US travelers urged to 'avoid travel to Mexico' and 'exercise increased caution' in hot spots

People visit the pre-Columbian Mayan archaeological site of Tulum on October 30, 2021.
People visit the pre-Columbian Mayan archaeological site of Tulum on October 30, 2021.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and State Department are urging Americans to "avoid travel to Mexico" due to "very high levels of COVID," but that's not the only warning for travelers who may be looking ahead to Spring Break.

Last week, U.S. consular authorities in Mexico reminded Americans to be careful when traveling to several top vacation spots after two Canadians were killed at a luxury hotel in Playa Del Carmen.

"In light of recent security incidents and criminal activity in popular tourist destinations including Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, and Tulum, U.S. citizens are reminded to exercise increased caution when traveling to the state of Quintana Roo," The U.S. Consulate General Merida wrote in a travel alert posted days after the Jan. 21 shooting. "Criminal activity and violence may occur throughout the state, including areas frequented by U.S. citizen visitors."

The incident was preceded by several others in recent months, including the October deaths of a California woman and another tourist caught in an apparent gang-related crossfire in Tulum.

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"The Department of State's first priority is the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas," Karin King, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Overseas Citizens Services at the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs, said in a statement. "U.S. citizens should always take stock of their personal safety and security when traveling overseas."

Tourists are reminded to check travel advisories and alerts for any country they plan to visit, be aware of their surroundings, avoid crowds, monitor news, review personal safety plans, write down the contact information for the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate and reach out if they need help.

"As always, we urge U.S. citizens to enroll with our Smart Traveler Enrollment Program,, to receive important messages about their destination, including timely alerts and updates to travel advisories," King told USA TODAY.

Quintana Roo was already on a list of over a dozen places in Mexico where travelers were urged to "exercise increased caution" because of crime.

"Criminal activity and violence may occur throughout the state, including in popular tourist destinations," King said.

Despite the warnings, Gustavo Flores-Macías, associate vice provost for international affairs at Cornell University, considers travel to Mexico to be "generally safe."

"(The shootings) are certainly something to keep an eye on. I don't mean to trivialize the gravity of what happened," Flores-Macías told USA TODAY. "But there are tens of millions of people that visit Mexico every year … and these events, they are very shocking, but fortunately they're not particularly prevalent. This is still something that occurs very rarely."

Flores-Macías noted that risks vary across regions in Mexico. He suggests travelers "do their homework" and research their lodging’s location and look up previous guests' reviews before booking.

"As with all destinations, people have to be careful when they travel," Flores-Macías said. "Certainly there's a lot of variation in terms of crime and violent crime in Mexico."

Data from the country's Secretary General of National Public Security show homicides in Quintana Roo are higher than surrounding Mexican states' but trending downward. The homicide rate in Quintana Roo was 28.1 per 100,000 people in December 2021, down 59% from a peak in July 2018.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mexico travel: Americans urged to 'avoid' visiting, exercise caution