Maintaining Perspective After the U.S. Issues a ‘Do Not Travel’ Warning for 5 Mexican States

Source: Q-Roo Paul

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.

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About the Author

Q-Roo Paul
Paul Kurtzweil (Q-Roo Paul) was a deputy sheriff in Florida for 25 years before retiring at the rank of lieutenant in 2015. He and his wife moved to Mexico looking to maximize their retirement income. They later started a blog called Two Expats Mexico (qroo.us) to share their experiences, as well as information about the logistical and legal aspects of retiring south of the border.

57 Comments on "Maintaining Perspective After the U.S. Issues a ‘Do Not Travel’ Warning for 5 Mexican States"

  1. Maybe the Department of State and Homeland Security should compare the danger level of Mexican states to that of most of our larger US cities. I think a lot of people might change their domestic vacation plans if they saw some of the statistics.
    If you let headlines and advisories rule your life, you won’t see much of the world.

  2. Good article- puts things into a better perspective. I read someplace last year that Washington DC has far more murders than Mexico city, which has a considerably larger population. No one says not to go there.

  3. Paul, thanķ you so much for this particular blog I’m sure it will help out in a huge way for people wanting to visit Mexico. My wife and I have been to Riviera Maya area a few times now and it’s one of our longstanding dreams to spend more time there. Your blog is full of excellent reads and I have come to really enjoy the info. Thanks for taking the time to share your knowledge. I look forward to your next blog.

  4. Just another way for Trump to try and influence the minds of the misinformed snd ignorant. “ See I always told tou we need to build a wall.” Pathetic.

  5. I agree with John Ramm. I tell people that Cancun has the same murder rate as Washington DC and I don’t see anyone curtailing their visits there! Including our lawmakers and President!

  6. Frozen in Michiagn | January 18, 2018 at 9:38 am |

    Great article and people need to read the details and not listen to headlines. Chicago is far worse and is a very popular tourist destination. 13 days until I leave for the Yucatan and I can’t wait.

  7. Dave Lawson | January 18, 2018 at 9:45 am |

    I’m in a sleepy retirement community in southern New Jersey. About 1,200 people, we had two burglaries and a homicide in the last two months. Would that make us a level four alert?

  8. Shelley Otoupalik | January 18, 2018 at 9:48 am |

    As a homeowner in Mexico, friends and family often ask me the same questions…..aren’t you afraid being in Mexico? Why do you go there? Is it safe? I answer them all the same: if you come to Mexico, use normal precautions, and avoid risky situations you will be fine. If you come to Mexico and choose to buy cocaine, you will expose yourself to problems. The people who are doing the killing in Mexico aren’t interested in harassing touists, they are killing people who are in some way involved with opposing cartels. Can you get caught in crossfire? Of course, but that can happen in any country. Most Mexican people are kind, warm and welcoming and treat tourists and ex-pats very well. It’s a beautiful country with small pockets of problems.

  9. We frequently travel to Zihuatanejo in the state of Guerrero. It’s a lovely city and the people are also lovely, friendly and hard working. It’s sad that they get pulled in because of things happening in their state. We love Mexico. Having said that, we always exercise precaution when we are traveling. If you use your common sense, you most likely will not get in to a bad situation. We are traveling to Merida in a few months! We haven’t been on the Yucatan peninsula for several years. Excited to be coming back! Thanks for all the great posts!

    • Susy, you make a great point! I live in Nevada – a very large State in the US. We have a very low crime rate per capita, but I can tell you for sure there are a number of “hoods” in a couple of cities in our State where I would not go, even during the day. It is unfortunate that the US Travel advisory couldn’t be drilled down to specific areas of a State.

  10. Debra Thune | January 18, 2018 at 9:57 am |

    Every country in the world is evaluated using this system.

    As a country, Mexico was given a level 2, or “exercise increased caution,” putting it in in the same category with France, Spain and the United Kingdom.

  11. David Allen Akins | January 18, 2018 at 10:13 am |

    You might research the murder rate per 100,000 when comparing D.C. and Chicago to all Latin American Cities. However, you can find trouble anywhere.

  12. We arrived in Mazatlan on Monday .. located in the state of Sinaloa .. it is not comparable to Syria or any other war torn country .. there is no doubt some troubled areas in the mountainous regions of the state however the locals who we have known for 25+ years say all of the known violence is connected to drug trafficking .. when the US labels an area such as it has, it only undermines the validity of the system ..

