I’ve just been to Mexico and the question I’m getting is: “Is it safe?”
It’s a fair question. Violence in Mexico has increased significantly in the last five years as described in this BBC news report from August. However, as the report also indicates, the violence is found in specific parts of the country and not in others. I visited San Cristobal de las Casas, in the state of Chiapas. I will share my experience concerning safety there but, if you will allow me, I’ll start in Northern Ireland.
Was Northern Ireland Safe?
I have family in Northern Ireland and I first visited in 1985 with my mother and eldest son (less than two years old at the time), then again in 1995 with my husband and three sons and most recently in 2002 on my own. The first two visits were during the period known as “The Troubles” though the tension was decidedly more evident in ’85 than ’95.
Northern Ireland was not a tourist destination in any of those years. The reports on the news were devastating and frightening. Why would anyone go there for holidays?
But when you have direct contact with a place through family, you have reason to go and are not so inclined to fear. My views were less affected by the news and more by my family who live in Whitehead about 17 miles north of Belfast.
Seventeen miles. That’s not far from a city rife with unrest. While I won’t say that there was no concern, I will say that people continued to live their lives and I continued to visit.
Is it safe to travel to Mexico?
By contrast to Northern Ireland, the distance from Ciudad Juarez (considered to be a center of the violence) to San Cristobal is (as the crow flies) 1481 miles.
If you look at the map on the right, you will see that most of the violence is many hundreds of kilometers away from where I was (at the bottom of the map).
So, the question: is Mexico safe? Yes and No. It is definitely safe in many parts of the country but not in others. One must be careful but oh, how unfortunate it would be to miss this entire country because of the hype in the news.
I was never worried in San Cristobal. Staying in the historic center of the city, it was lively in the evening and quiet in the morning. I didn’t wander by myself at night though I would have without fear. I did wander by myself in the early morning when I took the photos for this post. It was a peaceful experience.
Tips for Solo Travel Safety
I would never recommend that a solo traveler go to a destination that is unsafe. I am not that adventurous myself so I’m not inclined to suggest that others be so.
However, as indicated by the examples of Northern Ireland and Mexico above, just because a place is in the news for danger doesn’t mean that it is dangerous everywhere. If you want to go to a place that’s on the wrong side of safe according to the media, I recommend the following:
- Check with your government’s website for travel warnings. Be aware that government warnings tend to be very broad geographically and they can be out of date as they have a greater urgency to put up a warning than to take it down.
- Go to the Solo Travel Society on Facebook and message us about your destination. We post member questions every Monday and Thursday.
- Go on Twitter and ask for people’s perspectives on your destination. Feel free to tweet me (@solotraveler) your question and I will retweet it for my 20,000+ followers.
- Contact the tourist board for your destination. They certainly want you to come but they also want you to be safe. They don’t want to damage their reputation. They want good stories from their destination and should dissuade you if there is a problem.
- Go on forums such as Lonely Planet’s Thorntree which can offer current information by travelers in the area.
Use information from people and organizations that are in the know about your specific destination to inform your decision. Take into consideration the sources of your information, balance all that you hear and then listen to yourself. If you are not confident. Don’t go.
By the way, I was in San Cristobal thanks to Mexico Tourism. If they were to invite me to travel solo through their magical country, I would do so, avoiding some places and lingering in others.