birds to its shores.

“The security situation is kind of fluid,” says Tarrago, “but it’s not really affecting normal travelers.” That includes the American white pelican.


Don’t visit unless you’re a commando

Drug cartels don’t target tourists; the battle is cartel vs. cartel and cartel vs. government. Yet sometimes innocent folks find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. The best way to avoid this unfortunate situation is to not go there.

So where aren’t you going? The towns along the border with the United States and along the Rio Grande, a line more than 1,200 miles long. One of the worst is Ciudad Juarez, where the current murder toll of six or seven a day is considered an improvement, according to Walter McKay, a Canadian expat who maps the narco-murders and posts the results on his Web site, Policereform.org.

While you’re crossing off names, draw a black mark through the entire state of Chihuahua, which accounts for 14 percent of the killings nationwide.

“It has the most violence in the whole country,” says Tarrago, who also warns against Copper Canyon, a natural wonder that is larger than the Grand Canyon and is reached by high-altitude train. “It’s remote,” he said. “I wouldn’t advise anyone to go there at this time.”

On the west coast, red flags wave in the northern areas of Baja California. Despite increased security — “They are better than they were before,” says Tarrago — travelers may come across military checkpoints and potentially sticky situations.

“You have to drive through dangerous areas to get to low-risk ones,” says Weisz. “You’re putting yourself at the mercy of those risks.” The solution: Fly south to Cabo.

Southeast of Baja, Guadalajara hosted the Pan American Games in October without incident. Seems safe, right? But no. A month later, 26 bodies were discovered on a road not far from the Millennium Arches, an iconic downtown structure.

“About 80 percent of Guadalajara is safe,” said McKay, “but how would you know which part of the city to avoid?” An easy solution: Avoid it all.

Some areas are an easy call, such as destinations along the northbound drug routes and near ports, such as Veracruz (city and state), Monterrey and the resort town of Mazatlan.

But one destination now considered dangerous is tougher to fathom. In its heyday, Acapulco was the glittery playground of jetsetters and such silver screen royalty as Elizabeth Taylor and Brigitte Bardot. It later morphed into a spring break haunt. Now, its beaches are empty, its resorts devoid of guests — a casualty of heavy cartel violence. (To make matters worse, a 6.5-magnitude earthquake struck on Dec. 10.)

“Acapulco used to be a beautiful place to go to,” says McKay, “but you don’t go there anymore.”

The State Department advises Americans to “exercise extreme caution when visiting downtown Acapulco,” but thoughtfully provides an alternative: Diamante, a few miles south of downtown. That tourist area’s major selling point: “It has not been affected by the increasing violence” in Acapulco — a paradise lost, at least for now.


“Mexico safer than headlines indicate” —vindication, at last!

mexican dancer by michael amici, san miguel de allende photographer

This article makes us so happy, we just gotta dance. Photo by Michael Amici.

What with all of our protestations of media mistreatment, we know you’ve probably been thinking “boy those Casita people sure are conspiracy theorists.” Or maybe you were going to start calling us Cassandra de las Flores.

But no, we’re not nuts, just the on the David end of the David and Goliath Public Opinion of Mexico Syndrome (commonly known as DGPOMS, at least around here).

The attached article on safety in Mexico is so balanced and honest, it deserves a re-print in its entirety. Will send (Oaxaca) chocolate (the cinnamonny kind) and flowers (calla lilies) to Christine Delsol. Or better yet, invite her to stay at the Casita.

The only thing we’d criticize about the article is the lukewarm headline. We feel it should be something more like “Most of Mexico is Probably Safer than where You Live, so Get Over the Trendy Media Hysteria and Get Down to that Beautiful, Amiable, Fun and Affordable Country!” Guess that might not fit, though.

Don’t miss the safety travel tips—good while travelling to Mexico or anywhere. (Our personal fave: “Don’t get drunk and stumble around dark, unfamiliar streets.”)

Wishing you happy travels and many adventures (preferably in San Miguel de Allende, so we can see your smiling face),

Casita de las Flores
San Miguel’s cozy, comfy, and friendly B&K  
Hey! Don’t forget to check out our new specials

San Francisco Chronicle Article on safety in Mexico


Mexico safer than headlines indicate

Christine Delsol, Special to The Chronicle

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Pedro Pardo / AFP/Getty Images

Tourists enjoy the beach near a police officer on patrol in Acapulco. The U.S. State Department issued a warning for Acapulco, its first for a popular tourist resort, after a year of violence in the city.

Quick – which national capital has the higher murder rate: Mexico City or Washington, D.C.?

If you answered Mexico City, you’d be in good company – after all, Mexico is a war zone, isn’t it? But you would be wrong, on both counts.