  13. This is just my opinion, but I don’t think it is wise to indirectly imply a sense of security about Mexico that may cause problems in the future in terms of safety. Your article does not directly imply this. Yet, you have the privilege and the honor to live in the most exclusive and luxurious area of Mexico. I wonder how the people who live in the Lake Chapala region feel about the warnings. I really don’t know the answer to this question. However, there has been a great deal written recently about security in a variety of foreign locations that are sold over the internet as being whatever you dream of as the perfect retirement at a very low low-cost. The truth of the matter is that Central America is no different than most inexpensive foreign retirement locations throughout the world.
    They are inexpensive because they create jobs and economic security for citizens who live in such countries. Sometimes, this can become problematic for foreign expats. I would be cautious regarding security in any country, including the United States.

    • mounddweller | January 18, 2018 at 12:20 pm |

      “I wonder how the people who live in the Lake Chapala region feel about the warnings.”

      The people of the Lake Chapala area continue to be as warm and friendly as ever. We moved here last year and I have never, not once, felt unsafe or afraid. Just look at some of the messages on the FB message boards and you’ll see gringos biggest concerns are traffic on the carraterra and the unseasonably cool weather.

    • We have a home in Sayulita, Nayarit Mexico. It is very safe there except for break ins and small theft crimes. Most from travelers not locking up thier things. I have been going there for 18 years and have never had a problem and have only heard of a few. If you are out buying drugs or being boisterous late at night trouble will come your way. Of course there are places in Nayarit that can be dangerous. The problem is the warnings are not clear unless you read them closely which most people dont. I drive from Baltimore(very dangerous) to Mexico through all the states on the warning list. This is my 18th summer doing it. I have been bribed by the police like five time for 100 pesos or so, which is common, but I have never had any other problems. Mexico has been safe for me and for many of my friends that travel there often.

      • Hi Christian. We visited Sayulita a couple years ago from PV and loved it. This year we are staying in Punta Mita. Any thoughts or concerns? We are so excited for the trip, and have always found the people of Mexico lovely and welcoming on the whole. Thank you!

  14. Maureen Martinez | January 18, 2018 at 10:44 am |

    I don’t think it’s Trump’s influence it’s the fake news! We live in Mexico City and love it. Friends always send us warnings but we say there are safe areas and unsafe areas. Just like any city in the states!

    • How about for those of us living in a city like Tijuana and relying for the local press to obtain news and not the US press, is the periodico “El Mexicano” or “La Frontera” considered fake news too?

  15. Jane E Grice | January 18, 2018 at 10:52 am |

    We got here in July 2017 just before the State Department warning; after that friends freaked out. I simply explained I was safer in a state with 169 murders in 7 months than if I visted Chicago that experiences more than that in a weekend. Based on the warning level chart I think Chicago would be a 4 also.

  16. Dee Medhurst | January 18, 2018 at 11:15 am |

    Thank you for this post. I live and work half the year in Morelia, Michoacán. I’m female, single, senior, and obviously a foreigner. My state is one of the five listed, and that makes me so sad. If I could post pictures here, I’d send you photos of all of us here just living our lives. I have not once in ten years felt unsafe. Until this year, I have also brought my 89-year-old mother here which I most certainly wouldn’t do if it were risky. Many of my relatives have visited me. They are all shocked that we are considered a dangerous destination. I have felt less safe on many streets in our large cities in Canada. I tell my visitors, or indeed all those in Canada who also write to ask if I’m safe, that if you don’t do drugs, deal drugs, fight drugs, or report on drugs, you will be fine. This is a beautiful historic colonial city and the people are warm, loving and friendly. Please come see for yourself…you’ll be amazed.

  17. Lucky for some of our cities in the US, we do not issue local travel warnings. The travel warnings are primarily due to cartel fighting cartel, territorial issues. We have the same type killings involving gangs in the US (typically on a smaller scale). The media will sensationalize it, and make it even worse. Doesn’t mean don’t travel to Mexico. It would the equivalent of people in other countries saying don’t travel to the US because Chicago had 64 shootings in one weekend. Doesn’t even apply to all of Chicago, much less Illinois, or the US. When I travel to Quintana Roo, I feel safer at night there than I do in downtown Houston. And I carry a gun in Houston.

  18. Thanks Paul ! The BS & Propaganda about how dangerous Mexico is drives me nuts ! Nice article !

  19. Several months ago when i shared with a business associate that I had purchased a home in Mexico and that I would be moving there sometime in the future, she asked the most frequently asked question I get, “Is it safe there?” I was taken aback by her question because she had literally just told me that a co-worker of hers was a victim of a home invasion that very morning in the city we all live in currently. She didn’t see the irony.

