On January 10, 2018, the U.S. Department of State launched a new travel advisory system that provides advisory levels ranging from 1-4. The new system makes it easier for travelers to assess the risks associated with traveling to a particular country or area within that country.
Level 4 (do not travel) is the highest advisory level and was assigned to countries like Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, and Somalia. That really didn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
What did come as a surprise to many people was that five states in Mexico received the same classification. The states were Sinaloa, Colima, Michoacán, Guerrero and Tamaulipas.
Comparing your closest neighbor to the south to war-torn countries like Syria does not go unnoticed and the advisory immediately became a top news story all across the U.S.
Reactions from People
Friends and family members back in the U.S. started sending us text messages and calling to ask if we were okay. Most wanted to know if we were planning on leaving Mexico since it was, as one of them put it, “as dangerous as living in Iraq.”
I took my time to thank each one of them for their concern and told them that the Level 4 advisory did not apply to the entire country and that we did not reside in one of the named states.
I never planned on writing an article about the warnings; however, I ended up changing my mind after receiving numerous emails from readers asking if I thought they should cancel their trips to areas like Cancun and Cozumel. Most of them were under the mistaken impression that the “do not travel” advisory applied to the whole country.
A Quick Geography Lesson
It’s important to note that Mexico is a large country. In fact, it’s ranked #14 in size out of 196 countries in the world. That means that you can still visit many parts of Mexico without getting anywhere near the states that received the Level 4 travel advisory.
Take a look at the map below. The five states that received a Level 4 advisory are shown in red and the state where we live, Quintana Roo, is shown in blue.
As you can see, we’re pretty far away from all of them.
Just out of curiosity, I decided to see how long it would take me to drive from my condo to the town of Tlapa de Comonfort in Guerrero (Level 4 area):
It turns out that it would take me over 22 hours. The distance is about the same as driving from New York City to Orlando.
Let’s Wrap This Up
The lowest advisory level that the Department of State gave any Mexican state was a Level 2 (exercise increased caution). Both Quintana Roo and the neighboring state of Yucatan received a Level 2 advisory.
Personally, I’m happy that the Department of State went to a system of classifying advisories by level. I think that it stops people — and especially the media — from jumping to inaccurate conclusions based on a single advisory.
Case in point. In August of 2017, the U.S. released a new travel warning about Mexico that included several popular tourist areas on both coasts, including Quintana Roo. The report warned of an increase in homicides and violence due to fighting between rival criminal groups.
The media ran with that story and started comparing Cancun and the Riviera Maya to Acapulco, a city which has been labeled by many as “Mexico’s murder capital”.
The statistical data didn’t support the comparison, but in the world of journalism, that doesn’t really matter. What matters is sensationalism.
Five months later, the Department of State implemented their new advisory system assigning levels. They issued a Level 4 advisory for Guerrero (where Acapulco is located), but only a Level 2 advisory for Quintana Roo.
Apparently, the crime/safety situation in those two states isn’t so similar after all.