Based on FBI crime statistics for 2010 and Mexican government data released early this year, Mexico City’s drug-related-homicide rate per 100,000 population was one-tenth of Washington’s overall homicide rate – 2.2 deaths per 100,000 population compared with 22. (Drug violence accounts for most murders in Mexico, which historically does not have the gun culture that reigns in the United States.)

And while parts of Mexico can be legitimately likened to a war zone, drug violence afflicts 80 of the country’s 2,400 municipalities (equivalent to counties). Their locations have been well publicized: along the U.S. border in northern Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas states, and south to Sinaloa, Michoacan and parts of San Luis Potosí, Nayarit, Jalisco, Guerrero and Morelos states.

The flip side is that more than 95 percent of Mexico’s municipalities are at least as safe as the average traveler’s hometown. Yucatan state, for example, had 0.1 of a murder for every 100,000 people in 2010 – no U.S. tourist destination comes close to that. Most cities in central Mexico, outside of the scattered drug hot spots, have lower murder rates than Orlando.

It would seem fairly clear – fly, don’t drive, across the border into the safe regions. Yet whenever people say they are going to Mexico, the invariable response is “Aren’t you afraid?”

Media sensationalism accounts for much of the wariness. “Gangland violence in western Mexico” “Journalists under attack in Mexico” and “Mexico mass grave toll climbs” sound as if the entire country were a killing field. The story might name the state, but rarely the town and almost never the neighborhood. And some reporters apparently are confused by the word “municipality” – some of the killings reported as being in Mazatlan, for example, actually happened in a town miles away from the city – akin to attributing East Palo Alto’s slayings to San Francisco.

But the biggest factor may be that travelers looking for a carefree vacation simply find it easier to write the entire country off than to learn what areas to avoid.

The Mexico Tourism Board is working to change that. Efforts so far have concentrated on getting accurate information to travel agents, who funnel the lion’s share of tourism to Mexico’s popular destinations. Independent travelers’ primary source of information is the State Department travel alerts (travel.state.gov), which are finally getting better at pinpointing the trouble spots.

“We are trying to work with U.S. authorities in making these travel alerts specific and not general,” said Rodolfo Lopez Negrete, the tourism board’s chief operating officer. “Unfortunately, they have projected a somewhat distorted image.”

In the meantime, we have done some of the work for you. The chart above recommends destinations for various comfort levels and travel styles. If you’re totally spooked, there are places that pose no more risk than Disneyland. If you’re open-minded but don’t want to take unnecessary risks, we have places safer than Miami, New Orleans or Washington, D.C. For fearless travelers, these sometimes dicey destinations are worth the extra caution.

Mexico safety tips

Your most important tactic for traveling safe, in Mexico or anywhere else, begins before you even decide where to go. Get familiar with Mexico’s geography; it’s a big country, and your destination might be hundreds or even a thousand miles from violence-prone areas. Keep up on Mexico coverage in major dailies, then do some focused research. Some sources:

— The current State Department travel warning (travel.state.gov) and security updates make a good start.

— The travel agents trade publication Travel Weekly has created a map that puts the latest travel warning in easily digestible graphic form (travelweekly.com/uploadedFiles/MEXICOMAP4.pdf).

— The United Kingdom Foreign Office Travel Advisory for Mexico ( www.fco.gov.uk; “Travel advice by country”) provides another perspective.

— Stratfor, a global intelligence company that advises government agencies and international corporations on security issues, is a reliable, up-to-the-minute source. Membership is expensive, but the website ( www.stratfor.com) makes some reports available for free.

Assuming you’re not headed for northern border areas, normal safety precautions that apply anywhere in the world will suffice. These are particularly important in Mexico:

— Don’t pack anything you couldn’t bear to part with; leave the bling at home.

— Carry only the money you need for the day in a money belt (not a fanny pack), and leave your passport in your hotel unless you know you will need it.

— Get local advice about areas to avoid.

— Don’t get drunk and stumble around dark, unfamiliar streets. Drunk or sober, don’t walk beaches late at night.

— Stick with taxis dispatched from your hotel or a sitio (taxi stand); if you go out for dinner, ask the restaurant to call a taxi for you.

— Drive during the day; if nighttime driving is unavoidable, use the toll roads.

— Leave a travel itinerary and a copy of your passport with someone at home. If you’ll be traveling in higher-risk areas, notify the nearest U.S. Consulate.

A final note: Don’t get rattled if you see armed soldiers patrolling the beach or manning highway checkpoints. They are young men doing a difficult job. On the road they’ll usually just ask you where you’re coming from and where you’re going; very rarely they will ask to inspect your trunk or your bags. I’ve never encountered one who wasn’t cordial and glad for a smile or a brief conversation.

– Christine Delsol