    Thanks for all the great posts!!

  20. Yes, it’s silly for misinformed to blindly lump all of Mexico as a “Level 4” alert. However those who complain about those levels because they live in a “better area” are equally silly. (The blog article isn’t doing this and it’s well written and valid) There are some very serious problems in those 5 Level 4 states. Don’t read the US news. Read the Mexico news, the publications within Mexico to get a better idea of how bad those areas are. I think the State Department is doing a good service to its citizens by issuing these alerts. For those who disagree, I’m willing to bet that zero of these people have been in any of the Level 4 states. Read the Mexico news for each of those states. It’s very sad, but it’s the reality. BTW, I live in a Level 2 state, Baja California, and I feel overall that’s an accurate rating even with the city of Tijuana averaging a homicide every 4 hours. (And yes, innocent people do get caught in the crossfire even though the violence is “only among cartels”)

  21. You have done a great service. It is amazing how clueless some people are about Mexican geography.

  22. If one reads the warning entirely, one finds out some areas in some of the stares are not included. One of the ones that come to mind, is Mazatlan in the state of Sinaloa. Many popular places to visit are not included. One needs to e exercise a level of security anywhere.

  23. My husband and I spend a couple weeks in Ixtapa/Zihua, Guerrero, every winter, which is 1 of the 5 states to avoid. We’ve never had a problem. We’re not looking for drugs, we’re not out at 4 in the morning. We’ve never felt unsafe, even when riding the local buses, common sense goes a long way. Looking forward to our next trip in February.

  24. I just drove through both Michoacan and Colima. No problems whatsoever.

  25. They issue the same warning for Los Angeles and Chicago

  26. I think we all live in a dangerous world…but I sure don’t feel unsafe in Merida being reported as one of the safest cities in the world. If anything I feel way safe than living here than where I moved from in Washington DC. Mexico has a crime problem and last year the record number of murders in the country, surpassing the 27,000 homicides last year. But Mexico’s most crime-ridden places are not in tourism destinations. In fact, many major U.S. cities, including Baltimore, Detroit and LA., have much higher murder rates than Cancun or Los Cabos. I am feeling very lucky that Mexico accepted me as one of their residents.

  27. My wife and I are thinking about driving from Hualtuco to Acapulco, Mexico the week after Easter for 4 days. Any suggestions on the toll road and estimated cost.

    • Javier Macías | January 18, 2018 at 9:29 pm |

      Hi Fred, if you write on Google.- Traza tu Ruta SCT you´ll find a webpage by the SCT (Communications and Transportation Secretary) with an option in english to find out costs. I´m mexican but follow Paul since I love his posts, my only recommendation would be just not to drive at night. Yes, we are a beautiful country and in general not as dangerous as badly dangerous can be, but there are stories of people travelling at night more likely to get stopped and robbed, mainly at small federal roads (the roads that are not toll roads). My uncle lives in Puerto Escondido, close to Huatulco and he keeps this same principle. If you would like any personal (not professional) advice on this trip (which I´ve made before and within the state of Oaxaca and Guerrero), you can mail me at javiermaciasmx@yahoo.com You can find me on FB as Javier Macias Amaya. Best wishes.

  28. Thanks for the update…to the ‘worry-worts’ I would say: try living in Chicago, Detroit or Baltimore. I have been traveling to Mexico since 1992 and have never had issues even in those areas notes in your article as labeled ‘dangerous.’ You use common sense and stay out of harms way when ever you can!

  29. Lisa A Farbo | January 18, 2018 at 5:03 pm |

    I really appreciated your comments. I travel to Mexico all the time. I have never witnessed any violence anywhere in my travels. I make sure I’m cautious what I do and where I go though. I live in the suburbs in a large Pennsylvania city. There are daily murders in the city on a daily basis. I would feel safer walking around anywhere in the Mayan Riveria than my own city’s downtown area (It’s 4 miles away) But the media isn’t telling us to stay away here.. My point Is, as you say, use commen sense and be aware of your surroundings. Most of Mexico is safer than many US cities.

  30. Excuse me! I live in Michoacan and feel safer than I did in the Old Country. We like tourist to visit our UNESCO Historical Site. But really? Our bogavillas climb up Colonial Homes, not War Torn rubble. So whoever gave us a Level 4, thanks for freaking out my kids. They live in LA, WHICH IS FAR MORE DANGEROIS THAN MICHOACAN!

