With its warm climate, beautiful beaches and proximity to the U.S., Mexico is a popular tourist destination for many Americans.
But some people may be reconsidering their travel plans after four Americans were kidnapped and two of them killed when they traveled last week to Matamoros, Mexico. They were caught in the crossfire of rival cartel groups in the border city in Tamaulipas state, according to Gov. Américo Villarreal. The deaths of the U.S. citizens who traveled south of the border for what Mexican authorities called a "medical treatment.''
"I’m sure people will have some pause after such a graphic and horrible incident," said Gabby Beckford, a noted Seattle-based travel influencer who took a two-month excursion across Mexico last year. "This will remind me not to be lax about my safety precautions and to always be mindful of my surroundings."
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Mexico remains one of Americans' most traveled destinations. Nearly 29 million Americans traveled to Mexico in 2021, according to data researcher Statista. By contrast, about 75 American citizens died by homicide in Mexico in 2021, according to the most recent U.S. State Department statistics.
"We get this one a lot, especially by folks who haven't traveled as much, haven't left the country before, or have read stories about 'Mexico being dangerous' but maybe don't recognize it's a large, diverse country, much like ours," Jack Benoff, president of Vacationeeze, which specializes in destination weddings in Mexico, told USA TODAY. Many of Benoff's clients plan trips to Cancun and Riviera Maya, known for their turquoise beaches and myriad resorts.
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The State Department updated the Travel Advisory for Mexico on Oct. 5, which is done regularly. Several tourist destinations, like Mexico City, Sayulita and Cancun, now have warnings related to cartel-related crime.
"The safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas is one of the department’s highest priorities, and we provide U.S. citizens with relevant information so they can make well-informed decisions before they travel," a State Department spokesperson said.
Read below to learn more about the Travel Advisory for Mexico's most popular tourist destinations and safety tips for visiting those areas.
What is the updated Travel Advisory for Mexico?
Rather than providing one overall assessment for the entire country, each state is assessed individually, because some areas have an increased risk of crime and kidnapping.
► The agency issued a "do not travel to" warning for the Colima, Guerrero, Michoacan, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas and Zacatecas state because of violent crime.
► A "reconsider travel to" warning has been issued for Baja California and Jalisco, where Puerto Vallarta is.
► Mexico City, Nayarit, Baja California Sur, Quintana Roo and Oaxaca are issued an "exercised increased caution when traveling to" warning. Baja California Sur is home to Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo and La Paz. In Nayarit, many tourists visit the surf town Sayulita. Quintana Roo is home to Cancun, Tulum, Riviera Maya, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen. Surfers also like to visit Puerto Escondido in Oaxaca.
Travelers can "exercise normal precautions" when traveling to Yucatan, which includes the popular attraction Chichén Itzá. Yucatan state is right above Quintana Roo, where people should be more cautious because of crime and kidnapping, according to the State Department.
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What are some safety travel tips for visiting Mexico?
The State Department has several resources to help keep travelers safe. The agency encourages U.S. travelers to read the entire Mexico Travel Advisory and its Traveler's Checklist, which details more information about traveling abroad.
There is also the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, a free service for U.S. travelers to receive safety alerts about their destination from the U.S. Embassy in real-time.
"Generally speaking, if you're in a resort town and at a reputable location, you're at a much lower risk," travel agent Benoff said.
Most resorts have security guards and gates, so staying on the property is pretty safe. "If you're leaving the resort property, ensure you have the correct address to where you're going and let the front desk know you're leaving and when you plan to return," he said.
"Use the same safety precautions you would when traveling anywhere."
A few of his top tips include:
Don't flaunt cash.
Use an ATM inside a bank or resort.
Use the safe in your room.
Bring two printed copies of your passport and other important documents, like medication or driver's licenses.
Consider travel insurance to help protect against stolen or lost personal property.
Kathleen Wong is a travel reporter based in Hawaii. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Is travel to Mexico safe? What about Cancun, Cabo, Playa del Carmen