  31. Thank you Paul for giving this issue clarity! Well done.

  32. Jim Fandrich | January 18, 2018 at 7:16 pm |

    Thanks, Paul Ramm (@ the beginning of the comments), of this article.
    You’ve got the idea. Check out the stats for STOCKTON, CALIF.*

    *a city comparable, in size, to half of the Capital,,Sacto, Can.
    I don’t go there in the daylight!
    Thanks again,
    Paul.

  33. Jim Fandrich | January 18, 2018 at 7:24 pm |

    Pardon me…., I just made the preceding comment. I MEANT TO WRITE “Sacramento, CALIFORNIA”,. NOT CAN.
    THANKS, JIM

  34. This article from Forbes, has Mazatlan, Sinaloa as one of the best places to retire.

    And in my opinion, the most trustworthy opinions are from Americans and Canadians living (not tourist) in Mexico. I will always listen to them first.

    https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2017/08/06/the-surprising-top-10-list-of-best-places-to-retire-abroad-from-live-and-invest-overseas/amp/

  35. Javier Macías | January 18, 2018 at 9:09 pm |

    Funny…. I made my Medical Social Service (a mandatory one year program which you get assigned by the Health and Education Department in order to get your medical license released once you graduate from Med School, it´s a cheap way to send 10,000 doctors to the poor areas paying them nothing but the right to get their medical license) in Tlapa de Comonfort, Guerrero in 2004-2005.
    It´s a 70,000 people town-small city particularly poor where there´s a lot of internal immigration (people from very small and poor towns nearby that go to work or live in that city). The area is considered to have 4 of the most marginated and poorest 10 counties of all the country. Until recently, women started earning their right from their parents to get a career. It´s a small very underdeveloped city where probably 80% make it with less than minimum wage a day ($80 pesos a day). The other 18% are still quite humble. Most people living there are direct descendants from marginated ethnic groups and speak dialects. Nearby there are probably 500 towns within 50 miles around all between 100 and 1000 people and some 10 maybe communities of 2000-10000 people. The widespread settling of tiny marginated towns runs back from the town the aztecs struggled to expand the empire beyond those limits (against tlapanecos, mixtecos and other ethnic groups).
    It´s quite interesting spending a year within the community getting to know the people and their everyday´s life. The poorest class of immigrants to the US come from towns that average this tiny towns standards, the kind of people who don´t even speak spanish well but only their dialects and barely maybe finished two or three years of elementary school. Perhaps 20-30% of families in the area have at least a member (ilegally) in the US, some never return, some wives already have widowed, some daughters dream of seeing their dads or brothers once ever again in their lives and have known nothing from them in 10-20 years. Many of them leave behind their spouses and children and make a new family in the US. I once saw a patient who brought me some sort of a diploma from some diplomatic instance in NY stating her husband had been killed in 9-11, he worked as a janitor in the WTC.
    Had the blessing of having worked there in a Philantrophic Foundation of my Med School and enjoyed it everyday. Got to know the reality of my country but saw its other beautiful face too. It´s magical travelling into the mountains just beneath the clouds (literally) to get to a tiny town in the hills where people state they don´t like going into the city because they ask money for everything. Hear the children in their play time at school yelling and playing in their own ethnic dialects. They live on what they crop, yes they´re very poor but you don´t get that particularly feeling of misery as they feel they have what they need. They´ll just tell you.- Welcome to my humble home. Poverty to them comes when they go to the city and start comparing what they could have. That´s why there´s so much migration from those places and unfortunately yes, the crime and drug cartels call lots of these young people making the area a particularly dangerous one. The foundation I worked at makes everyyear around 100 cataract surgeries to people who live on the poorest conditions ever imaginable. A patient I truely felt heart touched with, was an 84 year old man who couldn´t see even fingers moving within a feet from his eyes, just barely presence and abscense of light. First thing he tells his daughter when he gets his eye protection off after the surgery is.- You look as beautiful as I last can remember having seen you. Then, since he didn´t have any money but wanted to pay us somehow, he ordered to make a bbq from his best (maybe only) sheep. He was so excited from being able see us eat the only things he could own. We had a diner which served over 100 children after school to guarantee a better nutrition and school performance, since many children in the area simply ate very low quality and ammount of food, specially those in large families. If you´ve never sat at someone´s who you don´t know home and eat at a town in the middle of nowhere some home made tortillas with home made and house grown / cropped grilled on fire sauce and herbs, then that must be on the To do List. Best food ever.
    Once I was taken as a judge / coordinator / doctor to multitown regional school competition in what could have been the school competition of the poorest region of the country. All the parents worked together to help the children regardless of where they came from to improve the very limited event. Women would cook, men would clean and build the shelters. Witnessed a regional dance competition which well could have been worth of having been seen at Xcaret. Like the bank campaigns on the ATMs asking for small donations say.- There´s talent (yes there is indeed, no questions asked), it´s just about supporting it.
    Well, I could write a book on that year. Don´t want to bore or distract anyone. Guess you put Tlapa in your map as it´s a heavy crime spot now, thanks God never experienced fear on that year even as my colleagues would leave town on weekends and leave me alone Friday, Saturday and Sunday night in the Clinic, which was settled on an old improvised airport where it was said small airplanes time before would land there with drugs from other places. It seemed to me like they never settled in fine. I had more a Victor´s Frank mentality and that made me feel like that was one of my happiest, most productive and less stressed year of my life. As the years have passed by, the Philantrophic Foundation still exists there but now my university has decided not to send their students there anymore for fear of danger. Lots of international volunteers still go there on this and other altruist foundations and keep coming back year by year, so I suppose they eventually get very involved in their need to help but mostly get some kind of addiction with such experience. Best wishes. Warm hug.

  36. Robert Clayton | January 19, 2018 at 9:02 am |

    The statistics do point to instability and pockets of crime but mostly I would say it is safer than the USA.
    The people are wonderful, honest, helpful and understanding.
    Possibly it is the people in the US with an agenda to keep tourists at home that mostly explode every story to try to keep people at home, and Canadians in the US.
    Didn’t this selfish paranoia build a wall in Germany decades ago, in England centuries ago and in China tens of centuries ago?

  37. I have a house in the state of Colima and I am within 15 minutes of city of Tecoman that is supposedly the most dangerous area in Colima. I go there on a regular basis for grocery shopping, restaurants, clothes, repairs, banking and have never had a problem. It sounds like the USA advisory is over reacting but to what? Maybe if they published their criteria it would be clear what we are supposed to beware of. Are they using “total deaths per state”, “total shootings”, “% deaths per population”, “% shooting per population”. One death in a village of 2 people makes it 50% dangerous. 10 deaths in a state of 13 million people is so low it is not worth being afraid of. BTW tourists rarely go to Tecoman. It is agricultural and not on the beach. I don’t meet many tourists in Tecoman and probably the crocodile farm (Cocodrilario) is the most dangerous part of it.

  38. The reason Baltimore, Washington DC, St Louis are more dangerous than the entire country of Mexico is black people. They are only 12% of the population of the U.S. and according to FBI statistics, cause 90% of the crime and violence.

  39. Thx for posting Paul

  40. Toni Versluys | January 21, 2018 at 8:43 am |

    As I am reading this post on Paul’s blog, my local news reports a drive by shooting about 30 minutes from where I sit in my living room. This drive by shooting happened in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on a corner of a heavily travelled shopping area during the day. Granted, it happned at 3:00 AM. We love the whole coast of the Riviera Maya, Cozumel, and have travelled to Ixtapa and Huatulco. We are not out at 3:00 in the morning at home, or while in Mexco. We live in what I consider a safe community. Crime can happen anywhere. As others have stated, proceed with caution EVERYWHERE, and be alert of your surroundings. I, too have friends, family and coworkers say, don’t go to Mexico, it’s not safe. Well, we can’t wait for our annual trip, 33 days and counting!!!
    Love your blog Paul! Some very good information and a great read!! We stay in Paamul and travel all around the coast in a rental car. Maybe we will see you around!

  41. Hi Paul, thank you for posting this information. My girlfriend Cindy and I are spending the winter in Mexico (we’re currently in Playa Del Carmen) with the long-term goal of moving here on a permanent basis. I have lived in both Michoacán and Sinaloa (very recently) and I get a number of semi-panicked, safety-related texts and emails from concerned people back in the U.S. I enjoy your straightforward approach to the topic; I’d like to provide a link to this article in my own blog “Sunny Spicy Love Fest,” if that’s okay with you.

    Thanks,

    Tomás

  42. Scott A Buchanan | February 5, 2018 at 3:25 pm |

    It makes me wonder what level the State Department would give to a typical public school, workplace, or concert in the United States…

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